Whose Job is it to Pick Up the Crayons?

By Lee Collins •  Updated: 04/09/16 •  5 min read
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I woke this morning with an irresistible craving for pancakes.

Perfectly cooked pancakes with a slight bit of crisp on the edges. Not burnt, And not too soggy in the middle. You know the kind.

With the craving compelling me, I did what anyone in my position would do – I got up, got showered and dressed, and went to IHOP.

The disadvantage of where I live is IHOP is, at most, 4 minutes away.

I don’t go often. Just on mornings like today.

When I REALLY want some pancakes.

My wife, Natalie, is out of town for the weekend so I asked for seating for one. I passed the 15-minute wait catching up on Facebook updates and other trivialities.

When it came my turn to be seated, I was ushered to a small 2-person booth at the back. I chose the seat with my back to the wall so I could observe the goings-on while I read.

This is my typical routine when Natalie is out of town and I go out to eat alone.

Plus, I love observing people. And this particular booth was excellent for people-watching.

The restaurant was bustling with activity, the low hum of conversation providing an enchanting backdrop as I read and contemplated my environment.

I noticed a mom being seated at a table about 10 feet from me, with her two small children. The girl was about seven and the boy probably around one-year-old.

For some reason they caught my attention.

It was just the 3 of them.

The mom, in her late 20’s to maybe early 30’s was attractive in a plain kind of way. I don’t mean this as an insult. Just she was wearing no make-up. A natural pretty.

But she looked tired, and frail. She was maybe 5 feet 2 inches and could not have weighed more than 85 pounds soaking wet.

Her 7-year old daughter was nearly her same size. Just shorter.

As I read my book and took notes, I continued to observe them. The bustle of activity between the 3 of them.

“Why don’t you pay more attention to your brother?”, the mom asked.

It was clear the boy didn’t want his sister’s attention.

He was being fidgety and a little cranky. He was probably hungry.

The mom was asking for help in the only way a mom could from a 7-year old partner at breakfast with a fidgety toddler.

The girl was clearly well-centered, and this was obviously a regular routine, and she moved over the the chair closer to her brother to “give him some attention”.

I wondered how mom was going to be able to eat breakfast, having both her hands full already.

Should I help? How would it be perceived?

She had a wedding band, and I am abundantly happily married so there were no ulterior motives, although it could have been perceived that way when a strange man sits at your table and offers to help so the mom could enjoy her breakfast.

I decided to keep reading. (At my own table.)

As the food arrived at their table, the mom helped both children with their meals and then she hurried through hers. She had pancakes too.

As the scene unfolded, I noticed the girl had a job.

To retrieve the crayons her brother threw onto the floor.

I didn’t count the frequency of this activity but, if I had, it happened no less than 30 times during the duration of the visit.

Crayon is thrown to the floor. Girl picks it up and brings it back. The blue one. Then the red one. Next, the green one. Repeat ad nauseum.

I was reading a business book, so my mind naturally strayed to thinking of their unspoken arrangement as a sort of “partnership”.

Mom nurtures the baby (the business). Partner (sister/daughter) picks up the crayons anytime they are ejected onto the floor.

I thought of how every business partnership needs a nurturer and a problem solver.

The business (in this case the baby) would surely suffer in some way if either is missing.

We finished our meals at about the same time, and I purposely chose the path that took me near her table as I exited. It had been my intention to pay for their meal but, probably at some point when I was lost in my book, she had already paid the check.

I noticed the boy’s jacket on the floor, so I leaned down and picked it up.

As I handed it to the mom, I said to her, “excuse me, I was just noticing you from the table and I wanted to let you know what an amazing job you did single-handedly taking care of two children at breakfast. You’re obviously a wonderful mom.”

As she took the jacket from my hands, her entire body relaxed.

The first smile I had seen lit up her face. Her entire aura shifted.

And she said, “thank you” as I noticed a little mistiness enveloping her eyes.

I bid her a good day and moved toward the exit, thinking about how everything may have been completely different if she didn’t have someone there in partnership.

How wonderful it was to have someone there with her whose job it was to pick up the crayons.

Lee Collins

Lee Collins is a former Air Force Network Systems Engineer and Fortune 500 Corporate VP - who is best known as an early pioneer of Direct Response Marketing on the Internet. He has over 24+ years experience running operations for multiple multi-million dollar marketing, software, SEO, financial, and business coaching companies. When Lee isn't helping his private clients solve big (and small) marketing and operations problems, Lee is most likely heading up into the mountains in his fully-equipped Jeep Gladiator. Or just gone fishing.