They'd exchanged phone numbers at school. Ittybit promised to call later that night.
Which she did. After dinner and before homework.
It was a big deal. ...
The telephone was my first, tenuous, connection to independence. It offered my mind a mode of transportation and a mechanism for planning that started simply enough with a single universal question: "What are you doing?" followed by the closed-circle response: "Nothing. What are you doing?"
Boy? Girl? It didn't matter who was hanging on the line, it only mattered that the line existed and that it connected me to a disembodied voice.
For the primary school set -- too young for Twitter and Facebook -- Alexander Graham Bell's invention is as relevant as ever.
The rules of communication haven't changed much, either.
"Smile when you talk," I tell her. "They may not be able to see you, but they will be able to hear the smile in your voice.
"Remember to be polite: tell whoever answers your name; ask if you may speak to your friend; always say please and thank you."
Phone etiquette isn't innate. It takes practice, and recently we'd been having our share of practice.
Still, I couldn't listen as she dialed the boy's number and waited for someone to answer.
I clanked around the kitchen, trying to buffer the exchange.
It reminded me ... a little too much ... of my own first phone call to a boy.
I had been in second grade, too. I didn't even know to be nervous. He was, after all, a friend I spoke to each day. A boy whose name happened to line up next to mine in the alphabet, as did his chair in our teacher's similarly ordered classroom.
To be able to continue the conversation at home, after school, is a strange magic not dissimilar to running into your first-grade teacher at the supermarket and feeling as if your world had been turned inside out. The first time it happens it's disorienting.
Some of that disorientation was happening as I ran through the script I'd practiced.
Hello, I am … , may I speak to … ?
The boy's mother wasn't impressed. Her voice, quick and sharp, told me all I needed to know about my mistake. And she wasn't going to let her son talk to any girl so forward as to call a boy at the age of eight.
More than three decades later, I have to wonder if David Sedaris' witty and scathing review of an elementary school nativity play wherein he writes: “6-year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin,” could have been inspired by a similar experience.
Honestly, though, I hadn't thought of that moment until this one, in which my daughter was chirping away into the handset asking a boy questions I didn't get a chance to ask.
“What are you doing?”
My stomach tightened even more as she charged my way with the phone.
“Ok, I'm going to get my mom and you put your mom on the phone, too.”
I stretch a tight smile across my face, holding the phone and waiting for a stranger's voice to come on the line.
This is awkward.
Hello? Her smile is stretched, too. I can hear it.
“Hi,” I inject a small laugh into my voice for effect. “I think our kids are interested in setting up a play date.”
Without much fanfare we set a date and exchange information. And within a few days a boy from school is playing in the backyard with our daughter, collecting specimens of rare weeds and putting them in an old umbrella for some convoluted purpose.
A broken bumper shoot is a typical centrifuge for whatever pseudoscience my daughter has devised.
Together they battle a rising wind and a meddling brother until the boy's mother comes to collect him a couple of hours later.
By all accounts it was a success. Plans are made to play some more another day.
He climbs into the car, she bounds into the house.
The phone is ringing.
“I'll get it,” she hollers.
I open my mouth to holler back, but stop mid objection. It's probably for her, anyway.