No Location Found
The comforts and terrors of Find My People
I stalk my children.
Let’s just get that right out there. I have three children — all capable adults, all living in the Twin Cities, 1250 miles away from me — and two of them show up in Find My People on my iPhone. To be fair, they can also track me, and they know I can track them. They could disconnect — withdraw their permission — at any time. But they don’t. This is a great kindness on their part. I try not to abuse their kindness, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
I don’t remember how this whole tracking thing got set up, but I do remember why.
About twelve years ago, before I had ever heard of Find My People, I was chatting with my Firstborn, who had recently moved to the Chicago area. It was an October evening, and he had called to tell me he’d just been to the jeweler’s to pick up the engagement ring he’d ordered for his girlfriend. He was so happy. He was so in love and the ring was so beautiful and he was so excited about proposing. I remember the joy I felt listening to him — my most difficult child — brimming with hopes and plans for a bright future.
Then I heard another voice, and my son said, “Hold on a minute, Mom.” More muffled words, then he said (not to me) “No, you can’t have that.” And then he said a very bad word very loudly and the phone hit the pavement and went dead.
Sit with me for just a moment in that moment.
I was in the middle of Iowa. He was somewhere in the third-largest city in the country. He had said he was walking to the station to catch a train home to Naperville, but he’d been in Chicago only two weeks and he really wasn’t sure he was headed in the right direction. [In fact, he was closer to the bus depot, and the panting, meth-addled young man with the knife was not interested in the meager cash in my son’s wallet. He wanted the diamond. But I learned all this only later.]
In that moment, I was staring at a silent cell phone. In that moment, I knew my son was in danger and I had no way to help. I didn’t know how to call the Chicago police and if I had known, what would I have told them? I had no idea where he was.
I tell myself stories.
For example: I want to call my daughter but not, of course, if she’s driving or grocery shopping or out with friends. I’ll just take a peek first. See where she is. The story: It’s a courtesy on my part. Really.
For example: My youngest son is going to a wedding three hours away in Iowa. Was that this weekend? I’ll just take a peek. The story: just making sure he got there okay. Nothing creepy about that. Really.
And most nights, I confess, I take one last scroll on my phone: Daughter— Home. Youngest— Home. Okay. Home. Safe as houses. It feels like those nights when they were young and we were all in the same house and, no matter how stressed the day had been, I would knock on their bedroom doors, and they’d invite me in, and I’d lean over each of them in their beds and press my lips to their precious foreheads. “Always kiss me goodnight, Sweetie” I would say. “AKMG, Mom” they would answer.
Stalking is not without its downsides, of course. You sometimes learn things you’d have been better off not knowing.
For a spring break two years ago, our youngest planned to drive from his then-home in Nebraska to visit us in Arizona.
Just go west to Denver and turn left, I said.
I know how to read a map, Mom.
On the agreed-upon day, I lasted until eight in the morning before I took a peek.
He hadn’t left Lincoln yet.
Ten o’clock. Noon. Nearly one. Finally on the road!
Can you believe it? I said.
Put the phone away, honey, my husband — their father — said.
I provided my husband with regular, if unrequested, updates on his progress: Ogallala. Fort Morgan. Nearly to Denver! He should stop for the night soon, don’t you think? It’s getting late. Maybe he’ll stop in Colorado Springs.
Wait. He’s in Golden, Colorado. Why is he west of Denver?
Oh, dear god! He’s going to cross the Rocky Mountains. In the middle of March. In the middle of the night.
Put the phone away, honey.
But…how could I? Surely keeping an eye on him was keeping him safe! Hadn’t that always been my job?
From 700 miles away, I watched the little circle with his grinning face move past all those ski towns in the dark of night. I pictured avalanches and black ice and guard rails missing or in disrepair.
And then, close to midnight, it happened. Find My People returned these chilling words: No location found.
He’s in the mountains. Not surprising there’s no signal, said my husband (clearly deficient in the skill of Imagining the Worst).
The story: No. Location. Found.
Still. The longest twenty-six minutes of my life were the twenty-six minutes between the phone going silent in Chicago and the Firstborn calling me back as he wandered through a downtown CVS, buying first aid supplies to bandage the gash in his forearm. He was fine, he said. Sorry to have worried me. He was fast enough and strong enough to have recovered the little velvet box and its precious diamond ring from the meth-addled young man with the knife. No harm…hardly any harm done. Not worth calling the police. He’d text me when he got back to Naperville.
The story: He married the girl. They moved to St. Paul (the sixty-seventh largest city in the country). He works in IT. He still takes public transport. Ironically, the one who started the whole thing is the one without an iPhone. The only one I can’t track. Can’t virtually tuck into bed from far, far away. Can’t AKMG.
The world feels so dangerous. We are all, as the saying goes, just one phone call away from being driven to our knees.
Our youngest had pulled over at a rest stop to sleep in his car, turning off his phone to save battery. When he arrived — perfectly safe and sound — the next day, he said he’d been ‘surprised’ to wake in the morning and find himself surrounded by mountains and snow. He had been flying blind and unconcerned, and I had been hovering over a screen, sick with worry. No location found.
The true story: I can’t protect them. Seeing is not saving. A parent’s job is to teach them to keep themselves safe and to go out into a dangerous world and make a difference.
Still. Most nights, I answer the siren’s song. I pick up the phone one last time before sleep, do one last Find My People. The daughter, safe at home. The youngest, safe at home. The Firstborn? I’ll just have to have faith.
Always kiss me goodnight.