My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Fair enough, independence seekers

It’s been a snowy winter and I can’t help feeling attached to home, wanting to hunker down and avoid the elements. The snow is gorgeous when the sun makes it sparkle just so, but today is gray and unshiny. And even when it is magical, I enjoy it through the window just fine. I’ve read books, done some crafting, drank lots of coffee and tea, enjoyed some soup, watched movies–all the many perks of a snowy winter.

AND I’ve been taking jaunts in the neighborhood–to get Scout to and from school, not for fun or anything like that.

The walk looks something like this:

IMG_4518Well, the walk looks like that when it’s a good walk. Sometimes the walk looks like this:

IMG_4542You see, it’s cold outside. And not everyone enjoys that part about the cold. For some, it would seem, Snow=fun AND Cold=misery. You can understand the conundrum, right? Feeling compelled to play in the snow, one is suddenly surprised about 15 minutes into all that fun that the white fluffy snow turns oddly harsh and uncomfortable. Ruby’s relationship with snow is further compounded by her love of  snacking on the stuff (the pretty white snow, NEVER the yellow or dirty snow). Imagine her face when she realizes the stuff is driven up her sleeves and into her boots… Well, I think you can SEE the look on her face in the above photo. 

The other day, Ruby and I were walking back from school after dropping Scout off. I was trying to keep her occupied with a quasi-snowball fight, when I noticed an elderly neighbor struggling to shovel her driveway. I asked Ruby to wait for a second while I approached this woman. I had no previous contact with this lady, and she had her back turned to me, so I tried to call out, “Excuse me” so I wouldn’t startle her. When she turned around, she was surprised (I doubt she heard me coming). Our exchange went something like this:

  • Excuse me? Can I do that for you?
  • What? [She looked mortified.] Why would I want you to do that?
  • [I probably looked rather startled.]
  • [She continued.] Well, there’s ice over there, and you could fall and slip.
  • [I glanced down at my suitable boots.] Well, all the same, I’d be happy to help you.
  • [The woman pauses.] No. I don’t want you to. I need the exercise.
  • [I back away.] Fair enough.

After this odd exchange, I turned back and collected Ruby. Ruby then said, “She didn’t want to have a snowball fight with us?”

Ruby’s sweet comment pulled me out of my fog and I laughed. We continued walking back home through the snow. All the same, I couldn’t help pondering why this communication was so abrupt and uncomfortable. I surmised that this woman must look forward to snow shovelling; perhaps shovelling snow is her greatest love in life. I tried not to take it too personally, but I had to admit: I got my feelings hurt. I am a helper/pleaser-type, and, if I’m honest, I would have really enjoyed helping this woman clear her drive. That she rebuffed my offer did sting a bit.

I shared this story with Cory, with my mom, with a close friend, and, feeling compelled by something at church, I shared it with my close-knit Crosswalk community (though, afterwards I had this regret that I shouldn’t have shared it because it didn’t really relate to what we were talking about all that much, oh well, they’re churchy people, so they have to forgive me for being tangential).

In sharing this, people seemed to have these general thoughts:

  • The lady is a crabbyappleton
  • I shouldn’t take it personally
  • Perhaps this woman is struggling with aging and she wants to assert her independence over something she can still do
  • [And my favorite] Maybe the AARP is advertising about a scam where a stranger approaches you and asks to shovel your driveway, then falls and sues you for all you’re worth

But here’s what I know, after wrestling with my ego: The exchange I had with this woman was purposeful. I’d even go so far as to say she was sent to me to deliver a powerful message. This woman was a stranger to me, and I offered her help. By suggesting that she needed help, I didn’t intend to undermine her abilities but perhaps that’s how it was perceived. When she said that she didn’t want my help, I respected that. It hurt a bit, but I respected her wishes and I backed away. Incidentally, I drove by her house later that day and saw that her entire driveway and walkway were clean as a whistle. She KNEW she could do it, she WANTED to do it, and she didn’t want my assistance.

You know who else this reminded me of?IMG_4537Yep, this girl.

My sweet girl. Scout is everything you would ever want in a little girl–sweet, kind, helpful, funny, creative–but, when she asserts her independence it is a Hummer not a VW bug coming down the street.

During the Crosswalk service that I attended, there was a parable of the 99 sheep retold as a modern parable of a Lost Emporer Penguin. The penguin was stranded far away from home and the community rallied to help it. Our pastor encouraged us to think of God’s love as the extravagant, abundant love that these strangers showered on this poor penguin, who misguidedly filled his belly with sand and required surgery to save his life.

What is life-saving to this penguin is the attentive love of those who found him stranded on the beach. But love is not limited to attention and assistance. What is life-saving to some, including my big girl, is a love that encourages her independence. My own need to “help” should not overshadow her need to assert her independence. My “helping” actually undermines her, rather than assists her.

Here’s my lesson: BACK AWAY, MOM. (In the nicest way possible.)

I must respect others autonomy and give them the space to complete their tasks without my help. I shudder to think… I’m THAT Mom, the one that hovers and tries to “help” when really I’m hindering.

Thank you, neighbor lady, for teaching me what I hope will be a valuable lesson. The extravagant, abundant love that I must give my children is to BACK OFF. This will sometimes look like allowing them to wield their own knives, wrap presents with an entire dispenser of tape, assemble their own homework packets without ever putting it in their backpacks, forget hats & gloves, dress themselves in inappropriate clothing, make a scrap heap of several reams of computer paper, make a mess in the kitchen and leave the caps off an infinite amount of markers, but it is love nonetheless.

Advertisements

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Life and parenting are such a balance sometimes. Your offer to help was kind and generous, and probably quite unexpected. I have to imagine that this woman thought about her response to your offer just as much and hopefully learned some things too.
For me, just seeing generosity and a genuine extension of love and service in the world is so rare, that I imagine I would be stunned by it. Pride can often get in the way of accepting help, and especially the help of (relative) strangers. My daughter is starting to become fiercely independent as well. It’s a challenge even at three to know when to insist and when to back off.
You’re doing good, and I loved this post. Made me think this morning.

Comment by RFL

Thank you for visiting and commenting! You know, one of my church friends suggested that I planted a seed for that woman, too. Perhaps I’ll have the chance to run into her again, who knows? The dance we do as parents, community members, spouses, daughters, etc.–when to help, when to set boundaries, when to keep to ourselves–it’s all so murky sometimes. I don’t think of helping others as a selfish act, but perhaps I’ve become accustomed to that lately. In many cases, I’d rather offer the help and have it be declined than never offer at all. Now, for my kids, those little turkeys need to learn some independence or I’ll be opening their snack wrappers in high school.

Comment by jaymers

I think offering to help is the kindest thing you can do. We can’t control anything in life except for how we respond and react to people. I think you did a really good thing, and I’m sure the woman is thinking about it. Laughing so much about the snack wrappers. We’re right there with you.

Comment by RFL




Your thoughts are always welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: