About a year ago, my daughter and I had breakfast before moving her into an off-campus apartment. Suddenly, my phone made a trilling sound I'd never heard before so I looked at it.
"There's a picture of an envelope here," I said to Courtney.
"That's because you got a text," she said. "It's from Daddy."
I asked her to read it.
"He wants to know if you arrived safely," she said. "Go ahead, text him back."
I handed her the phone. "You do it. Tell him I'm fine."
She gave me a look of kind pity. "You don't know how to text, do you?"
"Sure I do," I said. "I just don't have that kind of time."
I was not being ironic. I couldn't text "What did you do this weekend?" to one of my children without producing something like this: "whgt (backspace) dgdwmt (backspace) dm (backspace) tggpweejeme@."
And that would make me want to open the door and throw my cellphone into the woods.
But as many parents have found, it's worth learning to text if we want to stay in touch with kids after they've gone to college.
Sure, you can call your son's or daughter's cellphone and leave an urgent message, or you can send an e-mail, capitalize the subject, and include exclamation points – but you'll still be waiting to hear back.
If you text, however, you'll get an immediate answer.
So I realized that I had to get on this texting train. And after I did, I began to understand the intrigue of texting.
What I noticed is that it's more efficient than anything else, and it's also less risky.
Nobody texts long, late-night messages full of lengthy, emotional dissertation. Nobody's tone is misconstrued in a text full of lowercase characters and missing punctuation.
And, of course, texting generates a quick response – something our children have been conditioned to expect.
I knew that if I could text, my daughters or son would be saying to whoever they were with, "Wait," while they looked at their phone and stopped to send back at least a couple of characters.
So I have embraced texting. I'll admit that it's not natural for me. I'm a writer, and it is counterintuitive to use lowercase where I have been using capitalization for four decades. And I'm not used to substituting whole words with one character (i.e. "im fine how r u?").
It's true that I sometimes click at the wrong time when I send pictures, but it's fun, and if I'm not impressing my children, I'm at least endearing myself to them.
Over the weekend, I sent my daughter what was supposed to be an image of my youngest son in center field, but I had misfocused.
Still, I sent it anyway with a text that said "Here is my purse." In just a moment, she texted back to tell me that I was awfully cute.
When our oldest son was a little boy, he used to enjoy accompanying me on trips to the bank drive-through, where he got to watch the deposit canister disappear after I pressed the button. Whoosh!
A few days ago, I made a deposit using one of those canisters. Afterward, I pulled over to the curb and, like a teenager, sat there, brow furrowed, world tuned out, and started texting.
I typed this: "Today I made a deposit with one of those whooshy, disappearing canisters, and I thought of you."
Within minutes, he wrote back: "I love those things! One of the greatest human creations!" That was all he said, but it was enough.
Texting your child is like waving at them in a crowd and seeing them wave back. It's not an actual exchange, but sometimes we don't want an actual exchange. Sometimes we want just enough contact to shorten the distance.
I am now a convert to texting. I consider it right up there with other wonders such as deposit canisters and children who like to talk to their parents.