It’s Not What You Think

“I’m just going to run the vacuum and then I will help you put on your show,” I called to M and W one afternoon. I was trying to do as many chores as I could in the span of 4 minutes (story of my life), and I just really needed to get that one done. As I quickly began pushing the vacuum around the kitchen, I began to hear rumblings in the living room.

“Oh, if they could just wait 2 more minutes,”I thought to myself.

More rumblings, whining. Louder this time.

“This is so frustrating. I just need to get this done. Can’t they just give me a few minutes and wait while I finish?”

Screaming now. So loud.

I pushed the vacuum even faster. It seemed like things were boiling over. I couldn’t take it any more. I stopped the vacuum abruptly.

“Guys!” I exclaimed, feeling exasperated. “I’m almost finished. Please stop fussing!”

M and W looked at me with confusion on their faces.  “We’re not fussing,” they said. “We decided to play a game while we waited for you, and we were just laughing about it.”

As I stared at them, I realized that I had read that moment entirely wrong. The behavior, or so I thought, that exasperated and frustrated me wasn’t even that at all. In fact, it was the opposite: laughter! How many times do we interpret the moment and get it wrong? How many times do we charge in and assume, and maybe even redirect one thing, when in actuality we are dealing with something very different?

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned in working with young children is to wait 3-5 seconds before intervening. It’s a highly effective technique, and it’s designed to prevent moments like these. Because so much can change during those precious seconds, and had I turned off the vacuum and done just that I would have experienced it myself. There was nothing to redirect and nothing to be frustrated about. It was all fine. All of it.

I’m grateful for my vacuum cleaner moment and for the laughter of my “fussy” children. As parents, we need these moments to remind us that things aren’t always as they seem, that the way we read a situation isn’t necessarily the right way, and that we can always always learn big lessons from our little people.

Find the joy,


Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at for more information or to schedule a consultation.