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Call Me (Just Not Right Now)

It’s a seemingly simple act. Pick up the phone, punch in some numbers and have a conversation with the person on the other end. Or, so a reasonable person would think.

Take one: “Ring!”

“Hello! I can’t talk right now. Little Nolan just grabbed my car keys and headed for the garage!”

Take two: “Ring!”

“HELLO! HELLO! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! HUH? THE KIDS ARE PLAYING JUSTICE LEAGUE, AND I’M READING THE PAPER IN THEIR FORTRESS. CAN I CALL YOU BACK?”

Take three: “Ring!”

“Hi, how are you? What’s new?” BOOM! [crashing noise in background followed by piercing cries] “Uh oh. That didn’t sound good. Gotta go.”

You might think you’re calling for a breezy chat with an old friend (or long-winded update with the in-law), but don’t be confused when it sounds like you’ve reached MASH 4077 on the other end. Before you dial, ask yourself: Who are you calling? If the answer is a mother, then what time are you calling? Is it naptime, dinnertime or bedtime (or, worse, whine time)?

Calls to homes with children can transform unexpectedly into connections with bustling restaurants, taxi dispatch centers, boxing rings, ERs or fire stations, leaving baffled callers scratching their heads thinking, “Wait a second, what number did I dial, again?” Hitting redial will not help. Trust me.

My friend, who is single and has no children, will invariably call me at the WORST moment, the veritable sweet spot of bad times — 6:30pm. I’m doing one of several things at this appointed hour: feeding my children, cleaning up after my children, trying to herd them upstairs to the bath or bathing them.

“How long have I had these kids?” I ask her time after time. “Have you noticed they are always here when you call at this time of day? They’re not going anywhere for a LONG, LONG time.”

It is an immutable fact of life to which every parent can attest: You could be lying passed out cold on the floor for all that your children will notice, but when you have a telephone pressed to your ear, THAT is when your attention becomes of the utmost importance to them.

I shush, I vigorously point at the phone as if this visual aid is helpful in the slightest to them, I shoo them away, but ultimately, if the call is that important, I take refuge in the nearest bathroom and lock the door. This works with my older two children, but only serves to enrage my 3-year-old, who will pound on the door until I emerge.

It is for all these reasons that I strive to do my serious phone calling when the children are not around. But, they do live here, so some overlap is bound to occur.

There is often another surprise for the unlucky person placing the inbound call to a home with child dwellers — the “kid pick-up.” You know you’re experiencing one of these when the phone is not technically answered, but rather bounced to the child’s ear while an unmelodic tune plays as every button is sampled.

Pathetically, the caller is reduced to a feeble entreaty, “Is your Mommy or Daddy there?” The chances of making contact with the intended party in this case are roughly slim to none.

A twist on this form of communication is the child-initiated phone call: “Yes, that’s great that you want to play with my son, but I’m not really comfortable hashing out scheduling logistics with a 5-year-old, so please put your parent on the phone.”

I should also mention the “child-playing-with-mommy’s-cell-phone call.” It is simply a delight to receive calls over an over from a curious toddler hitting speed dial while the parent is totally oblivious (and usually saying something incriminating in the background). It’s a form of harassment really.

My cell is ringing, but I can’t find it, as I’ve misplaced it yet again. It’s just as well. Now really isn’t a good time to talk.

Judith Margolis Friedman is the mommy of three and a work-from-home writer. She’s planning to pick up a BlackBerry on Mother’s Day so she can take up texting.