Jewish World Review March 17, 2003 / 13 Adar II, 5763

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Mom develops rapport with son's answering machine | Although the better half and I feel distanced by the sporadic communication with our son who is away at college, we've developed a deep affection for his answering machine.

His first week as a campus freshman, we called and got a message that said, "If I don't answer this, it means I'm probably studying at the library."

Encouraging, but in the background were loud music and sounds of a party going on. Then a voice yelled, "Someone get Britney Spears out of here. I'm so tired of that chick hanging out here."

The message was a joke. Nonetheless, it put four new crow's feet around my eyes.

When we called during finals week, his machine said, "Today I became a women's studies major. I have a new class schedule. I'm probably in Male Bashing: Why White Men are Jerks. Or maybe I'm attending my seminar on Sexist Pronouns: Replacing He and She with Re."

Despite the lunatic messages, the answering machine was trustworthy. Always picked up after the third ring. Always gave us two minutes to spill our guts. Always played that adorable beep. It was dependable. Reliable. Yes, the machine was everything we hoped our son would one day be.

During one of the visits home his sophomore year, we mentioned that we were changing cell phone carriers. We would have six weeks of overlapping coverage, which meant an extra cell phone with free calls on nights and weekends. My husband offered the phone to our son and said, "Maybe you'd like to take it back to campus with you." The kid looked at us and said, "Yeah, but who would I call?" (Another set of crow's feet.)

Last spring, his machine played a new message: "I'm in the dorm kitchen with Martha Stewart. Some of us guys thought if we improved our cooking skills, it might make us more marketable with the girls. Gotta run. The ganache for my hazelnut torte is about to burn."

This past fall the kid moved off campus, and, surprisingly, communication increased. He began calling us, waiting for our beep and leaving messages on our machine: "Hey family, can someone tell me why there would be mold on top of a pumpkin pie?" (More crow's feet.) "Mom, we've got a big raccoon in the attic of the house. Are you're still down on that pet idea?" A parent is grateful for any communication, even if it is machine to machine.

When we last attempted to call him, we were greeted by a message on the new answering machine:. "If you want to leave a message for Tommy, press 1. If you want to leave a message for Dave, press 2."

I pressed 4 for our son and said, "This is shocking. We spend thousands of dollars to send you to college and you can't bother to leave a creative message on your answering machine?"

I know a mother who has attempted to stay in touch with her college son via computer. She sends him nice, newsy e-mails that include questions like: Are you eating well? How are your classes?

He routinely answers her volumes of news and detailed questions with: Great. She could send him an e-mail that said his two younger sisters had joined the circus and he would reply: Great.

For four long years this has gone on; the pattern finally broke a week ago. The kid e-mailed his parents with exciting news. He was so jazzed that he wrote an entire sentence: "Got accepted to Washington University grad school!"

His mother e-mailed him back: "Great."

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman