Technology, age and finding my footing

Today I was humbled by my age. I don’t think about being “old” – what’s old anyway? But I did learn that when it comes to technology, I’m far older than I realized. This was confirmed after 3 trips to the Apple store in less than 24 hours. I bought a new phone (I think the highest number, whatever that is) a few months ago. It’s new, cutting edge, and I’m happy with it, especially with the quality of the photos, although there’s one thing I wish they hadn’t messed with and that’s the security. Rather than give my phone a quick swipe of my thumb, the newest model is facial recognition and even though my phone recognizes me with a mask, if I add sunglass, my phone has no idea who I am. In Colorado, if you’re outside, you likely have on sunglasses as it’s a very sunny place. We’re all in disguise in masks and sunglasses so my phone not recognizing the disguise makes sense. I didn’t like the change and the thumb print was a lot easier, but I’m open to new ideas – keeps me young, right?

When I bought the phone the Apple sales guy convinced me I needed to get Apple care – something I’ve never purchased before because it seemed like a waste of money to me, like trip insurance, which I’ve also never purchased (until Covid). I was hedging on the add on when he told me that they’d give me a lot of money for my trade in (I’m not sure what “a lot” is), but because my screen was so cracked, they couldn’t give me anything. Nothing. Not even $2.00. After hearing that, I caved. He told me because I was buying the Apple care, I could skip on the screen protector. Bad decision.

Last week, and less than a month after my new phone purchase, I dropped my phone, as one does, and it landed on my driveway in precisely the exact spot to cause a whole lot of damage. My Apple care insurance became worth every cent. I have no problem with a cracked screen and have had screens so cracked that I had to be mindful to not cut my finger when opening apps, so this didn’t seem a whole lot different until I realized that the camera – not the camera that takes photos but the one that knows my face for security, was damaged, or more accurately, ruined. So I went to the Apple store, thankful for my Apple care and figured I’d just wait there while they sorted me out with a new screen. Well, when the new screen involves a camera, it’s more of a “come back in 5 hours situation.” So I left the store and returned home for the wait. It felt nice, and at the same time, uncomfortable, to not have my phone. What if there’s an emergency? What if my girlfriends are planning a hike the next day and I’m don’t get the message of when and where? What if my daughter wants to go to coffee or sends me a cute photo of my grandkids You know, dire stuff. Yet at the same time, it was nice to be untethered.

When I returned to the Apple store, exactly 5 hours later, there was a bit of a scramble and some hushed conversations among a handful of employees when they saw me. I was told to go over to one of the tables and wait and someone would be over to help me. Several minutes later, I was told by one of the employees that it would be a little bit longer and the store closed in 20 minutes so they hoped it would be done, but if not, I could come back the next day I’ve been patient and nice and cheerful and gracious up until this point then I got real.
“Tomorrow? No. That won’t work because I need my phone.”
It’s possible I added “for my job,” which was a total lie, but I needed to get their attention. There was a lot of going to the back room and more employees getting involved in the conversation, then the woman who I had been working with told me there was a problem. While they were fixing my screen, it appears they broke my phone and because of that they were going to give me a new phone. Normally, this would be great news. A new phone! But the phone I brought in was new and the thought of reloading passwords and the whole Apple ID situation, gave me a nothing but dread. I suppose they were trying to make the not so good situation better and help the silver-haired lady who needed her phone for her “job,” so I took the new phone, thanked them for their help, and left, the doors being locked behind me because it was closing time.

When I got home, I realized that my phone not only would not make or receive outgoing calls, but wasn’t receiving texts either. It was no longer a phone but rather, a camera and a social media connecting device. It appeared that in their haste, there was no SIM card – E-SIM or otherwise, so phone calls were impossible (just listen to me with all that tech talk… I was educated this morning…)

Four hours was one thing without being able to text or make a phone call, but close to 24 hours was another. All of sudden I had a lot of calls to make – people to talk to, plans to make, texts to send out etc. It’s when it becomes impossible that it also becomes urgent. Spoiler alert: once my phone was fixed and back in my hands, I could have cared less about making a call.

I got to the Apple store 15 minutes before opening the next morning – 9:45 sharp because I didn’t have an appointment and wanted to be seen first. I explained the situation to the front-door greeter/decides who you need to see guy, and instead of getting the expected, “Oh no! That’s awful… we’ll totally take care of it because obviously it was our fault,” I got an, “OK, I need the account number of your wireless carrier. Like I just happen to have that on me… sheesh. Fortunately, AT&T is only a block away from the Apple store so I walked over, was the only customer and was waited on by a very kind, young, outdoorsy looking guy who took care of the whole SIM card situation and also got me going on a better plan that’s going to save me $25 a month. He told me there was a big savings if I had AARP, then stumbled around his words and said, “Well… you know… if you’re old enough and all…”. I appreciated the effort on his part and the $25 a month saving to boot.

Unfortunately, there was one more glitch that sent me back to the Apple store. The old Apple ID/password rabbit hole. I know my Apple ID and I also know my password and even I’m surprised by that, yet my phone was telling me I didn’t know it. When I walked through the door of the Apple store, several employees now familiar with me, one of the nicer guys helped get me sorted out on the Apple ID issue which really wasn’t an Apple ID issue at all, but rather, was an issue with no credit card being on file (I hadn’t gotten that far on loading my phone with credit cards etc. at that point.). But before he realized that, he asked me if I was SURE I had put the password in correctly and maybe I should try it again, you know… just in case? Followed by “are you sure that’s your password?” Do you think he says that to the 24 year-old woman who has a similar problem? I’m proud to say the problem wasn’t me not knowing my password. That gave me a real sense of pride because I know the answer they usually get when they ask anyone over 50 if they know their Apple ID password.

I remember once many years ago going to a concert at an outdoor venue with several of our friends from the neighborhood. We were all in our early 40’s and although we looked every bit of 21, you had to have an ID to get the wrist band that would allow alcohol purchases. One of the women with us didn’t happen to have her driver’s license with her and her husband told her to just show her Jones Store credit card because only old people shopped at the Jones Store. Not only was he funny, but he was right. The Jones Store was always a favorite among the moms and I don’t mean MY group of moms, I mean OUR moms. That thought came up as I was leaving Apple. We were already placing judgement on our ages in our 40’s – we had no idea what going into an Apple store that is so uber hip that there isn’t even a check out counter, would feel like 20 years later in our 60’s! Humbling comes to mind first.

I thought about my parents’ frequent trips to either T-Mobile or the Apple store and my frustrations with them when trying to help them with passwords or the ever tricky Apple ID, which is a whole other story. I feel the frustrations with them that my own kids, and the nice guy at Apple, felt with me. The learning curve on technology is getting steeper and steeper and I don’t feel like I’m in the right footwear most of the time to make the climb. Maybe if they sold Apple computers at the Jones Store (which I don’t think is in business anymore…), I’d feel more at home or more confident.

I know that when that nice guy that helped me goes home to his wife or his husband or his roommate or his little brother and one of them asks how his day was – (just typing that makes it sound unlikely but for the sake of the story, bear with me), he might talk about yet another “grandma lady” who couldn’t figure out her phone… you know, the usual stuff. My go to when I’m feeling inadequate, insecure, behind the curve or in an Apple store needing help, is to want to respond to the tech’s questions that I don’t understand, with something I do understand – like yarn overs and cables in knitting, or what plants are the best for a xeriscape garden or which nearby trails offer the best views, but it doesn’t work like that. It was like when I had to answer an essay question in one of my classes in college that I didn’t know the answer to, but instead, would write paragraphs about what I did know. I didn’t answer the question asked, but would show the professor that I had studied – just the wrong stuff. I never got credit for those efforts, although I always did get comments.

I feel like my generation is the sandwich generation when it comes to technology. My kids, rather than teach me what to do, will just ask me to hand over my phone, my iPad, my computer then will go in and out of screens, type in some stuff and voila it’s fixed. I do the same with my parents, albeit on a much simpler level. My parents, on the other hand, although they use the technology they have and text and email and even wander over to Facebook on occasion, would be just as happy to get the phone call or the printed photos in an envelope in the mail rather than on their computer. I want the technology, but don’t want to have to go in very deep on keeping up with the changes. I guess that makes me sound old – like a sales rack shopper at the Jones Store. So be it. Until my phone breaks again, or there’s a glitch on my computer or anything with buttons and lights, I don’t know what I don’t know, although I can sure type paragraphs about stuff I do know, if the need ever arises.

Mother’s Day, 2022

Due to privacy issues… this was the best I could do. This was the “pharmacy,” where a variety of hygiene products were given out.

I’ve written several Mother’s Day essays and while they are my favorite to write, as they seem to write themselves, every time I sit down to start one, I wonder if there is anything left to say because I’ve said it all. I’ve told the stories about being a mom and a grandma (or a Laudie, as I’m referred to). I’ve written about learning how to mother by the seat of my pants and the deep-seated feeling of love that is so hard to articulate, yet at the same time, the easiest of all because I’m sharing a feeling that’s so familiar. I’ve written about Covid and the restrictions it brought with it and not being able to see my own Mom for a year and a half. This year is different. The piece did not write itself. I struggled to find the right words and stopped several times because I realized there are no right words. I also had to stop to cry. This Mother’s Day piece is for, about and dedicated to a group of women who I really don’t know. I introduced myself to a handful of them, but the rest, I only acknowledged with a smile or a nod of my head because smiles are hard to see behind masks. These are the refugee mothers from the respite center in McAllen, Texas, where I recently volunteered. These are the women who continue to come to mind long after my suitcase was stuffed back into the closet and the final load of laundry was completed. These are the women, who almost 3 weeks weeks later, and often at inconvenient times, still bring tears to my eyes.

After my first morning of volunteering at the respite center, I only wrote one word in the small notebook that went with me everywhere – RESILIENCE.

Merriam-Webster defines “resilience” as:

  1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
  2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Reading that definition, I’m happy with the word I chose to write down. The mothers I saw, having walked with children, some with husbands, some without, from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and as far as Ecuador and Peru, all fit that definition. Their bodies – strained but determined, were able to set aside their worries and fears while putting their roles as mothers first. I never once saw a mom raise her voice or scold or spank her child, even given the very harsh and cruel circumstances they were under with patience that had to be running thin. This was a group of women, most with young children or even babies, who had journeyed unheard of distances to arrive at the border control in Texas where they were then were detained to determine admissibility into the United States. The centers are not equipped for sleeping so there’s a 12 hour limit, although that rule is no longer adhered to. Hours turn into days and families sleep on concrete floors while waiting to be processed without even a mat because it’s only supposed to be a “day center.” Because of the over-crowded conditions, flu, lice, scabies and chicken pox was easily spread through the children. Food, drink and hygiene products were inadequate, forcing babies to drink out of dirty bottles and wear soiled diapers for days at a time. Once processed, the border patrol bussed the migrants to the center where I volunteered where they stayed for a few days while they waited for their sponsors to provide transportation or money for the transportation to take them to their home where they would wait for their arraignment trail. They were checked at the door for Covid, children included, and vaccinated. I saw the evidence of bandaids on upper arms, especially on the kids, who were eager to show me with pride and stories of how much it hurt. The whole process is extremely confusing and after spending a lot of time learning about it, I’m still not sure I understand the process, but know that the people we saw came through official border crossings, were detained, then came to the respite center a few days later, possibly several. After learning about the condition of the detention centers, seeing moms picking their way through their children’s scalps in search of lice, made sense.

I couldn’t help but think back to my days of traveling with 3 young children and how exhausted I’d be when we’d finally arrive at our destination. We didn’t walk, we usually flew, and we weren’t sleeping on mats lined up on the floor in a large, gymnasium-like room with 150 to 200 others, but rather, we slept in comfy beds. My exhaustion was real but it was also short-lived. The women at the respite center’s challenges had no end in site and the challenges they had already endured were only the beginning. They walked in danger and fear, all while putting the protection of their children first. Women who had access to birth control, went on the pill before their journey north, assuming they would be raped along the way, and given that over half are, that’s a fair assumption. Most of the women who came to the supply area where we would give away toiletries, needed either medicine for stomach issues or headaches – lots of headaches – but before they asked for themselves, they asked for their babies or children, who were feverish, dehydrated or had rashes or stomach issues. These mothers didn’t get a break. It didn’t matter how they were feeling, their children came first. (The dads didn’t go unnoticed by me, but given that this is a post for Mother’s Day, my emphasis is on the mothers). How does a mom answer her child when they repeatedly ask when they get to go home? Or sleep in their bed again? Or play with their toys? How do you help your child navigate uncertainty when you have no idea yourself?

The women I spoke with couldn’t hide their sadness at leaving their country but for their safety and that of their children, they had no choice. I kept thinking about the very large sign that greeted me as I entered the Syrian refugee camp in Greece.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land

These women were fleeing kidnappers, rapists and murderers. They were protecting their family. They were putting one foot in front of the other and not looking beyond that point. They were doing what they had to do.

I was so happy to see the resiliency of the kids who I played with at the center. Their biggest complaint to me was the pain in their upper arm from the vaccination. It gave them a sense of solidarity with the other kids – whose arm hurt the most. Kids are kids, no matter where they come from or what language they speak. There is no language barrier, especially for the younger ones and play becomes the language. I was grateful for the return of my Spanish, however, and eyes lit up when they realized I could speak their language and at my level, likely sounded like a 3 or 4 year-old, making me even more relatable and/or funny to them. They were adaptable – entertaining themselves with a game of “Go Fish” that grew to 14 kids or building houses with half a dozen blocks from a Jenga game. They were resourceful not only because they had to be at that point, but because they are kids and that’s just what kids do. None of them had laces in their shoes, which were too big to start with, and had to stop periodically to slip their shoe back on while they ran from one place to another because they weren’t allowed to go barefoot in the center. Shoe laces were all removed, adult shoes included, at the detainment center because of the personal harm one could do with them – a rule following an incident, I’m guessing. A few adults asked us for shoelaces, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any to give so they continued to walk around in shoes that flapped with every step unless they were the lucky few who got brand new, still in the wrapper, slippers. We also weren’t able to give everyone clothing that fit because we had a limited supply of donated items to choose from. One mom who keeps coming to mind, had her jeans completely unzipped and was trying hard to pull her shirt down to cover her expanding belly that was protruding above the zipper. I’m guessing she was at least 6 months pregnant. I asked her if she would like me to try and find her some pants that fit better and she responded with an exuberant “YES,” but her kids needed clothes first. I found the kids pants and shirts that were pretty close on size but could only find a men’s medium pair of sweat pants for her. She was petite, as most were, and I apologized for the large size explaining that our stash of pants was getting thin and we were were very limited on choices. She graciously took them and thanked me with appreciation far grander than I expected for a pair of men’s size medium, gray sweat pants .

My gift to a small handful of these women was to be able to occupy their kids, allowing them to close their eyes and put mothering on the back burner, if only for a few moments. The kids were easy to connect with as they were hungry for attention and play. The moms would watch me long enough to know their child was safe then would give me a nod and a smile that was visible even behind their mask. Besides getting Tylenol or baby formula or a toothbrush or clothing for them, playing with their children was really all I could do to help them. It didn’t seem like enough in the grand scheme of things, but it was something and that was better than nothing. It was also a gesture that told them I saw them, I cared for them and I wanted them to feel welcome. I think that mattered more than anything else.

I used to say I’d step in front of a moving train to protect my children and any mom I know has likely said the same at some point, knowing that the scenario would be highly unlikely. Instead, it served more as a metaphor for the distances moms go for their children and the profound love they have for them. These mothers’ acts of bravery and heroism was just about as close to stepping in front of a moving train as I’ve ever witnessed.

Mother’s Day, or Dia de las Madres, in the three Central American triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is celebrated on May 10th. To these women of strength and resiliency who I’m both awed and haunted by, I’m hoping on Tuesday, May 10th, someone will honor you, compliment you, hug you or watch you kids for a moment. And although you won’t be able to read the words I’ve shared about you as it’s highly unlikely you’d come across them nor are they written in your native tongue, writing them felt important to me. So much of your faces were covered by a mask, but your eyes and your hugs of gratitude said it all. Your strength, your convictions, your resiliency and your patience in the most difficult of situations, will not be forgotten. You were my reset and reminder to stop and recognize what I have, even on the most difficult days and that even after having the curtain pulled back on this reality in our country, it is only the tip of the iceberg and in reality, I still have no idea.

“Hope has two daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
― Augustine of Hippo

The anger feels easier, but anger without the courage to act isn’t enough. Both are necessary. What I saw in these women was courage, but no doubt it was the anger that fueled their journey.

To my own mom, it was through your example that I learned the importance of doing what I can to help others. I was inspired by the volunteer work you did in the schools during your and Dad’s winter months in Texas – so close to where I was.

To the ones in my family who I have the honor of calling you my son-in-law or daughter in-laws, I’m grateful every day that my kids chose you. You belong – like you’ve been in our family forever.

And to my the kids who I birthed and the 3 grandkids you birthed for me – you are my heart, my soul, and the best thing that ever happened to me.

And finally, to all the moms who happen to be reading this, Happy Mother’s Day. I hope you are celebrated well today.