Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can you do me a favor?

“Oh man—who’s gonna feed the cat?”

It never occurred to me until the night before we departed for our little weekend away. I think this is probably caused by two factors. 1) I’m simply out of practice because I have not been away from home for the night since I was pregnant, and that’s been about four years (yeah, I know, how pathetic); and 2) the cat requires a more refined feeding and care system nowadays than he did four years ago. Wet food, distributed in small portions twice daily, is not so easy to administer when one is absent. Wet food twice each day requires on-time feeding, a semi-clean dish in which to serve it…and wet food tends to get mixed into the water bowl much more often than dry food does, thus requiring frequent water changes.

But the cat needs wet food for health reasons. So, the hubby and I toss around different options the next morning when I present him with this little hiccup in our plans. Which unfortunate neighbor or friend will we ask to check in on Sam?

Well, there are natural choices, close neighbors who wouldn’t need to drive to get here. There’s the elderly guy whom we both like so much but whom we are hesitant to bother. There’s the lady who loves animals but works lots of odd hours and likely won’t be around; the fellow next door was already packing his car yesterday to go away for the weekend, so he’s out. And those other folks who are close by? Well, I do not want to ask them for any favors; they asked us for a doozy of one just after we moved in, and if I ask for something back, they might feel comfortable returning the request and continuing the “favor” cycle—and their idea of a favor doesn’t jive with my idea of one. Nix that thought.

There are a couple of friends who live nearby, but nearby is 5 or 10 minutes by car, which is hardly convenient. Plus, both of them are getting kids ready to go to school (one to college for the first time, another to high school for the first time) and I’ll bet they’ve already got plenty on their minds and plates.

We decide on a different neighbor, a super-nice couple who also has pets. We wait like harpies for one of them to emerge from the house (to walk their dogs, ironically) and when one of them does, recon (me) calls for front man (Todd) to hurry over and strike up an innocent conversation, so as to mask our true purpose and get the fellow’s guard down… I’m teasing, it wasn’t nearly so surreptitious and conniving. The guy agreed, as we both expected him to, and we promptly gave him quick instructions and a house key and the matter was settled. Whew. Our departure was delayed by only a few minutes, and our minds were at ease.

But it made me think about favors, how really, in many cases they are burdens—and we’re so careful to ask the right person because we have to think about whom we’d like to burden. With whom are we so comfortable that we’d be at ease handing them a burden to carry for us? And the bigger the favor, the more trust is assumed, the weightier the burden can be.

Todd and I ended up talking recently with another couple about how difficult it is to write a will once you have a child. The hours that most parents spend agonizing about that decision—whom would get my child or children?—is telltale in illustrating the seriousness of such a favor. A burden. A very flattering one to the recipient of said child[ren], yes, but a burden in many ways. If I perish, will you raise my kid? Will you tell him or her all about me? Will you do the same things I would have done? Will you support them with the likely insubstantial amount of help you receive for such a favor? Will you be me, sort of, in addition to being you and maybe taking care of your own family? And will my kid[s] be part of your family, will you make them feel welcome and comfortable, will you help them feel like they belong?

All big favors require much of both the one asking and the one granting. I pray that if I am ever asked for a really monumental favor, I make the right decision about whether to grant it. And I pray that when I ask those favors of others, it’s done with respect to the seriousness of the request. Really, what we’re saying when we ask is this: I trust you to carry my burden. And that, my friends, is a bold statement and not to be taken lightly—nor granted lightly.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Mel. While I can't fathom the difficulty of the "who to leave my child to" decision, I can relate to the sillier, cat one. We even hired a neighbor's teenage daughter to watch ours (as a favor) and were unhappy with the fact we came home to a dirty, full litter box. Now our dilemma is, do we ask again for our long weekend away in a couple weeks, and make it clear we expect her to clean the box each time she comes (twice a day)? Or do we take the cats to the more expensive boarding place that traumatizes them but we know they'll get good care? I agree, favors are important. And I'll do my best to do my best if someone asks us for one; in return, though, I expect the same courtesy.

Mel said...

That's a dilemma. Any other options (people to ask)? We had a kid come to our last house for same reason, and he did all right (we paid him a bit, as you guys did). You could always set up an additional litter box to give more potty room, AND make it clear that the kid will be paid based on performance: one rate for feeding and watering, a higher rate for that service plus cleaning and sweeping, etc. Re: favors in general, I need to think about it more when I'm asked instead of just being flattered that someone asked. Yeah, there's trust implied, but it's more than than...

Anonymous said...

Oh, I neglected to mention our cats' penchant for puking. Not sure how to tackle THAT one -- "Errrr, here's the paper towels and Resolve, you'll need 'em!"? Plus, the "kid" is 18 years old -- old enough to know how to do a good job. Plus, we LOVE her mom, who would do it for us no problem. We were just trying to give the kid some extra money... Problem is, I just hate to ask people for favors...