The first time it slipped off his 7-year-old tongue, I cringed. My shoulders tensed. This is what I had feared, the attitudes that might accompany this inevitable transition to boyhood.
“Just a minute.” He stated it fast and sharp, not even gracing me with a glance. I stood at the kitchen counter staring at him. He sat at the kitchen table, his hands busy with the blocks before him, building structures of imaginary worlds. In the following weeks, his “just a minute” response would become one of those building blocks, a foundation of his growing vocabulary and independence. One stacking upon another as he practiced this new boldness.
“Can you unload the dishwasher?” I would ask him.
“Just a minute,” he would respond.
“Did you feed the dog yet?”
“Just a minute.”
“Come here,” I would call from across the house.
“Just a minute!” he would yell back.
The gears of worry began to shift in my mind, each one pushing and setting off a new troubled thought. Where had this attitude shot up from? Is it defiance? Do I confront him and demand immediate obedience? Do I let him stretch this new independence? He is my firstborn. The oldest of four. He is my practice ground. Most days I feel like I am just winging it, praying hard, and hoping for the best. This was one of those instances.
And then those gears of worry jolted as my mind landed at the conclusion. Sometimes the answers we’re looking for are hard ones to swallow. He had, like so many times before, learned this response from me.
How many times in recent weeks had I fed him the same short, sharp answer? How many times had I failed to even look him in the eye as he stared up at me with his newest creation in hand, “Mom! Look at this new vehicle I made! It has these turbo boosters, and this crane in that back, and . . . ”
“Just a minute, Zeke . . . ” I kept busy with my task at hand. A minute passed, and then more, until my flimsy promise of “just a minute” was lost to the blur of busyness.
Last week I stared at my laptop screen, a frenzy of finger activity typing away at this keyboard, answering emails and checking off list items before the baby would wake from her nap. Behind the screen, through a window, my three sons sat huddled over a mud puddle in the backyard. Two-by-fours made a fence around their work site. Trucks worked a variety of jobs as the boys dug more holes with spoons pilfered from the silverware drawer.
“Mom, come see what we made!” He popped his head into the laundry room, where I escape to get work done without interruption. It was failing that day. “Just a minute,” I responded flatly. In the peripheral of my focus he slipped back outside. I wonder now if he believed me.
I don’t know what they made that day.
I don’t know what he wanted to show me.
That “just a minute” never took place. It was lost among empty promises punctuating my days of motherhood.
These “just a minute” promises stand as a shadow, looming over our days and stealing the moments that make up a childhood. One day I will run out of them. One day that boy and his siblings will be driving cars and dating and marrying and raising their own babies and fighting against their own “just a minute” empty oaths.
One day I won’t get another minute.
I am fighting now to take them back, these minutes I’ve been trading away, and to stretch them full of the meaning they deserve. I’m catching myself before I speak that automated response, and rephrasing it with something tangible.
“I am finishing an email to a friend, I would love to come and see it when I am finished here.”
“Let me finish up this article I am writing, and I’ll be out to see it in 10 minutes.”
“I need to get dinner into the oven, please give me five more minutes.”
It is a respect of time, an acknowledgement of importance. I hear you. I do want to see. Oh, son, I want to see what you made, but so much for than that, I want to see you. I want you to see me seeing you. In the midst of busy days, I will take a minute for you.
Because one day I will no longer have the chance.
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