CHECKING OUT WHEN YOU SHOULD BE CHECKING IN...
There are some sharp childhood feelings you never forget. For me, one of them occurred on the most mundane of nights. I was nestled in the worn leather cushions of my family sofa, hazily in between episodes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, when an ominous, deep voice suddenly boomed out from the TV screen and jolted me out of my jammies and Jiffy pop bliss. It’s 10 pm… do you know where your children are?
Those ten simple words, in that low, baritone voice, were a terrifying reminder that the boogeyman was real; that outside, there was a dangerous world that didn’t guarantee a heart-warming message and happy ending. Who were these poor unattended children? Why did parents need to be reminded to check on their kids? Did I just hear a noise downstairs??!
The haunting slogan plagued my pre-teens. Major celebrities and sports stars got in on the action, and soon the dark warning flew at me from the lips of my shiny idols. And while it rocked me to the core every time, the foreboding message was indeed for my parents. It’s your fault if anything bad happens.
Look, I don’t envy the 80’s parent. I mean, even if they needed to be prodded to check in on their kids, what on earth could they do about it? There were no cell phones, no plethora of apps to track the comings and goings of adolescent feet. There existed no safe haven now known as the mom group text to gather information with a few clicks of a keyboard. Parents just had to stew in it.
Fast forward and alas, now I am the adult, living in a helicopter world of digital excess – and to think of the black hole that my parents operated in makes me shudder even harder than I did as that scared kid on the sofa. And when the proverbial 10:00 pm hits, I need no reminder to ask where my children are. I am voraciously and anxiously tracking their every move, to the detriment of both my sanity and conversational skills (just ask my dinner companions.)
Yes, even now, the essence of that simple question, do you know where your children are, gnaws at me constantly, the devil on my shoulder born of that portentous fear and worry. And while keeping digital tabs on my kids is no small feat, it’s certainly not praiseworthy, nor a substitute for concern. I cannot let myself fall into a sense of complacency by following a moving red dot on a screen. Sure, we may now know exactly where our children are, but does that mean we really know where they are at? Does having a dog-tag sense of accountability empower us, or quite the opposite, make us lazy? After all, the current visual field that we, as parents, need to see these days extends far beyond a cityscape or horizon. My kids are more likely to get lost in their own phones. Perhaps more now than ever, we need to make sure they aren't, so to speak, wandering the streets at night.
These are new-world parenting issues that will answer themselves in time. But the idea behind the voice that scared the living daylights out of me will always resonate. The idea that, as a parent, you should be checking in just when you were getting comfortable, right when you thought maybe you could settle in the for night, just a wee bit relax. The idea that you can’t mistake having a strong signal, then or now, for having a strong connection.
Part of me misses a good ol’ PSA, a blunt anti-drug slogan, a jolting reminder that friends don’t let friends drink and drive to interrupt my family’s regular programming -- which is often that everyone’s on their own program. I remember those moments huddled around the only TV in the house fondly. You didn’t always get “the good seat,” but you pushed and prodded and argued and laughed your way into a decent spot, and, in essence, you checked in. Before you all checked out together.
Sometimes, at the end of a long day, when am I really wiped, I will text my daughter good night from my bed. (See? I am winning no parenting prizes…) I am not sure the first time it happened, and it doesn’t happen often, but it did, and we survived. But, to really know where your children are, you simply need to put in the legwork. Physically, emotionally and everything in between, I will always be looking for my children, who will wander, even when they are in the next room. Anything else is a full-on copout. And, if things get glitchy, it’s on me.