Right or Happy?
Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
I’ve discovered the answer to this question depends on the situation.
I recall an event years ago when my granddaughter Mia was 2 years old. She was visiting me at my townhouse during a garage sale. Many of the products were in the driveway to provide visibility to drivers as they passed. I lived on a small bend in the road which limited visibility to vehicles coming from one direction.
Mia was in the mood to play and wanted me to chase her as we waited for customers in the blistering summer heat. As she headed for the road I shouted – “Mia STOP!” She did not…Fortunately there were no cars passing at the time. As I tried to catch her to make my point, she continued to run through and across the road.
After finally catching her I sat her down and explained that it was very important that she do as I requested; that as her care giver (for the afternoon) that I had responsibility for her well-being and that I was aware of dangers that she had yet to experience. Her rebuttal was that single word that forces parents and grandparents to thoughtfully think through their requests – “Why?” She responded to every new comment or request with the same response – “Why Pop?” I could have let it go, but figured this was an opportunity for a teaching moment, one that she may remember. So I persisted in my quest to be right.
Roll forward almost 12 years to Easter weekend 2010.
Anita and I made a choice this year to drop our lawn service and to care for the grass ourselves. It used to be something we often did together and we decided we’d like the opportunity to work on a projects that we can both contribute, and so the lawn service was fired and we accepted the challenge.
It was a beautiful weekend in Cincinnati and as we ate brunch outside I asked what her plans were for the day and when we could start the grass. We had plans to grill chicken for dinner and wanted to do so before it got dark. We also wanted a chance to clean-up before dinner and calculated that we should begin the lawn no later than 3:00 PM.
If my 4 years at a manufacturing facility taught me anything, it taught me that darn near anything can happen. So I wear steel toe shoes, safety glasses, leather gloves and hearing protection (as required) when working in the yard. Anita has no steel toe shoes and doesn’t like to wear safety glasses. She also doesn’t like to mow around obstacles and requested that I “outline” the yard for her so she can do the “straight” parts.
At 3:20 PM I changed clothes and headed outside. I ran the weedwacker – no Anita. I “outlined” the yard with the mower – no Anita. By now I has been outside for well over a hour and I was certain that she could tell time. As my frustration level rose I found myself having difficulty keeping my mind off the fact that she was late and hadn’t come out to help.
What the heck, I’ll keep going with the mower. It’s a beautiful day, a good excuse to stay outside. The spring grass was tall and required me to empty the mower bag frequently. As I started the mower for the final section, I look up to see Anita ready to help – no gloves, no safety glasses, in sneakers to mow the most difficult portion (the hill in the front). I literally needed 3 additional minutes to complete the yard and waved her off – she stormed away mad.
After emptying the grass clipping I yelled into the house for her to come to the garage door and asked her if she would refill my water. When she came into the garage we had an exchange of words that left me feeling like an alien had replaced her since our brunch conversation about a 3:00 PM start time.
She stayed to help put away the equipment and trim some plants while I cleaned up a few areas outside. When I met her back inside the house, she claimed that she never committed to a 3:00 PM start time and was upset that I did not come get her when it was time to start. Having spent time in Japan I should have realized that agreement does not always mean consent (but I wasn’t aware that she had visited Japan). Our house isn’t that big and with the windows open it should have been VERY obvious that I had started the lawn, but…She had a different perspective and was adamant that she had never agreed to begin at 3:00.
So…We agreed on a new strategy – communication!
I spent most of the time mowing the grass going over and over in my mind how I was right and exactly what I was going to say to prove it! I did spend some time trying to come up with a way to phrase it in the most caring, loving way, but guess what? My speech went straight out the window when the time of confrontation was upon me.
I spent the afternoon outside on a beautiful spring day, no one was injured while working in the yard, we had a nice grilled chicken dinner AND in the end it wasn’t about being right, it was about being happy.