What sentence would you like to say to your friend when she gets here?
That’s a question I started asking my daughter a year or two ago, when I noticed this:
She was so excited for a friend to come over. Crazy excited. She’d hear the car pull in the driveway, and she’d run hollering to the front door. Then, the friend walked in the door with a mother or father or sibling or all of the above in tow, and all that arrival at once stopped my kid in her tracks. She’d hang onto my arm and say nothing. Nothing at all. For several minutes. This was confusing to her friends, and it would take some time before the comfort of playing together settled in.
Greeting challenges happened when we went to a friend’s house, too. Maybe the friend would be in the middle of playing something and seem utterly uninterested in our arrival, at which our daughter felt confused and rejected. Or maybe the friend would gleefully rush at our daughter announcing exactly what they would be playing, what our kid’s role would be, and what could and could not happen—and our daughter would be struck silent by the onslaught.
We were on a walk when she revealed to me in that sudden but also roundabout way that children have: She just didn’t know what to say when she greeted someone.
As in, she was nervous about the words. The actual words.
So we made a plan, and now we think through the sentence she wants to say to greet someone before they arrive or we arrive. It has made a huge difference.
. . .
Last week, I sat in my office working my brains out on something pressing. One of my colleagues arrived at our small building, and I hollered hello in a tone that clearly communicated I’m-working-on-something-important-and-only-saying-hello-because-it’s-rude-not-to.
Last week, my husband came home from work, and I said a sort of “Hey” while I finished getting supper ready.
Last week, I came home later than planned on day, put down my stuff, and started making supper without giving my mom or my kid a hug first.
. . .
All those last-weeks are, at root, very similar to my child’s rocky playdate starts: I wasn’t prepared for an important transition.
Funny. That seems like an awfully big deal to make out the fact that I didn’t say greet my spouse in a kind way when he came home from work one day last week.
But greetings are transitions—and they can make a very big impact on the way the next few minutes, next few hours, next few days go.
Most of the time, we leave them to chance. Which is too bad, because sixty seconds of intention can actually make a difference in your work relationships, in your evenings at home, and—oh yes—at Thanksgiving.
Are you going to see friends or family?
I’ve got three questions you might ask yourself before you arrive—or before they do:
1: What is something very specific I love or appreciate about the people I’m greeting?
You don’t have to tell them this, unless you want to. It just helps prepare your brain to make the transition in a way that emphasizes what you like about the person you’re about to see—instead of ruminating about that work project that’s got your stomach in knots right before you walk in the door.
2: How can I make sure to look in their faces—even if I’m holding bags or in the middle of cooking or stressed in some way?
It doesn’t have to be long. Just a quick connection. But it’s grounding. And it helps each of see where the other is coming from—and that you’re glad to be here now.
3: What sentence do I want to say when I first see them?
It helps. I swear. Even for grown-ups.
If you sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees with your loved ones, you are not alone.
I love you, and I am grateful for you, and I hope you’re well and happy over there on the other side of this screen.