A story to make her smile


My daughter is away for the weekend, and yesterday she called up the house in a funk. Perhaps she was homesick, or tired from the flight, or maybe the trip so far wasn’t as fantastic as she had hoped. I didn’t speak to her, and I’m not sure what I would have said if I did. But my wife offered up a story that seemed to do the trick. Since it brought a smile to her face, it’s worth retelling here, too.

Earlier this year, I was involved in a day-long training seminar at work.The particulars about the seminar aren’t important, but in a general sense it was a worthwhile endeavor. People from different backgrounds came together in a group, and anything that can be done to humanize that group is a good icebreaker.

We were given a sheet of paper, and asked to write down three things that we stuggle with. Introspection, especially in a critical sense, is not easy, but I was game to give it a try. The first thing I wrote down–which came to my mind without even thinking about it–was “Remembering names.” I have a very hard time with this, and there are some people I’ve known for years by sight, but don’t know what there name is. It’s embarrassing, and I’d change it if I could, but the knack that some people have for this has never found its way to me.

The second thing I wrote was “Heavy lifting,” which I meant in a figurative sense. But I’m not one to pump iron in the gym, either, so it could be taken literally, too. I’m always good for a creative idea or a new thing to try. Ideas come easily to me, and they always have. Making something come from these ideas is usually another matter.

Right now, typing out this blog post, and telling this story in a way that someone might care to read it, can be considered as heavy lifting. There will then be proofreading, and adding a picture, and including some tags, and only then it will be ready to go up online. It will take about a half an hour to pull this off, and it’s doable because it’s early in the morning on a holiday weekend. Nobody is asking me to do anything else yet, but that will happen before too long. So I’m taking this time to squeeze out another blog post. My Drafts folder in WordPress is littered with ideas unrealized, or put aside when something else came along and demanded my attention.

The third thing I wrote down was “Follow through.” I looked at for a second, and realized that it was really “heavy lifting” with another name. A drier, more corporatespeak kind of a name, but still one that I realized needed to be tossed. Given the choice between an off-beat and metaphorical name like “heavy lifting” and a safer, more businesslike term like “follow through,” I’ll take the off-beat choice every time. That’s just the type of person I am: unconventional, but hopefully not weird. Weird turns people off and makes them uncomfortable, and that doesn’t help anybody out. But unconventional is not so off-putting, and that’s usually what I aim for.

So “Follow through” was out. I decided that my struggles didn’t all need to be business-related, and that I have things going on beyond the office realm. Even in an overtly business setting, I couldn’t define myself in strictly business terms. So I crossed it out and wrote “Peanut butter cups” instead.

By confessing that I struggled in this way, I wasn’t telling the group members anything that they didn’t already know. I need to lose many pounds, as the result of a bad diet and an aversion to exercise. One look at me is enough to make that clear. But by choosing a particular food–there could have been many others to use instead–I wanted to get a chuckle from people. And I wanted them to know that my struggles aren’t limited to what I do in the office during the week. I did get a chuckle from the group, and hopefully I got at least a few people to think about their struggles in a larger and more personal sense. We all work to live, and not the other way around.

I held onto this sheet of paper when the seminar was over, and it somehow made it into a stack of papers in my house. I had forgotten all about it, until my wife came upon it a few days ago. She asked me if I had really given these answers, meaning did I really say “peanut butter cups” in this work-related setting. I told her I did, and that there wasn’t enough time to get into all of the other types of food that I struggle with. She set the paper aside, but apparently still had it on her mind when my daughter called up yesterday.

After hearing my daughter describing her unhappiness, my wife proceeded to tell her a “You won’t believe what your father did” type of story, and of course the first two answers I gave were dropped, in favor of the “peanut butter cups” line. They both got a chuckle over that, and I was told that it helped to lift my daughters spirits. I was glad to hear that, even if it meant a laugh at my expense. It’s her well-being that matters the most to me, anyway.

I definitely thought outside of the box with my third answer, and–against any sense of realistic expectation–it helped to brighten my daughter’s mood several months later. I’d say that was the best answer I could have possibly given.