Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dialing Long Distance

Well, it finally happened. We made it most of the way through the teen years without too much phone time being used by long phone calls dribbling on deep into the night, until this summer. Bunny has an out-of-state friend, and the phone stays very warm.

She met her friend online, which caused us to be hyperparental and check said friend out six ways to Tuesday and back again. We absolutely forbid any thought of ever meeting while she’s still a minor without at least one of us present, and talked about internet predators until her eyeballs rolled up into her head and her breathing became labored, at which point we figured we’d made an impression. For now. And, yes, he’s a boy.

Hubs was going to get all domineering and oppressively medieval on her, but I spiked his guns. “Didn’t you ever have a pen pal?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “You know I hate writing.” “I did. I had several. We never wound up meeting, but it was fun and interesting and kept me out of barrooms and pool halls as a kid,” I stated. He snorted. ”Hubs,” I said, “the chances of the two of them running off to Brazil together are next to none. He’s younger and hundreds of miles away. His mother makes him sit down for Bible readings after dinner. Bunny has no money that’s not locked up for college, and until the paperwork frees up and she can get her driver’s license, she’s pretty well stuck here, too. Nothing’s going to happen other than a lot of words.” Hubs snorted some more.

And, that’s the way I thought of it – it was more like having a pen pal with really good mutual mail service than anything else. Until the first phone call. He called and they talked for four hours. Even my ears hurt afterwards. Then, unbeknownst to us, she called him, and they talked for four more hours. We had to have the talk about not being made of money and keeping calls short and the internet is pretty close to free, so please try that. Neither one of them liked that idea much.

So, they switched to him calling here because he has free minutes. Apparently he also has a phone implanted in his head because the calls were for hours at a time. Eventually, family started calling on my husband’s Secret Squirrel Only-to-Be-Used-in-Emergencies cell phone because they couldn’t get through on the landline. Then friends of mine would find me at the store or drive over to make sure we were OK because they were getting some weird forwarding message instead of a busy signal. It got to be a little embarrassing.

Which meant we had to have another talk – about limiting call duration so that, just in case one of our elderly parents fell and broke a hip or wound up in the hospital, or, God forbid, someone should actually want to talk to one of us completely boring, uninteresting, and uncool adults, they would have a better chance of getting through if there were breaks in the long-distance action. After a full afternoon of door slamming, accusations of us trying to ruin her life, and the beginnings of a hunger strike in protest of our overpowering parenting, she calmed down. She had corresponded with Far Away Friend, and it seemed he was getting the same talks from his parents, too.

I suppose I could be worrying about her getting overly involved, getting her heart broken, idealizing someone who’s not “real” in the sense of being able to knock on the door and ask her out on a date, but I’m not. I was kind of wondering when “it” would happen – the thing where a teenaged person, who so desperately wants to love and be loved, or at least to admire and be admired outside the family circle, finds someone and gloms onto that relationship pretty tightly, spending a lot of time and a lot of emotional energy on building a friendship or more with another person. While it can be very draining and emotionally absorbing, I think it’s a natural part of their growing up process.

I haven’t wanted to interfere or disapprove, and I’ve talked with hubs, too, about not being threatened by it. It’s going to happen, and, of all the ways it could happen, this seems pretty darned safe in the great scheme of things. I’ve gone out of my way to encourage her, to let her know we’re fine with their friendship; I’ve referred, briefly, to my own pen pals and long-distance friends from my younger years, and how much I enjoyed knowing them, even if I never got a chance to meet them.

And if her heart’s going to get broken, better this than with someone she’d see on a daily basis at school, or wind up working with in an after school job. I think it’s perfectly OK for her to have dreams, daydreams; to make plans that, in her heart of hearts, she knows will never come true. I’m OK with her fantasizing and giggling at odd moments. It’s part of being herself and her age. She’s had crushes and friendships, but has stayed away from the whole boyfriend scene because it seems to be very sex-intensive here in our town, and she is pretty sure she doesn’t want to get intimate at this point. She doesn’t feel safe with the boys here, and she’s still feeling her way around in different social situations.

I haven’t forced my kids to drive on their 16th birthdays, I’ve never suggested that there was anything wrong with them for not dating earlier or being more popular or engaging in boyish “pranks” of vandalism or girlish shopping sprees. And I’m sure as hell not going to push them into social situations they aren’t ready for. I like that they are all willing to take their time with the rites of passage. I don’t think they’re timid; I think they’ve listened to us and other adults, and I think they’ve listened to their peers, and I think, most importantly, they’ve listened to themselves.

If this is Bunny’s choice for a first notable excursion, a little exploratory toe in the water, into male-female relationships, hey, I can’t think of any situation that is easier on me, and I think it’s easy on her, too. In fact, now that I think about it, she’s in the driver’s seat for the most part, and that probably keeps her friendship with Far Away Guy from being too overwhelming to her.

It’s pretty strange sometimes, being on this side of the teenaged years and watching it happen to people I love. Their family is different from my family; the world is a slightly different place with new technologies and some different social expectations. But those teenaged years are still hard, still intense, and full of drama and tragedy and comedy. For the parents, too.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Joan, I really hope it all turns out OK.

Kathryn said...

Sounds like you're on top of this. If you haven't already, you might want to read a blog post I recently wrote about a girl here in So. Cal. who had a friend she met over the internet. You might want to share the story with your daughter, and discuss it. http://www.kchristieh.com/blog/?p=578
But again, you sound like you know what you're doing. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I feel for you,I do know about this stuff! I wish I'd had a Skype phone then...free! It will pass and you may laugh in 10 years as I do now, but it is difficult! Marcella, the Netherlands

BoS said...

It's going just fine. I'm responding quite some time later -- after the start of school, and he's cooled down the phone calls, and Bunny is adjusting to her school year, too. There were some tears and moody days, but she seems back on track.