C is for cell phones, those ubiquitous extensions to our upper appendages.  They are useful, helpful, important tools, but too often they become barriers to what is really important.  This is a letter I have been writing in my head since September, when I first started to notice the behavior it addresses.  I’m still wondering how to get it to the addressee; if you have any ideas, please let me know in the comments.

Dear Woman With the Cell Phone,

I see you two, maybe three mornings every week, getting breakfast for yourself and your middle school son at the local deli that makes such wonderful breakfast sandwiches.  No judgement there – they make my breakfast every work day.  There is no shame in not making a hot breakfast for yourself and your son, when such a yummy one can be had so easily elsewhere.

I see you sit at the table across from your young son – a seventh grader, I think, to judge by his size – with your face buried in your cell phone that sits on the table in front of you.  Your son would love to have some conversation with you, or at least some companionable silence as you both look around, watch people, wake up together.  But you don’t see him.  You’re in Facebook, or a text message, or some other alternate reality,  and it is clear to onlookers, and certainly to your son, that social media is more important to you in that moment than he is.  I am sad for both of you, because these years pass so quickly, and before long, he will be off to college, leaving you wondering where the time went, and why the years seem like such a blur.  The boy’s father could tell you, if you asked him.

I see him in the morning with your son every couple of weeks, and there’s no cell phone in sight.  There is conversation – sometimes animated, sometimes casual.  There is companionable silence as each looks around, watches people…wakes up in the comforting company of the other.  There is a closeness between father and son that is, to all appearances, missing in the mother-son relationship.

Lady, put your cell phone away.  Your son will only be this age for today, and he needs you to be present in his life – not just physically, but emotionally, too.  When I see you together, I get a sense of cold, of distance, of detachment.  I foresee a day in the future when you wonder why your son never calls, never visits, doesn’t seem to care, and if I am around for you to ask me, I will point your memory to the days, the months, when your cell phone came first.

It’s easy to blame the cell phone, but I don’t.


A Caring Stranger.