When you give someone your word, it’s a pretty big deal.
Long before our society became so litigious, people made business deals based on verbal agreements. Pop sealed many deals to do roofs with a handshake and his word of when it would be done.
I’ve tried to uphold that standard, but often times, it can be tricky.
Our emotions get the best of us and we make a promise that we intend to keep, but don’t.
We mean what we say, when we say it. But the value of the intention fades as time goes by.
Sometimes, it can be a big thing – a marriage vow forsaken.
Sometimes, it may seem little, but those little things can often have a bigger impact.
And sometimes, it is those promises made to those little folks in our lives that mean the most.
There’s times I have promised things, like one particular Ben 10 Monster Lab, where apparently you can create your own monsters, and been unable to keep my promise.
Failing to keep my word was not intentional by any means – it was a special promotional item that just unfortunately, ran out.
This fact did not diminish the disappointment of a then 8-year-old.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologized. “I’ll make it up to you.”
‘Cause we all know, the best way to make up for a broken promise is to counter with another promise.
He nodded. “It’s OK,” he assured me. But I could tell by his voice the disappointment still stung.
He found something else he wanted and we promised it.
To be more accurate, we promised him Santa was going to bring it.
Santa didn’t bring it, though; and when Santa’s little helper ran into Walmart on Christmas Eve, they were out.
“Maybe Santa will bring it next year,” Cole said, disappointed yet again.
The guilt was palpable.
Twice, I had let him down.
Yes, it was just ‘things,’ but I had told him I would get them.
“He won’t even remember what he asked for,” Lamar said. “He will outgrow those things and move on to something else.”
But, he didn’t forget. Cole’s memory is better than mine and he never, not ever, forgets anything.
However, he doesn’t dwell on it or stew over it, leaving the disappointment behind.
Even if the disappointment came from a broken promise.
As I finished my thesis a few months ago, I found myself with less time than ever before.
“Mama, can we play?”
“Later,” I said.
“When’s later?” he demanded.
“Later,” I emphasized.
But later to a child is an eternity.
Hours passed; he approached me again.
“Is now later?”
A heart-heavy sigh, dropped his head, and walked away.
When he approached again, I was too tired to play.
My eyes were tired, my brain hurt. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
“I’m so sorry,” I began, seeing the pleading in his eyes.
He dropped his head again. “I understand…”
We repeated this for several weeks.
“All I want is for you to spend some time with me,” he said.
“Cole, we spend time together all the time. I work from home, you’re homeschooled – we spend all of our time together.”
He shook his head.
“It’s not the same. You’re focused on what you’re doing and not me. All I want is for you to play with me.”
“Let me get through this thesis, and we will play. I promise.”
But for Cole, “get through this thesis” meant the minute I turned in my paper, I was supposed to play.
He sat up with me until midnight the night before it was due.
I re-read it, checked my citations, and chapters, looked for spelling errors and made sure everything was perfect. I uploaded the document and hit submit.
“Yay!” he squealed. “Now, we can play!”
“Cole! It’s midnight. It’s time to go to bed, not play time.”
His smile turned sour.
“I waited till you got through so we could play. You said to let you get through this paper, and we’d play.”
Bless his heart, he takes things very literally, like his mother.
“Tomorrow, after I finish work, we’ll play.”
“When will that be?”
“I don’t know.”
He looked at the floor, possibly fighting back tears.
“But we will play tomorrow?”
“We will. Promise. Just let me get through everything I have to do first.”
6 p.m. came and went, and I had finished my regular work and moved on to another project.
“Are you done?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I replied.
But again, when I finished I was too tired to play Pokemon, Battleship or Crazy Bones.
Too tired to do anything but fall asleep.
It was Cole who woke me when he moved my laptop off my lap.
“I’m so sorry,” I began.
“I know,” he said. “And you’ll play with me tomorrow. I know, Mama. It’s same promise you made before.”
That reality slapped me awake.
I had been promising to play with him and hadn’t, thinking I could put him off and put him off until some later date.
A later date when I supposedly would have everything done, a day when he will probably have children of his own and not have time for me.
The next morning, I took out an index card and listed out my priorities. I knew I needed to go over the list with Cole when he woke.
“What’s this?” he asked, looking at the card.
“This is the important things I need to do,” I said. “They are top priority and have to be done, first and foremost. So I need you to understand how important these are, OK?”
He wrinkled his head in confusion.
“But, Mama, this says ‘play Pokemon,’ ‘go putt-putting,’ ‘go to our park,’ and stuff like that.”
“Yup. We are going to do all of those. And this time, I mean it.”
And so far, I have kept my word.