The Twenty-Fifth Letter: Boom Boxes & What I Can’t Imagine


Dear Daughters,

One of your lift-the-flap children’s books features a boom box hidden behind two cabinet doors. I honestly don’t know why. The book is nonsensical: under the pillow flap is a banana, for example. It’s silly.

When we lift those flaps to reveal the boom box, I’m never quite sure what to say. “There’s the boom box…radio…music-playing thing,” I trail off.

You don’t know what a boom box is. Obviously.

Though we are hipster enough to play music on a record player occasionally, we primarily stream it on our “devices.”

Back in the 90s, I had a boom box in my bedroom as a teenager. It had a double cassette player and a CD player. I used it to make mix tapes for your dad when we dated in college.

Believe it or not, our 1999 Volvo station wagon has a working cassette player in it. That feels comforting to me. We still have those mix tapes.

My point is this: I’m not very old.

This was not very long ago.

I wrote a poem once about saving a set of encyclopedias for you, despite their obsolescence. Because I loved encyclopedias growing up, loved their pictures, loved the feeling of research. I still do.

In seventh grade, we learned how to write a research paper. It involved reference books and card catalogs and hand-written notecards.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of the Internet.

This was not very long ago.

I was the first of my friends to have a cell phone in high school, and all it did was make calls. I remember my dad’s first car phone, with a huge bag of cords inside on the floor and a giant magnetic antennae outside.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of tweeting and texting, weather apps and Amazon video, Facetiming and asking Siri how to roast pumpkin seeds–all on our phones.

This was not very long ago.

My high school graduation present was a 35 mm camera.

The learn-to-type games we played as kids came on floppy disks. The actual bendy kind.

I was incredulous that wi-fi was a thing when I first heard about it, was confused when USB drives came around, and thought “Twitter” was one of the lamest words I’d ever heard.

This was not very long ago.

It’s not like I lived through the transition to automobiles from the horse-drawn carriage, girls. Nothing that drastic.

Except maybe more drastic.

Because the world has gotten so much smaller in the last thirty years. And also bigger.

Our lives are more public and we’re also more capable of keeping our real selves hidden. We’ve gotten more vulnerable and also more equipped to rally and proclaim. We’ve gotten stronger voices and also more polarizing discourse. We’ve come to expect a diversity of choices and are also more dependent on a global economy. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips and also learn about news instantaneously, errors in reporting and all.

It’s inspiring and frightening, these changes.

I can’t imagine the next thirty years. How can I?

I can’t imagine what life will be like for you. How can I?

In the 1990s, a boom box was pretty amazing.

As I type this, the two of you are watching a PBS show on the iPad about dinosaurs. (For the record, even the dinosaur names have changed since I was a child.) The toddler already knows how to turn off the iPad and begins to swipe the screen. You know which icon gets you to look at pictures, know that the little triangle in the middle of a screen means that a movie can play if you press it, know that talking to faraway grandparents means you get to see them. You even pretend to “text” with your phone toys.

What will life be like for you, girls?

I wonder about it, and I’ll be honest:

It frightens me sometimes.

It gives me hope sometimes.

Sometimes even at the same time.

But I try to focus on the hope part.

You are watching PBS, after all, not princesses. That’s hopeful.


Your Momma