For some reason Lauren decided to take her phone to dance class today. Having the phone is a new thing and one I am ambivalent about but it does allow her to participate in the limited social interaction I approve of and in theory is for exactly this sort of situation, i.e. when for some reason we are separated. She hasn’t taken the phone out with her much and I haven’t encouraged or discouraged her, wanting her to find her own balance and not really knowing myself what’s best.
Today I dropped her off as usual, but only for an hour class now that term has started for Argentinian kids.
I wandered a few blocks and found a cafe to pass the hour in. Pulled out my kindle, ordered a slice of cake and a drink, and settled down to “my time”.
Just as the waitress delivers my order, I get a WhatsApp from Lauren.
It says “Help” and is followed by three exclamation marks.
Knowing 9 year old girls and their dramatics, I’m perturbed but not panicked. The school has excellent security and I dropped her off no more than 10 minutes before. So I type back “What?”.
Then, when I see those two blue ticks and that she is online, but not answering, I ask “is it an emergency?”.
Nothing. Apart from those damn two blue ticks.
Now for the mummy dramatics.
Certain dark thoughts are starting to coalesce…. yes the security is good but is it failsafe? That lovely security guard on the door, how lovely is he really? If she’d hurt herself surely the school would call me…. they have my number and are pretty efficient…. maybe she got stuck in the loo (dodgy locks) but then why is she online but not typing????
WHY IS SHE NOT RESPONDING???
Maybe she dropped the phone down the loo…. or maybe someone has taken it (and her!!!…)….. maybe she is in pain and can’t write….
Or maybe, there is absolutely nothing wrong and she hasn’t learned the rules of using her phone yet…..
I ask again “WHAT?” as if the capitals will make her respond. Half of me is rising in panic to run back to the school, half of me is thinking I’ll rip her in two myself when I see her and it was something or nothing. Another half (yes I know that’s too many halves, but I’m an economist, we can make it work) is saying to myself “this is what happens when you give a 9 year old a phone, its all your fault”.
I try to voice call her – we’ve practiced this at home, she’s spoken to people on whatsapp before, she knows what to do.
Only 3 minutes have passed since the initial message but I can’t take it.
Mumbling something to the waitress about mi hija and emergencia and cinco minutos….. I dash outside and start running.
I am stopped almost immediately by traffic and send off another message asking if I should come… it’s a simple yes or no, surely she can manage that? Part of me thinks I’m being ridiculous. Again, two blue ticks, ‘online’ but no response. I speed up …. sending off a final message to say I’m coming.
Then just before I get there I get a blank voice message. 20 seconds I stop to listen to static. No screams, no voices, just 20 seconds of nothing. WTF?!!! She knows how to use voice messages.
I dash up to the school and get stopped at that seemingly solid security while they buzz me in, then struggle to convey my concerns. They catch on quickly enough that I need to see Lauren and one of the staff take me to the classroom of her teacher Vicky (she’s not bloody there!) and then Vicky says she is upstairs, so we race up to the first floor and throw open the door.
When I catch sight of her bright blue headband from behind the door I want to grab her and never let her go while shaking that child so hard (I’ve never hurt her in her life and never would, but I’m sure all parents recognize the feeling of needing to impart physical violence on a child who has terrified you).
Turns out she wanted to be in Vicky’s class and there was a misunderstanding. They thought she wanted to do the singing first, then a later class with Vicky.
So, not exactly life and death then 🙂
I’m extremely proud of my reaction at this point. I told her no problem, we’d sort it out, and she was quickly ushered into Vicky’s classroom. I thanked the director of the school who had been hovering behind me throughout, and left with a cheery “have fun, see you later darling”.
Then I returned to the cafe, where a cake I could no longer face was still sitting at my table, and burst into tears.
And that’s why you don’t give 9 year old’s phones.
It’s a terrible waste of cake.
Postscript: I wrote this immediately on returning to the cafe, needing something to do to calm the nerves. I recognize my reaction may have been excessive, but living this far from home and our own social norms, we have to make it all up as we go along, and as the parent sometimes that can be exhausting. I planned to have a calm conversation about appropriate use of phone and thinking before hitting send, but as usual Lauren was way ahead of me – when I went to pick her up she was terribly miserable and burst into tears, having realized what she had put me through. No lecture was needed, and I dare say she won’t do it again. She is currently making dinner 🙂