There are times when something finally becomes so clear.
I've written over the years about parents who idolize their children. Parents who let their little one call the shots and rule the home. Parents who drop everything even conversations with other adults to marvel at Junior and whatever amazing, fantastic thing he's doing at just that moment. And they'll do so again at the next amazing fantastic thing he does in the next moment.
But as I've spoken and written about the plague of idolized kids, I've never quite had a succinct definition for one.
Now I do: Parents who idolize their progeny allow their very young children to leave the message on the family phone-answering machine.
These parents really believe that the entire world wants to hear a barely 2- or 3-year-old curtain-climber they typically don't even know speak virtually unintelligible babble for a full minute, if not more, before the caller is allowed to leave the nature of his business.
Often, the parents have to provide translation services for the adorable unintelligible child:
I have had this happen to me countless times. Typically, it goes something like this:
Several seconds of nothing. Then, "hawoah. ..." "Hello!!" translates Mom, always with exclamation points. "It's da clubdingons" "You've reached the Camders!" Long pause. "Mama, I done wanna." "Oh, honey, you are doing SO GREAT! Tell the nice people where we are!" Another long pause from the confused child. "Not hwa." "We're not here right now!" Mom clarifies in her singsong voice, because I couldn't possibly have figured that out on my own. "Tell a mssugggggg" "Please leave us a message! Now tell the nice people to have a good day, sweetie!" The child, baffled because he's not actually talking to people, but his mother keeps telling him he is, finally concludes with, "OK, um, byyyyyyyeeee."
At this point I typically don't leave a message because I realize I no longer want anything to do with the family at hand anyway. How could anyone regularly put unsuspecting people through this? And worse, think unsuspecting people want to be put through this?
Because they idolize their children, and they think everyone else should, too. Poor kids.
I suppose when it comes to phone etiquette, the only thing that annoys me more than the itty-bitty voice on the answering machine is when an itty-bitty person actually answers the phone, and I can't get him to let me speak to an adult in under three minutes.
"Is your mom home, dear?" "Um, yeah." Really long pause and I finally realize I'm still on the phone with the curtain-climber. "Can you get her for me, honey?" "Oh, yeah."
That's followed by yelling, typically into the phone "MOMMMMMMM! SOMEONE IS ON THE PHONE FOR YOUUU!" and then about two minutes later the irritated voice of the mother is heard saying in the background, "What, someone is on the phone? Who is it?"
Between caller ID and voicemail (with an adult voice, please) there is no reason to torture callers with our children. My kids are allowed to answer the phone only for their own friends and a few adults, and we practice over and over how to do it right.
Full disclosure: They never do it right.
The system is not foolproof, anyway. More than once I've been told: "You know I did call, but some little voice answered." Or worse, I've been in the middle of a well-deserved Sunday afternoon nap, wake to hear the phone ring, rant under my breath against the person interrupting my sleep while thinking how wonderful it is I don't have to actually speak to them, only to have the phone shoved into my face a full minute later by my 5-year-old with "Mom, somebody wants to talk to you!" (Worst of all, I feel compelled to pretend I wasn't sleeping at all.)
But, I do at least try not to torture callers with my kids.
I don't know. I would like to think that the seemingly increasing practice of hearing tiny voices on answering machines is really just sophisticated revenge on telemarketing companies. But I think I have to accept that it's a symptom of a larger problem in our culture because, well, even telemarketers don't deserve such treatment.