Information Please operator teaches child life lessons

When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood.

I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.

I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person — her name was Information, Please and there was nothing she did not know.

Information, Please could supply anybody’s number and the correct time.

My first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor.

Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.

I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone!

Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.

Information, Please, I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear, Information.

“I hurt my finger,” I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.

“Nobody’s home but me.” I blubbered.

“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.

“No,” I replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”

“Can you open your icebox?” she asked.

I said I could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.

After that, I called Information, Please for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk, that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.boy with old wall phone

Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called Information, Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but I was inconsolable.

I asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow I felt better.

Another day I was on the telephone for “Information, Please.”

Information, said the now familiar voice.

“How do you spell fix?” I asked.

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. Information, Please belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.

As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now.

Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, Information, Please. Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, Information.

I hadn’t planned this but I heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”

There was a long pause. Then came the soft-spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.”

I laughed. “So it’s really still you,” I said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?”

“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.”

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.

“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”

early switchboard operator

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, Information.

I asked for Sally.

“Are you a friend?” she asked.

“Yes, a very old friend,” I answered.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”

Before I could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.”

The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.

Never underestimate the impression you may make on others.

Whose life have you touched today?

Three Words Our Kids Need to Hear

by Kari Kampakis

It is Monday morning, and my daughter drags into the kitchen. She sits on a bar stool, slumps her shoulders, and casts her eyes down at the bowl of Cheerios I slide in front of her.

She moans and groans and tells me how tired she is. Part of me is irritated. I need her to step it up because I have four kids to get to school in thirty minutes. I don’t have time for this.

going to school | i get itImage credit: openclipart.org

But then I remember – I get tired, too. And like me, this child really needs her sleep. So instead of rushing her, I take a minute to let her wake up.

“I get it,” I tell her, remembering the many times I’ve struggled to get out of bed. “Mornings can be hard for me, too.”

It is Wednesday afternoon, and I can tell by the look on my daughter’s face as she walks toward my car that she’s upset. As she buckles her seatbelt, she blurts out what’s troubling her.

Once again she didn’t place in the school art contest. Once again her friend won first place.

With a bitter tinge in her voice, she complains that it’s not fair. Part of me wants to correct my child. I want to tell her to be happy for her friend.

But then I remember – I get jealous, too. And being jealous of a friend is the hardest kind to overcome.

“I get it,” I tell her, remembering the times I’ve felt overshadowed. “You worked hard on that piece, and I know you wanted to place. I get jealous of my friends sometimes, too.”

It is Sunday, and on the way to church I argue with my daughter because she didn’t brush her teeth like I asked. We’ve had this argument so often I feel compelled to describe how her mouth will look when her teeth begin to rot.

praying in churchImage credit: pexels

During the church service I think about our argument, and I feel bad about being so harsh. I wish I’d controlled my tongue. I lean over to my daughter and whisper an apology.

She shakes her head and pushes me away. She’s mad and not ready to forgive me. Part of me is hurt. I want closure to ease my guilt.

But then I remember – I need time when I’m mad, too. Forgiveness isn’t always instantaneous.

“Okay,” I say, kissing her head and giving her space. “I get it.” I ask God to forgive me and to work in her heart so that arguments like this don’t build walls between us.

The mistakes I make as a parent are relatively common. When it comes to our children’s moods, we often expect them to have mastery over their emotions. We expect them to get over their most unpleasant feelings, soldier on, and not need time to process them.

But our kids are human, and like all humans, they have messy emotions that need to be acknowledged and worked through. They have good days and bad days, highs and lows, shining moments and moments where we wonder what on earth has come over them.

I am learning, as my kids get older, the importance of being empathetic. Taking even a minute to listen and understand how they feel can make a big difference in whether they open up and talk through their feelings or keep them bottled up.

My tendency is to react too soon. I throw out quick solutions or express my thoughts on how my children should feel without taking into account how they do feel. And of all the tools I’m using to help break this habit, the most effective one is compassion.

Because sometimes what my kids need most is permission to feel what they feel with complete honesty. They want a sounding board, not a problem solver. They find it comforting when I nod and say, “Yep, I’ve been there. That happens to me all the time.”

Everyone knows the cornerstone phrase of parenting: I love you. But if you ask me, there are three other words that belong in our vocabulary, too, words that build bridges between hearts and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Kari Kampakis 3 Words | I get it

I get it.

I get it you don’t feel like going to school.

I get it you’re jealous of your friend.

I get it you need time to cool off before we talk again.

Saying, “I get it,” isn’t a green light for our kids to act on unpleasant emotions or dwell on them. It doesn’t lower our standards or compromise the expectations we have of them. More than anything, it connects us with our children and reassures them they aren’t alone. It reminds us that they are human, and sometimes it helps to cut them a little slack in honor of that fact.

A little empathy can go a long way in growing a relationship. So can the right words. One goal I have in parenting is to have less of a lecturing mouth, and more of a listening ear. Because the conversations that result when my kids express their real emotions reveal priceless insights into their minds. They teach me about my kids and teach my kids to feel comfortable in expressing their inner reality.

I want my kids to know that if I get it, others may get it, too. Whatever messy emotion they’re wrestling with, there is someone who wrestles with the same thing and is brave enough to admit it.

Knowing this makes the world a more approachable and comfortable place. It gives kids the courage to be real, and the power to build relationships based on truth, empathy, and perfectly normal human emotions.

Reprinted courtesy of Kari Kampakis.

Author of Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For? available at Amazon, Barnes and NobleChristianbook.com, and her best-seller 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know.