“Get off my computer!” I impatiently bark at my 12-year-old son, Levi. He raised his guilty paws from the keyboard as if a masked robber had surprisingly cornered him and yelled, “Put up your hands!” I moved into his place and started pounding away at an e-mail I had neglected to send earlier in the day.
“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” I later apologized. “It’s just frustrating that you’re always on my laptop. After all, you have your own.”
With that rebuke, Levi slunk away without a word. I felt badly. Mothers are supposed to be selfless and giving. Why am I so irritated and resentful about sharing an electronic device with my kid.
I checked my e-mail as I pondered this maternal quandary. That’s when I saw it; an e-mail from the practice coordinator at our Orthodontic office. It was an introductory sales letter inviting us to meet Dr. Sams and tour the office. This would have been a lovely invitation had we not been already been seeing this Doctor for over two years. I was livid.
My fingers snapped to attention and without effort I typed back a snarky response. “Dear Jenny,” I wrote, “It might behoove you to pay better attention to whom you are sending an introductory letter like this so that you do not inadvertently send it to people who are already patients. Trust me, it makes us feel insignificant.” Then, a captive of my momentary rage, I deliberately hit “send” and watched my haughty response disappear into cyberspace.
Levi was still sulking across the room. “I’m sorry, buddy,” I told him, “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. What were you doing on my computer anyway?”
“Oh, I was just looking back through all of your old e-mails,” he explained. “There are e-mails from like three years ago. Don’t you ever throw stuff in the trash?”
Suddenly a horrifying realization overtook me. “Oh no,” I thought. Yet another Debra moment of leaping to the erroneous conclusion. I re-opened my e-mail and saw the appalling truth. That e-mail from Jenny was in fact from 2010. It was her warm invitation to us to meet Dr. Sams and visit his office. I did it again! I’m like a an emotional Tourette’s patient. I just emote at people randomly, without a shred of rationale for my outbursts. Shit. This is soooooo embarrassing.
“Levi,” I calmly pronounced, “Why would you look up my old e-mails? That’s weird and kind of…creepy.”
“I like to learn stuff about myself when I was younger. Plus now I can read e-mails you wouldn’t let me read back then.”
That actually sounded kind of reasonable. It wasn’t until I was in bed a few hours later that I started to feel like his behavior was completely inappropriate and uncomfortably invasive. I nudged my husband, Mark, who was snoring next to me.
“Huh? What’s wrong?” He bolted upright.
“Do you think it’s okay for me to tell Levi he can’t use my computer and that he is never allowed to read my e-mails? I just feel like I should have some semblance of privacy in my own home. I mean before we had internet and e-mail it wouldn’t have been okay for a kid to rifle through his mom’s mementos hidden away in a box in her closet, would it? So just because everything is electronic these days that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have clear boundaries and restrictions. Right?
A loud snore wafted through the room. He had immediately fallen back to sleep, which seemed to be a fairly common response to my pontificating. I was on my own with this one.
The following morning on the ride to school I told Levi that my computer and email were off limits, that I needed to have some privacy, that not everything about parents should be accessible to their children.
He said he understood and apologized. “But you know, mom,” he said, “There is something really cool about reading all your old blogs and plays and e-mails. I get to really know you, in a way most kids never know their moms. That’s pretty awesome.”
Suddenly the privacy invasion felt a little less irksome. The haunting truth that at any moment adolescence could rear its ugly head and make me the least fascinating creature on the planet, was a reality too ominous to ignore. I felt badly, again. Maybe I had over-reacted.
But I didn’t turn back. I should have a right to my privacy, right? I’m an adult woman who doesn’t want to share every detail of my life with my 12-year-old son. That’s reasonable.
This is one of those issues on which I wish I could take a poll. Do you have personal boundaries in your home that protect your privacy or is everything fair game? I really need some good old fashioned girl-talk on this issue so please, share!