Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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A Birthday Gift

The staccato beat of the pelting rain gradually dragged me, reluctant, from my sleep. The dim early morning light pulled me further into wakefulness, but I refused to open my eyes. It was Saturday – my birthday. I did not need to get up yet. But the insistent pummelling against the window pane near my head and the ever-brightening room would not allow me to sink back into my slumber. Still, I fought against it.

It wasn’t as if I had been having some great dream that I wanted to get back to. I just did not want the day to begin. I wanted to stay there, as I was, curled up in the down comforter, buried beneath the pillows. If the day could go according to my plan – the way I would like to spend my birthday – I’d be able to do just that. I’d lay there for a while, revelling in the luxury of soft cotton against my skin and the fresh vanilla scent of the sheets, before even thinking of getting up. I would stay in my pj’s all day, maybe returning to bed occasionally to dive into a great novel. Then, sometime late in the day, I’d push myself to the shower and get cleaned up to go meet a few friends for a nice quiet dinner.

But my birthday had been kidnapped, it seemed, and me with it. I could hear the shower running and knew that Dave was probably in there whistling and excited to start the events he had planned. “Oh – you are going to LOVE it,” he virtually squealed with delight last night when he told me he had the day planned. Coming from someone with a normally booming voice, that squeal sounded quite unnatural. He wouldn’t give me any details; he just kept reassuring me it was going to be a wonderful day. Any time I protested and presented my version of how I wanted the day to go, he dismissed it out of hand. “You’re just saying you don’t want a fuss. EVERYONE wants a fuss on their birthday. Besides, it’ll be just you and me. There’s no fuss in that.”

Ugh. That’s all I could think. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I was hoping that Dave’s plans involved outdoor activities that would have to be cancelled because of the rain. I hoped that when he came out of the shower he’d look totally disappointed and come sit by the side of the bed, “I’m so sorry, honey. I’ve had to cancel everything. But don’t you worry. It will still be a wonderful day! You stay right there…” Now THAT would be a beautiful thing!

Soon, I heard the shower turn off and a short time later, I heard Dave’s soft steps come around to the side of the bed I slept on.

“Wakey, wakey, sunshine! It’s your special day and we need to get you ready for it!”

Even with my eyes still closed, I could see the sparkle in his eyes. No chance of any plans being squashed by the rain it seemed. Ugh again.

“I’ll give you a few more minutes and then I’m going to come back and rip the covers off of you,” he said in a tone that told me he was only half joking. With that he was off.

Now he was really annoying me. He was acting like some over-zealous activities director on a cruise ship.

My back was up and I decided to give him a battle. If he wanted this day, he would have to earn it. OK…so I wasn’t really going to fight him for it, but it felt good just pretending that I would. Or that I could, for that matter.

Still, I curled tighter into the blankets to enjoy the last few relaxing moments of the day before Dave’s promised return.

As I sank back into my comfortable cocoon, I could hear Dave tinkering away in the kitchen. He was making me breakfast. He was determined, I’d give him that, but Dave was not a good cook. The only chance he had to make this a positive start to the day would be if breakfast was simply a yogurt cup and a spoon. Beyond that and it was bound to be a catastrophe – he couldn’t even slice fruit. Even as I thought that, though, I could hear the sizzle of bacon. Oh no.

Soon enough the bacon sizzle was followed by the smell of burnt bacon, a few crashes and a series of uh-oh type exclamations.

I pulled the covers completely over my head and asked myself, “Why couldn’t he have just listened and let me have this day the way I wanted it? What was so hard about that?”

I had barely thought those words when I flashed back to a Mother’s Day when I was about five years old. I had seen a TV show where the kids had made their mother breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day and the mom was thrilled. I wanted to do that for my Mom.

I knew we weren’t allowed in the kitchen ourselves, but the kids on TV didn’t get in trouble and their breakfast seemed to turn out great, so I figured I could pull it off, too. So, I got up early, and quietly tiptoed to the kitchen, careful not to wake either my parents or my brothers who, obviously (in my mind) would be of no help at all.

My breakfast-making skills at the time were very limited, but, thankfully, I assumed that Mom would want my favourite breakfast, which was pretty simple and mostly safe. There were two things that I loved for breakfast: Cap’n Crunch cereal and toast with Nutella and sliced banana.

We didn’t have any Cap’n Crunch or bananas, but, using one of the kitchen chairs as a ladder, I found a bag puffed rice cereal. When Mom sprinkled sugar on it, it was almost palatable. The way Mom and Dad sang its praises, I assumed they must both love it, so I thought it would be a good substitute for the Cap’n. I did some more digging and found the Nutella, which Mom kept hidden for special occasions. I got the milk and sugar out and made up a bowl of the puffed rice. I pulled the toaster to the front of the counter and popped the bread in, so pleased about using it all by myself. I knew Mom loved tea first thing in the morning, but I couldn’t work the kettle. Not to be discouraged, I just put a bag in a mug, and filled it up with tap water. I thought it would be OK because this way Mom wouldn’t have to blow on her tea, like she did for mine, to make it cool enough to drink.

When it was all done, I surveyed my work and was thrilled. I had done it! Yeah, there was a mess. Nutella was splotched all over the counter and, despite the fact that both the cereal and the milk were almost empty and therefore manageable for me to lift, I had spilled both. But I didn’t really notice. I was too excited that I had done it – I had made breakfast for Mom. She was going to be so happy!!!

I couldn’t carry everything to their room at the same time, so I made three trips. First I brought the cereal in and quietly laid it on the night stand by Mom’s side of the bed, aided by the light from the hallway and the tiniest glimmer of dawn that crept through the curtains. The toast came in next, followed by the mug of tea.

Then I stood at the foot of the bed and waited. On the TV show, the mom seemed to know that her perfectly dressed children were standing at the foot of her bed with a perfectly cooked breakfast. She opened her eyes without anyone speaking a word, beckoned her children to her and they all joined her on the bed, each exclaiming what their contribution had been.

But niether Mom nor Dad woke up. After what seemed like an eternity, I tiptoed up to Mom, tapped her on the shoulder, and whispered, “Happy Day, Mommy!” Nothing. So a stronger tap and a louder whisper. Still nothing, so stronger and louder still. That did it. My very groggy mother opened her eyes and asked me what was wrong. I, very excitedly, told her I had made her breakfast.

By this time, Dad was also awake, asking what was going on.

“Marcy made me breakfast,” my mother informed him.

“What? Now? What time is it?” he asked, obviously confused as he looked at the clock.

He started to say something about going back to bed, but my mother cut him off. She leaned over and turned on the lamp on her night stand. She took in the bowl of cereal and the toast and lifted the mug briefly before putting it back down. She looked at my beaming face and smiled.

“Did you do this all by yourself?” she asked. I beamed. I was so excited. She sat up and held out her arms to me. As I climbed into her embrace, she whispered in my ear, “Thank you, my sweet girl. Thank you so much!”

I found out years later that not only had I made quite a mess – more so that I had even remembered – but I had bungled more than the tea. It’s true that puffed rice cereal is palatable with a little sugar sprinkled on it. But it’s also true that you need to eat it pretty quickly because it goes completely to mush in the milk if not eaten almost right away. I put the milk on the cereal before even putting the bread in the toaster. By the time Mom saw it, it was a congealed blob of goo in a bowl.

Even the toast hadn’t made it out unscathed. While I knew the general operation of a toaster, I didn’t know that ours was old and sort of broken. You had to watch it very carefully and unplug it in order to get it to pop when you thought it had browned the bread enough. Since I didn’t have that critical piece of information, I waited until it popped itself, which happened to be when the bread was one or two shades lighter than midnight black. I didn’t burn myself on it because when it popped I was busily working on making the cold tea, so when I got back to the toast it had cooled enough to the touch and was ready for me to pile on the Nutella. Apparently I had used up almost an entire new jar on those two slices.

I also learned the reason why it had been so easy for me to sneak around before anybody else got up: It turned out that I had made this wonderful breakfast at about 4:30 a.m. Everybody was well and truly sound asleep.

I didn’t know any of that for years because neither Mom nor Dad mentioned any of those things. I didn’t even know that Mom hadn’t eaten it – or, rather, couldn’t eat it. She acted as though it was the best breakfast she had ever had.

As I came back to my birthday morning cocoon, I realized that my attempt to give my mother a special Mother’s Day was very likely at the bottom of the list of things she wanted to happen that morning. She was probably hoping to sleep in and have Dad take care of the regular morning routines. Burnt toast and gross, soggy cereal with cold tea were definitely not on the list – and certainly not at 4:30.

I thought about how I would have felt if, instead of opening her arms to me at that early-morning wake up so long ago, my mother had scolded me for waking her up and wasting the expensive Nutella. Or if she had thrown it all in the garbage in front of me, instead of very discreetly having my Dad dispose of it while she and I cuddled. I would have been crushed.

Then I heard Dave singing. He really did sound genuinely excited. My grumbles receded.

I realized that my Mom had known something that I either didn’t know or, at the very least, had forgotten as I lay in bed: Sometimes it’s not about you. Even if it’s your day, it’s not always about you.

At the next crash from the kitchen, I smiled, threw the covers aside and ran to the kitchen to embrace my husband – and my day.


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Wise words about listening

Do you watch the TV show Black-ish? I do…I really like it. It combines two of my favourite things: learning and laughing.

Last week’s episode (which I watched on Thursday night – gotta love a PVR!) was pretty sad, though. It was all about how the two lead characters, a husband and wife duo, have grown apart. In case you haven’t seen it and would like to, I won’t say anything else about the plot. The only other thing I will say is that they did an amazing job at portraying the emotions of the situation.

Fast forward to Friday night. I was looking for some painting projects on YouTube when I saw there was a clip with Henry Winkler on The Late, Late Show with James Corden. I love Henry Winkler. Truth be told, I love everything Happy Days. So I watched the clip. It was James Corden with David Duchovny and Henry Winkler on the couch. It turns out, Henry and his wife just celebrated 40 years of marriage.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the conversation inevitably led to Henry being asked what he thought was the secret to a long and happy marriage. A few jokey answers were given, but then he said something that made me pause. Literally, I paused the video so I could write it down:

Respect what the other person heard as opposed to what you thought you said.

Go ahead…read it again. Realllllllllllllllllly read it and let it sink in.

It’s not rocket science. Communications specialists have been telling us something similar for years: Listening isn’t about us; it’s about the other person.

I really like what this quote says about it. So often, we get frustrated and upset because the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it”. At the same time, because we are so focused on them not getting what we are trying to convey, and planning what else we are going to say, that we are equally not getting it. We are misunderstanding them. And when we stay focused on our own perspectives, things go awry.

We all live our own experiences (obviously) so when we say things, we say them through our own filter. And when we hear things, we hear them through our filter. The exact same words heard by 10 different people can be heard very differently by each of them because of that. So when we say something, whoever hears it may hear it completely differently than we, through our filters, intended to say it. I think this is particularly true in conversations that are very serious or important.

I know it’s just a TV show, but I couldn’t help but relate the quote to what I had seen the night before on Black-ish. Probably because it was so relatable. How many relationships head towards, or go into, the toilet because we don’t validate what the other person says, needs, or feels? And how many can be saved if we do the opposite?

Obviously, relationships are much more complicated than that – both personally and professionally.

I don’t pretend to any sort of expertise in that regard, but I do know, from experience, that when I’ve paid more attention to the other person in a conversation than to my own agenda, things have gone better. I also know that when speaking with someone who makes me feel that they are genuinely interested in my perspective, I’m automatically more interested in finding a positive resolution.

If you’d like some more information on communication, I recommend you check out the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. It’s a super easy read and (yippee!) it’s fairly short. I love it and have gone back to it several times over the years. I’ve given it as a gift and recommended it to lots of people.

Anyhoooo…just some thoughts that I wanted to share. Hopefully you’ll find them interesting and maybe even helpful!!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below.  And don’t forget to click on Follow if you’d like to be notified whenever I post. 🙂