We all have some memories we’d like to forget. Recently I was mulling over my memories as a “working mom” in order to submit a short story for an upcoming anthology. This story took place many years ago, but I’ll bet some current working parents can still relate.
I love the term “working mom,” which makes it sound like mom’s who stay home just lounge around living a life of leisure. The only difference between a mom who works outside of the house is that she has lots more things to juggle in the same amount of time. When my two daughters were small enough to be in childcare during the day, at least I could focus on work and not worry about them. Then they reached an age where we all agreed they could be home alone after school, and things got much more difficult. The girls knew they were supposed to do their homework, get their household chores done, get along with one another and not call me at the office unless it was an emergency. Unfortunately, our definitions of emergency were rarely in sync.
They called all the time, and nearly every call started with the dreaded whine, “Mom” (stretched out to about five syllables), then went on to a full litany of complaints about the offending sister. My mother thought it was funny, and cosmic payback for all the phone calls she received at work when my brothers and I were young. My boss, we’ll call him Mr. Costa, at the mortgage company was less amused, because the calls came through a central phone system. The other employees whose time was wasted answering the calls and passing them on to me were annoyed at the constant interruption to their work. Mr. Costa finally said that I could give the girl’s the number of a direct phone that was on my desk, and not part of the office system. That phone had been installed to give him instant access to me, since I was the loan processor in the office, handling all the pending files for several loan officers. When Mr. Costa wanted my help, he didn’t like waiting or sharing my attention with others, so had installed the phone for his exclusive use.
The private system had worked very well, ringing only when the boss suddenly had a question or needed to check the status of a file when he was away from the office. Once the number was given to my kids, it saved time and annoyance for the other people in the office, but made me almost too accessible for my daughters. They loved not having to go through someone to get to me, and started in on the complaints the second I answered. The calls were usually short as I did my long-distance referee duty, but my patience would wear thinner and thinner each time the phone rang throughout an afternoon.
Some days were more hectic than others, and the pressure would rise when deadlines loomed. My busiest days at the mortgage company were those requiring a trip to the County Recorder’s Office to record loan documents. The time deadlines were absolute, and leaving the office to arrive before the cutoff time required careful planning. On one of those days I was absolutely swamped with work that had to be completed before I left for the Recorder’s Office. Mr. Costa was in the building, and kept coming to my desk with constant questions. Naturally that was a day when my kids seemed to be calling constantly. I handled one battle or complaint from them after another, often when my boss was standing at the corner of my desk, waiting with still another question. He knew I had to leave soon with the loan files, but didn’t seem concerned about the time. I was trying to complete the required work, be polite to him throughout his constant interruptions, and play mom to kids that just would not stop calling no matter what I said.
At the last possible minute I gathered up the files, grabbed my coat and purse, told my boss goodbye, and turned to leave. At that second the phone rang. I grabbed the receiver and nearly yanked the phone off the desk, yelling, “Somebody had better be on fire or bleeding to death, or you are in a hell of a lot of trouble!”
Instead of a whine, there was a very long silence. Finally a man’s voice responded, “uh, no, no fire or blood, but Mr. Costa told me I could use this number to call you when I needed to.”
In shock, I recognized the voice immediately. It was my boss’s biggest client. I started apologizing profusely, staring daggers at Mr. Costa throughout the conversation. After taking care of the caller, who had finally laughed after my explanation, my boss said, “I guess I forgot to tell you I gave him the number?”