I was watching “Downton Abbey” a few nights ago when, just as Lady Mary was using a bell pull to summon a servant, my phone rang.
It was late, about 11 p.m. I’m not accustomed to receiving calls after 9 p.m., and on the rare occasions I do get late calls, my first response is to imagine something awful has happened to someone I love.
Oh no, I thought, what’s happened?
I picked up the receiver, resolving to be brave no matter what the news might be.
“Hello?” I said, bracing myself for tragedy.
“Mom?” said a weary but demanding voice on the other end of the line. “Can you turn the TV down?”
It was my eldest son, who has adopted the habit of using his cellphone, which is never far from his grasp, to dial up the house line from his bedroom, or the couch, or the playroom, to request something of us, much as Lady Mary had just done.
The other day, I was sitting next to the fire in our living room, reading “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” and my son was sitting close by, reading “Freakonomics“ for school, when the phone rang.
I was too engrossed in my book to look up, much less answer the call, but I remembered my husband was in the next room using the computer, right next to a phone, and so I knew he would pick up. Then my son spoke, and I thought he was addressing me.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m talking to Dad,” he said, and then he spoke into his phone. “Are you going to make a sandwich for lunch?” he asked.
“Geez,” I said to my son. “I can’t believe you.”
A few seconds later, my husband came into the room.
“You want mayonnaise?” he asked.
This is a kid who has no problem getting up at 5 a.m. to attend swim practice and who swims about 4,000 yards a day.
It is not uncommon for him to begin a Saturday at 6 a.m. to attend a water polo tournament or swim meet that lasts all day, come home at 6 p.m., throw a party that lasts until 2 a.m., and then stay up until 4 a.m. watching television and talking with whatever friend is staying the night.
He has plenty of energy. But rather than get up and walk 10 steps to the next room, he’ll call to request that the television be turned down or a sandwich be made.
I suppose I am to blame for this abuse of technology in my home.
I started it years ago when I decided that calling my husband on his cellphone was easier than walking to the shop 50 yards from our house to notify him that dinner was ready.
Now, I sometimes ring him up when he’s in a room at the other end of the house. My children are only imitating what they have seen their mother do, and I cannot really fault them for that.
You might think that I must have developed the habit of calling my son, too, when he is only a few feet away. But you would be wrong. My son does not answer calls. His ringer is always off, and one can only reach him by texting.
I have still not arrived at the point where typing out a message on a tiny keyboard is easier than walking down a hallway, or yelling.
My younger son only recently received his first phone, and he has not yet caught on to his older sibling’s phone habits. He will, eventually, but is still excited enough about having his very own phone that he doesn’t turn it off, and he answers his calls, even those with my name affixed to them.
I expect I only have a few more weeks left, though, before he decides that it’s in his best interest to keep his ringer off.
And it is only a matter of time before I pick up the phone to hear my youngest request a peanut butter and brown sugar sandwich when I am in the kitchen and he is in the back bedroom, watching television.
Lady Mary has nothing on my kids.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.