What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 25
My Telephone Call with a Social Worker 

[p.76]Don’t ask me why, but whenever I pick up a telephone, my kids act like I’ve just given them a big time cue to go berserk. They stand right in front of me while my hand and ear are all tied up, then they start screaming and fighting because they’re annoyed at the way the other brother breathes.

Totally charming, I think you’ll agree.

This kind of behavior is always distracting, to say the least, but occasionally it’s even embarrassing—like the time I called the social worker.

We came home one evening to discover an invitation for a birthday party waiting politely for us on the doorstep. It was for our son Alec from one of his third-grade classmates, and it requested that we R.S.V.P.

I will confess that at times I have been careless about doing this sort of thing, which I have since learned is a major social blunder. I can only attribute my lack of grace in this respect to the fact that I grew up in a very communal town where wedding notices in the local paper routinely said, “The public is invited to attend.” It never occurred to us to put “R.S.V.P” on the bottom of anything because none of us could read French anyway. I had to move to Salt Lake City before I realized that civilized people actually like to get a head count before an event so that there’s enough food and drink, and so forth.

Anyway, after screwing up on the R.S.V.P. thing a couple of times, I made a resolution some time ago to call my hostess ahead of time to inform her of my plans. That’s why I promptly marched inside, birthday party invitation in hand, and called the classmate’s mother, a person I don’t know extremely well but about whom I’ve always heard the nicest things. Intelligent, kind, competent are the adjectives people routinely use when describing her. She also happens to be a committed social worker.

So there I was on the phone, having a nice chat with a social [p.77]worker, when Ken walked into the room where I was and noticed that our dog Irene was nosing through the garbage can, looking for disgusting things to eat.

Dogs eating garbage is one of Ken’s big buttons, so he started yelling “IRENE! IRENE! IRENE!” as he reached down to yank her out of the garbage can.

At this precise moment, our oldest son, Philip—who has a heightened sense of the dramatic anyway—walked into the room, assessed the situation, and began yelling, “PLEASE DON’T CHOKE HER, DADDY!”

I just kept on talking like nothing at all was happening at our house, while secretly wondering why we always give our dogs people names instead of dog names. If Ken were to yell “SMUDGIE! SMUDGIE! SMUDGIE!” at the top of his lungs, for instance, no one would assume he was talking to a human being. Yelling “IRENE! IRENE! IRENE!,” however, makes him sound like he’s going after an elderly aunt with one of her own hat pins, especially when our oldest son is standing there screaming, “PLEASE DON’T CHOKE HER, DADDY!”

Actually, now that I think about it, I realize I come by giving dogs people names naturally. My mom’s poodle had the exact same name as my best friend, so whenever my mom yelled at the dog to get off the chair, my friend invariably went flying out of her seat.

But I digress.

I finished up my telephone call as bravely as I could, put down the receiver, then attempted to give everyone—dog included—my version of THE STARE.

“Excuse me, Philip,” I said, “but when was the last time you actually saw your father choke a dog?”

He hemmed and hawed, then admitted that to the best of his knowledge he’d never seen his father choke a dog.

“When was the last time you saw your father do anything to a dog besides feed it?”

Again Philip had to admit he hadn’t seen his father do anything to a dog besides feed it.

Then I turned my attention to Ken. “Didn’t you notice I was trying to do the R.S.V.P. thing over the telephone?” Sheepishly, Ken confessed he hadn’t.

[p.78]Finally, I looked at the dog, Irene. “And you. Why were you eating garbage in the first place?”

She wagged her tail because she thought I was giving her quality time, then she trotted off to eat some more garbage.

As a result of my little experience, I have devised a set of rules one should follow religiously when talking with social workers on the telephone:

1. Do not call a social worker while your dog is eating the garbage.
2. If you must call a social worker while your dog is eating the garbage, use a pay phone.

In the spirit of public service, I pass these rules along absolutely free of charge!