Recently, at a meeting, a colleague’s cell phone rang. He looked at his screen and went pale. “It’s the school,” he muttered and bolted out of the conference room.
As a mom, I know that feeling all too well — hearing your phone ring and seeing the name of your child’s school as the caller is one of the most frightening parental moments. The time it takes you to pick up the phone and say hello may be the longest three seconds of your life.
“Do I need a plastic surgeon?” you may think. “A criminal defense attorney? A large sum of cash?”
Usually — and thankfully! — it’s nothing more than red eyes from allergies. But the frequency and fear of these calls have really zapped the joy (for me, at least), that once was telephone communication.
Before I became a mom, I loved seeing the phone ring — even from unknown numbers. Maybe it’s a call from my future husband asking for a second date? Maybe it’s a good friend who is in town on a business trip and has a generous expense account? An estate attorney telling me a long lost wealthy uncle passed away and I was the sole heir? I was rarely on edge when the phone rang.
But those days are long gone. While I have not received an official diagnosis, I am pretty sure I have telephonophobia, fear of the phone (it’s a real thing). For me, it’s triggered after I drop my 11-year-old kid off at school. I have a creative but negative imagination — most of the time I envision all the things that could go wrong. If my cell phone rings sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., it likely means a playground injury, sassy behavior toward a teacher, or my personal nightmare: lice.
You know what doesn’t help? How many of these daytime callers introduce themselves. Just the other day I got a call from an unknown number, and the woman at the other end of the line said, ”Is this the parent or guardian of (insert my kid’s name)?” By the time she said our last name, I was on my way to the hospital. Thankfully this was just the dentist’s office, confirming my son’s checkup.
Adding insult to my psychological injuries, my kid’s school and the Board of Education call approximately three times a week to remind me about such important events like the cheerleaders’ fundraiser or the upcoming PTA meeting.
Intellectually, I know that most of these calls I receive are not emergencies. But once I see the caller is the school (or school-related), my mind immediately goes to “broken bone” and not “bake sale.”
I know this stems from the awesome responsibility of being in charge of another human being and leaving that wonderful person in the constant care of others. So, to protect my sanity, I try to control as much as I can. I instruct our sitters that, if they call me, I do not want them to start the call with a causal, “Hello, how are you?” Instead, lead with, “Everything is all right” or, if necessary, “We are in the ER.” Much better.
A friend who gets frequent calls from her kid’s school usually answers the phone with, “What did he do now?” A clever — and funny — strategy to entice the caller to get to the point ASAP.
Humor is key here, I realize: Another mom friend has her kid’s school listed in her phone contacts as “Pain in my ass.” I’ve since renamed my kid’s school in my phone as “Don’t panic.” I’m hoping it will remind me to take a deep breath in those seemingly eternal seconds it takes me to answer the phone — and at the very least, it’ll make me laugh the next time they call.
As far as my colleague, the school called to tell him that his daughter forgot her lunch. The situation was immediately remedied when his mother dropped off her lunch at the school. But he was not the same for the rest of the day.