I USED TO PAY BETTER ATTENTION in elevators. I had to, because with clients in various office buildings around the city, paying attention in elevators was a critical job skill. I'd think to myself, it's Monday, so today you're down 19th from Dupont Circle and your client's on 6. Tomorrow is the alternate Tuesday, so you're west on M Street, 7th floor, and Wednesday it's the one on 17th Street with the grouchy security guard, top floor.
It was a point of pride that I almost never forgot which elevator button to push. I had my act together and was pretty proud of it.
Then last year, I retired my wheeled briefcase and started working in the same place every day. My new office building has touch pad elevator call buttons: You press your destination floor and the panel tells you which elevator will take you there. You don't press a button in the elevator because it already knows. This allows you to kind of zone out during the ride up.
Yesterday I took the day off so I could arrange some long-overdue medical appointments. And so I found myself in a different office building first thing in the morning. As I entered the elevator, another woman was already in there. The 8 button was lit. I pressed 5. The doors almost closed, then opened again, much to the relief of a harried-looking mother with three active kids, between the ages of 6 and 2. She herded her brood into the elevator and instructed her oldest daughter to press 11, which she did.
You know how kids love elevator buttons? Well of course the little guy wanted to press a button too, and he lunged for the bottom row, which included the ALARM button. Mom pulled him back just in time, then shooed her other son out of my personal space, scolding him, "You're being rude." I didn't mind, though. I was thinking about why this one mama had brought all three kids with her to a medical appointment, without a stroller. Had the nanny canceled? Perhaps her husband was out of town.
The car stopped at 5; no one got out. I looked at the other woman, who had never looked up from her phone. Huh, I thought. She is so engrossed in her phone that she forgot to get off the elevator! Amused, I watched her to see how she would react when she realized she'd missed her stop.
The doors closed and the car continued to 8. The lady with the phone got out.
Aha, I thought. She realized she missed her stop and got off at 8 instead. But I was focused on those kids. I thought, if Mom needs help, I will come to her rescue. She sure is lucky she boarded an elevator with me, an experienced mother of three kids!
As the elevator continued up to 11, that's when I remembered that *I* was the one was supposed to get off at 5. I had become so distracted that I managed, in that short ride, to forget which floor I'd pressed.
Mom was focused on executing her tenacious 1-on-3 defense, but I still wanted to avoid a potentially embarrassing exchange. So I followed her off the elevator, as if I'd meant to get off on the same floor. To pre-empt any questions, I gave her a meaningful look and a nod and said, "It gets better, I promise," and added with a knowing wink, sister to sister, "I understand. Hang in there!" She thanked me and wished me a nice day.
I waited for the foursome to disappear around the corner before quietly pressing the call button and re-entering the elevator for the ride back down to the fifth floor.