The thing about caller ID is that it tells you only where a call originates, not what it's about. So when the phone rings and the name of my children's school appears on the handset, I have no choice but to answer it.
Suppose someone is sick? Or hurt? Or in trouble with the assistant principal?
Maybe it isn't a call concerning one of my children, but the child of a family for whom I'm the emergency contact.
I'm compelled to answer the call, but in retrospect, I wish I had let the answering machine take a message the other day. That way I could have avoided this stint as chaperone at the middle school Activity Night.
Instead, conscientious mom that I am, I say, "Hello?"
The voice on the other end is businesslike and efficient. "Mrs. Hicks, this is Tory. Would you please chaperone our Activity Night tomorrow? If we don't get one more parent, we'll have to cancel."
Tory is a classmate of my son, Jimmy. She's only in the eighth grade, but her telephone skills are Trump-worthy. I feel like I'm talking to Ivanka and she's summoning me to meet with the Donald.
Given the urgency with which Tory makes her case, coupled with my bad habit of saying "yes" to volunteer work when I want to say "no," I say "yes."
Then I say, "By the way, Tory, what does Jimmy think about me chaperoning this Activity Night?"
"He's right here. I'll ask him." Tory comes back on the line with the answer I pretty much expect: "Jimmy says don't do it."
"In that case, sign me up."
Thus, I am roped into spending this evening roaming the school gym, my arms folded across my chest in the universal "parent/authority figure" posture, saying things like, "Don't run" and "Slow down" and "You can't have soda in this area."
In addition to enforcing the rules about eating and walking, there's a new rule — one that hasn't been needed before: Students must refrain from using their cell phones. "They can only use their phones to call their parents for a ride home," says the teacher in charge. "No calling or texting during the evening."
Seems like a good rule to me, but then my son is one of the only boys in his grade who doesn't have a cell phone.
Sure enough, there is a girl near my perch who is using her phone. I walk over, tap her on the shoulder and say, "Honey, I'm sorry, but you'll have to put the cell phone away until the end of the night. The teacher says no phones allowed unless you're calling home for a ride."
What happens next makes me feel as if I am transported from adulthood – a place where I am quite confident and self-possessed – to junior high, a place where I felt inadequate, inarticulate and ill-equipped.
This is because the eighth-grade girl to whom I spoke looks directly at me, curls her overglossed upper lip and says, "Right."
Not, "right" as in "No problem, Mrs. Hicks. I'm happy to cooperate." But "right" as in "rrrrriiiiiiight." Sarcastic, condescending and bold.
So I say, "Right." As in, "Right. Put the phone away."
And she says "Rrrrrrriiiiiiiight." As in "Right … but you don't seriously think I am going to listen to you, do you?"
I say, "Is there something about this rule you don't understand?"
And she says, "I'm just processing this, that's all." Then she slowly puts her cell phone in her back pocket.
I start processing, too. "Process this," I'm thinking. "I'm an adult and you're a disrespectful kid. I asked you to put your cell phone away in accordance with the rule, and when I speak to you I expect a courteous and cooperative response."
I don't say this, of course. After all, while I may be able to make a fine case for showing respect to adults, my son has to go to school with this girl come Monday morning. Instead, I resume my chaperone post.
I'm incredulous none the less. For the next hour, I monitor my area and clean up popcorn spills, wondering how a 13-year-old girl has the nerve to speak to an adult as if I am her peer — and not just a peer, but one she finds annoying.
Then again, I'm guessing this is a lesson she has learned at home from parents who probably don't care one way or the other how she speaks to them.
Come to think of it, why am I a chaperone for middle school Activity Night and not her parents?
That's it. The next time I'm asked to chaperone, I'm going to say "no" — but I know just who I'll suggest be called to take the job.