Sunday, May 18, 2014

Cutting the cord

It's time for “The Talk.”

A part of me thought that we'd never get here. That somehow we would skip right over the milestone in our preteen's development.

But unfortunately, the need for a chat was clear as a bell. A telephone bell.

Honestly, I thought we'd have ditched the landline by now, so the only phone she'd have to answer was the one in her pocket, which we had given her – finally – when she turned 18 and was already a skilled and cautious driver.

But the fact is -- as children of the '80s ourselves, who's first cellular telephones (acquired well after graduating college) couldn't even fit in our pockets -- cutting the cord linking our house to the telephone company is easier said than done.

As it is now the only people who call the house phone are either telemarketers, or looking for someone who lives elsewhere:

“Is Charlotte there?”

“Sorry. You must have the wrong number.”

Or, increasingly, calls are from friends of Ittybit.

Just the idea that shrill summons of the telephone might be for her has her flying toward it at breakneck speed. “I'll get it,” she chirps with unbridled enthusiasm.

Oh sure, I patted myself on the back when – no thanks to me – Ittybit answered the phone on the first few occasions with professional flair.

The smile in her voice never wavered, even when the call turned out to be a wrong number or, more disappointingly, for her father.

But lately, her much-taken-for-granted expertise has shown a bright light on all the things she really doesn't know about dealing with disembodied voices.

(I'd call them perfect strangers, but we all know nobody's perfect.)

Before, when the voice on the line said something completely nonsensical in her estimation …something like: “Good afternoon Mrs. (mispronounces my name). We'd like to tell you about a special opportunity for people in your area. ...” she would simply look perplexed and hand over the handset to any adult who happened to be taking up space nearby.

Now, however, the strangers' words form a puzzle that her 10-year-old self feels bound and determined to solve:

“Hey, Ma! There's a guy on the phone who says he's not selling anything, so I thought he could be your brother … if you had one. I don't know. I thought it was fishy, but I told him who I was when he thought I was you.”

And so it has become quite apparent (in addition to the fact that she routinely tells people are mother is in the bathroom, and NEVER writes down messages anyone can understand) Ittybit really has no concept of “phoning it in.”

Of course, after the first lesson in Answering the Phone 101, it also became evident that she really isn't much interested in learning anything I have to teach her about the transfer of information – digital or analog – into the ether.

Ring-ring. Ring-ring.


“Say 'Hello'.”



“Ask who it is ...”

“Who is this?”


“Well. Who is it?”

“I don't know, it's a recording.”

“Hang up.”

“What if it's the school or something …”

“Well, is it the school or something?”

“I don't know, I wasn't listening.”

“Then hang up.”

 "But that seems rude."

Of course, on the occasions when telemarketers are actually on the line trying to adjust their scripts to accommodate the wild goose chase of a conversation my daughter has started, my heart just leaps into my throat.

“Why on Earth would you tell a total stranger your name? Never, ever, ever, ever give out information to anyone over the phone, especially if you don't know them. … On second thought … WHENEVER there is someone on the phone you don't know just hand the phone to an adult.”

"But what if you are in the bathroom?"

"Then take a message. But write down their name AND their number."

“But why would they give me any of that information? They don't even know me.”

Honestly … I didn't know what to say after that. It felt a little like we were playing a game of Who's On First.

Perhaps this is just a sign from the universe that we need to cut the cord.

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