Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Case of the Broken Cell Phone

My son is addicted to his iPhone. I don't mean that in a figurative way. I mean it in the most literal way you can imagine.

On Monday, we packed up the car and drove our 18-almost-19-year-old son five hours north to deliver him to his sophomore year of college. Coincidentally, it was for my husband and me, our 24th wedding anniversary. But the two of us enjoy this parenting gig so much we were not in the least bit put out at spending it ferrying our eldest and his bangarangs (that's Jamaican for "belongings") back to school. At least, not until our son walked into a bike rack on campus and broke his iPhone.

He could not believe it wouldn't turn on. The thing looked perfect, no cracks, no scratches, no dents. Just a blank, dead screen. And this during his first hours back on campus, when everyone, everyone, was texting plans for the last two days before classes started. Never mind that our boy was also still working out his withdrawal from his overseas camp cronies (including a young woman) via texts between here and the United Kingdom (a lot of the counselors at the camp he worked at are British). He ran back to his dorm room and plugged the phone in to charge, in vain. He googled troubleshooting tips for iPhones that won't turn on, to no avail. At that point, he called us.

We had just finished checking into our hotel and were on our way to a late lunch, just the two of us. Of course, we ditched our immediate plans and rode to meet his emergency. We swung by the campus and picked him up, and also his cousin (my niece who goes to the same college), and drove him to the AT&T store to see if he could salvage things. He was distraught, but he had just been paid for his summer job so he had the money to replace the phone. The problem was, there was not a single iPhone of any incarnation to be had, not after all the international students had purchased their spanking new phones. My son buried his head in his hands and moaned. He seemed to be in physical pain. His mood plummeted. He got crabby and snarky. I tried not to get crabby and snarky back (with minimal success). He didn't want to go to dinner with us after all. Could we just drop him back to his dorm so he could be miserable in peace.

That's when I told him that even though we were acting like our anniversary wasn't a special day, in fact it was, and could he please look past his tragedy for a moment and act like he cared. I was hurt by what I saw as his spoiled, self-absorbed behavior. My husband tried to take me aside to entreat me to let it go. He knew my son was operating on one hour of sleep from the night before (after he packed, he had gone out to meet friends in New York, a see-you-later bash to welcome the new school year). And my dear husband, also the devoted owner of an iPhone, understood better than I did just how much had been lost. "You put your whole life in that thing," he told me. "Just let him process it."

So I backed off. And my son did decide to come to dinner with my husband, my niece and me. At the front door of the restaurant was a big group of college kids who yelled to him when they saw him. All of them were fellow trackies (members of the track and field team). Why hadn't he been answering their texts, they wanted to know. The rest of us continued into the restaurant, so I'm not sure how my son responded. From his dejected posture I surmise that he shared his predicament and explained that he was now obliged to have dinner with his family. There was much sympathetic backslapping and then he joined us inside.

I ordered one course and ate quickly. I was grateful for the chatter of my niece, as my son was mostly broody and silent. I could see he was exhausted both from running his body for too long and from the emotional toll of not being able to connect with friends he hadn't seen all summer. I wanted to rub his head and tell him I appreciated the effort he was making, but I thought it would irritate him. Instead I just acted like everything was fine, and then we took both kids back to their respective dorms and went back to our cushy hotel. We chose a nice one in honor of our anniversary, and we weren't disappointed. The service was wonderful, the little grace notes in the room just perfect.

But the next morning, I awoke with a hole in my chest, missing my boy, knowing there was no immediate way to contact him short of staking out his dorm room, which even I knew not to do. I sent him a message on Facebook inbox and asked if he'd had any new thoughts about replacing his phone. The evening before, he had refused to consider getting any phone other than a new version of the one he'd broken, but now I suggested he get a cheap phone just so he could stay connected while he worked out what to do.

As my husband and I were driving to breakfast, he called from his roommate's cell phone. I repeated my suggestion about the cheap phone. He agreed and asked if he could go to breakfast with us and then he could pick up a cheap phone at the mall. Otherwise, he could ask one of his friends with a car to take him. I didn't bother to pretend that I didn't welcome the chance to see him one more time before we left town. Once again we diverted our plan and went to pick him up from his dorm. We had a pleasant breakfast, though he was still a little down.

Afterward, we took him to a Radio Shack where he purchased a Go Phone, slipped in his SIM card, and began to visibly brighten as all the missed text messages started rolling in. Then he figured out from talking to an AT&T rep in the mall that even though they didn't sell his version of the iPhone any more, he could find replicas online. She had just purchased from Craigslist the exact model he wanted, 3GS, 16 gigs, white casing, for $200. He brightened even more. "Pops," he said, "can I hold your phone?" And right there, while walking alongside us in the mall, he pulled up a page full of possible replacements.

Now he was himself again. Or rather, he was his better self again. And so was I. We proceeded to shop for detergent and a laundry hamper and garbage bags and other such sundries of dorm life. He even invited us up to his dorm room when we dropped him off, a smart move, since of course we helped him organize things a bit. But then his roommate arrived home, and I didn't think it right for us to linger. So we hugged our boy and said our goodbyes, and then my husband and I set off to finally celebrate being married for 24 fast and wonderful years.


  1. You tell this tale of balance so well.
    It is so back and forth. The all about them. The of course it is but...

    Happy Anniversary.
    And congrats on getting your son settled.

  2. it is so back and forth, so moment to moment. good hours and better ones. and some less than. thanks for commenting!


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