Alice sat in the café in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and sipped her coffee, watching her daughter Priscilla romp around, burning off excess energy. The other moms were discussing toilet training, but luckily Alice was through that by now.
“Mom, I want my cell phone,” Priscilla said. Alice pulled the plastic flip phone from her purse and handed it to her four-year-old daughter. It was a dollar-store variety that didn’t even take batteries and had a sticker for a screen.
Priscilla grabbed the phone and flipped it open with one hand. For a while, she went around the café, holding the phone up and pretending to take pictures of the display of baked goods, the walls, the cups for sale, even other patrons. A few stopped to flash smiles and pose while Priscilla squinted at the sticker screen, moving the phone until it was in just the right position. Alice tried to keep an eye on her as she moved around.
Priscilla wandered back, flipping the phone open and shut. Then she looked down at it, flipped it open and put it to her ear.
“Hello?” She listened a moment. “Oh, really? I’m at the coffee shop now. Where are you?”
One of the other moms asked Alice a question and she turned to answer. Priscilla continued to talk and listen for a long time. She started to pace back and forth, her frizzy hair bouncing. At one point, she held the phone between her cheek and her shoulder to use both hands to gesticulate.
“I-O-WA,” she said, making lines in the air with her finger as if she were spelling the word. “I-O-WA.” She stopped and listened for a bit. “No!” she exclaimed. “Oh. My. Goodness.”
“They start early, don’t they?” one of the moms said, and the others tittered and agreed. They were all watching Priscilla’s antics now. A two-year-old of one of the other moms toddled up to Priscilla, reaching for the phone. Priscilla made a shushing gesture and turned away, cupping her hand around the phone.
“It’s amazing the things they pick up from us,” Alice said. “It makes me worried what else they notice.”
“Okay, bye!” Priscilla snapped the phone shut.
“Have a good talk?” Alice asked. Priscilla only nodded happily and bounced away to take more pictures.
* * *
“That’s quite a talk you had,” Subin said to her son Hojun when he stopped talking. They were walked from his preschool back to their apartment in Pohang, Korea.
She put the toy cell phone back in her purse. “I don’t know where you come up with this stuff sometimes. Honestly, I don’t even know where Iowa is.”
This was inspired by sitting in my local coffee shop today, seeing a little girl carry on a similar conversation on her toy cellphone.