My son turns 1 tomorrow. I predict after he opens his presents, he will play with the wrapping paper until he gets bored. Then he’ll crawl past the new toys and head for his favorite: a rolling Fisher Price rotary phone with a wonky cord and three functioning wheels. The phone belonged to me when I was his age, which makes it 36 years old. But it’s a young 36! A fun-loving 36! A 36 that’s unafraid to let loose and dance across the kitchen!
I’ve never seen him use the phone in any way that simulates actual reality. He has yet to put it to his ear or babble into the receiver. Instead he treats the toy like a puppy, pulling it through the house behind him. Sometimes it’s a piano he bangs with his pudgy, inside out baby knuckles.
There’s no reason for him to figure out it’s a phone until the day, at least a couple years in front of us, when I turn into the woman I have sworn a million times I will never become and say something like, “You know this is how our phones were, back when I was a girl.” Then he will look at me blankly and reach for the only phone he’s ever known, a rectangle that can call Singapore, play Angry Birds and record real-time video simultaneously. I will murmur something about walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways. Then I will salsa across the kitchen, just to remind myself I still can.
By then phones will work in our house with no problem. I’m sure of it because just last week I heard the first ringtone of all time reverberating inside our walls. When I moved to the country everyone said it was impossible — Hades would declare a snow day before cellphones could work on this ranch. There was the sheer distance from the city, but also our house is in a valley — a double whammy.
In true city-girl fashion I felt certain there was a solution. The modern day world could not be outsmarted so quickly! I bought jumpers and boosters and matter-of-factly unpacked and set up the technology. Which failed to make any difference at all.
But every year there has been improvement. First, text messages came through at the front gate. Then if you didn’t mind the occasional bleating goat in the background, you could conduct conversations in the yard. Last year I discovered that tilted at an angle and propped on a windowsill, my phone would upload voicemails. Now, even though it has yet to repeat the miraculous event of picking up a call, there’s every reason to believe full communication is around the corner.
This is good news, I guess. It’s definitely the news that city girl wanted so desperately. But I look back over the time we have lived here, relatively free of interruptions from the outside world, and I feel a real sadness at what is about to go. If someone had grabbed me by the shoulders back then and told me how good we had it, would that message have gotten through? The poor sap probably would have ended up with a Frye boot to the jugular — I was far too sure of how the world was supposed to be.
Tomorrow there will be cake with whipped ribbons of icing and balloons. And even though change wasn’t invited, it will come waltzing through our front door. My son’s first year is done, and really, all of us are sitting at the beginning of a new one.
I can’t stop the march of time but it will be in my power to get on the floor with him, crawl past the bells and whistles, pick up the worn, orange receiver and say into that puppy, “Let’s have fun today like there is no tomorrow.”
Can you hear me now?