The Steep Hill


This morning I was standing in my driveway, pondering the Vatican across the street, wondering why they’re covering that gorgeous stone wall with tall, leafy plants, when a cute young mom ran past.  She was running at a pretty good clip, right down the middle of the street, down the steep hill, while pushing her baby in a carriage, while pulling her little dog along on a leash, while talking on her cellphone, laughing.  Look Ma! No Hands!  She didn’t notice me; she didn’t notice the new plants at the Vatican; she had no idea there were 2 cars inching along behind her, kindly giving her space.


I had coffee with a friend and we talked about the Audrie Pott sexual assault case.  At an April 15 press conference, Audrie’s stepmother read from her Facebook posts in the aftermath of a party:  “My life is ruined…I am in hell…The whole school knows…My life is over…”  Audrie committed suicide.  Audrie was 15 years old.

My friend lives in that school district.  Her son is in the 8th grade.  She was telling me that a girl in her son’s class texted a topless photo of herself which has, as they now say, “gone viral.”  My friend had to have the talk with her son — you know, the new talk about what you do when you’re just a kid and you see or receive inappropriate images on a cell phone.


Do we really need to take The Pledge, vowing not to text while driving?  Do we?


If you’re walking down the sidewalk, staring into your phone, why are you so angry when you run smack into me?  If the parking lot is full and you see me waiting, with my blinker on, to take your parking space, do you really need to check your texts and emails before pulling out?


This afternoon I took my big brown dog to the park.  Two young mothers were sitting next to each other on a bench, staring at and tapping messages into their phones while their children played.  I saw a little brown-haired girl, who looked to be about 4 years old, wander over the path and through the weeds and up the hill to see what was going on at the Vatican.  A construction worker walked toward her; he bent down to talk to her.  I saw a small boy slip and scrape the back of his leg on the concrete surrounding the sandbox.  He started to cry, which scared my big dog, so my y big dog barked at him, and I yelled at my big dog to stop it while the boy swiped off the blood and looked around the park, wondering, perhaps, if someone, anyone, might come running.


25 thoughts on “The Steep Hill

  1. Averil Dean

    You’re so fucking smart, you really are. I see people like that at the park sometimes, out walking the dog or near the playground, and they’ve got the phone out tap-tap-tapping on the screen, and it just seems like such a waste to me. Be where you are, you know? The emails aren’t going anywhere.

    HBO had a Louis CK special I saw last week. Funny as hell, as usual. He did this bit about the school dance recital, how all the parents were taping the performance with phones and iPads, staring into the screen instead of at the ACTUAL child who was ACTUALLY dancing on the stage in front of them. “You just want to post this to your Facebook page, so everyone can say how cute your kid is. They’re not watching your kid’s stupid dance recital. YOU’RE not watching the dance recital. These kids are dancing for no one.”

    1. Teri

      But see, that’s where you’re wrong Averil. The FB post of the recital is WAY more important than actually watching your kid dance!!

      Today I went to see a friend’s 11 wk old golden retriever puppy. I brought my phone in case I wanted to take some photos. But I couldn’t do it. For half an hour, I sat on the floor with that pup while she crawled over me and nipped at my hands and my clothes, and I threw toys for her and watched her scramble around the kitchen floor, in all of her cuteness. I don’t need a photo. I had HER in all of her adorableness!!

      I forget where I was the other day, but a grandmother — a young grandmother, 50-ish — was sitting outside with her little granddaughter, having an ice cream cone, looking into each others’ eyes, having a conversation. It was stunning.

    2. Jennine G.

      Who is this Louis CK guy? There was a site with him doing posts like Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye. I got the references, but had no clue about him.

      1. Averil Dean

        He’s a comic—a hilarious, smart comic of the self-effacing variety. He usually works up to a bit of social commentary at the end of the routine, which is why I love him so.

  2. Deb

    That just makes me sad. I’ve often made the argument that our country’s babies are killing because they learned from a young age that people don’t matter. When they were supposed to be learning empathy, they were stuck at daycare with a 103 degree fever and a double ear infection, and mommy and daddy were at work thinking ‘one more hour’ so they wouldn’t miss their moment of ass kissing at the weekly round up meeting. Every sick kid wants to be home with their mommy or daddy. They were taught they didn’t matter, that no cared enough. Now, there’s a new round of kids with Mommy home but not present. A freaking little box of LOLs and Happy Birthdays to people who haven’t been seen since 9th grade health class, is more important than a scraped knee or safety.

    1. Teri

      It is sad. It’s all so very fucking sad I wanted to run up to those mothers in the park and shake them into consciousness. But what would be the use. Really.

      I remember talking to my 8th grader about not surfing inappropriate things on the internet. I can’t even imagine having to say, “If you’re at a party and a girl is drinking and passes out, what should you never do? And if someone else does it, what should you do?” I can’t even imagine this.

  3. Jennine G.

    I just shared a post from another blog I follow to FB about this topic. And I commented that maybe there needs to be less of something in your life in order for your life to be more. These are perfect examples.

    We had the girls texting pics problem at our school a couple years ago. The administrators had to give the students that talk a class at a time – also reminding the seniors that they are 18 years old, which makes inappropriate pictures of a 13 year old on your phone a whole new problem legally.

  4. lisahgolden

    I have to confess that even before cell phones, I was rarely 100% in the moment. My head was elsewhere – thinking about what I had to do before I could sleep, slights imagined and otherwise, making lists of worries. I developed backstories for strangers, people-watched and/or often had my nose stuck in a book or magazine.

    It wasn’t that I was ignoring my kids, but I definitely kept myself amused while they played without my interference. More of my benign neglect, I think. Accessible, but not totally engaged either.

    I am pleased to report that I have attended a gazillion recitals, plays, and performances, etc. and actually watched because I couldn’t be bothered with the recording nonsense. Frankly, most places offer a professionally recorded CD so I could have a memento without missing the show, if I felt the need to have one.

    1. Teri Carter

      Thinking about other things is one thing. But would you go running downhill with a baby stroller and a dog while talking on the phone? I’m guessing not. I saw this woman again this morning — doing the EXACT same thing, though not in front of my house this time. She must be way behind on her phone calls.

  5. jpon

    I am the only person I know who does not have a smart phone. I carry a 7-year-old cell phone only because my wife insists I be available at all times. I don’t feel any less smart because of it.

  6. Lyra

    These moments are beautiful. They capture in such a tangible way how we take for granted the most precious of our treasures so that we can jam our “I Was Here” sign into the ether. What we miss is the knowledge that in all of our multitasking bullshit, there are people who would give their eyeteeth for that moment to pick up that little boy and comfort him if only he were theirs.
    Truly beautiful, Teri.

    1. Teri Carter

      I caught myself checking my email at a stoplight the other day. Do I need to check my very important email box during that 15 seconds? No. No I do not.

  7. girl in the hat

    Cell phones make me mad. And sad. I don’t think I’ll ever get one.

    This was so beautifully written, Teri. Subtle, poetic, and real. Just full-to-bursting with good stuff. Reading this put me in just the right mood this morning to sit down and write.

    1. Teri Carter

      Thanks, Anna. There must be a chain reaction going, because I swear I got into the mood to write this post after reading Averil’s blog. 😉

  8. LauraMaylene

    You don’t want to get me started on distracted driving. I mostly get fired up over the pervasive but completely incorrect assumption that as long as you use a hands-free headset, it’s safe to talk on the phone while driving. It’s not. Our brains are just as distracted whether we’re holding onto the phone or the wheel. Eek, there I go! I’ll stop before I go into detail about the guy I saw racing along in his car while blatantly looking down to text. He had a carseat in the back — thankfully, it was empty. But maybe the cars around him couldn’t say the same.

    On another note, I’m considering getting a smartphone this summer, largely because I might not have internet access at home at some point in the near future (long story). But I’m so reluctant — I already dislike my regular phone, and the last thing I want is to become a smartphone zombie.

    1. Teri Carter

      We are, all of us, I’m sure of this, flying mind-splittingly fast down the steep internet/smartphone/insta-news hill. And we don’t even know it. I long for the evening news with Walter Cronkite while I surf the net. We are gonners; we don’t stand a chance.

      How’s that for optimism.

  9. Josey

    i’m late here, but don’t want to miss a chance to tell you how much i miss you. so much.

    i am guilty of losing space around me because i’m too focused on my phone. i do hide it in my purse while driving and make special promises to my kids when we go out to eat, just the three of us, that mommy won’t, “…look at her phone once, i’ll even leave it in the car.”

    i hate and love my phone. i do think i’d be happier without one. more unconnected. I think i’ve reached a maximum point of interference with my new job and constant need to check email–all three accounts, twitter (ugh–twitter, i’m on it constantly and barely understand it), FB, linkedin, blah blah blah. and today, I decided i wanted to start following a local writer who is part of our communities NPR staff and when i tried to follow her tumblr blog i found out you have to have a tumblr account. really? can’t tumblr just email me when she posts something. want am i going to tumblr about? isn’t that just another blog i’ll have to keep up? i have two now and haven’t written on either for more than a month.


    it’s like that book about choices and how we become paralyzed to make a choice when we have too much to choose from.

    1. Jennine G.

      I just read that about choices paralyzingly us in a book called “You’re Not So Smart” – it had some subtitles too.

      I agree – have a love hate relationship with my phone too.

    2. Teri Carter

      Sometimes I feel like I need to dial it all back and start over. As in, back to being a 3 year old and how, if your mother had some sense, would never give you too many crippling options. Instead of, “what would you like to drink with supper?” it would be “do you want milk or juice with supper?” Two things. This or that. That’s IT.

      I swear to god we are crippling ourselves on a constant, daily basis, with all the noise and nonsense out there.

      If I get a Twitter account anytime soon, you’ll know I’m lost to you all.

  10. Bonnie Middlebrooks

    I too, sometimes despair about the state of parenting, being a friend, a considerate driver, sharer of public places. There are so many examples of the inattention due to smart phones and all the smart apps that can be had. Drives me crazy, too, especially when it I see the parents ignoring babies or toddlers in their care. Those young minds want attention and it is such a joy to interact with them, if we quiet down and listen and then share some bit of ourselves with them.

    However, when I pay attention, I hear of the smart youngster who does the “right thing” – returning a lost and very valuable diamond bracelet. Or I see the pleasure of a dad running with his boy, encouraging him along the way.

    The Childrens’ Parade in our town brings tears to my eyes every year when I see parents marching in crazy outfits and pulling their little ones in decorated wagons. It is a labor of love, even if some of them had a phone in their hand earlier.
    Let’s cheer on those families, whenever we can!

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