Around the Bend: Needed: Anti-embarrassment app

Last weekend at a girls’ basketball tournament, I found myself in a public restroom with my 12-year-old daughter and some other moms and pre-teens. I washed my hands and waved them under the paper towel dispenser to trigger the sensor.
Wave, wave.
Frantic jazz-hands wave.
Still nothing.
My daughter groaned.
“It’s not that kind, Mom,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Just pull.”
I giggled. “Well, I can never tell which ones are automatic,” I said.
Anyone my age would have agreed. We would have laughed about how it’s not just the paper towel machines. You pretty much have to breakdance to get some of those self-flushing toilets to take the hint, and sometimes it turns out they aren’t self-flushing.
But my daughter’s not my age. She’s going on 13. Her response, therefore, before flouncing out of the bathroom, was, “Why do you always have to embarrass me?”
How is it an embarrassment to her that nowadays you practically need a username and password to dry your hands in a public restroom — except when you don’t? How is that my fault?
It used to be I was the one mortified by the older generation’s cluelessness. A decade ago I was urging my mother to ditch her Smith-Corona and get with the 21st century. Email was the thing, and Mom just didn’t get it.
Now, anyone who still uses email — um, me — smells of mothballs. These days it’s all about texting, which, according to the Young People, is more efficient than actually having a conversation. Ever since we got our daughter a cell phone, however, I’ve shown time after time that this is simply not the case.
My daughter and I have an almost daily after-school text exchange that goes something like this:
HER: Where r u?
ME: …
(This is the part where I have to remember how to “unlock” my phone’s keypad; read her message; choose “Reply”; attempt to slide out the keyboard, inadvertently throwing the phone on the floor where it scatters in several pieces; and type, “At the store. I’ll pick you up in 5 minutes.”)
But I only get to “At th—” before I get another text.
HER: Mom. Where r u?
ME (minutes later, after reassembling the phone yet again): At th—
HER: When r u coming to get me?
Uttering curses, I give up and call her. She doesn’t answer (they never do) but she does call me a minute later, once she’s managed to sneak off into a janitor’s closet so her peers can’t see her actually talking on the phone. (Mom embarrassment successfully averted.)
I really never understood how much my perspective has changed until the other day, when I saw my daughter browsing classifieds on Craigslist. She was doubled over with laughter, pointing at a CD player for sale. “Nobody uses those any more!” she said, gleeful at the naiveté of the poor Old Person who had posted the ad.
This hurt. I didn’t even encounter my first CD player until college in 1986 and in my mind it’s still cutting-edge. I tried to explain.
When I was her age, I told her, before CD players — not to mention iPods — we listened to records or cassette tapes, which played only six or seven songs at a time, and always in the same order.
She gave me the same horrified, disbelieving expression I had given my grandmother when she told me about growing up with an outhouse.
I guess it’s the natural order: The younger generation tends not only to regard everything that came before it as irrelevant but also to look at previous generations as hopelessly inept. We all do it.
In that case, there’s no point in trying to make my daughter appreciate where I’m coming from. Instead, I lessen the sting of her disdain by imagining a day, years from now, when she’s in a public restroom trying to get the machine to dispense a paper towel using the latest super-modern technology: telepathy. She presses her fingers to her temples and thinks really hard, but nothing happens.
“It’s not that kind, Mom,” her own preteen daughter says, rolling her eyes. “Just wave. Why do you always have to embarrass me?”
It may make me a bad mother to admit it, but I seriously cannot wait for that day.

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