It was my 14th birthday. January 14, 2001. After over a year of pleading, calmly explaining the merits, vitriolic shouting matches, and a host of other tactics, it seemed as if I had finally convinced my parents that I didn’t just deserve a cell phone of my own, I NEEDED one to make it in the ever changing world of the new millennium.
We had just finished my birthday meal at a local Mexican restaurant. They pulled a few presents from a bag beneath the table for me to open right then and there. A couple token trinkets and clothing items later, they placed the final gift before me. I unwrapped the small box to see what I thought was going to be Nokia clamshell packaging was in fact just a nondescript cardboard box.
I opened it. 1600 minutes of pre-paid calling cards. Plastic calling cards. My parents giggled and looked at each other, pleased as punch at their little prank, as I waited for the ACTUAL phone to come out and rectify this cruelty. But the real phone never came. At least, not that day. I sulked and pretty much went catatonic for the rest of that birthday.
My parents realized a few months later that a) I would never use those phone cards, even if my life depended on them, purely out of spite, and b) maybe I was actually right, and having my own phone would make their lives easier. So they caved, got me a basic phone and plan, and I joined my classmates in the 21st century.
During my high school and college years, I enjoyed the fruits of being on my family’s phone plan with only a few snafus. Back in the aughts, cell carriers treated texting with the same degree of bullsh*ttery they treat data today, like each was/is this terribly scarce resource that warrants exorbitant fees.
One month, at the height of my teen-ness, I caught a raft of sh*t for going over my allotted texting plan. I even listened in on a phone call my father had with Cingular Wireless where some traitorous customer service rep editorialized that my 1,000 text messages for that month was the highest figure she’d “ever seen.” Meanwhile, today we pop off 500 or so a day like they’re nothing. I was just ahead of my time, lady.
As the phone plan landscape changed, with my old carrier being swallowed whole by AT&T and the advent of smartphones folding the new wrinkle of data into the proceedings, I stayed on my family plan, which had now added in my brother for a total of four lines. Over the years, my brother and I convinced our parents of the financial prudence of adding unlimited texting and data to our plan and we hadn’t had an overage charge since.
At that time, around 2007, my phone plan was some average number of call minutes (with rollover, but that didn’t matter as I never made calls anyway), unlimited texts, and unlimited data, all to the tune of about $50 a month. At my parents’ expense, of course.
I was spat out of college onto the mean streets of real life at one of the worst times to be in such a status in nearly a century: fall 2008. The following epoch of struggle and churning through jobs left me in no position to start paying my fair share of the bill, let alone detach and start my own plan entirely. My mom, who had taken over the plan in 2008 for me, herself, and my brother following her divorce from my father, told me around that time that she was “happy to keep paying as long as [I] keep calling.” I thanked her and kept at it.
Three phones later, and in somewhat, but not drastically better financial straits, I have yet to broach the subject of switching out of our plan or paying my share to my mother. There are a few reasons I let this sleeping dog lie, quantifiable and subconscious.
First and foremost is the cost. Despite keeping the same plan with AT&T and their garbage service, even while living in the two largest cities in America, costs had somehow, as if by magic, crept upward over the years. Now the actual monthly bill for my phone hovers closer to $70. While this is still a great deal for unlimited everything (despite the rare throttling occurrence), I don’t want to suddenly force myself to find an extra $70 a month when someone is offering to pay it for me.
I appreciate the sacrifice my mother is making to keep a drip feed of internet attached to me at all times, and, hypothetically speaking, I'd prefer her not to be paying for this, or anything, ever again. But what sane person would intentionally kill a golden goose? And for what reason? To prove some outdated notion of adulthood to other people that are also secretly taking whatever financial help they can get from their parents? It's not like the topic would ever even come up. A cursory survey of my office revealed that around 80% of my similarly-aged coworkers are not just receiving phone support from their parents, but actually getting other expenses like insurance and travel covered too. Seems like my mom might actually be getting off easy.
Maybe my mother is bearing the cross of my unending post-college bitterness towards Boomers. It's now just a well-accepted fact that Baby Boomers were handed an era of unprecedented prosperity by their hard working parents and squandered it through greed and myopia, short-selling our generation's success in the process. We've been saddled with a permanently hobbled job market and a dying planet, all the while being told that, because of the invention of the selfie, WE are the real problem facing the world today. Maybe my mom didn’t personally torpedo my and my peers’ futures, but her ilk did. And if paying blood money to an overpriced oligopoly (that her generation helped attain such unregulated power) is her penance for being a cog in a machine that helped ensure I would never live as good a life as she or my father did, I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it.
Or maybe I’m just still pissed about that calling card prank.
Whatever the reason I have for living this way, and whatever her reasons for allowing me to, we both seem to understand that the alternative path, where I cleave off to do this phone thing on my own, leaves neither of us better off.
I should call her soon.