I have Late Anxiety. I get super-anxious when I'm going to be late. If something has happened to make me late for an appointment or some sort of commitment, I'll feel sweaty and nervous. I'll drive along, getting closer to my destination, and my eyes will be darting back and forth to the dashboard clock—as if obsessively looking at the numbers will make them stop moving upward.
I've always been like this, because I had a mother that was always, always late. She still is. She's an awesome Mom, but it's as if time doesn't permeate into her planning or thinking about her day. At all. (If you're reading this, Mom, I'm sorry... but it's true).
And here's the thing: my mother wasn't just five minutes late. Sometimes it was a half hour late. Sometimes it was more. After sports practices, I'd stand at the front doors of the school watching all my teammates get picked up, right on time. I'd say a silent, pleading prayer that she'd show up when she was supposed to—just this once, I thought, every time. I hoped desperately that she would come before the coach came out so he didn't see me sitting there, all alone, waiting, and have to sit with me until my mom showed up. My siblings all experienced it, too; in fact, my sister says used to hide in the bushes behind the gym so her coach would think all the players had been picked up, so he would leave; when she was sure he was gone, she'd crawl out of the bushes and wait, alone, until my mother finally came.
The time that lapsed between the time my mother was supposed to come and her actual arrival was spent getting good and pissed. Really, really mad. So when she finally pulled up, I'd get in the car and hiss, "You're late!" But on her face would be passivity mixed with a tinge of defiance. She would offer up a feeble excuse, one I was in no mood to accept.
I saw to it that I got my license about five seconds after I turned sixteen, so I could be in charge of my own time; I was determined to no longer be victim of my mother's lapsed attention to time. It was wildly liberating. And I have made it my business to be on time ever since.
But life isn't that simple, of course. We're all late, every now and then. It happens to everyone. I was reminded of this last week when I sat with a kid whose parent showed up 25 minutes late to pick up her kid from a school event. I was frustrated at first, thinking of my own children waiting at home for me, knowing they were hungry and waiting for dinner. But on the boy's face and saw the same anxiety, worry, and apologetic expression I'd worn a thousand times as a child. And my grumpiness dissipated. I sat down next to him and we began to talk; I made sure he thought I had all the time in the world and I wanted to spend it with him.
After his mother finally came, I walked to my car, meeting up on the way with a gentleman who had seen me sitting with the boy. "Late parent, eh?" he asked.
"I'm a baseball coach. Happens to me, sometimes. Wanna know what I do?" He laughed conspiratorially. "I make my kids run a lap for every minute their parent is late to get them."
My heart sank.
No, I thought. No, no, no.
Taking on a job where we're in charge of kids means we also take on the faults and frailties of their parents. It's just a fact. Parents will be rude; they will be dismissive; they will be absent; they will be late. But to punish the child only serves to drive a wedge between the child and the parent; it reveals us as unempathetic and rigid; and it makes a young, helpless person be punished for a problem they did not create and cannot control. If we have a problem with an adult, it's wrong and unfair to take our frustration out on a child.
And besides, there's this: If a parent is being negligent or uncooperative in any way, the kid is already mortified enough.