Sunday, March 25, 2007

What Ever Happened to Patience and Planning?

When I was in 5th grade I had a pen pal named Kitty Rutledge who lived in a faraway land called Northridge, California. Kitty and I wrote letters to each other for five years, handwritten letters full of teeny-bopper musings: "I rode my bike to the grocery store today and hung out at the news stand, reading all about Davy Jones and Bobby Sherman in the new Tiger Beat magazine!" "Today I sat by the pool with mayonnaise and lemon juice in my hair and then I went to Farrells for ice cream with my friends..." Sometimes the letters were many pages long and sometimes they contained only a scrawled paragraph, but receiving a letter from Kitty was always the highlight of my day -- even the highlight of my week. I'd run home from the bus stop and throw open the mailbox, ripping open the letter as I made my way to the house, devouring every word of her letter as I devoured my after school snack. Eventually Kitty and I both discovered boys and dating and our frequent letters became shorter and more sporadic. I never met Kitty, through even to this day I sometimes think of her, wondering what kind of fifty-year-old she is now.

In college, long after Kitty and I lost touch, I had a new group of friends who I'd often meet on campus for lunch or with whom I'd venture into town, shopping the new fashions (which, oddly enough, like much like some of today's hippest fashions). When my friends and I wanted to meet up, we'd need to institute meticulous and methodical planning before parting ways in the morning. "Let's meet under the bell tower at noon. If anyone isn't there by 12:10, the rest of us will go to the dining commons for lunch. At 1:00, we'll head to the bus stop and get on the 1:12 bus #255..." If something came up that prevented someone from keeping to the plan, not only would everyone else end up waiting and wondering, but the missing person would, of course, miss out on the fun.

Fast-forward 15 years -- to a time when fast-forward has come to define young peoples' lives. My kids never had letter-writing pen pals, they have no idea what it's like to wait for a letter from a friend to appear in the mail box, and they have absolutely no understanding of the concept of non-instant personal connections. My kids, who are connected to their cell phones 24 hours a day, can't fathom the idea of planning a day with friends in the morning and sticking to those plans no matter what. My kids' social lives occur almost completely spontaneously, since plans can be made -- or broken -- instantaneously. The notion of only talking on the phone when both people are home and available (we didn't even have answering machines) is completely foreign to them.

A few years ago, Elisabeth ran in the Bay to Breakers marathon in the Bay Area. On the day of the race, we told her we'd pick her up in San Francisco and take her to lunch. What occurred that day would have made my head spin 25 years ago, but it was a perfectly natural and normal occurrence for this day and age: We headed into San Francisco having no idea exactly where Elisabeth was, so we called her as we approached the Bay Bridge. "I'm at Lyon and Bay!" she yelled into her phone, obviously surrounded by massive crowds. As the navigator, it was my job to lead us to Elisabeth. The first thing I did was program "Lyon and Bay" into our GPS system in our car and from there we given driving directions by a very pleasant-sounding woman (not a wife, obviously!) leading us right to Elisabeth's location. As we approached Lyon and Bay, fighting massive crowds, I called Elisabeth again, telling her to look out for our car, which she did... and we were able to practically swoop her up without stopping just seconds later!

Such a scene would have been a complete impossibility when I was Elisabeth's age. Surely there would have been some yelling and tears as my parents would have spent hours attempting to find me in the crowds, first at some agreed-upon location and then amid the crowds. It would most likely not have been fun. Yet, when we picked up Elisabeth, it was just a brief blip in the very enjoyable day!

All this occurred to me today when Elisabeth called me as I was walking out the door to do errands, first at Target, then at Costco. "Oh, I wanna go!" she beamed. "I'll call you when I get across the bridge and we can meet!" And we did meet -- right in the Costco parking lot, even parking practically next to each other! (We were going to meet at Target, but I finished early and plans were changed on the fly... thanks to cell phones.)

So this is my "in-my-day-we-walked-to-school-in-the-snow... uphill... BOTH-ways!" story. I can't help but wonder what stories Elisabeth will tell HER children about how much rougher things were when she was young!

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