How our kids call and text without a phone plan

Our kids each have their own cell phone numbers, but we don’t pay a monthly bill (and neither do they).

How do we call and text them?

Well, let’s dive in …

I’d looked into adding them to our plan, but NO WAY way was I paying $50 a month, per kid. I already feel like my husband and I pay way too much for our cell phone plans. Adding two more humans to the mix? Um, no. Definitely not.

Our kids have had their “own” iPhones as long as they can remember, but only because they get our hand-me-downs when we’re done with them. (We hang onto our phones for a long time, so they’re always *really* old — and usually somewhat broken — once our kids get them.)

Wow, I was so proud of this iPhone 4S at some point! Now it looks hilarious.

They started playing games on these ancient iPhones when they were little, and it was fun to see them iMessage us strings of colourful emojis and basic phrases. Sometimes it actually came in handy, too, if they got onto the Wi-Fi at a friends’ house and could send us a quick note.

When Covid struck and they were separated from their friends and classmates, Kids Messenger became a lifeline as they set up video chats and sent messages.

But Kids Messenger, FaceTime, and iMessage will only get you so far.

  • With Kids Messenger, you can only talk to people on your list
  • With iMessage and FaceTime, you can only talk to other iPhone/iPad users
  • With all three, you need a Wi-Fi or data connection or they’re useless

Now that our kids are full-fledged tweens, 10 years old and 12 years old (!!!), we needed a more reliable way to reach them.

They’re spending more time away from us, out on their own or with friends, and I wanted to be able to stay in contact with them.

  • I wanted to be able to track their location (God bless the Find My app, amen)
  • I wanted to be able to text or iMessage them (“Hello? When do I pick you up?!”)
  • I wanted to be able to call them (“Why aren’t you responding to my texts?!”)
  • I also wanted them to have the ability to call and text ALL phone numbers (without having to know their Apple ID for iMessage or FaceTime)
    • Mostly so they could give a phone number out to their friends, instead of giving them our home phone number (which I plan on canceling very soon)
    • But also so they had the freedom to let their friends call their parents if they needed to reach them (since a lot of kids memorize Mom’s cell phone, but wouldn’t have the faintest clue how to iMessage her on her Apple ID)
  • I wanted the option to put data on their phones sometimes, without a monthly plan

What to do, what to do?

If you know me in real life or on social, you can see where this is going! 😀

Back in January, I left my long-time gig in the newspaper industry and started working in marketing and communications for an Ottawa communications company called AffinityClick. Yup, I’m in the app business now, and I’m here to tell you that there IS an app for that. (Does anyone else remember those early Apple commercials?)

Just days into my new position, I realized our two apps — Hushed and aloSIM — would be the perfect solution(s) to the I-Need-To-Reach-My-Kids problem.

Hushed is a second phone number app, so you can buy phone numbers in 300+ area codes and keep them for as long as you want.

Download Hushed: https://tinyurl.com/download-hushed

You can buy temporary phone numbers from Hushed for a week, a month, etc. if you don’t want to keep them for very long. But I used a super-special Hushed discount offer to score lifetime phone numbers (they never expire as long as you use them) for $25 each — one for our son, and one for our daughter.

I got to choose their phone numbers from a huge list, and it took less than a minute to get the apps organized on their hand-me-down iPhones.

Oh, and I also “gifted” them their Hushed phone numbers on their birthdays, when they each got their latest hand-me-down iPhone. Just as they were about to tear off the wrapping paper, I had someone call their new phone number so the still-wrapped gift started ringing.

It was pretty adorable, I must say.

Except I wrapped their old iPhones in the boxes my husband and I had saved from our new iPhones, and there was a funny moment when our daughter squealed “An iPhone 13?!” and I had to say, “Um, no — that’s just the box.”

(Seriously, does she think she’s getting the same phone as me? She’s TEN! She drops everything!)

Why I bought my kids their own lifetime phone numbers from Hushed:

  • For a one-time payment of $25, they own that phone number for life
  • They get plenty of calling minutes/texts to use up, and the credits renew each year
  • If they were to run out (they won’t), it’s cheap to top up their account
  • Their phone numbers are within our own local area code (902)
  • They’re real phone numbers, so they can write them on forms, give them out to friends, etc.
  • They can call/text any phone number, and any phone number can call/text them (unlike iMessaging and Kids Messenger)
  • They can actually call any number in Canada or the U.S., if they ever got a long-distance friend
  • We can reach them by phone or text anywhere they have Wi-Fi or data (more on data in a sec)
  • They can use any mobile device to log into the Hushed app, and their contacts, messages, etc. are all there (so it’s not a problem whenever they get “new” hand-me-down devices)

Our kids love having their own Hushed phone numbers, and I couldn’t beat the price. Paying $25 ONCE for a number that will never expire (and calling/texting credits that will regenerate every year) instead of paying $50 a month for years and years?! Amazing!

Since everyone in our immediate family has iPhones, they usually stick to iMessage (leaving their Hushed credits untouched). But it’s been really handy to be able to call them on their Hushed number when I need to reach them. (iMessages are easy to miss, but you don’t miss a ringing phone.)

Hushed is also useful when they pass their phone to a friend so they can call their parents. It doesn’t matter if they’re calling an iPhone, an Android phone, or a landline — it will call them all.

Okay, so what about mobile data?

Hushed works perfectly over Wi-Fi, and thankfully it’s pretty easy to hook onto a Wi-Fi network these days. Our kids’ school lets them log into the Wi-Fi using their school IDs, our daughter’s dance studio has Wi-Fi available for students and staff, and their friends are all familiar with sharing their household’s Wi-Fi password with guests. (We keep ours in a pretty frame.)

But … what if there isn’t any Wi-Fi?
That’s where the other app comes in.

aloSIM is an eSIM data app, so you can buy short-term mobile data packages in 120+ countries and have an internet connection wherever you need it.

Download aloSIM: https://tinyurl.com/download-alosim

As long as your child’s phone supports eSIM, you can add prepaid data packages to your device whenever you want them. Since we just handed down our iPhone XRs to our kids, they were on the list of eSIM-compatible devices and could get aloSIM data.

This is VERY helpful because it means we don’t need to pay for a monthly cell phone package that gives them data. Our kids have their Hushed phone numbers for calling and texting, and if we want to add a short-term data package to their phone for a particular reason, we can do that in under two minutes.

Of course, sometimes you don’t know what the Wi-Fi situation will be until your kid is somewhere with no way to reach you, but usually you can scope that out in advance. If I know the Wi-Fi is going to be an issue and I’ll want to reach one of the kids, I’m happy to pay a few bucks, here and there, for the piece of mind that comes with knowing I can reach them anywhere, anytime.

Why I buy my kids occasional prepaid data packages from aloSIM:

  • They’re going away and we want to be able to reach them by calling or texting their Hushed phone number (without relying on Wi-Fi)
  • They’re attending a day camp that has glitchy/unreliable Wi-Fi
  • They’re participating in a special event (play, recital, etc.) and we want to make sure we can call/text each other if they need something
  • There’s a situation where we know we might need to reach them for an important message (“Running late! Stay put! Will pick you up as soon as I can!”)
  • They’ll be somewhere that I want to be able to track their exact location

While it would be convenient for them to have aloSIM data all the time, that would end up costing about the same as a monthly phone plan, so it’s just not worth it at this point.

We’re pretty good about thinking ahead to where the kids will be, and if there’s a reason we feel they’d benefit from data, I’ll open the aloSIM app on their hand-me-down iPhone and buy them a 1GB package. Then they’ll have sweet, sweet data flowing through their device for seven full days.

And I’ll know that anytime I want to call them, text them, iMessage them, FaceTime them, etc. they will be able to ANSWER ME IMMEDIATELY. (That’s the deal. Answer Mom, always, if you want to keep getting data occasionally.)

How our kids call and text without a phone plan

So there you have it! If you have a tween you’d like to reach on an old hand-me-down phone, this is a really cheap, effective way to stay in touch with them.

The Hushed app: Gives them their own phone number for calling and texting any number
The aloSIM app: Gives them short-term data when you feel Wi-Fi won’t be available

While it definitely feels like one of those they’re-growing-up-so-fast moments to be able to call and text your kids on their own phone, it’s pretty sweet when you can text them from bed to please flip on your tea kettle.

Covid didn’t care that we were careful

We’ve been so cautious for two full years.

I was sewing face masks before anyone was wearing masks — before you could even buy masks. There were days during the Omicron wave where I made our daughter wear two child-sized surgical masks, layered, because Covid was sweeping through her classroom. (And she did it, without complaint.)

We went months on end without seeing even close family. We missed two Christmases with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — all because the gathering limits changed and we wanted to respect the rules. We once wore masks to a family gathering because someone was unvaccinated.

And, oh, the vaccines! Was there anyone more committed to tracking news on vaccines and obsessively stalking the site in order to book first doses, second doses, booster doses, and the kids’ two doses? I helped dozens of other people secure their own doses, too — calling, texting, DMing to let them know about availability. It was my own little public service. My desperate attempt to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

In our family, all four of us had our doses on the first day it was humanly possible for us to receive them. With each new dose, it felt like we’d crossed another hurdle. ‘Well, at least we’ve got one dose. That’s something.’ ‘Okay, we’ve made it to fully vaccinated. Now, if we were to catch it, we’d be better off.’ If the government were to have announced a fourth dose, a fifth, a tenth, I would have happily rolled up my sleeve.

There were many times we said no to playdates and sleepovers because “Covid is too bad right now.” Even when the kids argued that it wasn’t fair because their friends were doing X or Y, I put my foot down. They begged to go to the arcade and the indoor trampoline park, but I said no. Those places would be too germy, I told them. It’s not safe yet.

For a long time, it felt like our hyper-vigilance was working. We weren’t catching Covid. We were winning.

So when I crossed the kitchen floor, glanced down at the test, and saw those two lines, I couldn’t have been more shocked.

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Living that #AmQuerying life

Writing the novel? I’m starting to learn that’s the easy part.

I finished writing and editing my first Women’s Fiction novel in July of 2020, and started the querying process. (For non-writer types, that’s when you pitch your book to literary agents in the hope of getting signed with one of them, so they can represent you and sell your book to a publisher.)

Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing at first. But I did the research. I learned how to write a query letter, how to write a synopsis (yes, it includes the ending), and how to decide which literary agents might be a good fit for my work. I sent out a few queries … 

… and then … crickets.

Um, OK. 

Well, all the advice says to focus on writing a new novel while you’re querying (because it can take ages to land an agent, but also because you want a career as an author, not a one-time publishing deal), so I started writing a second novel in August of 2020.

In the meantime, I participated in #PitMad events on Twitter, once in September of 2020 and once in December of 2020. There are 12-hour online events where you have three tweets to hopefully attract the attention of an agent and have them “like” your tweet, meaning they want you to query them. 

September 2020 #PitMad pitches …

December 2020 #PitMad pitches …

Each time, I shared three tweets about my first novel, #LastNightNextDoor, and received exactly one agent “like” per event. 

Both times, I queried the agent excitedly … 

… and they passed. 

No problem. I kept my head down and focused on writing Novel #2, probably (definitely) not spending enough time also querying Novel #1.

I finished writing and editing my second Women’s Fiction novel at the end of February (2021), just in time to promote it during the March 4 #PitMad event. I shared three tweeets about my second novel, #LastNightWithYou (yup, they’re part of a lil’ series) and received exactly one agent “like” once again. That was only a few days ago, so I’m still waiting to see if I hear back.

March 2021 #PitMad pitches …


It’s like matchmaking, honestly. 

Research tons of agents to see who might be a good fit for your work, pouring everything you have into crafting the right package for them (whether they prefer an email query or a form query), and then praying for a positive response.

This weekend, I spend three hours yesterday and three hours today poring over agents’ bios and manuscript wishlists and sending out 10 queries. 

Will one of them love my work and want to read more? Who knows? 

The point is that I’m going to keep trying. 

Somewhere out there is an agent who will love my work, totally click with my personality, and fight hard for me to be a published author. I just don’t know who they are yet.

After two years of “in,” it’s hard to go “out”

I heard myself saying the word “Covid” too many times during the appointment, during what was supposed to be light small talk.

“… Oh, well, I haven’t since before Covid.”

“Well, with Covid, I haven’t …”

“… but not really since Covid.”

I don’t get out much. It’s true.

But it was actually a bit shocking to hear myself babble on about how many things I can’t do, won’t do, refuse to do, no longer do, would prefer not to do, once did but don’t do anymore. I couldn’t stop.

Sometimes I think my life hasn’t changed that much over the last two years, from a logistical point.

  • I have worked solely from home since 2010
  • I have always enjoyed indoor hobbies — writing, reading, sewing, painting, crafts, etc.
  • I have never really like being outside in the sun/wind/snow/rain
  • I have always disliked crowds and had a titch of agoraphobia
  • I have continued to do Zumba a few times a week (at home, or in person, or both)
  • I have always been happiest at home

But I used to do more. I know I did.

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The moment I questioned everything

It wasn’t meant to be an existential crisis, but there I was … staring into space, still clutching a cup of lukewarm tea.

Before jumping into my usual #5amWritersClub work this morning on my latest novel (68,290 words and counting), I opened an interesting-looking newsletter (about writing) and decided to read through it while I sipped my tea.

I feel less urgency to dive straight into writing on the weekend mornings, when I know I have hours to mess around. So reading about writing counts as professional development. So does Wordle. 😉

Anyway, so clicking through and reading the newsletter led me to reading other posts on this particular site, and then I came across a startling piece about the BLEAK publishing industry, how hard it is to get published traditionally (believe me, I know this intimately), how little money authors make (an average of … get this … nine thousand dollars a year?!) and so on.

Um.

Oh my god.

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