Issue August 20, 2008

Suburban Turmoil – Texting, texting, 1-2-3

Just when you think you’ve got the parenting thing all figured out, your kids stop making sense.

“Dude, what’s crackalackin? I’m hella spent,” your 14-year-old will say, collapsing on the sofa as she picks bits of Sugar Daddy out of her braces. “If I don’t, like, marinate, the brodads are gonna think Imma grimey.”

“Uh huh,” you’ll respond, nodding and trying to play along. “I know.” 

She’ll stare at you for a moment. “Mom,” she’ll say darkly, tears springing to her eyes. “I can’t believe you think I’m a grimey.” She’ll flee, slamming her door so hard the whole house shakes.

“I love grimeys,” you’ll call after her. “Really, honey, I think grimeys are da bomb!” But it will be of no use. In the span of one minute, you will have widened the Generational Canyon another 300 feet. And, as usual, it will be all your fault. 

So when my eldest stepdaughter called me out the other day in front of my entire family, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

“You never chat with us anymore!” she glowered during an argument. “You only punish!” I stared at her, aghast. I did, in fact, chat with both my teens pretty regularly, but lately, our conversations left something to be desired. A simple statement like, “Ann Taylor Loft has a big sale today. Wanna go?” was likely to be met with, “Are you bent? AT Loft is bobo fo shiggedy, my weeble.”

“You’re grounded,” on the other hand, is a universal language, one both parents and teenagers can understand. Which one do you think I’m going to use?

“You’re forgetting about something,” my husband said calmly when I complained to him later about the whole mess.

“What?”

“You’re forgetting about the power of the text.”

No wonder he looked so smug. Hubs had been texting back and forth with the girls for months, and while his first text, which said, simply, FOOT, had produced much merriment at the dinner table, eventually he’d gotten better at it. As a result, his relationship with the girls was growing by leaps and bounds, while mine … well, I wouldn’t exactly call it “off the heezy.”

Desperate to win the girls back to my side, I did the unthinkable — I took Hubs’ advice. That night, I read “A Parent’s Online Guide to Teen Lingo,” and once school let out the next day, I dug up my barely used cell phone and got to texting. 

Twelve minutes later, my first message was ready to go. “Wazzup?” it said. “How wuz skoolz?” I read it back to myself proudly before sending it on to my 15-year-old. “Skoolz” was a particularly nice touch, I thought. It had a certain edgy flair.

Seconds later, I received an answer. “You figured it out!” the message read. “You gangsta you!” My stepdaughter called me a gangsta? I glowed with pride. We were well on our way to a more meaningful relationship.

Over the next few days, I tried to text my girls often, and in the process, I learned something important about myself: My life was very, very dull. “Im just chillin wit ma gnomes here how bout u?” I wrote to my eldest one mid-morning, while feeding her younger brother and sister a snack. Not surprisingly, she didn’t respond.

But while I didn’t get very many texts back from the girls, Hubs texted me incessantly. “Whats up,” a typical missive from him read. I frowned and ignored it. “Any good mail,” he texted a few minutes later. Puh-leeze. That had to be the most boring text ever. Annoyed, I turned off my cell phone and put it in my purse.

That’s when the phone rang. “Why didn’t you answer my texts?” he demanded.

“You expect me to take 10 minutes to text an answer to ‘Any good mail?’” I asked. “No, thank you.”

“You’re supposed to text right back after you get one,” he insisted. “That’s how it works.”

“That’s, like, so not how it works!” my oldest stepdaughter giggled later when I told the girls about my predicament. “Was he for rizzle?” 

“Totally,” my 15-year-old said, nodding her head. “If I don’t text Dad right back, dude starts texting me over and over again. ‘Answer me.’ ‘Answer me.’ ‘Answer me.’ He’s off his rector.”

“Deezam,” I said. “Your dad needs to pump his brakes and chillax.” The girls nodded fervently. Reveling in their attention, I kept going. “I mean, I don’t like to dog on him, but sometimes he can be such a fizzle! He is such a texting noob.” Oh, I hated making fun of Hubs, of course, but I was sure he’d understand. 

When it comes to communicating with teens, a parent must do whatever it takes.