When the lesson you have to learn is key communication concepts, you’re probably in trouble more ways than you want to count.
I’m a doer.
I see a job that needs done and I do’er.
This is generally a good thing, because it means things get done. When you run your own business, it means you don’t have to wait and worry over finding the right person to get the job done, because you see it and you do it.
But it also means that if you’re on a mission to get a job done, you might miss a detail that gets left out of the mix… Because you were busing doing what needed to be done.
* * *
The paint can was on my desk. It arrived on my desk on Tuesday afternoon, when mom came home from shopping, and she said, “I got the paint for that wall that I’ve been meaning to get painted. It’s been so long since we’ve painted the living room. I really want to get that done.”
Friday morning I heard the boys playing, but someone ‘older’ was generally in the living room with them. They were the ‘babies’ and usually people didn’t leave them alone in the house. I’d been on the phone, and my client had taken more time that I expected. So two hours later when I came out, to see what was so funny and found the two of them (ages 3 and 4) coloring a Christmas tree on the white wall beside the fireplace, I was shocked to find nobody else in the house. The tree was as high as they could reach off the back of the couch to (couch moved) to the floor. Red and green scribbles with 4 year old versions of stars and stick figures blended into the mix with various other colors.
The TV was on to a favorite station, and I recognized the tail end of a Christmas show, where the family had no Christmas tree. A young girl had colored one on the wall.
I asked, “Where’s your dad?” And my four year old said, “I don’t know. He said you were in there (pointing to the bedroom where I’d been on the phone with a client) and he was going out for a while. He put the movie on. Do you like our Christmas tree?”
I looked around the room, and knew I had to get that wall painted before my parents returned… It was their house. We’d been staying there temporarily. But a crayola colored Christmas tree wasn’t going to go over well. In retrospect, mom would have laughed at it. We would have painted the walls over the weekend, but I was pretty sure I needed to get started on that project. After all, the paint was on my desk.
I pulled the couches out, grabbed a paint brush and went to work. By carefully edging the wall and painting, I didn’t need to mask anything. I remember a quick thought about the color, not mom’s usual ‘blued-white’ but it was a version of white, just a bit warmer than the cool tones mom preferred with her blue carpets. In the dim light of the living room, I couldn’t tell how far off the color was. Three hours later, the crayola tree on the wall was gone, and freshly painted walls were dried. I had pictures, including mom’s monstrous tapestry, rehung, furniture back in place. The music team from church were seated comfortably picking out their favorite tunes, when Mom and Dad arrived.
Mom walked into the living room, glanced at the wall, and looked around the room, obviously noticing the wall had been painted, and picked up her mandolin. I rushed to change and took my place singing soprano for the team on the third song. As we finished the last song, several members of the team stood up to leave, and as they were walking out the front door, I heard Julia mention to mom, “Did you change your mind about the color of the living room?”
Mom said, “No. That was the color we were going to paint the kitchen with those new counters. I hadn’t got the paint for the living room yet.”
Julia said, “Well, I really like it. It warms up the room, and it’s beautiful with the new carpet. I think you’ll like it.”
Mom raised an eyebrow, but didn’t really say anything else. I said, “Wasn’t the paint on my desk for the living room?”
“No, it was for the south wall of the kitchen, it’s a ‘washable latex enamel’ and I was going to get ‘eggshell’ for the living room in that cloud gray color. But this looks really nice.” Mom smiled, obviously taken back from the conversation, remembering the paint can from my desk. I could almost see the cogs turning as she remembered the conversation. “So, why did it get painted today?”
“I had some time, and I thought this…” Mom’s eyebrows were about to get tangled in her soft gray curls, and I decided I’d better come clean… “When I finished my call, I could hear the boys giggling and I came out to see them finishing up a crayola Christmas tree by the fireplace. It was quite the artistic endeavor, but I couldn’t imagine you wanting it to be a centerpiece for the music practice tonight… So, I painted.”
Julia and mom started laughing, and I giggled that guilty giggle. The one knowing I’d been caught red handed by mom and her best friend, again.
When the laughter stopped, Julia said, “the boys were alone?”
“Not really alone. I was on a client call in the bedroom and they were watching TV. Evidently after Mom and Dad left, Lennie left to go do something, and my call ran longer than usual. So they were in the living room, not watching their movie, and I assumed someone was in there with them.” I explained. “I could hear them giggling, while I finished up my call, so then I came out to see what they were giggling about. That’s when I found the masterpiece.”
“Where is Lennie?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know. The boys said he left after you did. He told them I was in the room, and they should watch their movie.” I nodded, realizing there’d been more to the story… But I might never know that part.
The girls walked in from my sister’s a few minutes later. While mom prepared a quick snack for everyone, I got out the Christmas tree and put it together. It was long past time to set up the tree, and my boys were definitely ready for some ‘decoration’. Mom and dad joined me and I heard bits and pieces of what had happened earlier, including that the crayons had come out before my parents left the house. The kids drifted off to sleep under the twinkling lights of a decorated Christmas tree, and mom and dad had just gone to bed when I heard him come in the front door.
Laughing over some ‘funny story’ he’d heard, I noted the sheepish glances at the wall behind the couch where the Christmas tree now stood. And I considered the guilty behavior as he came in the door. I’d learned there were some things better left unknown, and he wasn’t interested in talking about anything at home.
I did ask about him leaving the boys, and he said, “They were watching a movie and I needed to go out. So I told them to ask you if they needed anything.”
“Just watching a movie?”
“They were coloring in their color books too…” He added.
“Slip me a note when you’re leaving, next time, please?” I asked before I went to prepare for bed. I left the tree lights twinkling and watched him staring at the wall behind the tree. Nothing to see there…
Key Communication Concepts –
Mom never did paint over that wall. It’s still the same “whipped egg yolk” color, and all the other walls in mom’s living room were eventually painted “cloud white”. I never explained about the Crayola Christmas tree, and last I knew… the kitchen still needed to be painted.
But my Christmas tree memory reminds me frequently that it isn’t always the decorations on the tree that make the memory. Sometimes, its the communication of what color you want on which wall that needs your attention.
Thanks Mom, for your patience with me. And the laughter… Julia and Mom, your memories are treasured.