A quick mother-daughter road trip filled me with an excitement I haven't felt since Sofia was in kindergarten, when I was the mastermind of her adventures.
Sofia, 14, is an extrovert with a passion for socializing so strong that, if she could, she would keep it up via smartphone 24/7. However, to be honest, I felt a certain challenge needed to be dealt with head-on before we started the trip to Atlanta. It has to do with, well, repeat previous sentence.
So I reached out to Jill Ehrenreich May, associate professor in the child division of the department of psychology at the University of Miami. My question: How does a mother ensure the phone does not keep the teen from getting a full experience?
Collaborate and set rules, was Ehrenreich May's answer. "One good rule is to use something called the Premack's Principle to your advantage,'' she wrote in an email. "This principle refers to the idea that if you want someone to do something they perceive as less desirable (e.g. whether you like it or not, we are probably talking about nonscreen-time activities here), then you want to follow that with a more desirable reinforcer (e.g. screen time)."
The night before we left, I walked into my daughter's room. She was juggling her Bluetooth speaker, magazines, a flat iron and three pairs of shoes into her suitcase.
"Hey, Sofia, do you have a list of what you want to do in Atlanta?" I asked.
"Yep, three things. Martin Luther King's childhood home, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and I know it might be too expensive, but I really want to see Matilda at the Fox Theatre. I would love that,'' she said.
"I'll see what we can do,'' I said. "Listen, I'm concerned about the phone. I don't want to waste time battling. Can you handle just checking it at rest stops and at night when I check mine?''
"We might go to the Fox? Sure, I'll keep the phone off.''
Spoiler alert: Ehrenreich May's advice worked. There was not one issue with the phone.
We pull into the Highland Inn at 6:30 p.m. after a seven-hour drive. I chose a place off the chain hotel grid because I wanted Sofia to see Atlanta's intown neighborhoods. The Highland Inn is near Virginia Highland, a neighborhood founded in the 1920s as a "streetcar'' suburb. A former WWII-era apartment house, it was renovated in the early 1990s and is widely recognized for its vintage ballroom, a popular live entertainment venue. At $75 a night, it was also cheaper than a chain hotel.
After dinner, we stroll through the neighborhood to the intersection of Highland Avenue and Ponce de Leon Avenue to the Plaza Theatre (an art deco landmark and oldest running cinema in Atlanta) and the Majestic Diner.
We spend most of the day at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, a 34-acre area established by the National Park Service in 1980. It is a place you cannot rush through. It's on its own time zone.
We walk Sweet Auburn, one of the country's oldest African-American neighborhoods, to Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King gave his first sermon at 19. We sit in a pew, gazing at the altar while recordings of King's sermons echo through the sanctuary.
Afterward, we walk across the street to pay homage at the grave sites of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
In the afternoon, we take a tour of King's birth house. Tours are first come, first served, and you can only sign up on the day of the tour, in person.
Next we head to Midtown, hoping to buy tickets for Matilda and grab an early dinner before the show. "Sofia, if we stay in our jeans without going to the inn to change, we'll have more time for dinner,'' I said.
"Mom, if I can go to the Fox, I don't mind wearing my jeans,'' she said.
Success. Between buying "obstructed view'' seats (they didn't seem obstructed to us) and purchasing the tickets at the box office, avoiding fees, we are within our budget ($50 each).
So, we head to Mary Mac's Tea Room, about 1 mile away. The well-known "before the show'' dinner spot is already filled with other mothers and daughters, although we probably are the only pair in jeans. Established in 1945, the tea room's walls are lined with photos of famous visitors, from the Dalai Lama to Justin Bieber and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sofia eats fried chicken and I munch on a vegetable plate of fried green tomatoes, okra and mashed potatoes.
Did I mention it was opening night for Matilda? The highlight of being at the Fox is watching the young theatergoers take selfie after selfie under the marquee as well as seeing their faces as they enter the theater, designed like an Arabian courtyard and topped with a starry night sky on the ceiling.
The biggest highlight comes in Act Two, with the song When I Grow Up. As the performers sing the slow, sweet song, they swing on old-fashioned swings — hard. "They are swinging so far out that if they jumped off, they'd land in the pit,'' jokes Sofia.
It is a dream evening, and the end of an incredible day with Sofia. Yes, my girl did Snapchat with her fellow theater geeks in Florida during dinner, and yes, there were plenty of selfies when we arrived at the Fox, but um, I used my phone, too.
We spend only two hours in the Center for Civil and Human Rights because of the long drive ahead of us. But, it has a lasting impact.
The most intense exhibit is the simulated lunch counter sit-in. You sit with headphones on at a counter as voices yell racist remarks in your ear while the stool vibrates, giving you the feeling you are being knocked off. A timer clocks how long you can handle the abuse. I didn't last 60 seconds.
As we head home, I promise Sofia a return trip.
"I could live here someday,'' she says. "I love how you can feel the past when you walk down the streets, and I like the energy, too. It's a good energy.''
Somewhere near Valdosta, Sofia sneaks out her phone and programs Spotify. I'm glad she does.
Soon, I hear our new favorite song from Matilda.
"When I grow up, I'll be tall enough to reach the branches
That I need to reach to climb the trees
You get to climb when you're grown up.''
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Florida_PBJC.