Here’s a true story about speaking up and about listening.
Several years ago, there was a family that dealt with a serious crisis. Their two-year-old toddler was very ill, and was in the hospital for months. (It all turned out well – I am happy to reassure you… but it was touch and go for way too long.)
The father and mother spent almost all their time at the hospital. Their respective employers were kind, understanding, and generous. But even given the compassion of their families, coworkers, and managers, the situation was awful.
They faced trying to maintain some semblance of job performance, household maintenance, the commute back and forth to the hospital, trying to become instant experts on hospital policies and insurance – all the while their little son was critically ill. How could anyone think of anything but that tiny hurting child? And yet they were supposed to.
It’s a cliche, but entirely applicable – mother and father passed like ships in the night. They took turns being the hospital parent, spending every other night in a chair by the bed. They saw each other only in half-hour whispers as they shared the latest information and situation as they exchanged places.
They were exhausted and frightened and doing their best.
And all this while, there was someone else in the picture.
They had another son, only four years old, waiting at home.
The mother and father were there for him as much as possible – in turn with the hospital shifts. And they had loving babysitters (I was one).
But mostly, everyone’s mind was elsewhere. We were consumed – who would not be? – with the small two-year-old fighting for his life.
One day, when the mother returned from her hospital shift, and the babysitter said her goodbyes and departed, the mother was standing in the kitchen, wondering if she had the energy to make any kind of supper for herself and her four-year-old.
The little boy watched his mother from the doorway as she took food from the fridge and starting her meal prep.
“Mommy,” the boy said.
“What?” said the mother, half-heartedly and without pausing from her task.
There was silence. The boy waited for the mother to stop her work and look at him. She finally realized this and turned to him.
He looked at her with all the hope and wisdom and patience that he possessed.
“I could really use some attention,” he said.
She put aside the food and took her boy by the hand. She brought him into the dining room and took out the Candyland board game. They sat at the stable and played Candyland. She could have played distractedly. She could have just gone through the motions, as she had gone through the motions a hundred time.
But she truly played. She watched him take his turns and move his token around the board. She laughed when he got lucky and she groaned when she drew poor moves.
They played like they had never played before.
She put all her attention into the game and into her little boy. It was twenty minutes of respite.
They both needed it.
Everyone was a hero in this whole story – mom and dad and sick little boy who recovered and big brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and the doctors and nurses and babysitters and employers. But that day there were also two small heroic acts.
The little boy who was honest enough to say simply and directly what he needed: just some attention.
And the mom who gave him for a little while exactly what he needed.
Dinner could wait.
There is a moral here. No matter how tough things are, ASK for what you need. And if someone else is doing the asking, LISTEN.