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Coffee with Mimi

Listening is better than a good list

Kids do say the most astonishing things.They throw comments off the cuff apparently without thought and we are stuck with the dissecting of the meaning.What did he mean and why did he say it? Where did she get that idea and at this particular moment?

The older I get, the more I have time to think about it and stuff becomes overly complicated. A child takes about a nano second to assess the world and proclaim.

An adult ruminates on the issue, runs options through a dozen filters and spends twice as much time evaluating the outcomes, sometimes too late and with the worst of intentions. A child lays it out there and moves on.

If we think the balance is somewhere in the middle, that is not likely as that places the happy medium in middle age and I surely don’t want to go there again.

I have spent the greater part of my life in the company of humans under the age of legal reason. My day began with a house full of child issues from lost shoes and missing homework to defiance over breakfast choices and after school schedule planning.

A short respite on the drive to work and the pattern was repeated over and over every hour of the day. Then I went home. I lived my life in a constant swirl of kids. Like every teacher, I was a teacher mom, or a mom teacher, depending on what was happening around me.

In the heat of the battle, we miss some pretty profound opportunities which could be useful later. If I had known then what I know now, I would have taken a moment to appreciate and learn from some of the finer philosophical utterances of kids. I sure had plenty material to work with if I had just paused to take a deep breath.

I am a task oriented individual. For better or worse, I plot out a job with endless lists, schedules, calendars and timetables. If I think I see the path from point A to point B, and I am at A, the picture of B is solidly in my mind. If a step in the sequence is done, I check it off the list. I truly do not like to insert extra steps, especially if the extra step is something which had to be re-listed. I like done and truly done.

In retrospect, this behavior may not have been the most productive in all situations of life. The truth of which was placed squarely at my feet recently, and by a kid.

I’m a volunteer. I really enjoy doing things. If someone asks me to take on a project, I think it is fun to see results.This is true at work and in my personal life. Sometimes I agree to a project before I know much about the scope of the work.  I cheerfully launch in and make lists with my ever present notebook and calendar.

So, for the event in question, we were in the home stretch. As a friend told me years ago in a similar situation, the train had left the station and would arrive at the next station on schedule.  It will all work out. Why don’t I listen?

But, all the items on the list are not checked off. The edges of panic are encroaching on reason. This is no time to take my eye off the ball.  

It was necessary to rearrange the tables. It doesn’t matter why the task had to be redone. My partner in this job was 11 years old.

Now, there are very few more task oriented individuals than an 11-year-old. Between his 11 years and my seasoned 64 years, however, there was a gap in the understanding of the planned execution of the task. He understood that the tables had to be rearranged and had a vision of the end result. I had an understanding that the tables had to be rearranged and a vision of the end result. Moving tables is a two person job. He and me.

There were 40 tables to be rearranged.  We worked as a team to place the tables according to the plan.  As a pair, we moved the first table to the new spot. I proceeded to adjust the table to align it with the decorations on the wall, precisely placing it along a handy line already on the floor.  

Where did my buddy go?  He’s already at table two. In the interest of keeping him interested in the task long enough to get the major labor complete, I hustled along. Rather rapidly, the 40 tables were being generally placed in the new locations.

But, they were a couple inches off here, didn’t line up quite precisely with the wall decorations there and the line was more than a bit squiggly everywhere.  

I made gentle comments about these issues, not wanting to insinuate that the enthusiastic assistance was not truly appreciated. Eleven-year-olds on a mission are a pleasure to be around, but I did want the job done as there were other items on the list.

About three quarters of the way through the job, at the point where the line of tables was obviously off kilter, I must have made a more overt assessment of the situation.The endless list and the realization the tables must not end up as they were was weighing heavily on my mind.  

Cheerfully, he chirped up, “Perfection comes later.”

Man! It was a forest and trees moment. Whether he saw them or not, I really don’t know. I still didn’t. But, he gave me pause and I decided to go with the flow.  I did learn a few things from all those years with folks his age. Sometimes you just give in. No harm, no foul.

The tables were moved to their generally correct location.We locked up and went home, tomorrow is another day and adjustments can be made.

In the morning, more help arrived. The list called for the draping of the tablecloths on the tables utilizing a very efficient system requiring that the long line of tables be pulled slightly apart and then replaced after the cloths were secured on each.

The dedicated team was off to the races. Tables were draped and realigned and in pretty short order, the line was perfect. The job was complete, perfect. We locked up and went home.

Perfection comes when it should.  A list is good, but listening is better.