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Jason Reynolds: Grab the Mic, March Edition

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My mother is 75. And that means a lot. It means she’s lived over 27,000 days, which is a whole bunch of days. It means she remembers when watching television was for fancy people—a luxury. Same as running water. And electricity. She remembers the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, the death of Dr. King and President Kennedy. She remembers America going to war and to the moon and to the disco. She remembers the first computer, the first beeper (ask your parents) and the first cellphone. And it’s this last one, the cell phone—well, really the “smart” phone—that’s stumped her. It’s the smart phone, its glowing touchscreen and cartoonish icons, that’s turned her 75 years into what feels to her like 75 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. She can answer the phone, and make calls. She can even text message, but this would require an entirely different newsletter to explain how long it took me to convince her to even try (she was always afraid she’d hit the wrong letters, as if that matters). I’ve even—and you won’t believe this—but I’ve even gotten her to FaceTime with me over the last year, even though she still doesn’t quite grasp the idea that she’s on speakerphone and doesn’t need to put the phone to her ear. And when she does, I get a full glimpse of what’s going on in her head. Literally.

But last week, she called me (on her house phone), distressed.

“J, I need you to teach me how to send pictures to people on my phone,” she said.

“You want to send someone pictures?”

“No,” she said. “But I want to know how to.”

So, I went to her house, and started the tutorial. First, I had to teach her how to take a photo. Then, I had to show her how to find the photo she’d taken. Then, I had to show her how to send it through text.

It took hours. HOURS. And she kept thanking me. Kept apologizing for not understanding this new language, this new (to her) technology. And I kept telling her it was fine. Because it was fine. As a matter of fact, it was better than fine. It was fantastic. Sure, there were frustrating moments, especially when she’d get frustrated with herself. And it was challenging for me to figure out new ways to explain things, reworking my own definitions to help her understand. To meet her where she was. We practiced and practiced, tried and tried, running through it again and again, me trying to help, her begging me not to. And eventually, that weird series of sounds we’ve all gotten used to came through. The sound of a cartoon droplet chimed from her phone, and the ding of a bell from mine. She’d sent. I’d received. She was happy. And I … was something else. I mean, I guess happy is one of the words I’d use. But I was also … full. Because I’d taught my mother something. I’d given the woman who has given me everything a new language. A new skill. A new opportunity to express joy. And in that moment, a moment where learning was recycled between the two of us like breath—she breathing out while I breathed in, only to breathe out again for her to inhale my breath, which was technically her old breath—life unto life, I realized that this is the true meaning of relationship. Of family.

Young reader, I want this for you. You know things your parents don’t know, just like they know things you don’t know. But the only way our specialties are activated is if we’re all open to learn, which means we all—yes, even your parents who are basically older kids—have to be willing to admit when we don’t know. Willing to make that call. Because it’s in the I don’t know where the new experience is. And it’s in the willingness to learn, where love feels electric.

And yes, she sends me pictures all the time.

And no, I can’t make out what any of them are.

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Comments (18)

  1. Such a wonderful and meaningful observation to me as an 86 year old. It made me smile and laugh and be thankful for those with the patience to help me!

  2. Thank you for sharing this personal experience with us. I confess to have forgotten the beauty and power of teaching as I get caught up in the day to day task. The breathing in and out and being full is still there, but I forgot to notice it, and was feeling empty. As always, your insights touch my heart. Thank you again.

  3. I always say (and I am 90) that you must be patient with me on the computer and remember I taught you to use a spoon!

  4. My mother is 99 and will be 100 years old on January 28, 2022. She has always wanted to be at the forefront of anything new and immediately took to technology. She has more facebook friends than her children she corresponds with them all, she does her banking on line, pays her bills on line, talks to her friends allover the world on her iPhone. She is making a list for her birthday in Antigua next year and calls frequently to update the. list of people all around the world that she wants to come and celebrate with her. Her friends span the ages, first her children’s friends, then her grandchildren’s and I think she has plans for her great grandchildren.

  5. That is a joy. Speaking as an ‘older’ kid, I delight when my kids teach me something that I don’t know. I hope that they delight in learning the things that I do know and can help them learn because that is also a joy for me and a delight. Revel in the moment for we have too few.

  6. As a public librarian (and the daughter of septuagenarians), I saw myself in this blog! One of the most important messages I try to convey to older adults navigating technology: tech is a struggle no matter what your age and we all have our moments with it (whatever tech ‘it’ may be). Don’t be so down on your lack of knowledge; be proud of your willingness and interest to learn! Love this blog.

  7. I’m also 75, born a few days after WWII ended. I grew up with the computer, starting when IBM’s computer took up a whole room, using punch cards and FORTRAN programming and our typesetting computer (first in the Bay Area) was encased in plastic sheeting to combat dust. So many changes along the way to today’s hand-held iPhone computer! Just boggles the mind!

  8. Brilliant and poignant and sweetly funny all at once. T
    hank you.

  9. You are a wonderful son! I love how you were able to put into words what it felt like for you as the teacher. Kids are our greatest teachers.

  10. Jason Reynolds, you are the epitome of the younger generation that will save us. My life changed dramatically when I started providing daily childcare and tutoring to my two oldest grandchildren ten years ago. I embraced everything they wanted to do, even when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. I loved the “kids'” movies, the “young adult” books we read, the video games they played–we even discovered we liked math and science and history.

    I was horrified when my grandson said he liked a video game called Plague. You win by destroying every living thing on planet Earth. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention asked the author of the game to visit the headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, to share the game’s code with them. They engaged in “reverse engineering” to figure out how to stop deadly viruses from killing millions of people. My grandson decided he wanted to become a virologist. He finished his sophomore year and is pursuing his junior year in college via distance learning. He can’t attend biology labs, but I keep reminding him that all the world is his laboratory right now.

    I am so thankful to everyone who loves learning, and I’m especially grateful to you, Jason, because you relay stories that make us all pursue learning while loving and loving while learning.

  11. This was a wonderful story. It was a joy to read. The relationship you have with your mother is wonderful. Both of you are blessed to have such a good relationship of mutual caring and respect for each other. I’m 58 and still struggle with learning and remembering new technology, even though I love it. I sometimes ask my children who are all adults now to help me with various computer and iPhone things, but I also hesitate to ask because I don’t want to bother them with questions. Hopefully, when I do ask them questions, they enjoy sharing their knowledge with me as much as I love learning from them.

  12. This is so beautiful and a great reminder to the teachers of the world. We need to admit when we don’t know all the answers and be ready and willing to go on the learning journey together. Thank you, Jason, for always having the right words. You are a global treasure!

  13. You are a wonderful son and I know your mother is very proud of you! From one “older kid” to another, please tell your mother she did a great job:)

  14. This blog is important to me. It means a lot and I am so happy to read this. To Jason Reynolds, You are an Inspiration to everyone. Oh, also I can´t make out my mothers photos either. ◑﹏◐

  15. Jason, This is one of the most touching article I have read in a while. It is exactly what I needed as a 71 year old who is still learning how to manipulate and use the technology that is available to us all. It is a story that needs to be shared widely because there are other of our elders who are struggling with technology whose family members may or may not know are actually struggling. Many of our elders may be too shy to ask for help. But, our youth, our future leaders of our world must be aware that they can go to their grandma, grandpa or great-grandparents and ask if they could help them with the technology they may own. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It is a lovely way to end my week to have read this! Thank you for your patience and your love.

  16. I remember teaching my dad how to link an attachment onto an e-mail. I remember when Boost Mobile had the walkies-talkies phone. At first my mom would get mad because it went off all hours of the night interrupting her sleep. And then she wanted one. And I think that is when she went from using a house phone to a cell phone. My mom has joined this generation and no longer owns a home phone. She has a tablet that she gets up at 5 A.M. and plays games on and listens to music. My dad has a cell phone and a house phone. He has apps on his phone. He just can’t see very well so I don’t think he bothers with it.

  17. My teacher made me read this for AP lang

    • Hope it wasn’t painful!


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