The Telephone Game

3:00 pm

So I’m getting ready to get Firstborn off the school bus, and I decide to call over to my mom’s to confirm that I’m bringing the girls over for a visit.

No answer. I leave a message. Make a mental note to call one more time before I leave the house.

3:30 pm

I call Mom again. Still no answer. Wonder what’s keeping her from the phone.

Maybe she’s napping. Or the phone’s too far away to reach.


I hope she hasn’t fallen again….

3:35 pm

Past time to leave the house. I holler at Baby that it’s time to go, crate the dog, and grab the phone again. Hit speed dial.

No answer.

Where could she be?

I’m sure she’s fine.

But what if she’s not?Must be on the floor….or worse.

I’m probably overreacting.

I leave what I hope is a reassuring message on her answering machine, in case she can hear it, but can’t get to the phone.

“Mom, we’re on our way. Be there as soon as I can.”

3:45 pm

Firstborn bounds off the school bus and hops into the minivan. I’m a nervous wreck, but trying not to show it. On the drive over, I make the girls promise not to burst into Grandma’s apartment ahead of me, like they usually do.

God, please don’t let them find her DEAD….

“Are you listening, girls? What did I say?” I demand, a little too earnestly.

“Let Mommy go in first,” they drone.

3:55 pm

We pull into the parking lot at her building. It’s a very nice, newly constructed facility with nearly 100 senior independent living apartments and separate wings for assisted living and Alzheimer’s care. The girls bounce out of the car, and I open the trunk to grab some of the groceries I’ve brought for Mom.

“Won’t need any of this stuff if she’s DEAD,” the voice in my head growls.

I cram the voice back where it came from and turn to the girls.

“Who wants to carry the orange juice?”

We go up to the entrance. There’s a keypad there so you can get buzzed in. Visitors can dial an apartment directly, or call the front desk. Residents can use a swipeable key card or dial in a code on the keypad. Mom gave me her code when she moved in and told me to use it instead of calling up to have her buzz us in. She said all the residents do that with their kids.

Today, though, I want one more chance to prove to myself she’s okay. I’m sure she’ll answer this time. She has to.

“I wanna do it!” “No, me!” The girls are elbowing each other aside, jockeying to be the one who Mommy lets dial in the code today.

“I’m doing it,” I snarl at them. Don’t they know my mom might be DEAD up there?

I punch in the code to call her apartment.

One ring.

Two rings.

Three rings.

Oh God.

Answering machine.

“Mom, we’re downstairs. I’m coming up.”

I let us in with her code. As we’re walking down the hall toward the elevator, I think, “Gee, this is a nice place. Too bad Mom didn’t get to live here that long. If she’s dead, I think we’ll have until the 15th to get her stuff out. Maybe I’ll just move it into storage. Or maybe just donate it all….”

We pass the dining room, where the servers are preparing for the dinner rush. I spot one of the servers, who’s been really sweet to my kids when we come by to eat. “I wonder what she’ll say when she finds out Mom’s DEAD,” growls the voice.

We arrive at the elevator, and Baby pounces on the call button.

“No fair,” cries Firstborn. The doors slide open, and Baby punches 2 before her big sister does. “Moooommmmm!” Firstborn wails. As the elevator begins its slow ascent, we negotiate that Firstborn will get to hit the call button AND the 1 on our way back down.

Of course, we might have to yield the elevator to the paramedics. Or mortician.

The elevator stops and the doors slide open. Sitting directly across from the elevator is none other than Grandma Chiquita herself!

I don’t know whether to hug her or scream.

“Where were you? I’ve been calling and calling….” How many times has she used that line on me?

“I was here, waiting for the dryer to finish! I didn’t want to walk all the way back down that hall,” she explained. She smiled at the girls.

“I was worried sick!” I tell her, exasperated and relieved, all at the same time.

“Come on, Grandma Chiquita!” holler the kids.

“Girls, use your inside voices!” I gather Mom’s laundry from the dryer, pile the groceries into her laundry cart, and we head down the hall for a lovely visit.

So that’s why my therapist diagnosed me with anxiety.


About Kathleen

Kathleen Heuer is a serial arts advocate and volunteer. She is the mom of two beautiful girls, wife to a brilliant nuclear engineer, and referee between her golden retriever and her hissy 18-year-old cat. For more, go to
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One Response to The Telephone Game

  1. Pingback: Walking the caregiving balance beam. « Sandwiched

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