Buzzword to Byword

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
7895615242 a3dcf53719 z

The hour was late, the moon was full, and the snow out our back window glistened like a Thomas Kinkade painting. That’s when the tears began. She was a woman-child, adolescence in full bloom, about to surrender to an emotional meltdown from fatigue, stress, and hormones.

Poster board, colored paper, tiny balls of rubber cement, rejected photos, scissors and tape had exploded across our family room. Though midnight had come and gone, the History Day project was complete, a presentation board on Martin Luther and the Reformation stood propped against her backpack, ready to fly out the door with her after her few short hours of sleep. Into the early morning we had worked side-by-side. My job was to ask leading questions to clarify, proof her final edits, and contribute to basic graphic design. I was a mom helping a kid with a challenging project. Neither of us could have anticipated the time this would take.

“Mommy, I’m so sorry,” she said tearing. “I know I screwed up!”

“Sorry for what?” I said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t start this earlier. I’m sorry I made you stay up so late. I’m sorry you had to give me so much help. I’m sorry!”

Mid-sentence I held up my hand.

“Katy, whoa. You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I said. “When you were little and you were learning how to clean your room or do laundry, remember what we’d do?"

“No,” she said, her wet eyes staring at me. Mom, what’s this got to do with History Day?

“I never told you to do something without first staying alongside you for at least a year or so, remember? I never said, ‘Katy, go throw in a load of jeans,’ without our first ‘sorting parties’ in the laundry room, or showing you how to set the dials. And how many times have we tackled cleaning your room together? This is no different. I helped you tonight because I know you’ll do things differently next time. You’re a straight-A student, Katy. If you had trouble tonight, think how tough this was for some of the other kids. Helping you break this down and do it one step at a time is part of my job. I’m supposed to be here with you; it’s in my job description.”

The meltdown short-circuited; she let me hug her a long time, and she went on to bed. I looked at the moon reflecting on the snow like a theater spotlight, silhouetting the trampoline, tire swing, and deck; I thought about “job description,” or rather how mine had changed. I left the corporate world when she was three. Heels, panty hose, suits, and board rooms gave way to jeans, sweatshirts, and a chaotic household of kids, dogs, goldfish, and clutter. Before I chose to semi-retire into motherhood, the phrase “servant leadership” was as prevalent as the dust bunnies in my house are now—and about as meaningful. As a marketing executive, my job was to deliver results in a competitive, driven, bottom-line culture. “Servant leadership” was another buzzword, not something to take to heart, not a characteristic my staff would have used to describe me.

But here I was 15 years later at 1:30 a.m., explaining my “job description” to my teenage daughter. Perhaps in the crucible of motherhood, I was learning a little about what servant leadership really meant.