Troubled by tethered-to-telephoners

Not long ago I received a distressed phone call from my mother. What was the problem? Well, it seemed her other cordless phone had stopped working.

What happened? Well, she seemed to believe my older sister had something to do with it.

What had my older sister done to damage the phone? Well, she had placed a call to our mother while our mother was in the shower.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you, it didn’t to me either . . . .  until Mom coughed up the crucial connector:  She had ANSWERED my sister’s phone call while taking a shower.

“You answered the phone while you were in the shower?!” I repeated in disbelief.

“Answering the phone while I was in the shower wasn’t the problem,” my mom sniffed. “DROPPING the phone while answering the phone while I was in the shower was the problem.” Thanks for clarifying that for me, Mom.

I wracked my brain to recall what recent family event had been so dramatically urgent it warranted taking phone calls in the shower. None came to mind, so I asked what was so all-fired important.

“Well, some days your sister calls me before work so we can catch up on stuff,” my mother said. Gee, you wouldn’t want to miss an earth-shattering call like that.

Biting my tongue, I went to my mother’s house for a look at her phone. The damage exceeded a wet battery, so I went phone shopping and found a replacement set on sale. I set up one for her and left the other for a spare. Case closed, I thought.

I also thought it went without saying that my mother should refrain from any more shower phone answering. But I heard the telltale cascade of water droplets when I called her the other morning. “Can I call you back later?” she gurgled. “I’m in the shower right now.”

This is, mind you, the same mother who knew not to let us play with matches when we were kids; the same mother who advised us not to take candy from strangers; and the same mother who made sure we didn’t wear patent leather shoes with our Easter dresses to prevent boys from glimpsing a reflection of our underwear. Where did that wisdom go? Down the shower drain?

I should have insisted I needed to talk with her right then, just to see what she would do. But I already knew the answer.

What is it about a telephone ring tone that evokes such strong responses from otherwise somewhat sane people? A subliminal auditory message that if slowed down and analyzed would be found to say, “Take this call or you’ll die?”

Many people regularly risk death by answering their phones at inopportune times, like when they’re driving in heavy traffic or engaged in some other major attention-requiring activity. For instance, I remember taking a cordless phone up on the roof of my former, two-story Dutch colonial home while re-roofing. We were awaiting word from an equipment rental place that the cherry picker we needed had become available.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. I crab-crawled as fast as I could over the steep, nail-ridden, shingle-ravaged incline, risking a fall for a call. Joke was on me. It was just the wife of they guy helping us, wanting to know if we were ready to take a lunch break.

I learned my lesson. Since then, I’ve let the phone calls wait until I am truly free to talk. It’s taken a while to get my kids to also ignore the ring of the telephone while we’re eating meals, practicing violin, arguing, using the bathroom, heading out the door, or sleeping. Isn’t that why there’s voicemail and caller I.D.?

Adults are worse. Some come unglued at my absent phone reflex. When I have visitors, I usually don’t answer the phone. “Aren’t you going to get that?!” They seem amazed by my self-control. Nope. Not if it means rudely ignoring those I’m with in favor of those I’m not. If it’s a life or death matter, the caller will ring right back and I’ll know to pick up.

Unless I’m in the shower.

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