I’m really bad at giving directions. Not because I’m too vague, but because I’m far too specific. For example, to get to town from our house, it’s easy: Left out our driveway, then your first left, then your first right onto the main road. That’s it.
But when we have guests, I’ll tell them this:
Okay, when you leave our driveway, make a left. Then you’ll pass about six driveways. At the stop sign – it’s a bit hidden, there’s a hedge there – you’ll see that the road either goes straight or to the left. You can’t go right so don’t worry about that, if you went right you’d be on somebody’s front lawn – I don’t know who lives there. Turn left at that stop sign. Then just drive straight until you come to a T-junction. You won’t even have the choice to go straight at that point – straight would take you through a fence and into a bunch of alpacas. You’ll know you’re at the main road because it has a double yellow line on it. When you get there, stop – there’ll be a stop sign anyway, you have to stop – and then turn to the right and drive straight. Just follow that double yellow line. When you look around and you see the town, you’ll be in town.
It sounds like I’m exaggerating. I wish I was.
So why am I so bad at it? I was thinking about this the other day. I think it’s a function of failing to trust that the other person will be able to make two simple turns in an automobile.
I do the same with babysitters. I try to game out every iteration of what could possibly happen that evening until Liz is literally pulling me out the door and assuring the babysitter that we have complete faith that she will be fine.
So if I’m like that with how I speak to other adults, you can only imagine how I am with my own kids.
This brings us to Lucy’s Lemonade Stand.
Lucy had been asking all week if she could set up a lemonade stand. I kept putting her off. But Saturday was a beautiful day and she really wanted to do it.
“Pleeeease? I’ll even buy the lemonade powder package from you! I’ll do it all myself! I promise!!”
She’s 8, by the way.
I desperately didn’t want her to do it.
Because I imagined her sitting out there, alone, and nobody coming to buy lemonade. And my heart was just breaking over that.
“You can trust me dad, seriously!!”
This is what got me thinking about trust to begin with.
She was right – I didn’t trust her. Not about the lemonade stand, I knew she would be fine doing that. I didn’t trust that she would be okay if nobody showed up and her heart got hurt. In the same dumb way I overprescribe navigational directions for visitors and instructions for our babysitter. I have this weird thing where I’m really afraid people will be uncomfortable. It’s why I never play pranks on people – I hate people feeling uncomfortable.
But not in a normal, healthy way of I-care-about-other-people’s-feelings. No, this is a neurotic, anxiety-laden way of I-must-protect-all-people-and-all-things-because-they-can’t-handle-the-world.
It’s weird. I know.
So I decided to trust Lucy.
I got her a little table and chair. She made a sign. She made the lemonade. I helped her carry it all out.
“You can go inside, dad. I got this.”
“What if people don’t come, honey?”
“It’s okay, if nobody comes or I get bored or something I’m just going to practice my handstands.”
And I said okay and I went inside and I couldn’t help it, I just watched from the kitchen.
Nobody came. She practiced her handstands in the grass.
But then somebody pulled up!! This sweet mom got out. I opened the window and listened from the kitchen. This Godsend of a mother was telling Lucy how great her lemonade stand was and how she would love some lemonade and she gave her a dollar.
And a little later, I wasn’t even watching, and Lucy came running in and told Liz and me that we had to meet our neighbors, they were outside.
Meet our neighbors! We had been there a year and we hadn’t really met many neighbors yet. And more neighbors came and suddenly we met like a half dozen families. All because Lucy started a lemonade stand.
My anxiety wasn’t limited to Lucy. On Friday, Liz and I were taking Finn to the Introduction to Middle School event after school, when the 4th graders all go to the middle school and a volunteer 5th grader (middle school is 5th-8th grade in New Canaan) would give our family a tour and answer any questions.
Super sweet, right?
We were about to go inside when Finn realized that pretty much all his fellow 4th graders boys were in t-shirts. He was in a button down shirt. He stopped in his tracks.
“Dad. I really don’t want to go in wearing fancy clothes. I feel really embarrassed.”
(That’s Finn. He’s sort of incredibly mature and very good at saying what he actually feels. Me, I would have just thrown a tantrum. Finn just tells us he feels embarrassment.)
Liz and I tried for a couple of minutes to tell him he looked great and that it wasn’t a big deal and that we didn’t have time to change because we would be late and it was about to start.
And because he’s Finn, we could see him steeling himself and nodding. But we could just see the apprehension on his face.
Liz and I looked at each other.
“Okay, I’m going to save us seats,” Liz said. “Daddy’s going to take you to change into a t-shirt.”
So we sprinted back to the car and drove quickly and got a t-shirt and we were late coming back. But Finn was overwhelmed with relief.
It sounds dumb but it felt like one of the greatest parenting decisions we ever made. Because it would have been so easy to lay down the law, to tell Finn he would be fine. To tell him we were already late and his shirt wasn’t a big deal.
But instead in that moment we chose to trust our son. We trusted that he knew that wearing a button down instead of a t-shirt in that moment would be scarring for him. And maybe it sounds like a small thing but it sure wasn’t to him.
I do better when I trust people.
I do better when I trust that my kids are actually feeling something and not just being difficult.
I do better when I trust that my wife’s ideas are better than my ideas, or when I trust that her feelings and emotions are real and not just an inconvenience to me.
I do better when I trust my colleagues at work. And when I trust people to find their way to town from our house. And when I trust our babysitter.
So I’m going to work on that. Because I don’t want to be controlling or fearful or anxious. I feel like everyone else has probably got this and they don’t really need me as much as I think they do.
Also, Lucy made $26 on her lemonade stand (!!) and now she wants to open a business or something so y’all better watch out.