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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What kind of monster hangs up on a five year old?!

Um... that would be moi.

Many of you are familiar with the ritual phone call that Yonah makes to me (on Zahava's Cell Phone) from the bus stop every morning.  For the first year, the content of the phone call didn't vary much.  In fact it was pretty much formulaic.

However, Yonah's vocabulary and social skills have blossomed to such an extent since his surgery that he's become quite the chatterbox... on the phone and in person.  He engages anyone within shouting distance in discussions of his clothing, his meals (the one just past or the next one anticipated), his pets, his friends, and pretty much anything else that pops into his head.

Clearly he is delighted to finally feel included in what's going on around him, and even more so that he has the tools to interact and express himself.  But like most of us he sometimes wants to disconnect and be alone with his thoughts... but not really alone, if you know what I mean. 

This trick of keeping loved ones close enough to touch but not actually directly interact with them is something that most of us would call 'a comfortable silence'.  Unfortunately, Yonah doesn't yet have the social skills, confidence or nuanced vocabulary to be able to let us know when he isn't in the mood to talk... but that he still wants us accessible.  He doesn't understand the concept of two people sitting silently together but engaged in their separate thoughts or activities.  In his mind, in order to have the comfort of someone's company, there needs to be ongoing physical or verbal contact of some kind.

This has manifested itself in a really annoying habit of his where he will initiate contact (either in person or on the phone... toss out a few standard conversation starters... and then go about playing by himself or daydreaming while answering "What?" to anything and everything said to him from that point on... just to keep the lines of communication open.

In person, it's less of a problem because he can come sit next to one of us to get the physical contact he craves, while thumbing through a book or playing a game on his own.  But on the phone he sometimes walks a tightrope between wanting to maintain the connection of a conversation with me... while not wanting to be distracted from whatever else he is doing.  So a typical conversation can sometimes sound like this:

Me:  Good morning sweetie boy... are you calling from the bus stop?

Yonah: Yup!

Me:  Did Ima let you bring one of the dogs with you to wait for your bus?

Yonah [vaguely]: What?

Me:  I said did you bring one of the dogs with you?

Yonah:  What?

Me [trying a different tack]: Who else is there at the bus stop with you and Ima?

Yonah:  What?

[Repeat until my head explodes.]

Mind you, this isn't always the case.  Some mornings Yonah is completely focused on the conversation and will chat effortlessly about the weather, his clothes, the other people at the bus stop and the regular drivers who go by and wave to him. 

But this past Sunday morning was not one of those mornings. After the 8th or 9th 'What?', I decided to teach Yonah a difficult lesson:

Me:  Yonah, can you hear me? 

Yonah:  What?

[At this point I had a sudden mental flash of Samuel L. Jackson holding a pistol and screaming "Say "what" again. Say "what" again! I dare you! I double-dare you, mother***er! Say "what" one more g**damn time! ", but instead I calmly said...]

Me:  You know Yonah, if you don't want to have a real conversation with me I'm not going to stay on the phone.

Yonah:  What?

Me:  Bye!  [and immediately press the 'end' button on the phone]

Within 30 seconds I received the expected phone call from Zahava... who sounded slightly annoyed:

Zahava:  Did you just hang up on Yonah?

[in the background I could hear Yonah sobbing, "Yes, Abba hanged up on me!"]

Me:  Yes.  He was clearly more interested in whatever else was going on there at the bus stop than in talking to me... and I got tired of hearing him say "What?".  He needed to learn that both people in a conversation have feelings.

Zahava pondered that for a moment, said okay, and said goodbye.  But less than 15 seconds later the phone rang again and this time I heard the tear-stained voice of Yonah:

Yonah [sniffling]:  Abba, why did you hanged [sic] up on me?

Me:  Because you weren't listening, and you kept saying 'What?'. If you want to talk with someone on the phone you have to actually take turns talking.   I can't be the only one talking while you ignore me.  Do you want to talk to me now?

Yonah: Yes, but my bus is coming now.

Me:  OK, then we can talk later, OK?

Yonah:  OK [sniff]... goodbye-I-love-you-have-a-nice-day!  [~click~]

I think he got the message.  All of our phone conversations since then have been fairly two-sided, and he only said 'What?' once or twice when he genuinely didn't hear/understand what I'd said. 

So yes, if you're wondering what kind of a monster hangs up on a five year old... it's the kind of monster who loves his kid enough to teach him how to be a Mensch.  Guilty as charged. 

Posted by David Bogner on December 16, 2008 | Permalink


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It's good to hear that Yonah is continuing to make such progress (bli ayin harah)!

Sounds like a very special routine - I wonder what turn it'll take next...

Posted by: tnspr569 | Dec 16, 2008 3:58:39 PM

I too have a very vocal 5 year old who can talk for quite a while without actually conversing. Her nursery teach told me at the end of the school year that we should get her a radio station - whether or not anyone is listening - since she can go on and on and on...

Posted by: Aharon | Dec 16, 2008 4:32:57 PM

LOL. I guess a little tough love is better in the long run than feigning poor reception.

Sounds like my son, who will call his grandmother just to, er, hear her talk. Very entertaining -- for him, anyway. I think you've just captured what probably goes through her mind.

TV, radio, stereo: great for background noise. Telephones? Not so much.

Posted by: Ari | Dec 16, 2008 4:34:02 PM

You're just a mean Abba... but it just figures, as you were always a mean brother, so you've just got different targets now! :)

I still have these types of phone conversations with my 8 yr old... give me patience, Lord!

Posted by: val | Dec 16, 2008 4:52:13 PM

Call the child abuse hotline!!

Although, maybe I can train my mother using your method. Whenever we talk, she has to have a conversation with my father, say something to my brother, or read a note she happens to pass by. Annoying. I bet if I told her phonecalls were not longer free via the VOIP line, she'd pay attention!

Posted by: Baila | Dec 16, 2008 6:58:13 PM

That story made me laugh starting right around the "Pulp Fiction" reference.


Posted by: What War Zone??? | Dec 16, 2008 10:45:24 PM

Nice to see, through this nice little story,that Yonah is making progress.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 16, 2008 11:21:15 PM

You gotta do what it takes....

Glad you were able to fiqure out what was going on.

Posted by: rickismom | Dec 17, 2008 1:17:42 AM

You monster!!! ...just kidding, that made my night. :) Agreed with tnspr - I'm looking forward to the next twist in the routine...

Posted by: Chantal | Dec 17, 2008 1:38:37 AM

Beyond all of the well-intentioned analysis, you need to just accept the obvious diagnosis, Trep. Yonah has just turned into a teenager. I hear those phone conversations all the time. (Hmmmmm... I may have to employ the "Evil Treppenwitz Method" on the teenangels...)

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Dec 17, 2008 7:32:35 AM

Just wait. One day Yonah will turn the tables on you and then the fun will start. Oh yes, I can even picture him blogging about it.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 17, 2008 8:01:08 AM

I can't take my kid to Gan. When I do, he won't go in. Instead he demands to go to shul with me for davening, and only afterwords will he agreeably go to Gan.

I'm fine with that.

The problem is that with me (and not my wife of course), once in the Gan I am not allowed to leave, and must sit there and play with him. Not a problem for a few minutes, but... you get the point.

Anyway, that's not the real problem either.

The problem is when I pick him up later, his question is invariably, "Abba, why did you run away from me?"

Now how are you supposed to deal with that?

Posted by: JoeSettler | Dec 17, 2008 9:20:00 AM

but.. then... that person wouldn't be a monster, then; would they?

or -- worse -- maybe the ARE, in the sense that fewer and fewer fathers care to make men out of their boys... egad... ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 17, 2008 5:06:33 PM

My kids sometimes do that, but with "Why" instead of "What". Example:

"C'mon, it's time for bed."


"Because it's late, and you need to go to school tomorrow."


"Because if you miss school, your morah will be very sad."


"Because she'll miss you. She loves you."


"Good question, actually."


This game is a little more fun than the "What?" game, but it gets a bit annoying eventually. If I'm not in the mood, the first "Why?" elicits a sharp "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!" from yours truly, which ends the game pretty fast. But usually I'm a pretty good sport about it.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 17, 2008 6:47:31 PM

What would have happened if instead you had stopped asking him questions and simply kept him company in quiet until he spoke again to you?

I hope it turns out to be for the best.

Posted by: b. | Dec 17, 2008 8:11:01 PM


Posted by: Fred | Dec 18, 2008 12:17:31 AM

WAs your intention to make him cry? If not, than I think that you were wront to do this. You do not know how much love you can destroy in the heart of a five-year-old by doing something like this. Hanging up the phone is a very brutal thing to do, especially if the person is dependent on you.

There is no need to be confrontational with a child: a child is a child, you are the adult. In the second where you become confrontational, you act as if you were a five-year-old yourself.

So if Yona does not yet know how to use a phone adequately, just don't phone with him from the start.
I do not think that it is completely inapropriate to use a phone to mark presence without speaking.
But if you do not like the situation and want to stop it, than find an excuse and talk to him very nicely before you hang up: Dear Yonah, I love you so much, I hope you will have a very nice day. I am very sorry, I cannot continue being on the phone with you now (because I am driving, because xyz). I love you very much, I send you 1000 kisses. Bye).

You can do it in a friendly way. No need to stab the child's heart.
Furthermore, I do not think that what you did was "educational", because no one says that the child could "learn the lesson" from it and transfer it to situations where he is on the phone with other people. I think it was a plain demonstration of power. So don't do it anymore, if you do not have the intention of torturing the child.

Posted by: shoshi | Dec 18, 2008 5:18:25 AM

When children are about 2-3 years old, they discover that the question "why" is a button that makes adults speak. So the meaning of the question is not "why", but "say something, we are playing a game".
If you want to stop it, don't take the why for it's face value, just say "why?" yourself.

Posted by: shoshi | Dec 18, 2008 5:28:17 AM

By the way, this is also a solution for you, Treppenwitz: Just answer What? When your child says "What?"

Posted by: shoshi | Dec 18, 2008 5:31:26 AM

Your problem seems a bit tougher than the first two.
In our community's gan, there are structures that would help you deal with the problem:
Parents bring the children between 8h and 8.30
At 8.30, "class starts", so to speak: the children sit in a circle and the the kindergarten teacher tells them a story or whatever. So from this moment on, there is no room for parents in the kindergarten anymore.

I think that the solution lies in something like this: not you should leave the child, but the child should leave you. So perhaps you could aks the ganenet to get the child involved in something where you have no room, so that you become kind of "superfluous" in the situation. I do not know whether you can ask the ganenet to this every morning for some time... It seems a bit demanding.

By the way: separation problems in the gan often are really the parent's separation problmes acted out by the children: In reality, the child pities the parent because he/she thinks that it is hard for the parent to separate. In this case, the solution would be not to have a bad conscience (what kind of parent am I to leave the child here), but to be very cheerful about going to the gan.

Posted by: shoshi | Dec 18, 2008 6:45:28 AM

Yonah better not be listening to Lil John. :-)

Posted by: Rami | Dec 18, 2008 7:41:20 AM

Yonah better not be listening to Lil Jon. :-)

Posted by: Rami | Dec 18, 2008 7:43:32 AM

That's a tough one, but it is the job of parents to teach those social skills. Last night, before I left the grandkids, my daughter was trying to get her 5 year old to listen and answer. But it seems like the young lady inherited a talent to "tune out." My daugher is trying to teach her daughter that it's not nice at certain times.

Posted by: Batya | Dec 18, 2008 7:45:17 AM

Shoshi -
I am fully aware that it is a game. That was my point. There are, however, some times that Abba doesn't have time to play - and generally, I'm not quite as gruff with the kids as all that. We all have our days, though...

Posted by: psachya | Dec 18, 2008 3:54:20 PM

"Because she'll miss you. She loves you."


"Good question, actually."


Posted by: Gila | Dec 18, 2008 4:05:32 PM

You realize of course the next step is teaching him the proper way to make a phone call.. and it's not the common method used here:

Callee: Hello?
Caller: Hello, who is this?

GAH! I hate when people do that to me... YOU called me. You introduce yourself and say with whom you wish to speak to first... then I may tell you you've got who you're trying to reach or it's someone else... but don't ask who *I* am!

Posted by: Devo K | Dec 24, 2008 7:48:29 PM

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