Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Telegrams from college

Telegrams from college

My neighbor friend and I sat on our front stoop battered and bruised from the truncated phone conversations we’ve been having with our 18-year-old daughters away at college. We shared stories of loveless phone calls that sound more like 1930’s telegram messages sent over a wire when each word cost money.

Can’t talk– STOP
I’m at lunch – STOP
The phone call ends.

When my daughter Emily came home for spring break, I sat on the closed lid of her toilet seat and began my lecture about phone manners while she curled eyelashes, plucked eyebrows and put on makeup. I employed a phrase we used in her early teens when negotiating friendly relations between our age-related cultures.

“In MY country....” I said in my best hoity-toity voice, “We speak to each other on the phone with SMILE in our voices and we begin with a pleasant sing-song ‘helloooooo.’”

I acknowledged that when Emily is communicating with those from HER country she can follow the customs of that “teen tribe.” Although they speak to one another in grunts and mumbles between incoming text messages - when she’s talking to anyone over 40 - she needs to learn the language and customs of MY people. I demonstrated the art of placing a soft and fluffy word here and there to dress up an otherwise blunt and hurtful-to-me conversation.

I summarized the exercise saying, “What I’m basically asking you for is to fake it. Just raise your voice a couple of octaves into the sweet and loving registers and drop a couple of soft words here and there and I’m good.”

My daughter felt it was wrong to fake cheerfulness, “Isn’t it dishonest?” she said.

Right or wrong I assured her that it’s what I want. “Do it for your mother,” I instructed. 

I recall having similar conversations with my mom many years ago while I primped as a teenager in the bathroom mirror. From that closed-lid-porcelain-mother’s perch, I too received many important life instructions. What I call ‘faking it,’ MY mother – in HER country – called it being polite. 

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