Children have a preternatural sense for when their parent is not paying perfect attention to them. A friend of mine says that even when they are asleep, if she dares to pick up the telephone, her boys wake up. I picture them as Shakespearean figures, popping their tiny bodies out of bed, announcing, “Lo! I quicken! The one who hath borne me hath spake to another!”
A new friend asked me what was the best way to get in touch with me. “Oh, I’m easy to communicate with. Text, email, Facebook message, G-chat, carrier pigeon, telegram, Instant Message, snail mail, Blog comment, Skype, Cyrano de Bergerac me at my window… JUST DON’T EVER CALL ME.” Since she has two children, she totally understood where I was coming from. Parents of young kids need the ability to write you back at lightning speed, between the diaper changes, top speed chases after toddlers out into traffic, and near-constant doling out of snacks that make up our day-to-day lives, at the end of which we usually collapse.
My friends who don’t have children, or who had them so long ago they have forgotten this phenomenon, are always calling me and becoming chagrined at how I can’t listen to their engrossing story about their boyfriend’s new job or how much sand they got in their hair at the beach yesterday. BELIEVE me, I want to know about that new sexual position you’re trying out, but can you please either tell me in scintillating email form so I can read it in absolute silence while my child naps, or over cocktails once her father is home so I can zip out to meet you and pretend I am a normal person?
When I was a young teenager, I used to write out notes of what I would talk about when I called boys I really liked. The topics were actually quite dull and embarrassing, about who won the basketball game and lame jokes about how Mrs. Hamilton’s hair looked like Rockadoodle. I would cross out each item as I managed to work it into the conversation — when I was out of topics, I’d say goodbye. Now, even though I feel a little sorry for those boys who didn’t know I was working off a script, I cannot imagine bringing that much foresight into a telephone conversation. I’m lucky enough if I can blurt out “Let’s meet at the park in 15 minutes!” before Olive imperiously asks, “My turn? MY TURN!!”
Of course her Grandmother and Aunt don’t mind these interruptions to talk to their beloved little family member, and they also don’t judge me for turning on Sesame Street when I really need to talk to them with my full attention for once. So, they are basically the only people I call. My friendships that rely on telephone conversations consist of a perennial game of tag, of which I tire immensely. If you are reading this and I have EVER called you, especially in the past 2 years, please know that that is the highest form of regard I can mete out. It means I am taking the few seconds when I could possibly be peeing alone, or having a complex thought, or picking up my disaster of a house attempting to call you instead.
I don’t think this difficulty with telephone conversations has been created by the digital age. I distinctly remember ignoring my mom for hours on end while she was gardening, cooking, or reading a book, but the SECOND she picked up the phone to call one her friends, I’d decide that I needed her help with my homework, or to ask if my best friend could sleep over, or just generally annoy her so she’d lose her cool on the phone. ”But when are you getting OFF?”, I’d whine, becoming boneless at her feet while entangling myself in the phone cord like a feisty kitten that you want to throw against the wall. I also had an unrelenting campaign to get “my own phone” — not just a phone in my room, because I could stretch the cord from my sister’s room to my own, but, as I unconvincingly told my parents, “I need my own LINE. All the girls at my school have their own phone number!” My parents were not the kind of people to be swayed by what everyone else in town was doing. So, before we got “call-waiting”, I’d interrupt my mother’s phone calls all the time so that I wouldn’t miss a very important call inviting me to a pizza party or asking me to the 5th grade dance. I don’t think my mother had an uninterrupted phone conversation for 2 decades, and she managed to have many thriving friendships!
Parents of the world, I know you can relate. If we need to get together, you know we’ll work it out, even if it means showing up at each other’s doorstep. In the meantime, don’t call me, I won’t call you.