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On Being Late

Lydia Dishman
Greenville, South Carolina, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 4, August-September 2000, pp. 79-80

Tuesday Morning LLL Meeting at the Branch Library. I arrive twenty minutes early loaded down with all my meeting paraphernalia and with my two-year-old, Emily, in tow. We set up the chairs and by 9:50, mothers start trickling in. At a couple of minutes past the hour, I address the Group in an informal way saying that we will begin in just a minute and to please make sure everyone is comfortable. At 10:05 I begin my introduction. Shortly after that, we are going around the room and each woman is introducing herself and answering the icebreaker question. The door opens. A mother comes in bringing refreshments and apologizing loudly for being late. She arranges the food, sits down, and attends to her toddler. The door opens again, two more regular attendees come in and sit in the circle. The door opens - another mother, with her two- year-old protesting loudly. She sits right in the spot where the next introduction is to be given and needs an explanation of what to say. More protests from her toddler and no one can hear her answer. Twenty minutes later a final attendee joins the Group, pregnant and with toddler in tow. Much shuffling to find her a seat and settle her child.

I have to say that despite all this disruption, this was one of our better meetings. The discussion flowed, a lot was covered and everyone broke off into groups afterward to chat. But the ragged beginning really stood out in my mind. I found the interruptions bothersome and a challenge to keeping my thoughts collected and my attention directed to the individuals speaking in turn.

I have been attending or leading La Leche League meetings for around five years now. Just long enough to become aware of certain quirks of Group dynamics. I have noticed that new mothers are usually the first ones to arrive at a meeting. Then, as they continue to attend, they will be only slightly early or on time. If they become regular attendees and start to make friends within the Group, their approach is even more casual and they tend to join us after the meeting has begun. They may also disrupt the talk with their side conversations. At the meeting described above all of the latecomers were repeaters who came in after the introductions had begun. This was after that initial five extra minutes I allowed for everyone to settle in. Our Group has grown tremendously in the last year but the disruptions at the beginning of each meeting were getting worse.

I looked to my trusty LEADER'S HANDBOOK for some words of wisdom. It says that the opening of the meeting is an opportunity to reflect the Leader's warmth, confidence, and acceptance, and to prepare attendees for the discussion. I wonder if I can continue to exude "warmth and confidence" when I am interrupted during nearly every thought in my introduction. I wonder if the casual, friendly approach to beginning meetings is so misconstrued that no one feels compelled to show up on time. We may even reinforce this by telling mothers whom we help on the phone not to worry if they are late, we really just want them to come.

I also read, "Start the meeting promptly. Promptness tells mothers that they are important. When mothers who arrive on time are kept waiting for others, they may feel the latecomers are more important." As we try to make the newcomers feel welcome it is hard to ignore the regulars who come in tardy but full of news and greetings, mostly to the exclusion of those new mothers. This may make it seem to a shy or uncertain first-timer that LLL is an exclusive group with no place for her. I have sadly seen mothers who only attend one meeting and never come back, and I suspect that this might be the reason.

I want to single out the idea that promptness tells people that they are important. There are many different personalities at work in a Group. Some are always early or on time, some are chronically late. Lateness occurs for many different reasons. Mothers of newborns may not yet have the hang of getting all that extra gear together, and mothers may be dealing with last-minute tantrums, older children dawdling, or "I just need to do one last thing" syndrome. Some Leaders are always late to their own meetings. Lateness is not necessarily deliberate, nor is it done with malicious intent for those waiting. We can all agree, though, that waiting is frustrating and annoying.

It makes us feel helpless. Even those among us who are chronically late have experienced these emotions when we stand in long grocery store lines or wait at a doctor's office. Whatever the case, lateness sends a subtle twofold message: first of all, that we are not organized enough to get to our destination on time, and secondly that the other person's time is somehow not as valuable as our own.

Our children often accompany us to meetings, and we are all pleased when they can recite the advantages of breastfeeding, sometimes as young as three or four years old. They observe everything we do, and we are their first teachers. We can be sure that they are absorbing the unconscious message of lateness if we treat it casually. We begin to teach them to respect others’ possessions through sharing and others' physical space through appropriate touching. Respect for another's feelings is important too. Can we then, within the forum of a meeting, show both our children and members of the Group that promptness tells others that they are important?

It is sometimes difficult to fulfill all the demands that are placed on us as mothers. La Leche League's "family first" philosophy makes it easier to respect the needs of our families while still accomplishing good work for others. I know that I have days when I become so absorbed in the rhythms of my little girls that I, like them, am unaware of the passage of time. This is good for them and good for me. However, there are days when things must get done, even with the family demands. On meeting days Leaders are making a planned commitment to hold a gathering at a certain time. At times like these it is helpful to employ the "extra 30 minute rule" which is simply to add that extra amount of time (not including travel time) to get organized and get everyone out the door in a less harried way. The extra time allows for last minute potty trips; finding a special toy, snacks, and drinks; and getting everyone in the car. It should not be used to do "one last thing," or answer one last phone call. If all goes smoothly, an early arrival can give everyone a chance to settle down before proceeding to the appointment or meeting. At the very least, one arrives right on time. We are then sending our children the positive message that being on time is good for them and respectful of others.

A Leader who has taken the time to arrive early or on time can calmly greet mothers, set up chairs, and generally exude positive vibes that will set the tone for the meeting. Some Groups with multiple Leaders have found it necessary to split duties. The "early birds" can set up and do greetings while those who tend to come late can stay afterwards, answering special questions and assisting in clean up. Our neighboring Group posts their meeting start time as one-half hour earlier than the actual discussion begins. This allows plenty of time for latecomers (Leaders and mothers) and social conversation.

"Starting on time also says what LLL has to say is important." This is an even more compelling statement from the LEADER'S HANDBOOK. Many Leaders will agree that mothering is the most important job they ever undertook. We are so committed to good mothering through breastfeeding and beyond that we extend ourselves to helping others on this path. Our work in this organization is important. We are nurturing our children as well as indirectly nurturing other mothers and their children. It only furthers the importance of LLL's message if we act professionally. When we take the time to be punctual we make a difference in the lives of our children, our co-Leaders and the mothers we help.

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