It was a warm afternoon in the early Fall. Adam was probably 5 years old and sat comfortably relaxing in his lawn chair, watching the world go by from beneath the open garage door. I remember thinking he reminded me of my Grandad, Harold (a.k.a. “Huck”), who often sat on his small front porch after a long day’s work, reading the paper and listening to the Cleveland Indians on his transistor radio.
Frantically prepping for some long-since-forgotten party and encouraging the kids to get dressed and stay clean, I asked young Adam to go inside and change his clothes. “Before everyone gets here!” And he just sat there. Not moving. Unready or unwilling to join in the hustle and bustle of our preparations. “Adam! C’mon. You’re still in your pajamas!” And by pajamas, I mean nothing more than a pair of shorts.
He has a way about him, that child. Observing life and people, processing information and moving at his own pace. An “old soul” some would say. He gave me a look as I tried to rush him into the house, and what he said next changed the course of my day. “What are they gonna do? Kill me?” I laughed out loud and shook my head, the way adults often do when a complicated issue becomes instantly simpler through the filter of a child’s perspective. Those seven words stopped me in my tracks many seasons ago, and they have stayed with me—slowly guiding our family toward a calmer and more meaningful way of life. One moment, one reaction, one parenting decision at a time.
As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season quickly approaches and I contemplate how and where to spend my money and my time, Adam’s words have become a touchstone for decision making. Within seconds, I can shift out of perfectionism and people-pleasing mode to ensure that my energy and attention are in line with what’s truly important to me. From cookie baking and decorating to my frantic pursuits of the perfect family picture and exactly the right gift for every child, teacher, neighbor, cousin and friend—it sometimes feels like the holidays are more about survival than about settling into the joyful expectation of the season.
So this year, when I start to feel that familiar tightness in my chest that comes with a full calendar and an open wallet, that is my cue to stop, take a deep breath and listen to my soul. Stop spending, stop giving, stop doing, stop talking, stop trying. And just be. There will always be decisions to be made and questions and obligations that can’t be ignored, but if I can’t hear the sound of my soul above the clatter of my expectations and those of the world around me, I know what will help me decide. I will think of Adam Harold and ask myself that profound, innocent, soul-jarring question: “What are they gonna do? Kill me?”