With children, mothers, brothers, and many friends living an ocean away, life is not always easy. But in this perilous time when no one visits each other and every hug can be life-threatening, it doesn’t matter how far away you are. Online we are all neighbors.

Thanks to FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom, we are instantly in each other’s living room. So close up that I can see the twinkle in their eyes, or the bags underneath.

Illustration by Eliane Gerrits.

That is, if people answer their phone. Ah, and there’s the rub. Especially among the youngest. They are glued to their phones, constantly exchanging texts and videos, and are always connected. Yes, connected to each other, but not to their parents.

Last week it happened again. I was trying to reach my daughter. I urgently needed some information from her. No response, even after several attempts. Ditto to texts and emails. When she finally called back — a lot later, it was early in the morning for her — her excuse was, “Oh, sorry, Mom. I only had 1 percent.”

The phrase “1 percent” has become a loaded expression in our family. I’m not talking about the 1 percent richest people in the world, the happy few, the millionaires or billionaires. No, I am referring to the supernatural phenomenon that, when I call, the battery of my children’s phone is suddenly almost empty. As if the electronics spontaneously give up when I get on the line.

They may just be able to say hello, but then they really have to end the conversation. Because they need that last drop of electricity for an emergency call, or to share a cute cat picture with a friend. “Yes, I’m so sorry, but I really have to hang up now.”

I didn’t have that excuse back in the prehistoric days when landlines roamed the earth. If you picked up the receiver, you were, literally, hanging on the telephone cord. With electricity that just kept flowing.

Of course, we have taken the necessary measures over time. For example, there are chargers on every plug. But, it just so happens that they have always disappeared when needed. It goes without saying that it is never the fault of the children. Friends must have borrowed them. I usually find them later in a backpack. They also received portable chargers for their birthday. But they just wind up in a different backpack.

Strangely enough, when the tables are turned, they expect me to always answer immediately. The I-only-have-1-percent excuse doesn’t work for me. “You just have to charge it more often, Mom. It’s a matter of planning well, isn’t it?”

Well, it must be these crazy modern days. Fortunately, my 90-year-old mother is still there. I call her every day. After all, these are tough times. She always picks up the phone, because she loves hearing from me. But yesterday, halfway through our conversation, she suddenly said, “Oh, I have to stop. I only have 1 percent.”

Excuse me, my dear reader, I’m going to recharge. I only have 1 percent.

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published in 2017 in the U.S. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.