Storytelling Sunday: Always Busy

Long before Skype,
“smart”phones, Iphones,
voicemail, and
call waiting …

…there was, at our house, almost always a busy signal for anyone trying to call our telephone number. The cause, as you might guess, was a teenager who had lots of friends and a sudden but abiding phone habit. This is the story of how our little family of three negotiated our way through the perils and pitfalls of adolescent communications in our small town in the early 1990s.

During their early high school years, Karen and her friends were only as mobile as the buses that took them to and from the town’s only high school each weekday. Because they had no other option, most of them were home from mid-afternoon on and depended on their telephones to gossip with friends about the day’s happenings. Our house rule was for Karen to call me at work as soon as she got home from school so I could be sure she was there safely and we could discuss things like homework and after school chores. After that check-in call, the only sound anyone heard if they called our number was a busy signal because Karen was, invariably, on the phone with one of her friends. (I have yet to figure out how the kids managed to connect with each other amid the tangle of busy signals all across town—I’ll have to ask Karen if there was a strategy of some kind.)

This went on every afternoon and into the evening as late as we would allow Karen to be on the phone, usually 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on the weekends. The only way we were able to use the phone was to ask Karen to end a call so we could make one of our own. Of course that did nothing for the unfortunates who might be trying to get in touch with Husband or me.

Finally, after complaints (and laughing sympathy) from adult family and friends about our telephone situation, we instituted the quarter hour rule. Karen was allowed to be on the phone during the first and third quarter hours of a given hour while the second and fourth quarter hours were reserved for parental use. This was, as Karen’s friends soon learned, non-negotiable. Karen was instructed to end calls at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour, and Husband or I would pick up any calls that came in between 16 and 30 and 46 and 60 minutes past the hour. If the caller was one of Karen’s classmates, he or she was told that Karen could not take the call right then but would be available again during the next odd quarter hour. It took a while for everyone to get used to the idea, but before long the subset of high school students that was Karen’s circle of friends were complying with our family quarter hour rule.

So there you have it…one family’s approach to communication management 1990s style.

Posted for Sian’s Storytelling Sunday. Click here for Sian’s own story and for links to other interesting and entertaining reads. And, of course, you are welcome to add your own story to the link party.

20 thoughts on “Storytelling Sunday: Always Busy

  1. Pingback: Storytelling Sunday: Long distance romance « Tidbits & Treasures

  2. Very ingenious – it never ceases to amaze me that kids today are sat next to each other and texting to people at the next table – HELLO – why not just talk face to face?!

  3. Love the rule – was laughing at a comedian who was saying – can you imagine teenagers trying to organize a riot in the 80s with their parents saying, “How long does it take to organize a riot – do you know how expensive that phone call will be????” 😉

  4. What an ingenious solution! I don’t remember using the phone much as a teenager, until I was 17 and my boyfriend joined the Navy. My Dad used to give me very dark looks!

  5. This story really made me smile. I can remember (going back to the 80’s now) that as teenagers we were always envious of those long free phone calls we usde to see in the movies. In those days even local calls here were still expensive enough to be monitored very closely. We used to have to ask to use the phone and the answer was always “only for five minutes”!

    So, as I always like to say, the best stories spark off another story and now you have me thinking about my exchange trip to the US and how I marvelled at your incredibly long phone cords..amongst many otrher things!

    Thanks for jopining us Wanda. It’s akways good to see you

  6. What a fabulous solution to the telphone conundrum! There were three teenage girls at my house, and it was crazy!!! I sure wish we would have found a simple solution.

  7. No one else had a phone when I was a teenager and when my daughter was that age we lived with my parents and my dad put a coin operated phone in so everyone had to pay.
    The good old days? HAH

  8. Isn’t it funny to remember how we lived without the numerous ways of communication that exist now! What a great solution to your problem
    Alison xx

  9. That’s an ingenious solution! Sounds like a very expensive communication though – or are local calls free? It was always a mystery to me too how a daughter who had spent all day at school with her friends needed to ring at least one of them as soon as she got home!

    • Yes, local calls were “included,” so there was no additional cost. Long distance was a totally different matter and remains a story for another day…

  10. Goodness me, you were very organised and flexible. You didn’t know my father then? he just said NO! I remember when my poor mother wanted to ring her sister! dad stood over her looking at his watch…..happy days!

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