nancy drew and the case of the syphilitic cell phone

Check your child’s cell phone. Right now. Seriously, right now…and if you can’t right now because your kid is at school then the minute they walk through your front door you need to confiscate their phone and you need to start sleuthing.

(Side note: I don’t want to hear about privacy. I have not had privacy since the day I became a parent on July 7, 2013, and if I can’t have privacy then my children can’t have privacy.)

You, person reading this, need to get that phone and you need to put on your best Jessica Fletcher wig and you need to go full-scale CSI: Cyber Town on whatever overpriced Apple Samsung Nokia soul-stealing device you foolishly gave to your child, which you would do well to remember is your property because you paid for it and also because they are a child and they have no rights.

Once you have the phone you need to comb through every app, every photo, every hidden file. Yes, they hide files. You will need a drink for this, or several drinks. If you have some pills, I suggest taking a few of those too.

Pick your poison because you are going to need it.

I started my investigation with the carefree piano taps of the Murder She Wrote theme playing in my head…and then after a few minutes it switched to the more ominous Law & Order theme…and then about 45 minutes later I started to understand why people turn to alcohol and hardcore drugs in times of stress.

Take a drink. You are about to go down a very dark rabbit hole and it is called Snapchat. Snapchat is gross. Snapchat is where filthy language and offensive sexist and racist memes go to have it off. Snapchat is a safe space for toxic masculinity and girls with very, very low self-esteem.

I spent two hours combing through “snaps,” as they are called, and when I was through I needed to cry, scream, get drunk, and take a shower. And while my child was a willing and complicit participant in this cyber shithole, what really stuck with me were the words of other children. Young women objectifying themselves of their own accord. Young men saying things like, “a pussy is a pussy”. Kids referring to each other as “bitch” and “nigger”. Drugs.

Excuse me, I need to grab my beer and go cry-scream in the shower again.

I am not naïve or a prude. I’ve done so many crazy things that playing I Never just means I’m going to throw up a liter of tequila the next morning. But still, my acts of rebellion and my poor choices were things I did as an adult…not as a child. I went to college and I drank and I experimented with drugs and sex, and in theory I had the maturity to handle those choices because if nothing else I was not 14 years old…or younger.

The thing is it may not be your daughter offering herself up or your son referring to his “bitch”, but it is very likely to be the kids your kid is choosing to be around, and that cancer spreads and then eventually it will be your kid.

It is tough. This is tough. And I can tell you it is different for every kid. This isn’t just about filthy language or drugs or sex…it’s about culture and race and gender. It is about every parent reading this right now who is failing their child, myself included. We need to do better. We need to hold our kids accountable. We need to make sure this toxicity does not destroy the goodness in our children.

We need to check their phones.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is a 44 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband, three sons, and daughter. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym (not really).  He is the author of the best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?

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the lady of the house is a dude

Mrs. O’Donnell is my mother. Mrs. O’Donnell was my grandmother. I am not Mrs. O’Donnell.

It was an innocent mistake. A harmless assumption. An oversight. Earlier in the day I had emailed the principal at my son’s school. I had some concerns about the structure (or, lack thereof) of his classroom. I wrote a lengthy message detailing my concerns and in the body of the email I referenced my husband. I closed by signing my full name and then I hit send. A few hours later I received a response back from the principal, it began: “Dear MRS. O’Donnell…”

Oh no she didn’t, I thought.

At first I was angry and then I was amused and then I stopped laughing and I was angry again. I knew this gaffe had not been intentional and, based on the many spelling errors in the message, I knew her response had been written in haste.

So I assessed the situation. I recognized that we were a new kind of family. I understood that most of the families at my son’s school were probably of the “traditional” mom-and-dad variety and even though we had maintained an active presence at the school for the past two years I could accept that the reference to “my husband” might lead to certain assumptions and besides, wasn’t Sean also sometimes a girl’s name?

Stop.

I was rationalizing. I was making excuses. I was apologizing for myself and my family.

I have no doubt that the principal had made an honest mistake and while I wasn’t willing to give her a complete pass, did I really feel the need to justify myself to myself?

It’s true that my family does not conform to the mold of a traditional family, but then what is a traditional family? Three years into this parenting gig and it’s a question I keep coming back to: what is a traditional family? It’s an idea that no longer exists. It’s an antiquated photo that hangs over the mantle in a house belonging to people who pretend to like each other. It’s a throwback. A term which I suspect brings comfort to many of the people who want to “make America white straight Christian great again”.

But here’s the thing: there is no traditional family. There is just family. And no matter how you choose to define that dynamic we really are just a group of people thrown together – many through biology, some by circumstance, others by fate.

As my ten year old so eloquently wrote, “Family means people who love you and take care of you.”

So call me Mrs. O’Donnell. Put me in a house dress and pearls. Make me the Life magazine housewife of your 1950’s wet dream. I can be the person you need me to be.

But the next time we meet, remember that I am not Mrs. O’Donnell. I am just some guy married to some other guy raising two kids in a changing world…and it’s time for you to catch up.