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(Neal Cresswell for The Globe and Mail)
(Neal Cresswell for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

My son and I text, not talk Add to ...

"Talk time" is a tradition we started when our two sons were preschoolers. At the end of each day, my husband and I would take turns curling up with them in bed while they regaled us with the unfolding of their days: soggy sandwiches, favourite books, playground politics. They barely needed prodding to charge through their struggles and achievements with colourful and endless detail.

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Over the years the topics changed, the details waned and the breathless stories turned into half-lidded mumbles of "I dunno" or the verbal umbrella, "Good."

Recently, our 14-year-old bought himself a cellphone. "Text time," in all its monosyllabic, misspelled glory, is the new "talk time," whether I like it or not.

I used to be anti-texting and I harshly judged the vacant-eyed robots who shuffled around with their hand-held life lines, oblivious to the world around them. I swore to myself I'd never be one of those people; texting was for the young and self-absorbed.

Then I got an iPhone for Christmas. I'm not exactly young, but I am teetering on self-absorbed and oblivious now.

And what about text-speak? As an English teacher, I was sickened reading such ridiculous excuses for the language as, "R u there?" In my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have believed I'd text my son with such blasphemy as, "Did u rat?" (it was supposed to read "Did u eat?"). The good news is I no longer judge others.

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There is an art to texting. Although I love the volley of a real-life chat, when it comes to that Lilliputian keyboard, I'm grateful that texting requires word economy. Once told by a piano teacher that I had perfect fingers for ivory tickling, I was more than a little surprised they failed me when it came to typing my magic. They were nothing more than clunky tentacles tripping over each other, forever tapping the wrong letter.

Plus, if I didn't have my reading glasses, I couldn't see the medicine-bottle-size letters, so I didn't burden myself with proofreading. That is until said son, within three nanoseconds of receiving a message from me that clearly stated, "Rmorrro," responded with "???". Confused, I fired off a better one, clearer this time: "Pt." His exasperation was clear in the next text: "Read your messages before sending." Show-off.

But from the first message I received from our teen, I've been hooked. It happened as I was backing out of the driveway en route to his out-of-town hockey tournament. That morning I asked him to text me with the score of his first game. I heard a sound coming from my purse, yanked the emergency brake into place to investigate and there it was: "We lost 3-0." Clumsily, I typed back the first of many concise and adjectiveless responses: "Bummr."

In the good old days (think spoken words), I would have offered so much more: uneducated questions about the breakdown of plays, incorrect comparisons to NHL games, aimless pep talks, misguided advice and Academy Award-winning facial expressions. With "text time" there is no room for this and I have the strangest feeling our son likes that part of it. I'm working on my vacant-eyed look.

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Texting is something the whole family can enjoy. For example, when our son recently went to a concert with a friend, my husband and I told him to text us regarding pick-up time and location. As it happens, there was a lull, to the tune of an hour and a half, between acts. So we took turns delving into his psyche from the comfort of our home.

My husband texted, "R u bored?" He answered, "Yep." I dug further: "Packed house?" He replied, "Uh huh." I typed: "vvrtts unm" He typed: "That you mom?"

Using his phone, he took a picture of the stage to show us how close they were to it. We responded by taking a picture of my husband to show how close I was standing to him. Our son loved the photo. We could tell by his response: "Uh. Thanks?" Think of it as a family trip without the car.

There are other benefits. Once I get good at tapping out the right letters, I plan to use texting to offer terse directives to our growing man/boy. For instance, if he's out past curfew, I might fire off: "Where r u?" If his response doesn't come in quickly enough, I could add: "Party ovr. Pls leave." Then, before his drive home, I could remind him, "Drive slo." It's not the lecture-based, facial-expression-heavy stuff I shine at, but since speaking in full sentences is so yesterday, I'll do it.

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The main thing is we are communicating. Not to mention, I'm positive our teen is tickled to bits that we can stay in touch with him at all times, and I'm confident he will cherish my future advice via the teensy keyboard. My fingers are becoming nimble weapons and I know now to keep my glasses handy to avoid future texting gobbledygook.

The vacant look, though, is the hardest for me since my face is my stage. Our sons' news, however monosyllabic, is the highlight of my days. Colourful adjectives and breathless stories are nothing more than a distant memory. Bummr.

Colleen Landry lives in Moncton.

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