Coffee, Conviction, and Taking Your Time / by Carey Pace

*This post is part of a collaborative project - a year of stories shared by a group of 15 photographers every Tuesday in 2016.  Please visit Renee Bonuccelli after you read this post to continue the circle.*

I wrote this recently and decided to share it here as my story this week.  May it be an encouragement to any fellow parents out there. 

I know better. I know better. I know better.

The whole morning was ‘off.’ I slept too late. I took the dogs out too late. I had to wait forever for the puppy to poop. I woke the kids late. I got The Lady in the shower late. I started cooking breakfast late. They started eating breakfast late. Then I spent their entire breakfast time looking for the cup of coffee that I’d poured before putting The Lady in the shower. I couldn’t find it anywhere. This wasn’t such a huge deal for me — I was worried that the dogs would find it and knock it over, wherever on earth I’d absentmindedly set it.

The ‘breakfast’s complete’ alarm went off but I knew they weren’t finished. I let them keep eating until we really couldn’t wait any longer. I called from the next room, “Okay guys, we don’t have time to brush teeth this morning. Turn off the show, put your shoes on, and get into the van.”
Not so complicated, huh?

Sixty seconds later I hear The Boy calling me from their bathroom down the hall that is the opposite direction from the garage. I begin to shout, “No, Son!” but he cuts me off, frantic, with, “But Momma, I NEED you.”

I stomp down the hallway, frustrated at this further derailment of our already rather derailed morning. He points to the counter, while he just stands there moving nothing, doing nothing, making absolutely no attempt to correct the scenario he’d created. “I went to move this towel and it fell over.”

‘It' was my coffee cup.

Warm brown liquid the color of pecan shells covered the bathroom countertop, the sharp aroma filling my nostrils as if it were freshly brewed. In a move that proved serendipitous, I had set a stack of towels and wash cloths on their bathroom counter last night when I was putting clean laundry away. I figured I’d finish the work of placing them all where they really went this morning. But the dogs went bananas trying to eat The Lady’s discarded pajamas as she entered the shower, and I’d tossed the haphazard mass on top of the towel stack in my hurry to catch up lost time. The stack had fallen over, obscuring my coffee cup from view (hence why I missed it both times I checked the room AND counter for my cup).

The large lavender bath towel at the bottom of the stack was already hard at work at soaking up what it could of the spilled coffee. Truly, if I’d had to pick a better place to spill a full cup of coffee, I don’t think I could. The towels were there right at hand, and the slight lip of the bathroom counter made it so very, very little coffee had spilled down the side onto the floor. Despite the good fortune during this mess, I was furious.

“Why did this happen, Son?” I fumed.
“Because I moved the towel…”
“No!” I cut him off.

I half expected him to say that it was because I had left my cup there. Truth be told, that IS why it happened. I was just as much to blame for the accident as he was, perhaps even more so. While I do rather mightily fight my instinctual harsh temper over accidents, I really wasn’t angry at the accident this morning at all. I was angry that he hadn’t listened to me. Again. AGAIN.

I had asked him to just put on his shoes that were five feet from where he sat and get into the van. Instead, he’d marched off to the bathroom to brush his teeth, as per our typical, usual, normal every day routine. Today was an aberration but he wasn’t paying me any attention. He wasn’t listening. Even though he had answered me verbally with an “okay” he had not absorbed an ounce of the information I had spoken.

I was seething while picking up the too many items that are stored on their bathroom countertop. I dried off the soap dispenser. “This happened because you weren’t listening, Son.” I dried off the cup holder. “What did I say to you at the table?" I dried off the container of clorox wipes. "What was it I said to you? Can you tell me?”

I don’t remember what he answered, but it wasn’t what I said. “I told you to put your shoes on and get in the van. Is that what you did? No, it wasn’t. If you had done what I asked of you, this never would have happened. You wouldn’t have been in this room in the first place! You didn’t do what I said because you weren’t listening! You said ‘okay’ to me but you weren’t listening to a thing I said! This is happening over and over and it is NOT okay. This has to stop!”

The morning was already off. We were running late. And when I’m rushed or late, I never handle that well. It always pushes me into a well that has run dry and I get aggravated more quickly than I should. My tone is harsh and my language cruel and demeaning. I tried to remind myself of this - that our lateness was MY FAULT and not his. I tried to remind myself to stay calm and not take out my frustration at this on him, because it was the RUSH that was putting me over the edge.
I’m mopping and drying all the various items. I’m ranting about how he isn’t listening to me. I’m remembering that I’m more angry because we’re late. And then God taps me on the shoulder. That’s not the point of any of this, He nudges.

Even while I’m lecturing him on the error of his ways — how he isn’t listening to me and thus we keep getting into messes because he isn’t doing what we ask of him — I’m not looking at him. I’m looking at the items in my hands that I’m drying, moving from one to the next. I’m focused on my task, getting my junk done, while speaking over my shoulder at him.

I know better than this. God has reminded me that I know this isn’t the best way.

He’s a boy, Carey. Did you look him in the face when you spoke to him? Did you make sure you got his attention before you gave him a task? Did you touch his shoulder? Did you get on his level (that is eerily swiftly getting closer and closer to your own)?

Because you know that’s the secret. You’ve written about this before. But you’ve forgotten. In your rush to keep all the (too many) plates you have spinning, you’ve forgotten to slow down. Stop. Touch him, look him in the eye, and give him the instruction. And in your haste, you’ve set all of you up for disaster.

In a whoosh, I was convicted.

This issue has been flaring wildly with both kids in the last weeks, and it has been driving Shawn and me crazy. We will ask them something, and they will respond, and later it is as if the conversation never happened. They are so absorbed in their tv show or iPad games that they just mindlessly “uh huh” us with no absorption of the issue, no awareness that it even occurred.
But we’re rushing. We’re moving from one task to the next in such a hurry that we haven’t stopped to give them the respect they deserve. We’ve covered our bases by speaking it, expecting them to just hear it and comply. But in truth, they are still young children and they need better from us.

It isn’t okay that he didn’t listen. We cannot disregard that mistake. (And it also flies all over me that in the wake of the accident, rather than taking active steps to mitigate, he stood there staring at it, as if waiting for his magical maid to appear and clear it all up.) But my biggest parenting mantra, and perhaps life mantra as well, is that we have to set ourselves up for success. If I don’t take the correct steps in the first place, how can I expect them to succeed?

I really need to slow down and take the thirty seconds required to place a soft hand on his shoulder, look him in the eye, and ask what I need. That’s it. It’s not so complicated. And if I do, we’ll all be the better for it. Calling over my shoulder as I run from room to room, trying to do ten things at one time is the last thing from setting ourselves up for success.

At some point, the transition needs to take place. His high school teachers aren’t going to do this. College professors certainly don’t care if you don’t hear them the first time. His boss one day won’t coddle him in regards to directives. But if I have always treated him as an adult, instead of gradually shifting him towards that expectation, he will always flounder. It needs to be a transition, not a sudden tossing into the ocean.

This photo is of the Lady, who was most confused the evening I decided to purposely pour a cup of coffee on the kitchen table to photograph as an accompanying photo for my essay, but stood still for me when I asked her to 'freeze' during those experiments so I could shoot this. 

*This post is part of a collaborative project - a year of stories shared by a group of 15 photographers every Tuesday in 2016.  Please visit Renee Bonuccelli after you read this post to continue the circle.*