By Mordechai Schmutter

My wife and I are trying to teach our kids to use the phone. Don’t ask me why. But so far they’ve got the dialing part down. Even our youngest, at 16 months, has that down. He just loves pressing buttons. He doesn’t really talk yet, but he just picks up the phone and starts dialing, and he doesn’t stop. Sometimes we hear a voice at the other end, going, “Hello? Hello?” and he’s still dialing away, and we have to awkwardly sneak over to the phone and hang it up.

But with our slightly older kids, we’re trying to teach them to actually talk once the other person says hello. We don’t make them call the bank for us or anything, but if they want to arrange a play date, they have to do it themselves.

But they still need work. They forget to say who’s calling, they leave huge gaps of dead air, and they answer about 70 percent of the other party’s questions by nodding or shrugging.

We don’t let them fly without a net, though. Being the responsible parents that we are, we have them make the call on speakerphone, so we can monitor what’s going on and jump in if it’s been like a minute and a half since our child has said anything.

For example, let’s say that our five-year-old son, Heshy, is trying to call his friend, Yaakov. This is typically how it goes:

YAAKOV’S TOTTY: “Hello?”

HESHY: (Silence)

He is totally shocked that the person who picked up the phone is not his five-year-old friend.

ME (whispering in the background): “Say who you are.”

YAAKOV’S TOTTY: “Hello?”

HESHY: “Heshy Schmutter.”

TOTTY: “What? I think you have the wrong…”

ME (whispering): “No, say, “This is Heshy Schmutter.””

HESHY: “This is Heshy Schmutter.”

TOTTY: “Oh. Hello, Heshy Schmutter.”

HESHY: (Silence)

ME (whispering a little more fiercely): “Say something!”

HESHY: “Hello.”

ME (whispering): “No. Say, ‘May I please speak to Yaakov?’”

TOTTY (who, I suspect, sort of hears me in the background): “Who do you want to play with?”

HESHY: “Yaakov!”

I think my son would do better on an automated answering system.

TOTTY: “One second… Yaakov! Somebody wants to speak to you.”

HESHY: “Do you want to play with me?”

TOTTY: “He’s not on the phone yet.”

YAAKOV: “Hello?”

HESHY: “Do you want to play with me?”

YAAKOV: “Who is this?”

ME: “Say who you are!”

YAAKOV: “What?”

HESHY: “Heshy Schmutter.”

YAAKOV: “Heshy’s mother?”

HESHY: “Heshy Schmutter!”

YAAKOV: “Mommy! It’s Heshy’s mother!”

TOTTY (in the background, whispering): “No it’s not.”

ME (more loudly this time): “Heshy Schmutter!”

HESHY (turning to me): “What?”

YAAKOV: “Oh, Heshy Schmutter! Why are you calling?”

HESHY: “Do you want to play with me?”

YAAKOV: (Silence. I suspect he’s nodding.)

TOTTY (whispering at the other end): “Say something!”

YAAKOV: “Yeah.”

HESHY: “OK. Bye!”

YAAKOV: “Bye!”

ME: “Wait!”

TOTTY: “Wait!”

HESHY: “What?”

ME: “Are you going to his house, or is he coming to yours?”

HESHY: “I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

ME: “Well, ask him.”

HESHY: “I want to go to his house.”

ME: “Just ask him.”

HESHY: “I want to go to your house.”

YAAKOV: “No, I want to go to your house!”

I’m glad we cleared that up. The last thing I want is to have to entertain someone else’s kid without my kid even being here.

ME (whispering): “Just have him come here. Is his mommy bringing him, or do I have to pick him up?”

HESHY: “Is your mommy bringing you?”

YAAKOV: “I don’t know.”

HESHY: (Silence)

YAAKOV: (Silence)

ME (having totally abandoned whispering): “Say something!”

TOTTY: “Say something!”

YAAKOV (to his totty): “I think he hung up.”

ME: “Tell him to ask his mommy or totty.”

HESHY: “Ask your mommy or totty.”

YAAKOV: “Totty, can I go to Heshy’s house?”

TOTTY: “Ask mommy.”

YAAKOV: “Mommy! Can I go to Heshy’s house?”

MOMMY: “What? No, you’re sick!”

YAAKOV: “I’m sick.”

HESHY: “Oh.”

YAAKOV: (Silence)

HESHY: (Silence)

YAAKOV: “You wanna come to my house?”

And then we have to do it all over again with another friend. But it doesn’t always go this smoothly. Sometimes, the other parent pretty much figures out right from the start, from the fact that it’s a kid calling, that the call probably isn’t for him. In that case, he immediately asks who the child wants to speak to, before the child is ready for it.

ME (whispering hoarsely by now): “Say who you are!”

TOTTY (as I’m saying that): “Who do you want to speak to?”

HESHY: “Heshy.”

TOTTY: “Okay, one second. HESHY!”

Apparently, my son’s friend has a brother named Heshy. The other Heshy gets on the phone, and, judging by his voice, he’s at least 14 and has probably been woken up for this.

OTHER HESHY: “Hello?”

HESHY: “Do you want to play with me?”

OTHER HESHY: “Who is this?”

HESHY: “Heshy.”

OTHER HESHY: “What?!”

So this is probably a skill they should teach in school. They do try. Once in a while, one of my children will come home with a piece of paper that has a kid’s phone number on it. The kid is sick, and everyone in the class is supposed to call him that night and sing him the refuah sheleimah song. Which they don’t want to do. At best, they want to call to arrange a play date.

OTHER MOMMY: “No! You’re sick!”

KID: “Oh. I’m sick.”

MY KID: “Oh.”

One of my friends recently told me that he hates answering phones and having to talk to other people’s kids. He says that it’s great that you want to teach your child to use the phone, but why does he have to waste his time teaching your child to use the phone?

But it’s not really much better when it’s your own kids. Like sometimes you’re at work, talking to your wife on the phone, and all of a sudden, she’ll put one of your kids on.

“Hang on, I have to do something. Talk to Totty.”

Now I love my kids and all, but they’re still little, and so far they have never once told me anything that I absolutely needed to know.

“Totty?”

“Yes.”

“I made a picture. Want to see it?”

“You’ll show me when I come home.”

“OK, but you have to remember.”

“I’ll put it on my list.”

And now you’ve started something. All your other kids are clamoring in the background.”

“I wanna talk! I wanna talk!”

One of them gets on. “Totty, can I have jelly beans? Mommy said no.”

“I don’t know. Put Mommy on the phone.”

Then another kid gets on with absolutely nothing to say.

“Hi, Totty.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“It’s Totty! Hi, Totty.”

“Can you put Mommy on the phone?”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a lot of flak from the older parents for saying this, but teaching a kid to talk on the phone is a lot like teaching a kid to drive. You know that they have to be beginning drivers for a while in order to become experienced drivers, but you still don’t want to be on the road when they’re on the road.

I still think that the worst is when a mommy puts her baby on the phone. She’s talking to a relative about the baby, and the relative says something like, “I would love to see him again,” and the Mommy goes, “He’s right here. Want to talk to him?”

Yeah, that’s the same. I’m going to hear the baby. That’s almost as good as seeing the baby.

But before the relative can reply, she’s already put the phone next to the baby’s ear. And now the poor relative is stuck trying to make conversation with a baby over the phone. That is some awkward small talk. What is there to say? Talk about the weather?

Hi, baby! Hi! Are you being a good boy?

And then in the background, they hear the mommy saying, “He’s smiling! He’s smiling at the phone!”

Great. This is exactly what the relative didn’t want to miss. There’s no joy in hearing a baby smile.

OK, put your mommy back on the phone. Put your mommy… Never mind.” (Click.)

Does hanging up on a baby scar him for life?

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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