You’ve reached the Armstrongs

We recently bought a set of new phones because the one we’ve had for three years was dropped so much that it mysteriously developed a personality and would speak to itself in Morse code in the middle of the night. I’ve never had much luck with phones, and the one I owned while living in Los Angeles used to ring once every half hour for no reason other than that it was born that way. The first forty times it happened I picked it up and answered hello only to be greeted by silence, so I learned to ignore it. The first time the phantom ring happened in front of Jon, he acted uncomfortable when I made no move to answer it. “Don’t mind that,” I said. “That just means it’s 10:30.” As soon as the explanation came out of my mouth I realized for the first time, oh my god, I don’t have to live like this. My life had been counted out into 24 fake rings a day for two years, and not once had I thought that the phone was broken. The only way I can explain this is that on my way to becoming valedictorian I never had to take a class on common sense.

When we set up the new phones throughout the house, Leta followed me around watching as I plugged in all the different parts. I turned around frequently to show her each handset and say, “These are Mama’s phones, not Leta’s, okay? Only Mama gets to drop these.” Or throw them at her father.

I managed to hold her off for an entire day until she asked me, “Mama? Can I talk on the phone, please?” Which is a sentence structure we have been working on for over 30 months, and she finally put it all together. Usually the demand looks like this:


A noun used incorrectly as an imperative meaning “give it to me now, lowly servant.”

But this time she used my name, she joined a subject with verb and a prepositional phrase and then spread a layer of chocolate on top by asking nicely. I gladly handed her the new phone to see what words she would weave together in a tapestry of beautiful language.

“Hello,” she said as she brought the handset to her ear and pretended to have a heated conversation. “Uh-huh … yeah.”

“Who are you talking to?” I asked, and she just ignored me and shook her head as if the person on the other end was feeding her lies.

“HEY!” she yelled, and then fixed her eyes in a dead stare on a spot behind me as if that seriousness would translate through her voice. And then in a moment I can see retelling on an episode of “Dateline” when they ask me when I thought it all started to go horribly wrong, she yelled, “I want some money!”