My school begins the fall semester Monday and I am not ready. Last week was filled with trainings and things designed to get students and faculty ready for the academic year. However, getting everyone else geared up and feeling excited about the possibilities ahead meant a lot of time away from my office. Campus training for me meant a very real confrontation with the truth that there were only 24 hours in each day.
When I live life trying to squeeze more things into the 24 hour day than should reasonably be done in a 24-hour period, the possibility exists that I will overlook something or respond to a question without thinking through the logic or reason for the question being asked. Such a quandary is not unique to higher education. I found myself rethinking those spontaneous conversations with my kids when they were younger. I was reminded of the times when they asked a question, I answered the question, then later realized I should have asked a follow up question to the seemingly simple question.
My thoughts about spontaneous questions asked by my children took me back to a time when my son was in the fourth or fifth grade and I was a stay-at-home mom. Most people believed that my role as a stay-at-home mom was the easiest job ever, but it was one of the most difficulty jobs I ever had in my life. First of all, the job had no start time or end time. Secondly, I felt compelled to volunteer for everything at school and in the community to demonstrate my serious commitment to parenting. There was also a part of me that served because I felt pressured to serve the schools and community youth groups to demonstrate to “them” that I wasn’t just sitting at home watching soap operas and napping. The truth was that I loved doing both of those things and I missed them both when full time work outside the home defined my life. I celebrated those who worked as stay-at-home parents and found time to steal away from everyone else’s expectations and do either of those things. There was benefit to being entertained by an imaginary messy community of people who ran major companies even though none of them had any educational or professional qualifications that made them competent to run major companies. There was something addictive about watching fiction play out on a screen featuring people who found ways to destroy relationships on a regular basis. Don’t ask me why I missed those shows, but some days I just did and still do. My naps, on the other hand, were critical to my existence. My naps provided that boost I needed to get through the evenings of sporting events. My naps enabled me to stay awake to supervise homework sessions after dinner. My naps were also especially necessary when the homework detail came late at night after the older kid was done with her matches at school.
Well, I provided all of the back story to help explain the next story. Somehow I found ways to fill my daily calendar with activity that kept me out of the house. My busy schedule made people think I worked outside the home except that I rarely dressed the part. My self-imposed hectic life often caused me to be distracted and therefore not a very good listener.
One evening when the kids and I finally made it home from the day’s activities, we finished dinner and the kids took to their areas to do some homework. Great! It was then that I could clean the kitchen and organize a few things for the next day. As much as I liked to say I was excellent at multi-tasking, I honestly struggled with maintaining two conversations at the same time. More specifically, it has always been a challenge for me to text and have a verbal conversation simultaneously. It has always been challenging for me to have a verbal conversation and type an email at the same time. That day I learned that I had a newly found limitation: focusing on the details of anything and answering a question. While I was busy doing something in the kitchen, my son was having some discussion about his hand held electronic game. He was not permitted to play the game until he finished his homework and the homework was not completed so the conversation about the game charger had no relevance for me. He said he knew that he couldn’t play, but he needed his charger so that he could charge the battery and it would be ready to play later. “Oh, ok,” I thought and kept doing whatever I was doing. He vanished into another space in the house as did the thought about his hand held game.
If the kids didn’t need my help with homework, I would finish cleaning the kitchen, ponder meals and snacks for the next day, start a load of laundry, then sit and do the puzzles in the newspaper or read a book. If I wasn’t needed, I would check on the kids periodically then return to something I wanted to do. At some point in the evening, there was more talk about a lost charger and since I was never asked for my charger I didn’t focus on the conversation. I learned to keep my chargers close because members of my family tend to lose their chargers and automatically default to “sharing” mine. Because my kids, especially the boy, have “borrowed” so many electronic devices and chargers and then failed to return them to their rightful locations, I have always selectively ignored requests to use my chargers or devices. I gave birth to the children who told their father that “Mama needs an iPad” when iPad’s were first introduced. Then, before he could figure out the meaning of iPad they added, “with Wi-Fi!”. After convincing their father that I needed this device, they hijacked it for nearly three years except for times when they were playing on a court or a field. As a result, I learned to ignore their talk about electronics and hold my devices and charges extremely close.
I was proud of myself for protecting my chargers that evening. I believed that I taught the curious, active one a lesson in responsibility. I believed that I demonstrated excellence in parenting. Both kids finished their assignments and we all went to sleep. We woke up the next morning rushing to get dressed and into the car. I was taking them to school and afterwards rushing off to some meeting I scheduled in the community. Everything seemed normal for a hurried family getting off to school except that the boy was dressed first and excitedly rushed to be first to get into the car. I grabbed my purse, the planner, and my snacks and ran out of the door into the garage. I pushed the garage door opener on the wall as I raced past it toward the driver’s door. Having the garage door opening as I got settled into the car would surely save me a few minutes and get me out of the driveway sooner. I put the key into the ignition and gave the reminder for everyone to put on their seat belts. I turned the key and there was silence. There was no motor attempting to turn over and not even a click of a busted alternator. There were no flickering lights on the dashboard or overhead. There was nothing.
Then, I remembered the question: “Mom, can I get your keys?” I also remembered with shocking regret the answer: “Sure!” I was certain the night before that the boy needed the keys because he left a book in the car. It turned out that the master chess player instead was working to remedy the mystery of the missing wall charger for his hand held game. Although the wall charger was misplaced, the smart one knew exactly where to locate the car charger for the hand held game. All he needed the night prior was a car battery to charge the dead game battery. Genius! Ask mama for the key, plug in the game all night in the car using the power from her car battery, and viola! Game time!
That day he learned that it was possible to “make the car battery go dead.” I learned that it can be very important when dealing with the developing prepubescent mind to take a short break and ask a follow up question or two or three.