We've entered a new phase in our family life. The very active social life of my children has added a p.m. dimension.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting in my armchair on a Saturday night, waiting for my younger son to get home from a social event. While waiting, I had an out-of-body experience. There I was, looking down on myself sitting in the same chair on future Saturday nights, waiting not just for him, but his brother as well.
Then I had a revelation. Maybe it was time to consider getting a second cell phone, a phone that could act as a balm for my nerves, which I could sense were about to become frayed. Suddenly I saw a common-sense application for the family plans offered by several cellular phone companies. I began structuring the arguments to counter their predictable pleas to carry the phone around every day.
"No," I would say to the 43rd scenario they offered. "It's for occasions just like Saturday night," or, "When the Magic Card tournament is over, and you're ready to come home," I'd say.
It would take deft parental maneuvering to keep my sons from realizing that getting a family plan had originally been their idea.
"That's what we need," the oldest had piped up recently when we saw placards about a family plan in the phone store while waiting for the next available customer service representative. His brother chimed in with vigorous assent.
At the time, I merely looked at them and said, "I don't think so."
"But just think," my older son said, "we can share your minutes."
I immediately had visions of a cell phone bill run amok with calls to pet stores checking on cricket supplies and in-store reptile stock, or to the neighborhood hot-wings restaurant for snacks.
Then came that Saturday night of waiting. For future reference, I checked on a few.
Family plans offer several features that are appealing if your family, like many, is frequently running in several directions at once.
One is unlimited calls between phones on the family plan.
Another advantage is one bill for the entire family.
Cingular's plan is called Family Talk. It allows package minutes to be shared with three additional family members. The monthly service plans begin at $29.99. It costs $16.99 for each additional line, and plans include one of three service options: mobile calls between plan phones, additional night and weekend minutes or both for $9.99 more a month.
AT&T;'s Shared Advantage plans include two phones, and three more may be added for $19.99 each per month. There are unlimited mobile calls between plan members, and plans start at $59.99 a month.
Verizon's America's Choice family share plan starts at $35; additional phones are $20 per month. It offers a set number of minutes for mobile calls between phones.
These service plans include additional features, including long-distance and multiple plans for more minutes.
Which plan to choose depends on your family's needs. Of course, with the phone also comes the responsibility of keeping up with it.
We're still mastering keeping up with coats, shoes and homework - all of which are larger than cell phones, I might add.