26 Feb Purposeful Parenting: Part 1 (The Wonder of Waiting)
The other day, I was standing in line at Target behind a dad and his little boy. The boy bounced and laughed. He hopped on one foot, then the other, but not in the sporadic halting way that little boys usually play. This boy was on a mission. He commentated his way through the checkout aisle. Nutella. Chapstick. Tape. Batteries. Magazine. Gum. Candy.
Wait a second. Did someone say “candy?”
Hands and elbows flew out every which way. Like whack-a-mole, but gentler, the boy’s father patted his little head. “No, no. Not now. We’re going to the circus.”
I’ve often wondered why we don’t host birthday parties in the checkout aisles of our favorite stores. What could be more fun than duck-duck goose and ring-around-the-rosy in the midst of our favorite things? And a goody bag to choose what we want from the endless buffet of trinkets and gadgets and treats galore.
“Tic tacs.” The boy tugged on his father’s leg. “Dad! Tic tacs.” His big, brown eyes pleaded for consent. “I want tic tacs!”
It was only 10:00 in the morning, but clearly in no mood to argue the merits of one snack verses another, he finally said, “Would you rather have the tic-tacs now or cotton candy at the circus?”
No contest, right? I mean, of course this kid is going to choose the cotton candy at the circus. They’re headed there now, in fact. In less than an hour, he can have cotton candy before he’s even had lunch.
I sympathized with the boy. My heart went out to him. I know that pressing feeling, when now seems like too late, and the desperation of wanting something so badly that waiting feels like the most torturous thing on earth.
But you can guess what the kid picked. He picked the green tic-tacs. Because every four year-old needs a 1 1/2 calorie breath mint to make it through the day. Right?
His poor dad didn’t even see it coming. Incredulous, he asked, “Really? You would rather have tic-tacs than cotton candy?”
From behind my buggy, I couldn’t help but smirk. A child after my own heart.
“Yes, Dad. Yes!” Perplexed, the dad gave in.
He sighed. “It’s just a mint, you know.”
But I don’t think that little boy even heard him. Or maybe he did, but he didn’t flinch. He clutched the tic-tacs to his chest as if protecting a great treasure.
I have to admit, I really wish I could have followed them to the circus because my guess is that that little boy forgot all about the tic-tacs when he saw those billowing clouds of pink and blue spun sugar. The empty box of tic-tacs would be poor comfort for the throngs of kids with candy pushing past him on the way to their seats.
Delayed gratification is hard, even for adults. We want what we want when we want it. How many times have I hit the “buy” button when I know I should have waited? How hastily have I sent an angry email when I should have given myself time to process my anger? Over and over again, I have robbed God of what he might have done because he didn’t do what I thought he should have done–on my timeline.
I am reminded of something I read once by psychologist, Carl Jung. He said, “If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves.”
So, while I’d love to be able to see into my future, to know for certain that something even better waits for me there, I am sometimes like a little child, hoarding tic-tacs in my pockets and cheeks, not believing that the cotton candy exists or that it’s waiting there for me, or regretfully, even that I deserve it. In moments of weakness, it seems cruel and unusual to make me wait for something that may or may not be real.
Just because I haven’t yet seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I want to show my kids that waiting can be wonderful, that the in-between isn’t only pain and longing, but that even if it is, it’s okay, and that while we don’t know for sure what the future holds, it’s not always in our best interest to propel ourselves headlong into desire. What heals me on these days is the gentle reminder that I am not alone. All of us have spent a season in the in-between and I bet if we sat down across the table, over coffee, sharing our stories, you would tell me your tales of waiting, too–how it was worth it and what you learned and why you wouldn’t go back and change it for anything in the world.