My phone etiquette gets a ringing disapproval

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Sometimes I marvel at how I ever managed to grow up, dress myself, and get a job without advice from my kids.

My latest lesson came yesterday. I've been answering the telephone ever since our prefix was MAY-FAIR and Aunt Vera chatted on a party line, but I've been doing it all wrong.

"I know this is a fine point, Mom," my young-adult son began in all earnestness, "but never, ever, pick up the phone on the first ring."

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What precipitated this teaching moment was a female caller (for him) on the other end of the line. I pounced on the phone because I was sitting at my desk and it was tolling two inches from my fingertips.

He sighed and patiently explained, "Mom, when you answer the telephone on the first ring, it immediately puts you under the power of the other person. Do you want people to have that much power over you? It makes you look desperate, like you're just sitting there waiting for that person to call."

But I am desperate and powerless when I'm waiting for a call from Jerry, the world's best air-conditioning guy. He has a waiting list longer than my ductwork, and I wouldn't dream of making either of us sweat an extra second.

And, besides, it could be Mom who just tugged a blackberry cobbler out of the oven and wants me to fetch it. I have to grab that call and cobbler before one of my sisters picks up on their first ring.

Sometimes, I even answer the phone breathlessly. It doesn't mean that I'm panting over the caller. It means that I just wrenched a bundle of clothes out of the washing machine and ran up the basement steps.

I explained all this to my son, but he still insisted that it shouted LOSER! when I picked up the phone on its first whine.

"If you want to learn how to use a telephone, Mom, take lessons from Abby," he said with pride about his sister. To this girl, a telephone is like a fishing pole.

"You're getting a bite! You're getting a bite!" we yell whenever her phone line rings.

If this were me, I'd reel it in immediately and see what's on the other end of the line.

Abby calmly checks her Caller ID/fish finder. If it's a rainbow trout, she picks up on the third nibble or so. If it's an unknown or a carp, he gets to talk to her answering machine.

I'm afraid that it's too late for me to rewire my telephone habits. When my phone rings, I'll continue to snatch it as swiftly as I can reach it. If I don't answer, it doesn't mean that I'm trying to act all powerful. It just means that the loser isn't home.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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