May Day! May Day!
By Laurie Winslow Sargent
CBN.com Six-year-old Tyler typically burst in the door after school, proudly exclaiming, "Look at my math paper!" or waving a dinosaur diorama for me to ooh and aah over.
Other days, he dragged in, downcast, needing a hug and a neon green Band-Aid after a fall from the monkey bars. Once he came in quietly, sporting a gorgeous smile with gaps from missing teeth, whispering to me about his "girlfriend" while revealing a stick-figure drawing of them smooching. (I could smile but didn’t dare laugh.)
I usually tried to be available to him after school, as that was a good time for us to connect. But I was to learn the hard way how meaningful that was to my son.
One day, my eyes were magnetized to the computer screen, my hands to the keyboard. I'd frantically worked for hours to meet a deadline. Suddenly the slamming of the front door, down the hall, startled me. With shock and disbelief, I checked my watch. Three o’clock, already?
Oh, no! I slapped my hand to my forehead. I was supposed to have picked up my toddler Aimee at the sitter's house at 2:30! I could have kicked myself for not watching the time.
I flew out of the office, tossing papers in my knee-deep TO FILE pile as I went. "Hey, Tyler! We've got to run and get your sister." No answer. Where could that kid be?
I heard footsteps thump-thump upstairs, and called again impatiently. "Come on, Honey. . . I've got to get going."
Assuming he’d heard me, I hunted for car keys and shoes. Several minutes later, jacket in hand, I called again. "Tyler, let's go!"
Slam! There went the front door again.
What? I thought he was upstairs! But through our front window, I glimpsed his small figure hiding behind a bush. I had no time for games. I lost what was left of my cool, stomped to the door and opened it, then yelled, "Tyler, you get in here right now! I'm late picking up Aimee!"
Tyler flew into the house at my request.
But to my astonishment, he stormed past me to the stairs inside, threw himself onto the bottom step, and crumpled into a ball, sobbing hysterically.
I was flabbergasted. "What's the matter, Honey?"
Tyler sat upright and cried out, "Don't you know it's May Day?"
I was baffled. "What do you mean?"
Tears streamed down his dusty face as he wailed, "How come you didn’t pick it up? You opened the door, and you didn't even pick it up!"
Confused, I went to the front porch. There lay a droopy dandelion on the mud-caked doormat: minus a few petals, but an accusing yellow beacon, nonetheless. As I picked up his surprise, guilt crashed down on me. My excuses dribbled out weakly: about deadlines, and stress, and promises to sitters, and it was still April not yet May, and I’d never been given a May flower, and . . .
I then realized how stupid my reasoning must have sounded to a child whose surprise had gone unnoticed, his act of love, unappreciated. And he’d gotten yelled at, to boot.
I told Tyler how sorry I was, reaching for him. Angrily he pushed me away and continued to cry. I asked for his forgiveness, thanked him for his thoughtfulness, told him how much I loved him.
Gradually his slender back stopped shaking. His cries dwindled to sniffles. He allowed me to hug him as he fiddled with the untied laces on his GI Joe sneakers. Finally he stood, and as I pulled him towards me, he buried his face in my shirt. I stroked his hair, and he leaned into me limply.
With great ceremony, I placed his dandelion into an empty 7-Up bottle with a little water. I set it on the windowsill. Sunlight glistened through the green container with its yellow-petaled crown.
On the way to the sitter's house, I bought him an ice cream bar to show my appreciation in a tangible way. As we chatted in the car, tension dissipated out the open car windows. He offered me a bite of his treat, and I knew we were okay with each other again. Yet I also knew that 3:05 the next day, I had an appointment to keep with my son.
Even now when I hear the distress cry, "May Day! May Day!" in military movies, I recall the moment my distraction and busyness created real distress in my child, and I nearly missed seeing his gift, lovingly chosen for me.
I suspect that I'm not the only one who's experienced a crash-and-burn moment as a parent. But children do forgive, and they treasure the time given them. In your own family, your schedule and your child's needs will dictate when it's best for you two to connect. But it's also a matter of choice. Plan for it. Savor it! And don't be surprised when in a sudden, tender moment, your child surprises you in a special way, bouncing back the affection you've tossed his way over and over again.
Laurie Winslow Sargent is a magazine article writer, book author, and public speaker with a background in occupational therapy, crisis work, and parenting. She has been interviewed on radio talk-shows reaching listeners in nearly every US state and several countries.
This story is an excerpt from her book, The Power of Parent-Child Play (Winepress Publishing). For more information about this book or Author/Speaker Laurie Winslow Sargent, visit www.ParentChildPlay.com.
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