Once during my late teens, my mother caught me calling a friend at 10:30 at night. She wasn’t pleased, especially when she found out that I’d accidentally woken up my friend’s parents when I rang his house. “It’s rude to call so late!” she scolded. She subsequently instituted a household rule that we were never to call people after 10 p.m.
My mother, if you couldn’t guess, is serious about her household rules. If she says no calling after 10, then you sure as heck ain’t calling if it’s after 10.
A couple of weeks ago, Ted and I had just settled in for the night—lights out downstairs, kids sent to bed, a few last minutes of reading before getting some shut-eye—when my cell phone buzzed urgently from my nightstand.
It was 10:40 p.m. on a Sunday. Ted and I were pretty tired, our family having returned home the day before from our annual summer vacation in Wisconsin. It was that sort of weariness you get when you’ve spent the entire week staying up late and eating every unhealthy snack known to man. (I mean, this was Wisconsin, people. We’re talking ice cream and cheese curds. Plus, because it was vacation and Ted and I are apparently unabashedly trashy, a lot of chocolate pudding cups and Frito Lay variety packs.)
We’d also driven 12 hours the day before to get our family home to Maryland. It was late, and the next day was work. I contemplated not answering the phone.
Except when I happened to check on who was calling, the screen was flashing, “Dad iPhone.”
My dad never calls. My parents live in Illinois, so we’d swung by to see them yesterday on our way home from Wisconsin—which meant this obviously wasn’t a social call. And it was after 10 p.m.! There could be only one reason why he was phoning: Something had happened to my mom.
My heart in my mouth, I answered.
“Anne.” My dad’s voice was rough, hurried, urgent. I held my breath and steeled myself for whatever bad news was to come.
“Can I talk to Ted?”
Huh? Why did he need to talk to my husband when my mother had just been rushed to the emergency room?
“We’re trying to watch the ‘Sherlock’ DVD you guys got me for Father’s Day but it’s not coming up on the TV,” my dad explained. “Ted set up the new TV for us at Christmas, and he knew what setting to put it on for DVDs.”
Ted doesn’t even always remember critical elements from our life three weeks ago. How in the world did my dad think he could recall some random TV setting from seven months ago?
But to my father’s great joy, apparently his son-in-law was able to offer some vague suggestions, and one of them actually worked.
I know that it worked, because my dad called back seven minutes later to tell us it did. “Tell Ted it was the ‘TV3’ setting, with the cable going into the third outlet in the back,” he reported.
I can only come up with three possible explanations for this behavior:
- Because my parents live in the Midwest, it technically wasn’t yet 10 in their time zone—and therefore was perfectly acceptable to call. And, in their minds, my parents were being incredibly considerate—like, bending over backwards considerate—by calling back, because they didn’t want Ted and me to lie sleepless in bed for the next several hours, wondering whether my folks had been able to watch “Sherlock” after all or if they had to sit and stare at a blank TV screen for the rest of the night.
- The household rule does not apply in case of emergencies, and what greater emergency can there be than not being able to watch “Sherlock”?
- My parents are senile.
It might go without saying that these explanations are not mutually exclusive.