When my daughter asked me to chaperone the community service event she was organizing for school, I casually said, “Sure, no problem.” But secretly, my heart soared! It had been years since I was allowed to go on a field trip with either of my kids.
The last few I attended were because I wasn’t picking up on their very subtle hints… “Mom, you don’t have to go on ALL the field trips, you know!” said my son. I took this as: “Relax! You’re too good to me! You go above and beyond!”
When my daughter said, “Nobody else’s mom is going, so….” I thought this meant: “So thank God you’re coming! We need you there!”
It wasn’t that I needed a brick to fall on my head. I finally “got it” after my son saw me reading his permission slip to go to Niagara Falls. I was just about to check “I’m in” to chaperoning when my son shouted, “Mom, I don’t want you to come!” When he saw my shocked face he squeaked, “Is that ok?” Then he burst out crying.
I think a real brick would have been less painful.
So, I was excited to be wanted at Samantha’s event. She was a veteran at running this particular community service call. She and her fellow classmates were going to a “Safe House” where they would entertain moms and their kids. A few nights before the event, she made a list of everything she would need: construction paper, markers, cookie dough, frosting, bottles of apple juice, etc. We agreed to shop for everything after school the next day.
In the morning, I decided to surprise her by picking up the supplies myself, hoping to become so indispensable I’d get invited to chaperone again and again! I made a few minor substitutions to her list. To prevent potential spills, I replaced the bottled apple juice with juice boxes. The crayons were the better bargain so I purchased them instead of markers. Pre-baked cookies were considerably less labor-intensive than dough, so I chose them instead.
That evening, I presented the supplies to her as if they were a gift. She wasn’t nearly as excited as I expected. She half-heartedly rummaged through the bags.
“This isn’t what I asked for!” she shouted. “Why did you get different things than we talked about?”
“Well, it made better sense,” I defended.
“I wanted to come with you. Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“I thought you’d be happy I got it all done,” I whined. When I saw how sad she looked I said, “I’m sorry for not taking you, but I think I made some really good choices. I saved us a lot of time and money.”
No answer. Instead, she grabbed a stack of construction paper and began cutting out ovals. It was Easter time, so she had decided the residents would enjoy decorating Easter eggs.
As I worked around her, preparing dinner, I noticed that each time she cut out a new egg it was bigger and more misshapen. I suggested she find an oval bowl and trace it. She said her eggs were just fine. After a few minutes, I decided to “help” her and scrounged up the perfect oval bowl, placing it next to her in triumph. It sat there, untouched, as she continued to freehand.
Taking matters into my own hand, I traced and cut and traced and cut; each time producing a perfectly shaped egg. I kept waiting for her to catch on, but she never did. She continued doing it her way, without a word to me.
On the day of the event Sam was testing out the music she would play for background and musical chairs. When I heard it, I was alarmed. Eminem and Li’l Wayne didn’t feel like appropriate choices to me and I told her so. Sam insisted it was what they all liked, but I persisted.
My husband had been quietly listening to our exchange. He asked me to join him in another room, then cleared his throat – my warning that he has something important to say.
“Dee, you’re not letting Sam run her own show. You need to trust her.” I immediately saw the truth in this. Changing gears, I made a plan to sit on the sidelines from then on.
At the shelter, I let Sam instruct me. I asked her where and how to set everything up and did so without question. Then I enjoyed simply observing. I watched as she confidently greeted her guests, somehow knowing exactly how to interact with each of them, young and old. They were genuinely happy to see her. I watched as they sang and danced to her music and peacefully, almost therapeutically, decorated Easter eggs.
When no one was watching, I took my perfectly shaped oval eggs and hid them underneath her absolutely flawless ones.
Written and shared with love by Denise Barry.
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