Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond
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An Open Letter to My Toddler Regarding His Use of My iPhone.
BY LAUREN APFEL
Dear Son/Future Apple Employee,
I’ll admit it: things might have been different if you were a first child. But, alas, that wasn’t your lot. Technically speaking—and the emphasis is definitely on “technical” here—you are my fourth kid and in the interim of raising your older brothers I have learned a thing or two. Like, for instance, the existence of boundaries. It’s been all well and good for me, this newfound sense of entitlement: to five minutes’ peace when I want it, to the entirety of my own breakfast, to arms free from the weight of your body at certain moments of the day. But for you, I’m afraid, there is only loss. Because you see this 2.31 by 4.5 inch rectangle with a picture of the forbidden fruit on its back? You know, the one you pine for endlessly? Well, it’s mine. Mine, mine, mine.
We’ve been having this conversation for a long time, haven’t we? “Phone” was one of your first words, except that you pronounced it “shoe.” And in your pulpy hands, everything became one. I have a vivid memory of you strutting around the room at 15 months old, bellowing “Hiya!” into a piece of plastic bacon. That was cute. It was also cute when you graduated to saying “iShoe” after your Auntie G came to visit and rocked your world with access to an “iShoe” and an “i-Pap.”
Things became less cute after that. My phone was kept out of sight and out of reach, except when I had the audacity to use it myself and, trust me, I thought long and hard about what constituted a necessity in those instances. But as you got older, I wasn’t the only tech support on offer anymore. You started suckering other people into a little “shoe” action, anyone, it seemed, who walked through the door. One by one your relatives, my friends, the nanny, even the cleaner fell victim to your charms. I tried to explain to you that it is customary to greet someone with a platitude like “Hello, how are you?” before demanding their electronic device, but your manners have never been as finely developed as your icon recognition. You made big eyes instead, a cherub jonesing for a smartphone, and they handed it over faster than you could swipe open the lock screen (well, not that fast). It all seemed so innocent until you deleted their favorite apps.
At 20 months you learned two things that moved us into a crisis zone: how to disable the firewall of airplane mode and how to string words together in order to specifically identify whose phone it was you were angling for. This is what turned your father, in the end, whose resolve crumbled in the face of the relentless moaning for “Daddy’s phone, Daddy’s phone, Daddy’s phone, Daddy’s phone, Daddy’s phone.” He gives it to you sometimes now, but it’s unpredictable and you don’t like that. You don’t like the “no calls,” “no emails,” “no texts” price of admission either, though you will dutifully repeat the rules back to him after that time you “accidentally” Skyped his boss.
This makes me the last withholder. Okay, okay, fair enough: I’ve caved on occasion too, let’s not make a big deal out of it. I’m only human and about 92% resistant to your pleas. Sure there was that time at the doctor’s office when it was the only way I could keep you quiet while the otoscope searched out the perforation in your ear drum. Remember that? You posted “Drf” on Auntie G’s Facebook wall. I’m pretty sure it was a coincidence.
The question is: how much longer can I still stand? Your obsession is such that more than one person has offered to buy you an iPod Touch for your second birthday so that the “interest” (euphemism) might fizzle out on its own. I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud. And I certainly shouldn’t admit that, for a few terrifying minutes, I actually considered it even though my seven-year-old has been denied one for years. Because we’ve tried to placate you with the toy versions, over and over again. You scoff at each new incarnation. And the MobiGo and the Leapster Explorer you’ve borrowed from your brothers. They are fine for a quick “play” but, ultimately, the technology is not to your satisfaction. I can see the point you’re making.
And so for now we’ve arrived at an impasse. I sat down today to write a serious treatise on the complexities of “screen time” and the toddler, in the hopes of stumbling upon a little clarity to usher us through this glitch in our relationship. But I ended up with a letter instead. Other Mommies seem convinced that posting an epistle is an effective way to communicate with their small children, so I felt it was worth a shot. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize I’m probably better off attaching my words here as a PDF and emailing it to your father. You can pick up the message the next time you are using his phone.
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