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5:33 PM Sun, Nov. 18th

Column: Phone etiquette, art of conversation lost on kids

Photos.com<br>Sure, talking to a toddler is fun if you have a spare several hours and an appreciation for stream-of-consciousness conversations.

Photos.com<br>Sure, talking to a toddler is fun if you have a spare several hours and an appreciation for stream-of-consciousness conversations.

Let your old pal Casey give you one bit of advice: Do not hand that phone to that child.

It'll be hard not to do, I know. I've had that phone in my hand, chattering away, when a child pulls at my sleeve, looking up into my eyes with that longing stare, and I'll suddenly say, "Just a second. Someone wants to talk to you." And almost of its own accord, my hand will suddenly offer the child the phone I was just using.

It's like magic.

But as someone who has been on the other end of that phone line, I beg of you, please don't do it.

Or, better yet, DO put the kids on the phone when it's appropriate. Because it is fun to talk to kids on the phone. They're so excited to be talking to someone and hearing this ethereal voice coming from this wonderful device that they'll just jabber on and on. And it'll be very sweet.

But kids have no idea of phone etiquette, and no idea that "Gotta go! Gotta go! Gotta go! Give the phone back to your mom" is a cue for them to pass the phone along to someone else. Which is also charming in its own right, I suppose.

Kids sure love phones, though. Our kids have all had toy phones for as long as I can remember, and it's hysterical to listen to them imitate their mother and me as they prattle on to imaginary friends. One of our daughters would exclaim "Well!" all the time, putting a tiny fist on her hip. I think she got that from my wife. My wife thinks she got that from me. Well!

And kids don't see the difference between this toy phone and that real phone. A phone is a phone to a child. So when they see you using one, they want that phone, too, since kids are adorable, selfish little beasts. And we cave, sometimes with disastrous results.

Many years ago, when we only had one kid instead of four, I had the following exchange when calling home from work:

"Hi, honey. Just calling to ask if you needed me to pick up anything at the store on the way home. What's that? Izzy wants to talk. That's great, but I'm a little busy. I was just calling to ask ... don't put her on.

"Wait, no, my boss is. . .

"Hi, sweetheart! How are you? What? You ate what? What? You have to speak up, sweetie. Put your mouth up to the phone. Well, that was an impressive burp. Hey, are you trying to put the phone IN your mouth? No, honey! Next to your mouth! Put the phone next to your mouth!

"Crap, my boss is coming. No, sweetheart. Don't repeat that word. Daddy shouldn't have said it. He was just ... surprised. No, don't sing it. Do I hear mommy yelling...?"

My boss at this time had come into my office, and realizing that this was perhaps not one of the more important phone calls I could be making, sat down in a chair with a bemused expression on his face. As a rather rude song is sung into the phone on my daughter's end, I nod toward my boss, saying "Yeah, just taking a phone call. I'll be right with you.

You don't have to wait. No, it won't take long. Sure, have a seat."

I knew my boss wouldn't be too perturbed about me calling home, but I still didn't want him to think that I wasted company time on such frivolities. I decided to end the call as quickly as I could while preserving my daughter's feelings. Turning my back on my boss, I whispered into the phone, "Pumpkin, I have to go. I love you too. Yes, I'll bring home some candy. Let me talk to mommy." My boss is now smiling quite broadly.

"A frog, you say? Let me talk to mommy. Spongebob? Great. Let me talk to mommy. A song about poop. Wonderful. Let me talk to mommy!"

My boss then starts laughing. The jig is up. I don't bother whispering anymore.

"Sweetheart, I love you, it's good to talk to you, Daddy loves hearing from his beautiful little girl. Now, let me talk to mommy."

"Hi, honey. No, we had a wonderful conversation. Makes me glad I'm a dad. I'm never too busy to talk to my little girl. Yes, I shouldn't have said 'crap.' I'll see you at home."

My boss had a mess of kids himself (what is the collective noun for kids? A herd? A litter? A school?), and didn't begrudge me making a personal call home. And I vowed never to hand the phone off to one of my kids like that.

That vow was short-lived. When I'm talking to my mom, I'll often hand the phone to one of my kids and completely forget about it. It's not uncommon for me to say half an hour later, "Wait, wasn't I talking to my mom?"

So, dear friends, please think before passing that phone to that child. They'll love it, of course, and the person on the other end will likely love it, too. But still ... bosses.