It’s that time of year again, when we celebrate our independence with very public displays of excitement and rebellion — drinking too much beer, eating too many charbroiled meats and slices of flag-decorated cakes, and driving too far to find the best fireworks.
Does anyone else find the irony in all of this? We are living in one of the most dependent, intertwined times in our nation’s history, yet we still feel like somehow we’re free.
Now don’t start getting nervous, here — I’m not about to go on an Aaron Sorkin-esque diatribe about how the U.S. isn’t the greatest country in the world anymore (and if you haven’t seen The Newsroom yet, tune in immediately — it’s a summer TV must!). I’d rather be living here more than anywhere else in the world, but I am starting to feel like the ties that bind can also throttle.
My cell phone is perpetually on, and everyone knows they can always reach me. I connect multiple times daily with my kids, my husband, my biz partner, my mother, and my “village,” which includes friends old and new. We text, we IM, we Facebook, we Tweet, we even call. I fly into a panic whenever I accidentally leave my tiny space-aged tracking device on vibrate or, G-d forbid, off. And as a blogger, I’m told that if I don’t spend at least an hour a day on social media, I’m screwed.
I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to unplug. Go off the grid. Fly under the radar. In other words, live like we did a half a decade ago. Ahhh, those were the good old days.
If you pull a Marty McFly and hop into your Back to the Future DeLorean, you might even remember a time when the only way to send someone a message was to write a letter and stick it in the mail or pass someone a note in class. Phones stayed at home — my family didn’t even have an answering machine until I was in college. And if you wanted to find an old friend or lover, you’d have to hire a private dick to do your dirty work.
Nowadays, even as Gotye and Adele sing mournfully and constantly about somebody they used to know, I’m cynical about their messages. To me, artists who pluck at nostalgia are just full of shit, if not full of hits. Their music sells because we love the feeling of longing, and yet, the reality is that yearning only has to last as long as it takes to do a Google search. Then, in sharp relief, we can catch up on lost decades by viewing somebody that we used to know’s Facebook page, string of tweets, or even personal website. The days of romanticizing the past are over: now we know that the people we used to know are pretty much like the people we know today. And decades worth of “whatever happened to…?” gives way to too much information. Itch scratched, longing over.
Not that I’m opposed to reconnecting with old friends — in fact it’s been wonderful. Last week I blogged about camp and got back in touch with a ton of amazing people. But it also reminded me that the joy of camp was exactly what I yearn for today: anonymity. At camp my friends and I spent months at a time disconnected from “the real world,” in a safe haven of freedom where we could spread our wings and learn new ways to fly, without the scrutiny of parents, coaches, teachers, or other people who during the school year were responsible for reining us in.
I’d like to say that my kids get the same gift of camp that I had, but times have really changed. We parental units send daily emails through “Bunk Notes,” and nervously scan the evening’s upload of pictures. Why wasn’t junior smiling like the rest of his bunkmates? It’s been two days and I haven’t seen my precious baby in the online pics — is she intentionally dodging the cameras? Or is she missing? Maybe I better email the camp director….
The problem with going off the grid is that the grid is always on. I know when there’s an Amber Alert, I can scan websites of pedophiles living in apartment buildings down the street from me, and the 24-hour news cycle fills my head with worst-case scenarios. As my old friend Sting once said, “Too much information running through my brain/Too much information driving me insane.”
All of this is a drag for my son, who is a newly minted teen. He just wants to be left alone to do the thing that teenagers are supposed to do: establish their independence. My logical mind knows this, so bit by bit, I’m trying to let go. I drop him off at miniature golf and the movies, leave him home alone for hours at a stretch, and I even encourage him to run around the house with scissors in his hand. (OK, I’m kidding about the running, but the rest is pretty much true… note to the pedophiles: we have a bitch and an alarm system, and the kid does keep a sharpened pair of scissors close by at all times.)
See how my illogical mind rejects his independence? I have to write warnings to imaginary pedophiles that might be reading my blog so they don’t get any crazy ideas. But this is a kid who once was connected to me by an umbilical cord, then was nursed by me, attached to me at the hip and in a Baby Bjorn, slept with me, still calls for me in the night when he has a bad dream, and no matter how much taller he is than me, he will always be my baby.
But the point is, we all need our independence. So this past week I practiced by not calling my son or emailing him or texting him when he was out of town with his friend. It was hard, but I know it was as good for him as it was when the King backed off from the Colonies. And to think I made the same bold move without the need for any major skirmishes or bloodshed.
So if you try to email me or text me or IM me or call me to congratulate me on my bold move, don’t worry if I don’t respond right away. I’ll be enjoying my staycation, with everything switched to airplane mode and a vodka chaser to keep me calm.