It was a sunny Saturday. The summer heat hadn’t sneaked into those rays of sunshine yet and the light streamed into the windows, illuminating dust in the air as I stood above a pile of laundry to fold on the living room couch.
The breakfast dishes were in the sink and the TV turned off. My 10-year-old entered the room and announced she was off to ride her bike.
“You have some chores to do first. Remember?” I reminded her gently.
She sighed and took a deep breath. She looked out the window longingly and decided on a direct approach.
“I REALLY don’t want to do my chores right now,” she tried as plainspoken but pleadingly as possible.
“You think I want to be folding this laundry right now?” I countered.
(I am not original when it comes to my parental reactions.)
My child – to her credit – was still clamoring to keep her composure. She paused for just a second (not long enough…) until she thought she had a measured response.
“To be honest,” she said slowly, thinking she was showing some sort of respect, “I just don’t know what else you would be doing right now. This is what you always do.”
(I am inserting a break in the text here so that all parents can put their eyes back into their skulls.)
Sure – my first reaction was incredulousness in response to her audacity. And I quickly made the mandatory list of the first four or five things that came to mind that sounded like more fun than geometrically arranging all of her t-shirts with inane phrases like “INSPIRED TO CREATE UNICORN MAGIC” on them.
But later that day I got to thinking.
She is not the only one who sometimes minimizes the input and output of those around.
I do it, too.
It’s so easy to get caught up in my own narrative – to be worried about my schedule, my presentation, my deadlines, my priorities – that I start to view those I encounter as bit players in a movie about me, bent on ruining my plans or just too dumb to realize they are making me mad.
We are selfish creatures. This attitude is natural. Earlier in history, this attitude might have been the only thing to keep us alive long enough to discover fire and make sweet cave drawings.
But that doesn’t make it excusable now.
That dude in front of you in the coffee line this morning wasn’t ordering as slow as possible because he wanted to make you late. He just still really gets confused by that pretentious menu where there are fake words for “small,” “medium” and “large.” (Confession: that guy might have been me.)
The woman at the pool on her phone a little too loudly isn’t obligated by a contract to talk in the hot parking lot so that you can hear “My Favorite Murder” more clearly while you sunbathe.
And remember – NO ONE likes a traffic jam. You are not unique in feeling desperately impeded by stopped cars on the interstate.
I find the hardest part about being an adult is learning how to be wise enough to know that no one owes you anything, but still wide-eyed and optimistic enough to believe that they might just let you ride your bike anyway.