Why All Parents Need a Smartphone

This post is NOT for those of you who are the first to jump on every new technological bandwagon.

But if you’re more likely to be the last one on your block to get an account on the latest new social media platform, or buy the most cutting-edge tablet, or adopt the twenty-first-century version of doing anything, read on.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re on a budget, and we’ve prided ourselves on resisting the urge to be connected to the internet 24/7.

Problem is, the world no longer works that way.

After our last visit to my in-laws’ house, we were driving home – a five-hour trip by highway – through the middle of nowhere, when the unthinkable happened. We’d gotten a later start than we’d planned, so instead of pulling over for lunch as soon as we hit the road, I passed a snack back to the girls. By this point in our trip away from home, they were sick of my standard go-to road trip snack – rice cakes – so instead I handed them each a small cup of peanuts.

A short while later, barely an hour into our journey, two-year-old Essie began crying. Seems she’d chosen this day for her first stab at Let’s See What Happens When I Stuff This Small Object Up My Nose.

Since my husband doesn’t like pulling over on the side of the road, we got off the highway at the next exit, and pulled up to a little strip mall. It could’ve been worse – we could have found ourselves in a signal-free dead zone, of which there’s at least one on this particular stretch of road. Or we could have been without cell phones altogether, or found ourselves on a stretch of interstate without exits.

As it was, we reached the strip mall just before noon on a Saturday. While my husband took her out of the car, hoping that either the shift into bright sunlight or the pepper packets I grabbed from a nearby fast-food restaurant would induce her to sneeze the peanut out (she did sneeze, but the peanut didn’t budge), I got out my “dumb” (non-internet-connected flip) phone and our health-insurance cards.

Ten or twenty years ago, I could have gone to the nearest pay phone and figured out some place to take her that would fit the bill. But as cell phones have become more prevalent, pay phones – and their corollary, those large free phone books that used to dangle underneath them – have all but disappeared from the American landscape.

Or, if we had a GPS, perhaps I could have looked up “walk-in clinic” on that; but we don’t own one of those, either.

So I called the customer service number on the back of our insurance cards. There was just one problem, though: Apparently our health insurance doesn’t staff its customer-service line on the weekend.

In desperation, I called the nurse line phone number. Eventually I got through to a live person, who agreed that we needed an open walk-in clinic ASAP. It took her some time to find one. The nearest one she could locate was an hour away, on the west side of Upcoming Midsize City, several secondary highways from the interstate we were on.

So, armed with a street address that didn’t appear in our car’s nationwide road atlas, and a phone number that turned out to be wrong, we set off toward Nearest Walk-In Clinic Our Nurse Navigator Could Locate. Every so often, a change in the urgency of Essie’s cries prompted us to pull off the road, get her out of her carseat, and investigate what had changed – and whether there was anything else we could do to ease her discomfort and solve the problem. (There never was.)

As we approached the outskirts of Upcoming Midsize City, we again got off the highway, to buy a local map with which to find the walk-in clinic whose address Nurse Navigator had given us. As I calculated the distance between Points A and B, we decided it might be worthwhile to stay on the local highway we found ourselves on after exiting the interstate, figuring the chances were good of locating an open walk-in clinic somewhere among the plentiful strip malls that lined the road.

After several promising signs lured us off the road, but closer examination of their storefronts indicated we’d found closed primary-care practices rather than seven-day urgent-care clinics, we decided that surely a pharmacist would be able to point us to the nearest open walk-in clinic. Hence we pulled into the next strip mall featuring a chain drugstore with a pharmacist on duty.

Armed with a pen, the address from Nurse Navigator, and our new local map, I was encouraged to see not one, but two pharmacists on duty behind the pharmacy counter. My enthusiasm flagged, however, when it became clear that neither one lived nearby – meaning that neither knew the answer to my question.

Their first best guesses on where to look correlated to the closed primary-care centers we’d already tried. Eventually, one of them remembered the name of a place that often sent customers their way over the weekend, and the other found its street address for us to plug into our GPS or smart phone.

Explaining that we own neither, I held out my local street map and asked if they could show me how to get there.

Turns out, neither pharmacist could read an old-fashioned street map.

We eventually found our way to the clinic they’d recommended, sat for what felt like forever in an empty waiting room, and then waited another unbearably long stretch in an exam room before the doctor arrived. After peering up Essie’s nose with his little lighted probe, he could find no sign of the errant peanut, and confidently concluded that it must have slipped down the back of her throat, whereupon she had swallowed it.

While the doctor began to regale us with tales of all the foreign objects he’d retrieved from children’s nostrils over the years, we did our best to simultaneously block the girls’ ears (lest they get any ideas) and make a hasty exit. By this point it was well after 3 p.m., and we were all beyond hungry.

We found a place to grab a bite, ordered our sandwiches, and tore into our late lunch – all except for Essie, who hadn’t stopped whimpering periodically while clutching her nose. Eventually my husband took her for a diaper change, where – lo and behold! – lying her down on her back revealed that there was once again a peanut visible if you peered up her left nostril!

We still don’t know if her efforts to eat shifted it, or lying down on her back did the trick, but this time it only took a few tries for her to blow it right out.

If we live long enough, I can envision a day when my husband and I will be the last two people alive in the nation who can read and write cursive, do long division, and read a road map.

In the meantime, even as we try to teach our children these obsolete skills, we await the arrival of our new smartphones. Because having these skills doesn’t get us very far in a world that has moved beyond them.

Sure, there was a time when people lived just fine without smartphones.

But this is the twenty-first century, and times have changed.