Here's what we don't have anymore that we need, especially during the holiday season:

A busy signal.

Do you remember the busy signal? It may still exist, for all I know, but I haven't heard one in ages. It was a horrible beeping noise that you got if you called somebody on the phone, but they were already on the phone talking to somebody else.

This was before voicemail. And before computers. Spanx hadn't yet been invented, and telephones were two empty cans on a cotton string.

Let's slow down and analyze the purpose of the busy signal.

Here's the idea behind it, which is now itself extinct: If you were doing something, you couldn't be doing something else at the same time.

Silly. Quaint. An antique idea. Of course, nowadays we know you can do plenty of things at once. Like driving, drinking coffee, texting, eating a take-out salad, and changing the radio station.

It's easy as - oh, sorry.

But back then, if you got a busy signal and you wanted to talk to someone, you would have to do something else that no one does nowadays:

You had to wait.

Wait.

And wait. Then try again, and wait some more.

I don't want to get all cultural on your heinie, but you know I like opera, so let me remind you of a scene in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Bottom line, it's the story of a woman who's waiting for her lover to come home, but he has married someone else, unbeknownst to her. So she's sitting there, kneeling with their child, both with hands in their laps, waiting for him. The entire opera stops while we, the audience, wait with her.

You feel me?

Understand that the audience sits in total and complete silence for five minutes, then six and seven, while we watch a woman kneeling with a toddler on the stage, waiting for a lover we know isn't coming.

If you want to see waiting these days, you'll have to buy a ticket to Madama Butterfly. Because nowadays, that's the only place that waiting exists.

Nobody waits anymore. Waiting was rendered obsolete by multitasking. We do five things at once so nobody has to wait, and now we hate to wait. We're trained to hate to wait. We can't wait. We don't have time.

And especially not during the holidays. There's no time. Peace on earth, but I gotta go.

I'm the same way. I buy a gift and can't wait for the salesgirl to go find a box, which is another thing that doesn't exist anymore. You could spend a fortune on a cashmere sweater, and it's guaranteed they'll still ask you if you want a box.

Here's what I want to say: "No way! Why would I need a box, for a Christmas gift? Nah, I'll just take that cashmere sweater and shove it . . . ."

Sorry.

So instead, I answer, "Yes, thanks, I need a box."

The salesgirl will say nothing, but merely blink.

And I will say, "You see, child, a box is a cardboard thing with a top and bottom. We used to have them in the old days, before menopause."

She will nod to humor me, then say she has to go find a box "in the back."

But I have no time to wait, so I'll take the lovely sweater in a paper bag and grumble. And my gift sweater will turn out as wrinkly as I am, teaching me a lesson.

We're all of us doing too many things at once, especially during the holiday season. So I say, take it slower. Wait for the box. And if they don't have one, go to gift wrap. Guaranteed, in gift wrap, you'll learn to wait.

But flip it. Enjoy your wait. Breathe it in.

Still your head, and your heart.

This is the time of your life.

Think of it as your own personal busy signal.

And in your head, it will sound like opera.

Happy holidays.

Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's essays have been published in "My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space" and "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog." Visit Lisa at www.scottoline.com.