I set the baby down on the changing pad and as I begin to take off his socks, I hear water running in the bathroom. I’ve walked in on her before and so I can picture what is happening. Kneeling on top of the toilet, letting the water run to get warm, a pale blue washcloth in her hands. In a matter of minutes, she appears beside me and places the washcloth, now wet but not dripping, on the corner of the changing pad.
“Thank you, my love!” I say.
I know she heard me but she doesn’t respond.
Later, when stories are over, tuck-ins complete, I’ll go into my bathroom to wash my face. And I’ll find my soap and the headband I use to hold back my hair set out by my sink, right where she put them after she brushed her teeth. I won’t be able to thank her this time and I think she prefers it this way.
She is on a mission to please. And she doesn’t do it for the thank you.
I read once that three is a wonderful age because at age three, children want to please their parents. It is supposed to be, I suppose, a nice reward for surviving toddlerhood. Three wasn’t so much that for us here. But four? Since the clock turned on four, well we’ve all been pretty pleased.
She likes it best when she can do something without being asked. Or when she can do more than what was asked. The element of surprise is important to her. Her least favorite is when you ask in the middle of the act. Don’t ruin the surprise.
And I get it. I’ve spent a good deal of my life on a mission to please. And I, too, prefer when I can please and surprise together. It feels better that way, somehow. Because the recipient feels more grateful? Because, for just a moment, I felt as though I could predict the future? Maybe a mix of both and probably a lot more.
Along the way, though, I abandoned my mission to please. Sometimes, I learned, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand. Some people can’t be pleased. Many can’t be surprised. Some will take advantage of you. Many won’t be as grateful as you want them to be. Some will make you feel less about yourself.
And yet, when properly planned and directed at the right person, aiming to please can be powerful. It can say: ‘I’m thinking of you.’ ‘I want to help you.’ ‘I love you.’ It can be the difference between an evening of struggle and an evening at ease. It can be the bright spot in someone’s day. The turning point. It can make things just a little bit smoother.
This week, of all weeks, will be chock full of opportunities to please. To think of someone and the something they might need. To do the thing that needs doing without being asked. Or to do more than was asked. To clear the dishes for your Thanksgiving host. To call your Mom out of the blue. To take the kids and give your spouse a moment’s rest. To set the table with a little added flair.
This week, my daughter inspires me to take up a mission to please.