Amy Dunkin

During our annual Thanksgiving family gathering in Pittsburgh, we got to talking about how technology has changed our lives. One of my nieces mentioned how frustrating it was that her father rarely keeps his cell phone turned on. He responded that he found cell phones intrusive and few calls were urgent, so anyone trying to reach him could wait. My reply to him: "I'm sure you would feel differently if your daughters (now in their early 20s) were 10 years younger."

I realize that parents managed to raise their children in pre-cell phone days. But as a working parent who is physically removed from my kids' daily orbit, I find the cell phone to be an essential tool in staying involved in their lives and being available in case of emergencies.

That means I have the cell phone with me--and turned on--at all times: at my desk, in meetings (on vibrate, of course), on errands and lunch breaks, on the train, even in the ladies' room. And while sometimes it's annoying to hear it ring when I'm engrossed in my work, more often than not I'm glad for the call and that I'm there to answer it.

For example, there was the time the phone started dancing across a conference table and when I slipped out of the room, I found myself engaged in fourth grade playdate politics. Was it crucial that I walk out of a meeting to be party to this exchange? Probably not. But it was important to my son that I was involved.

Another time, a teacher called to say she had been waiting for 20 minutes after school with my 6-year-old because the person who was supposed to get him didn't show up. Now if I didn't have a phone, I'm sure the teacher would have figured something out, but this way I was able to make a quick call to a friend who could pick him up.

I've fielded calls at work from the school nurse when one of the boys wasn't feeling well, and calls from the nanny when she wanted to know what to make for dinner or needed my instruction on a disciplinary issue. But most important, now that they're old enough to know my phone number and how to dial it, I get calls from the kids. Usually they're asking me for permission to do something (such well-trained children they are) or consulting me on a homework question. While writing this blog entry, in fact, my son called to tell me he had finished all his written homework and could he go to a friend's house for an hour if he promises to do his reading after dinner. Small stuff, perhaps, but it tells me they know they can rely on mom, even if I'm not standing next to them. Of course, the quick "I love you" at the end of the call always makes my day.

Sure, parenting by cell phone is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions. But I'm happy to have this option when when I'm in the office and can't be right there in person.