(original post date: March 24, 2010)
When I was a kid, I was hell-bent on interpreting everything literally.
At bedtime, my mom would sweetly ask, “Want me to tuck you in?”
My reply was not so sweet.
“You don’t tuck me in, Mother,” I’d say. “You tuck the sheets in.”
Somehow, and in spite of my flippancy, Mom maintained her smile and exuded her love as she performed the ritual.
The next morning, after a sound sleep (thanks, no doubt, to being properly tucked in), I’d head off to school, where the day would begin with roll call. The teacher would go through the class roster, reciting names in alphabetical order. As each name was called, the appropriate classmate would respond.
Some would say “present.” Others would say “here.”
As for me, I always said “here.”
Okay, not always… There was one exception. On that last school day before the Christmas break, I said, “present.” Why? You guessed it. I’d brought the teacher a present.
(Is it any wonder I went through an I-wanna-be-a-teacher phase? I mean, what kid can resist the prospect of so many presents every day?!)
I grew out of being tucked in when the age was appropriate, and by the end of first grade, I’d become wise to the meaning of “present” in response to roll call. It took me a bit longer, though, to comprehend fully the telephone’s “busy signal.”
I should mention, at this point, that if you’re a young person reading this piece, the rest of what I’m about to say may go over your head. Which is to say, if you’ve never lived with a “busy signal,” you need to do a little research before reading on.
As for those of you who remember that tone-tone-tone, I’ll pick up my story now.
I recall sitting in our kitchen, dangling my legs from one of the tall stools that surrounded the half-oval counter. Dad was probably sitting on one of the other stools. I don’t know where my sister was at the time. I imagine it was a before-dinner hour. It was relaxed and anybody’s.
My mom had just dialed her friend’s five-digit number on the rotary phone. Several seconds later, she returned the phone to its cradle. “They’re busy,” she said. Then, she crossed to the stove to continue dinner prep.
Although I’d personally experienced the tone-tone-tone of the busy signal, my mother’s wording really threw me off. Her stating “they’re busy” gave the signal new meaning.
As I sat there with dangling legs, I felt truly perplexed. All I could think of was, How does the phone company know they’re too busy to talk on the phone?
What a concept today, huh?
“Too busy to talk on the phone?”
You can drive, shop, have a meeting, get your nails done, do your laundry, prep your taxes, check out craigslist, change the kitty litter, sign up for Netflix, consult your horoscope, remember the Alamo, and you still are not too busy to talk on the phone.
… Recently, when speaking with a friend (on the phone), I referred to what I was doing as “juggling.” It’s true. That’s what I do. I never say I’m busy. I say I’m “juggling.”
And you know what?
I’d rather be busy.