One of the worst things you can do, one that really offends a toddler, is not give them your full attention. All of the time. Sometimes it feels like I’ve found myself back in the dark ages. Literally being gagged as I try to make conversation with someone. A little hand is firmly placed over my mouth, another grips my ear to turn my head away from them in case I didn’t get the message already. While this strategy never fully prevents a conversation from happening, my toddler still employs the annoying tactic whenever possible. Just because he can. Because he feels obliged to register his protest at not being the centre of my attention in some form. If my face isn’t in reach then he resorts to the standard toddler playbook strategy, and hangs out of my legs whinging loudly. “Maaaaammmmmeeeee!!!” All too often, the adults will forget what they were actually talking about after the umpteenth interruption. Or decide it’s just not worth it.
Conversations on the phone don’t fare any better. Toddlers and phone calls are not a happy combination (who would have thought?). It doesn’t matter whether we were doing something together, or he was already fully engaged playing with his own toys – as soon as I’m talking to someone on the phone he kicks off. Especially if it’s an official phonecall. One I’d rather not be making or receiving. With house moves recently, there have been many such lengthy phonecalls with utility providers and others. This has led to scenes of ridiculousness where I run from one room to another in an attempt to recite off a debit card number without my voice being lost amidst the screeches that are following me about the house. The toddler thinks it’s HILARIOUS to chase me around when I can’t stop to tell him off for his behaviour. And he’s faster than you’d think. Legging it up two flights of stairs to the top of the house will probably only buy me about 30 seconds before he appears, cackling. Dragging along the toy he’s been bashing off the walls all the way up. Bump. Thump. Bump. Thump. You can’t escape me…
So what can you do in the face of such intimidation? I’ve found myself limited to one lengthy phonecall per naptime. When my busy-in-the-office-all-day husband disbelievingly asks, “Can you not make those calls instead of me?”, the answer is a resounding “NO!”. While I fully understand the difficulty of making personal phonecalls during working hours, I now wish for the days when I only had to find a quiet spell during which other adults wouldn’t note my absence from my desk too much. Toddlers are far more observant and have an uncanny knack for knowing when you’re desperate to sneak off without them. It’s like trying to take five minutes for a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate to take the edge off a long day. Somehow they just know. You think you’re safe, hidden away in a corner, ensuring no wrapper is rustling to give you away. Then a voice suddenly pipes up behind you, making you jump and probably spill hot tea all over yourself. “What’re you eating Mammy? Is that… Chocolate???”. “Noooooo”, I mumble guiltily. “OPEN YOUR MOUTH!!!”, he demands. Foiled. Again. By my mini nemesis.
I’ve tried negotiation or bribing to get through a call. It works only until the person on the other end of the phone answers. Then he decides that whatever the reward offered, it’s FAR more entertaining to harass me. He laughs in my face as I frantically gesticulate that he needs to stop shouting at the phone. The embarrassment only increases if it’s a call someone returns when we’re in a public place. Like the supermarket. That’s not stressful at all, no. Better yet, dealing with a plumber that wants to keep chatting as I push a heavy trolley through the warren that is Ikea, and try to keep a bored toddler under reasonable control. At home, as soon as a call ends, he wanders off immediately. Game time over. Any sign of the phone coming out though, and he’s back again. Ready to start the next round of tag-with-a-phone. So naptime is a precious time of day. Any important call that can’t be done with a banshee shrieking in the background needs to be fitted into this slot. Even at the expense of that elusive peaceful cup of tea.
That works until, of course, naptime is no more. The toddler has recklessly abandoned his daytime nap in favour of turning into a cantankerous and emotional prima donna from midday onwards. It’s GREAT craic altogether. It also means there’s no feasible way to make an official phonecall during working hours without him present. None. No matter what trickery I use, he sees it as his mission to rise to the challenge and thwart every single call that I’m stupid enough to try and make. So if at all possible, I don’t. Email me. Text me. No phone calls please. My toddler doesn’t like it. You wouldn’t want to make my toddler angry would you?
I found myself needing to urgently make a call before a deadline passed. What to do? He was industriously herding his toy animals about the sitting room. And had been doing so for quite a few minutes happily, without my participation. I quickly and quietly walked out of the room, trying to give off the impression that I was just heading to the kitchen to wash some dishes, or something equally low on a toddler’s interest list. Then I raced up the stairs with phone and a scrap of paper containing all the intricate information I might need to finish the call as fast as possible.
I dialled the number. It rang. And rang. The standard automated speeches began, providing information I already knew or didn’t care about. Offering the same unwanted instructions in Irish, and other delaying tactics designed to prolong the length of this call that I wanted to finish as quickly as possible.
“I’M ON THE PHONE”, I bellowed back. Twice.
The wails from downstairs continued as the “your call is so important to us we can’t answer it now” elevator music started playing down the phone line.
“I’M UPSTAIRS ON THE PHONE I’LL BE DOWN IN A MINUTE!”, I shouted, in the vain hope he might toddle back off to his game. I debated whether to cut my losses and end the call already. CLICK. An operator finally answered, and I started running through the details of what I needed as fast as possible. As I provided the fifty bits of information required, I could clearly hear further cries from downstairs.
“My shoe fell off! My shoe fell off! Mammy my shoe fell off! Maaaammmmmeeeeeeee!!!!!”.
Missing shoe. Total emergency, then. I hit the mute button and screamed back that I would be downstairs in a minute to put it back on. Not even a pause from downstairs. The cries continued, escalating into total hysterics as I hurriedly ran through the remainder of the questions I was being asked. Far too late now to turn back and start the call over another time. I was committed to this call. For better or worse. Probably worse.
“Hmm… I’m not sure how to handle that situation…” the operator eventually offered. Great. “Can you wait a couple of minutes while I check the details?”, he continued. Yes. Perfect. No problem.
0 seconds. I hit the mute button again, stuck the phone awkardly between my ear and neck, and raced downstairs.
15 seconds. Replaced the offending shoe. Wiped tears trailing off cheeks. Administered kisses and hugs.
30 seconds. Looked at the sad little face. Sighed. Picked up the awkward bundle of toddler and ran back upstairs, double checking that mute was still preventing my heavy breathing and his sniffs from being heard on the other end of the line.
40 seconds. Plonked the toddler at the window where all the construction vehicles in the field behind us could be seen. Digging and driving, and whatever else builders do that fascinates toddlers.
60 seconds. “Are you still there?”, said the operator. “Yes! Totally!”. “I’ve sent your details off to Sligo. Someone will call you in the next 5-10 working days”, he announced cheerfully. Based on previous experience, I very much doubted that would happen but, “Ok, sure, fine. Thanks. Bye”. Anything to get off the phone before the distraction stopped working.
That bank appointment that ‘someone’ needs to make for us next week? Well, if it can’t be done via email, it’s not going to be me making that phone call…