Monday, July 02, 2018

Phoning Home

He cried as his mother left him, bawling at the gate, shouting for her to return. As a cooperative school, parents are always welcome to stay with their kids, but this was a case when mommy had an important appointment. I sat with him as he wailed, letting us all know that he wanted mommy to come back.

He wanted me to let him out of the gate, he was going to chase after her, but I told him it was too late, that she had already driven away. With this information he turned to face me and the playground. I said, "Mommy will come back when we sing the boom-boom song. Mommies always come back."

"I want to call her."

"I don't know her number."

"I do." He then recited some numbers that sounded a lot like a phone number.

I handed him my phone. I didn't have a small child during the smart phone era, I'd heard that even the youngest kids all know how to use them, but this boy was barely three. Through his strong emotion he managed it expertly, and to my surprise and chagrin, he got his mother on the line. He had been calm and focused up to that point, but returned to a full throated wail at the sound of her voice. I had not expected him to be successful and I felt awful for both the boy and his mom who was surely feeling as badly as her boy.

After hanging up, I sat with him as he once more cried his emotions through to completion. Then he asked me for my phone again. I said I didn't want to let him have my phone, but that I had a different phone he could use. It was a shot in the dark, but we have a collection of discarded mobile phones that the kids use as toys. I told him I would get him his own phone, hoping it would satisfy him, but doubtful given his level of expertise.

The moment I handed the vintage phone to him, he deftly dialed his mother's number, then waited with the phone against his ear for her to answer. When nothing happened, he said, "It's not working."

I answered, "That's because we took the battery out of that phone."

"Put it back in."

"Sorry, I don't have it any more. We threw it away."

I was half expecting this information to set him off again, but he took it philosophically. He began to dial his mother's number again and again and again, no longer putting the phone to his ear in anticipation, just dialing, connecting with her through those 10 digits. He carried the phone with him for the rest of the day, dialing. He asked for the phone the following day, this time without his tears. He carried that phone all of last week and again this week. Sometimes he dialed mommy's number, but he dialed daddy's number as well, alternating, discussing it with me, showing me those numbers over and over, making a connection over a disabled phone. And each day, when we sang the boom-boom song, mommy (or daddy) came back.

Occasionally and increasingly, he would engage with the play around him, but one-handedly as his other hand was fully occupied holding that phone. He still sought me out at times, sitting beside me when I sat, drawing my attention to the magic numbers, but he did so less and less. At one point I watched him "call" one of the other adults on the playground, who used her fingers to make a phone. He figured out to stand near her in order to hear what she was saying because "this phone doesn't work very well," and carried on regular conversations with her throughout the day. He might have called others, but by now he was spending most of his time off my radar.

A few days later, I found his phone abandoned in the dust while he played at the bottom of the hill.

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