They’re some of the kindest words you’ll ever hear. They’re also often the ones you most don’t want to hear from that particular voice.
“Can I help you?”
We heard those from our 4-year-old foster daughter this weekend, as we leveled out some dirt and planted grass in our yard after a recent outdoor project.
We needed help, all right. As we flattened out the dirt pile, we realized it was littered with gravel left over from the concrete part of the project. We needed to get all those rocks out of that dirt.
However, a high-pitched 4-year-old who lifts up everything she can find and asks, “Is this a rock?” isn’t the ideal partner when there are likely 3,000 rocks for her to find.
We would’ve preferred to hear those words from our 10-, 11- and 17-year-old daughters, who were uniquely suited to stay closer to the ground than we were while tossing rocks into buckets for their dad to move elsewhere in the yard.
Did any of these capable children actually utter those words? If you guessed “yes,” you read too many fairy tales. Our princesses came outside because we forced them to, then proceeded to frustrate us enough to send them back inside (but not before turning off the Internet).
I don’t know where the magic crossover is between wanting to help and being able to do it.
I fear we ruined that line with some past chores, where we offered them a little cash to help us with finding small rocks in the yard to toss them into the rock bed. That’s probably the point in time they realized they had a marketable skill they shouldn’t be giving away for free.
I remember tagging along with my dad on odd jobs around the house as a kid. I’ve had a few siblings say I was my dad’s favorite. All I knew was he was always willing to let me help him, even when I wasn’t particularly helpful. I don’t remember how many times I brought him wrenches when he wanted channel locks. I do know everything I ever learned about home maintenance is thanks to his openness to my help, though.
Offering help has always felt like a touchy subject. No one ever wants to admit he’s incapable of doing something himself. Most offers for help might even seem like an insult.
For instance, I picked up a few items at a local grocery store recently. I went to the register with a gallon of milk, a box of eggs and bags of hamburger and hot dog buns. Upon paying, the teen bagging my groceries started to grab the two bags and offered to walk them to my car.
My first reaction was to wonder what this whippersnapper was doing. Once I realized I just thought of the word “whippersnapper,” I knew: He just wanted to help the guy with gray hair. I’m not quite as old as I look though, and I can still can carry my own groceries, thank you very much.
But back to the 4-year-old’s question, “Can I help you?”
The answer was yes. We found a small job for her to do — small but meaningful. She helped move those rocks, albeit at a much slower and occasionally more frustrating pace.
Why subject myself to that? Because I appreciate she still wants to help. That’s something we should all encourage in the young people in our lives.