The cell phone dilemma

Today’s horoscope said being concerned with “the result” would be good in a professional setting, but not a social one. I took that to mean that goals I could achieve alone might be attainable, but having expectations of others was a bad idea. Today.

It kind of reminds me of the serenity prayer. The trick is knowing what you can control and what you can’t.

Like yesterday, when my daughter, who will be in the third grade, wanted to download the Instagram app on her tablet. She asked me if she could and I said something to the effect of “whatever,” thinking she wouldn’t be able to start an Instagram account without my help.

But I was wrong. Not only did she download the app, but she managed to start an account using a profile picture of herselfie holding up the two-finger “peace” sign.

She showed it to me. She had started “following” some people who posted cat videos, because she likes cats, and she had also recorded a video of her own cat, which she intended to post.

I mentioned the peace sign profile pic to my husband. He proceeded to go ballistic until the child was crying. And in the process of crying, she totally threw me under the bus.

“But you said I could!”

So, this is one of those things I could and should have controlled.

Well, it was true. I said she could. But I figured, you know, we could always delete the app. Which we did. After he went ballistic.

He and I are both high school teachers. I have a love-hate relationship with social media, but I admit that I really don’t think it’s any place for a third-grade girl.

He has a hate-hate relationship with social media. He carries a pay-per-minute Tracfone, which he does not answer.

This is what he told her: People on social media are mean. And it’s true. Social media is where at least half of the bullying in the world takes place now, and that’s just bullying. That’s not even considering the risk from online predators.

One of the most frustrating things for high school teachers is reminding students to put their phones away and focus. I assume second-grade teachers don’t have this problem, but I recently talked to a fourth-grade teacher who does, sometimes. She told me that many of her students do have cell phones.

In talking to friends, I have gathered that the average child uses a tablet before starting elementary school and is given a cell phone around age 11, when they enter middle school. This is so that the child can text the parent throughout the day regarding extracurricular activities. Obviously, it creates a major distraction in school, but it seems that many parents believe their children are mature enough at 11 to use cell phones responsibly.

But if we’re being honest, we’ll admit that a lot of adults aren’t very responsible or polite with their cell phones, either. What is with these people who are always on their phones in public places, even when they go through the checkout at the grocery store? They can’t get off the phone long enough to say “thank you” to the cashier.

I’ve had to ask friends to please stop texting me while we are both driving. They laugh at me for being such a technophobe. They’re like, “Ha-ha, that’s my friend, Star, the one who likes reading paper books …”

So this morning, my daughter watched a movie about a teen girl who could control boys with an app on her cell phone. While there is so much to dislike about this particular plotline, I can’t help but hate the fact that the characters our daughters are looking up to now are tapping their acrylic-manicured fingertips across a screen all day.

It makes Disney princesses seem so quaint, so benign. Now the standard of beauty isn’t  just unrealistic and materialistic; it’s also shallow and self-absorbed.

All I know is, if you could control human beings with an app, it would certainly be a best-seller, but it doesn’t work that way.

There is no magic app, fairy, or woodland creature to clean my toilets or water the roses that have gone dry on my windowsill, so I will have to take the astrologer’s advice and do those things myself. I only hope those around me will look up from their screens long enough to notice.


Hot vanilla

Because it was cold and rainy, I decided to stay inside cooking and cleaning all day instead of going to the big parade our city hosts every year on the first weekend in May. My idea of cooking is trying to make hot chocolate “from scratch” using soy milk, cocoa powder, and sugar. Sadly, the cocoa didn’t dissolve properly, so I had to dump the final product and invent an entirely new drink instead. But more on that later.

My next culinary endeavor involved reheating some chicken we’d picked up at a drive-through the night before. Thinking some of my family members would need more for lunch than a piece of microwaved chicken, I pulled a bag of frozen potato chunks out of the freezer, put them in a bowl with milk, butter, and garlic salt, and started the microwave.

If you think about it, it’s really pretty amazing that anyone ever makes real mashed potatoes anymore. It seems like it would require weeks of planning.

You’d have to buy the potatoes, peel and chop them, boil them …

This would take half a day, at least, for what most people still consider a side dish.

The microwaved mashed potatoes evoked a memory that for some reason has stayed with me since early childhood.

My mother had three kids of her own and two that she was babysitting in a small log cabin located in the woods in Frederick County, Virginia. On this day, in the early 1980s, my mother was serving mashed potatoes for lunch. Each child had a small plate of potatoes to eat, with water to drink.

I don’t remember feeling ashamed of this meal so much as I found it unappetizing. I think the other children felt the same way because I seem to recall several lumps of mashed potatoes left intact on the plates when one of the boys Mom was babysitting asked to her a question that she didn’t understand because of his toddler pronunciation.

He kept repeating the question and Mom kept saying, “I’m sorry, honey, I don’t have any juice.”

The boy looked at her quizzically, not moving from his seat at the table.

“I think he said he wants to be excused,” I proposed hopefully. I was 5 at most, and we weren’t in the habit of asking to be formally excused from the table in our household.

“Oh,” Mom said gratefully, “yes, you may be excused.”

The boy ambled off, leaving a cold little lump of potatoes at his place.

Whenever I discussed the memory of that miscommunication with my mother in the years since then, she reflected on how poor we were at the time, that we only had the potatoes for lunch, without even any juice to wash them down.

Now, back in 2017, at age 38.9, when I serve microwaved mashed potatoes with reheated drive-through chicken, I can say experience has made me rich enough to be grateful.

After I finished making the potatoes, I returned to the idea of a sweet, warm soymilk-based drink, but this time, I decided to leave out the uncooperative cocoa powder that had ruined the hot chocolate. This is how I invented the beverage I’ll call “hot vanilla.”

To make it, you simply microwave a cup of soymilk, add a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract and sugar.

I took a sip that wasn’t quite sweet enough, and heard a voice inside my head.

It said, “Be sure and stir it well, so the honey will dissolve.”

I hadn’t thought to add honey.

This was the voice of the lady who ran the tearoom we frequented as teenagers, before my town had a franchise coffee shop on every corner. This tearoom was open to the public, but it wasn’t for travelers or tourists. You had to know where you were going to find it.

It was located on the first floor of the owner’s home in a run-down section of town. Everyone who had lived in town for more than a decade knew of the tearoom’s existence and many had been there, but most of the regulars were teenagers and college students not yet old enough to socialize in bars.

This was in the 1990s. We’d go there wearing black velvet skirts and dark red lipstick to smoke clove cigarettes and sip vanilla tea while Ella Fitzgerald played on a jukebox. If memory serves, the wallpaper was a red satin and black velvet brocade. The room was lit with white Christmas lights.

The feeling was slightly clandestine. A lot of the kids who went to the tearoom were part of a network of smug wannabe literary types and self-proclaimed misfits who had accepted the fact that we would never make the cheerleading team or be homecoming kings or queens. But if one of us brought along, as a guest, an athlete, or perhaps the child of a Republican, then you treated that person with decency and respect and you didn’t laugh at them for gagging at the smell of secondhand clove cigarette smoke.

The tearoom was owned and operated by a tiny black woman on the verge of being elderly. From what I understood, she owned a good bit of property in town, but I was too young to care about real estate.

The woman who owned the tearoom was a stickler for manners and would correct you on improper etiquette. Like, don’t forget to wipe your muddy Dr. Martens at the door, keep your big black velvet hobo bag out of the walkway, and be sure to leave your spoon on the saucer, not in the teacup.

She offered several rotating varieties of tea and would recite them to each table upon seating. The cost of a cup was around $2.50, and it went up with the price of honey. Apparently she also served food, but no one ever ordered any.

She spoke at a volume just above a gentle whisper and had one of those voices that tickles, almost hypnotically. I had the sense that I could have listened to her talk for hours on any topic, but she seemed to be a woman of few words.

Most every time she served a cup of tea, she left you with this advice:

“Be sure and stir it well, so the honey will dissolve.”

She must have said those words to hundreds of us, thousands of times.

I wonder how many women who used to be girls in black velvet skirts and coffee-colored lipstick sipping flavored tea in that room still hear that voice on occasion as we stir hot drinks in kitchens and restaurants and tearooms all over.