By Mindy Gallagher
I heard this the other day, “Hi, it’s Ben, is Ryan there?” Sound familiar? Trying to place where you might have heard it?
My son lost his cell phone, and until he replaced it, he was forced to use the old house phone – the main line, the one with caller ID where everyone can see who is calling. Who uses the home phone anymore? In our house, only grandparents or sales people would call on our house phone. So, of course, the house phone rarely rang and, thanks to caller ID, it was rarely answered. Everything changed with the lost cell phone. Suddenly the home phone was ringing again, a lot. I will admit at first it was an inconvenience, but then something wonderful began to happen.
When I was growing up, “back in the day,” my family had three phones: one in the kitchen, one in the family room and one in my parents’ bedroom. Each receiver had a cord and all phones were attached to a wall. The phones connected to one phone line – one family number. And I think it made us feel more like a family. Sounds ridiculous at first, but think about it. With one phone line, our parents learned so many details about our social lives and what was going on.
Our parents and siblings could easily figure out our best friends by the frequency of calls and the length of the conversation. It was obvious if a new boyfriend/girlfriend was on the scene by how anxious we were when the phone rang or didn’t ring and by how quickly we ran, pushed and shoved to be the first to answer it.
Unless the phone cord (remember phone cords?) was long enough to reach into the closet or we could hide in our parents’ bedroom and close the door, our conversations were easily heard. If our family members couldn’t understand word-for-word what we were saying, the tone of voice often divulged whether we were happy, sad, angry, excited or trying to be sneaky.
Families having only one phone line also created some fun and excitement. I remember some of my girlfriends calling my house, pretending they wanted to talk to me, but secretly hoping my older brother would answer the phone. And, I might have had a crush on one or two of my brother’s friends, so when they were home, I’d rush to answer the phone just so I could say hello and hear their voice. I was happiest when one of my brothers wasn’t available, then I had to take a message – even more of chance to hope that sparks would fly over the phone lines!
Our parents commented on our friends’ phone etiquette. They judged our friends by the way they spoke on the phone. And we had to learn how to speak politely and respectfully to adults when a parent answered the phone at a friend’s house.
Yes, at times, sharing a phone line was hard. “Mom, tell her to get off the phone. It’s my turn! She’s been on it forever!” was a common refrain vocalized by my brothers. How about the teasing you would receive (or give) when a new girl or boy called? Or remember when you desperately needed to talk to a friend or call home for a ride and all you got was the “beep, beep, beep” of the busy signal? But we learned to wait, didn’t we? It’s called “delayed gratification” – a concept my children know very little about.
Patience wasn’t the only thing we learned. A single-family phone line taught me to share because I wasn’t the only one who wanted to use the phone. We learned cooperation; there were times we had to get off the phone, whether or not our conversation was finished, because Mom or Dad was waiting for an important call.
And, we learned about the person on the other end of the line.
So when Ben called to speak to my son, I paused and said “Hey Ben, you played a great game the other day.” “Thanks,” he replied and a short conversation followed. It was nice, talking to my son’s friend for a few brief moments. I felt it was the start of a connection that went beyond the phone line.
I know cell phones have given us many things, not the least of which is a sense of security that we can always reach our kids and they can reach us – anytime, anywhere. We have the option of constant communication with our children, but we only learn what they want to tell. They choose which information to share with us.
I used to think cell phones were bringing us closer to kids, but really, I think they are isolating us from their world.
Mindy Gallagher is the mom of three teenage boys.