When I was a little girl, my mother and I had a tradition. On a special night in September, she’d cook popcorn on the stove, make Coke floats and we’d settle in on the sofa to watch the Miss America pageant. It was just the two of us because nothing makes a brother and father scatter faster than a televised beauty pageant.
For Mom, this was serious business. She watched the pageant with a notebook and pen in hand, jotting down her predictions for the top ten and crossing through the name of the poor girl who stumbled in her high heels. We’d root for our state’s contestant, and, if she didn’t make the Top Ten, we’d root for whoever had the best talent, the prettiest evening gown and managed to answer the interview question without sounding like Betty Boop.
Lately I’ve been reminiscing about those pageant nights, and one burning question keeps coming to mind: What happened to the isolation booth? I really, really need to know.
I’m assuming by this point I’ve lost 98 percent of the male readers, whose eyes glazed over as soon as they saw the words Miss America pageant. But for the men strong enough to wade through the estrogen, let me explain. The isolation booth was a glass paneled box wheeled onto stage when it was time for the interview portion of the pageant. Four of the top five contestants would be ushered through the door of the booth where they’d all wait their turn to come out, step up to the emcee’s microphone and answer the tough question.
While the first contestant answered, the rest of the girls would stand in the booth with their big hair and smile vacantly because they couldn’t hear a thing. That’s the beauty of the isolation booth. Completely soundproof. It wouldn’t have mattered if Bert Parks shouted “FIRE, FIRE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” Those girls would have stood there serenely on their island of silence.
Over the years, the pageant evolved. They retired the isolation booth and each contestant had to answer a different question. But there are many days when I wonder what may have happened to that old relic. Where is it now? More importantly, can I have it? Please?
I know an isolation booth might look a little strange in our living room, but I need it. It’s the kids, you see. They’re LOUD. I love these little people, and I nearly turned a cartwheel when the boys said their first words. I couldn’t wait until we could have real conversations. But now they are 5 and 3 years old, and they know A LOT of words, which they put together to form A LOT of questions. Here is a typical snippet of our dialogue:
“Mom, can you get me some chocolate milk?”
“Where is the chocolate milk, Mom? Mom, did you get some at the store?”
“Can I go to the store with you, Mom?”
“When we go to the store, can I get that Spiderman that crawls up the walls and shoots the webs out like this?” (Boy imitates superhero by crawling up kitchen island and then falls off due to lack of web-spinning ability.)
“Owwww! Mom, oh, I hurt my elbow. Is my elbow bleeding, Mom? Can you look at it? Mom, I need a band-aid. Can you get me a band-aid, Mom? Mom, can you put one of those Spiderman band-aids on it, okay? (Mom applies band-aid.)
“Oh, good. That’s better. I like Spiderman band-aids. Mom, can you get me some chocolate milk?”
Now I love my kids like crazy, but there are days when the constant barrage of questions and requests – not to mention the background noise of cartoon theme songs, the baby crying, and the endless sound effects boys make while playing with racecars – makes me want to press my hands over my ears and run screaming into traffic. Those are the days when I wistfully long for my own isolation booth. If I could just go in there for 15 or 20 minutes a day and lock the door, I could soak in that beautiful silence and hear myself think for a while. I’d still be able to see the kids and all their antics, but I wouldn’t hear a thing. I’d just stand there and smile serenely and give them a pageant wave from behind the heavy glass walls. Oh, that booth could do wonders.
I know that thing is probably sitting in some dusty storage building somewhere in Atlantic City, never again to be filled with beauties in sequined evening gowns. I’m no Miss America, but I sure could put that booth to good use. Heck, I’d even pay the FedEx charges to get it here. Just a few minutes a day in the glassy silence, and I’m sure I’d come out with all the answers to the really tough questions about chocolate milk and Spiderman band-aids. If only…
This column was originally published July 8, 2007, in the Northwest Arkansas Times.