A few years ago, I had a run-in with the law. You'd never have thought it, would you? I have such a nice smile (it's because you can't see the fillings in my back teeth), it seems highly unlikely that I'd cause any sort of ruckus. Well, it wasn't my fault, you know. It was my son Berto, a preschooler at the time, who set me up when I wasn't looking.
On this morning years ago, I was vacuuming in my long john top and flannel bottoms, because in general I see no need to look presentable when I'm doing housework, though I draw the line at wearing any article of clothing with sweat in its description. I entered my bedroom while pushing the noisy clunking machine around and found my son giggling into the phone, his little sister laughing it up beside him.
"Berto, you hang that up right now!" I shouted over the vacuum. "You don't answer the phone without Mama's permission."
I took the phone and hung it up myself before replacing it. Stupid telemarketers.
"Don't touch it again," I warned my son. "we don't play with the phone."
I moved on to the kids' rooms, piling all their toys onto their beds, throwing stuffed animals in the air and stacking legos and blocks out of the way. I was vroom-vrooming along the hideously outdated blue carpet when I heard a loud knock on the door.
My heart stopped and then pumped adrenaline. A sudden rap on the main entrance to my home has always unnerved me; it's all the don't talk to strangers, don't open the door to strangers, don't buy magazines or raw meat from strangers stuff that I've been inculcated with since I was a child. I shut off the vacuum, corralled the children in the hall, and snuck out into my own living room to reconnaissance the situation and try to ascertain what kind of stranger found the gall to disturb our peace by knocking on the door.
I had almost reached said portal when the knocking was promoted to banging and an authoritative voice bellowed, "Open up! It's the police!"
Yeah, right! That sounded too much like what I hear on TV; therefore it must be an impostor who couldn't come up with anything more creative.
I sidled up to the door and flattened my eye against the peep hole.
"How do I know you're the police?" I cried. "I didn't call the police."
"Ma'am," said supposed officer, "I was told a juvenile or unattended child called 911 from this house. Now you can call my precinct to verify it, but if you don't open this door soon, I'm going to bust it down."
Another cliche cop show line? Definitely suspicious. However, my trembling knees assured me my brain understood it was no empty threat. I started to pace in front of my door. What to do, what to do? Call 911? That'd been done apparently. But how the heck was I supposed to locate the number of the local precinct in time? I had to stall for time.
I flicked the curtain back from our big front window, got a glimpse of the officer, but saw no police vehicle. I called out:
"Where's your cruiser? I don't see it."
The officer was speaking on his walkie-talkie thingy. He looked up at the window and said in an exasperated tone, "It's parked around the corner, Ma'am. I don't park in front of the house."
Well, that could be true, I supposed. There was only one thing to do. If I was going down, someone had to know. If he was an impostor, I could rattle off eye and hair color with approximate height before it was too late, so I ran for the portable phone, made twitchy reassuring faces at my bemused kids and dialed a number.
As soon as I heard a voice on the other line, I overrode it frantically with, "Hi....honey? There's a guy who says he's a policeman at the door. What do you want me to do?"
"Open it," said Matthew.
Well, if that's the way it had to be...
I unbolted and opened the door. The officer looked up in surprise, said, "She let me in," into the walkie-talkie thingy and stepped inside. Instantly he surveyed the living area while asking brusquely, "Did you call the precinct?"
"No, my husband," I said lamely. "Gotta go," I whispered into the phone and hung up.
I picked up my little girl while Berto gazed with fascination at the man in uniform. The policeman began walking quickly toward my laundry room door while saying, "Someone called 911 from this house. Do you know who that was?" Shoving the door open, he examined inside, then moved off down the hall without glancing toward me.
"It must have been my son," I said, trailing the officer. "I was vacuuming, and he got a hold of the phone. I though it was a telemarketer, so I hung it up."
There was no response. Each of the bedrooms and bathrooms, including showers and closets, was investigated with precision as the officer strode through my home, his hand hovering near the hip.
"Uh, sorry about the mess," I mumbled. "I had just started my morning cleaning. And like I said, I was vacuuming, so I didn't know who my son was talking to. I really thought it was a telemarketer."
Awkwardly, I followed him back out to the living room. There the policeman appeared to visibly relax.
"I hope you'll answer the door next time a policeman knocks," he said. "I'm just doing my job."
"Yeah, of course. I'm really sorry about that. I just didn't realize my son had dialed 911, so it took me by surprise."
The policeman looked at Berto hovering by my side with wide eyes and a fascinated expression, and spoke gently but firmly, "Now you know not to play with the phone, right? You shouldn't touch the phone without your mommy's permission, and you don't want to call 911 unless it's an emergency. So you're not going to play with the phone again, are you?"
There was a beat of silence while my son stared back blankly at the man, and then Berto stretched out his arm with a big grin, pointed to a spot near his elbow and shared a shocking piece of information, "Look!" he exclaimed, innocently excited. "I have hair on my arm!"
The officer let out a loud laugh, and all the tension of showing up at an unknown house, meeting the resistance of a lady who obviously had issues and needing to be alert to possible lurking criminal behavior obviously dissipated as his body lost its tense posture.
"I'm sorry," I said, and then aside to my son, "Berto, be respectful."
"No, no. It's all right," said the officer. "I'm leaving now. Have a good day."
He was still smiling as he exited my home. He wasn't leaving empty-handed. I had given him indelible evidence about the strange and inexplicable behavior of people. Oh, and a loopy story to tell his wife, all his buddies at work and a few acquaintances at that summer's barbecues. I'm probably famous and don't know it.
As for me I learned to always hold the phone up to my ear when I discover it in one of my children's hands. That's how I knew when my youngest girl had dialed 911.
"I'm sorry," I hastily told the operator. "My little girl dialed by mistake. Please don't send an officer..."