Bad case of call-itis

Here's a tip for you who work at home: You're calling your spouse at the office too often if the receptionist recognizes your voice before you get past "Hello."

With no co-workers to natter at all day, we stay-at-home parents tend to snatch up the phone with the least provocation. We speed-dial our spouses to consult, to complain, to comiserate. Every scraped knee, every development with a client, every household "emergency" such as minor flooding merits a quick call.

What, you might ask, is wrong with that? It's part of the marriage contract that we share everything, right? Wrong. Your spouse is busy earning a living. He/she is in meetings, making decisions, pumping out paperwork. If you call frequently, your spouse will get very little done and become as unproductive as you. This is not the best approach to job security.

But how much is too much? Is one call a day permissible? Three a day? Once an hour? As a rule, if you answer the phone saying, "Hi, it's me again," you're calling too often. If you spend more time on hold with your spouse's workplace than you do with your children, it may be time to unplug the phone. If you sing along with the Muzak, you may need professional help.

A typical case of Spousal Call-itis:

9:03 a.m.
Housespouse: "Oh, good, you're there already. Do you know what Johnny did with his homework? No, I haven't looked under his bed. Why would it be under his bed? Hold on a second."

(Working Spouse casts longing look at coffee urn, where co-workers are gossiping.)

Housespouse: "You were right. It was under his bed. Go figure. OK, have a great day. I'll talk to you later."

(WS hangs up, fighting off sense of foreboding.)

10:27 a.m.
HS: "Hi, it's me again. Your mother called and . . . "

(WS tunes out, busy with incoming e-mail.)

HS (several minutes later): "So it's all right with you if I tell her we'll come over for dinner on Sunday?"

WS: "Yes."

HS: "OK. I'll call her back. Hope the rest of your day goes well."

10:33 a.m.
HS: "Me again. Your mother now says Sunday's no good. How about Saturday?"

WS (balancing a teetering stack of paperwork that rivals most landfills): "Yes."

10:45 a.m.
HS: "I'm back. She now says Sunday would be better after all. I swear, I don't know what's wrong with that woman . . . "

(WS loses focus, busy making placating hand gestures to red-faced supervisor, who's pointing at wristwatch.)

1:02 p.m.
HS: "Oh, good, you're back from lunch. The refrigerator is making a funny noise."

WS (sighing heavily): "What kind of noise?"

HS: "Sort of whish-whish, then a clunk."

WS: "That's the icemaker."

HS: "Really? How come I've never noticed that before? I swear, I'm going goofy, working here all by myself. Listen, while I've got you on the phone . . ."

(WS closes eyes and clenches jaw.)

2:17 p.m.
HS: "Me again. I was wondering, do we need new drapes in the living room? I've got a catalog here that has some that might do nicely . . . "

(WS feels drops of blood popping out on forehead.)

3:23 p.m.
HS: "I know you're busy, but how about meat loaf for supper?"

WS: "Yes, yes, yes. Meat loaf would be wonderful. I've got to go now."

HS: "You want the meat loaf with gravy or with that gooey ketchup all over the top?"

WS: "If I don't get back into that meeting, I'm going to be meat loaf myself."

HS (hurt): "OK, sorry. Bye."

3:46 p.m.
WS: "Hi, it's me. Sorry I was abrupt before. But I was in this meeting and my boss . . . "

HS: "Hmph. If I'm bothering you at work, you can just say so. Am I calling too often?"

WS (seeing life flash before eyes): "Not at all, sweetheart. I know it's important that we stay in touch throughout the day. You call whenever you want."

HS (somewhat mollified): "All right then. Only one more question for the busy, big-shot decision-maker. Mashed potatoes or fries?"

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