Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Patience is a Virtue and a Necessity

Having a child requires patience. I like to think I am not a person who rushes through life, not enjoying the little moments. I like to think that I have the patience to listen to a friend cry or a coworker tell a long boring story. I don't like to be rushed, and I try to remember that. However, Miss Lady Baby requires a certain brand of patience that I did not even know existed. It is the patience that keeps you from rushing them when they are learning to eat. It is what keeps you from crying when they are screaming their head off for no apparent reason. It is the thing enables you to let them to figure out how to roll, how to sit, and how to crawl for themselves. Patience is a major requirement for motherhood and I had no idea of that until I was knee deep into having a toddler.

This morning I was sitting at the dining room table, watching my child alternate between stuffing 12 pieces of banana into her mouth and taking wee tiny bites of a waffle. We are talking bites the size of a pencil eraser. I have no idea why less is more for eating a waffle, but eating banana requires filling your entire mouth then squishing it all up. Those are the kind of things we understand as kids and forget as adults. Watching this process is like watching paint dry. I love my child and I think she is amazing, but we do this three times a day and the eating process can become a bit monotonous. (I also openly admit that I found nursing to be boring, which can get you shot on some playgrounds these days.) It would be easier to tear all her food up into bite size pieces and/or spoon feed her everything, but she will never learn if I do that. Until very recently I was still cutting EVERYTHING up. I had to make the conscious decision to let her learn to take bites and chew stuff up. As usual, she surprised me and is doing pretty well. I occasionally have to fish a  whole chicken nugget out of her mouth or reduce the number of goldfish in the cheeks by half, but on the whole she gets it. I feel like we have both accomplished something--I let go and let her do it, and she did it herself. Win-win.

The amount of emotional patience required for child raising is immeasurable. By emotional patience I mean not letting my heart win out over my mind in trying times. This is the most common evening scenario at my house: I am in the kitchen fixing dinner. Alice is in the dining room/den where she has every toy she could want for and usually a show playing that she likes. Only a baby gate separates us. She uses this time to exercise her lungs and voice box by screaming, crying, yelling "mama" and showing her immense distaste for being unable to hug my legs or explore the culinary treats lying in the cat and dog bowls. She normally never goes in the kitchen, but for some reason this time of day is when she chooses to express her disdain for this rule. It requires every ounce of patience this mama has not to go to the basement and find a roll of duct tape and/or pick her up. She is not hurt, she is not hungry, she is not thirsty. She is mad. I try to be emotionally patient and remind myself of that when I cannot think to boil water because her noise has reached the tone and pitch of a cat being killed by screaming banshees. Obviously the duct tape is not on option (dumb rule in my opinion) and picking her up is only going to prolong the process because eventually I will have to put her down to finish dinner. Her Dad is usually not home from work yet to run interference, though sometimes even that does not work and she ends up back at the gate squalling.  All is forgiven once I cross back over the gate and she is once again able to attach herself to me, but until that point, it is a constant stream of angry baby noise.

I often say my child has a deep well of passion in her little body. She attacks life with verve and gusto, and this also requires much emotional patience on her mommy's part. The current object of affection in my house is the remote control. Alice has a passionate love for the remote. She knows that it is fun and has buttons and that we like to use it. Therefore, she has determined that she must have it whenever she sees it. Sometimes she gets it when we are not in the room and her specialty is recording the public access channel. My DVR is more finely tuned than Obama's social calendar and not something to be monkeyed with by a 1 year old. Not to mention she has done a few things that took me awhile to figure out how to fix. So, no remote for the Princess, despite her passion filled pleas. I could give in to my emotional side when the yelling turns to gasps and sobs, but I remain steadfast in my decision and distract her with the remote that has no batteries (I know, I know, but I am not made of stone.) Patience, patience, patience. Patience to let her get over her remote control lust and not lose my mind.

The amount of passion and patience must be equal, or as a parent you will always lose. When you have a child like mine, the passion can overtake her and cause momentary madness that culminates in screaming that allows very little breath in or out. Imagine a baby girl version of Munch's painting The Scream, and that is about right. Mouth open wide, great angst all over her little face. When those moments happen, I have to tap in to my inner well of strength, the one that I was unaware of before childbirth, to not scream along with her. By staying cool (or at least attempting to) I am showing her that despite her best efforts, I cannot be cowed by her wall of noise, and that screaming gets you nowhere. Please don't get me wrong, I realize my powers of patience are not best exercised in certain venues. When the storm of noise descends somewhere like the grocery store or a restaurant, I use snacks and various oddities to distract and quieten. I don't wish to ruin others day to prove a point to my one year old. I realize there is a time, a place, and an age for lessons, and she is not yet at the point where my reasoning skills are enough to stop a public display of personality.

I often wonder if patience is learned by us parents, or if it was always there and we just don't tap into it until we really need it. Kind of like the fabled woman who is able to move a car off of her 5 year old in a rush of adrenaline.  I must say, I amaze even myself when I don't lose my $%# when Alice decides that today is the day she will only eat graham crackers or that pelvic thrusting while being put in the carseat is an effective way to prevent being buckled in. What really is interesting to me is that what may not look like patience to the naked untrained eye, can actually be the most impressive patience put there. While it may not seem hard to sit in my child's room while she falls asleep, it is actually huge, because the easy alternative that would prevent all crying would be to rock her to sleep.  Patience can be tricky and hard to identify. The mom who is wheeling her screaming kid through the Teeter may be exercising patience in that she is not crying as well. The mom who is letting her little one crawl around the playground may be exercising great patience by not just picking him up and carrying him to the swings. We all have our different tests that others may not recognize.

I try not to lose it when we are running late and Alice has taken off her shoe and hidden it behind the cable box. I have to exercise self control when she is using a spoon for the first time herself and smearing yogurt all over the table and herself. I can't rush Miss Priss when she is taking her sweet time to figure out how to walk. If I never let her figure things out and always come to her rescue then in the long run she will have a harder time. She will expect mommy to do the hard stuff for her and she won't enjoy the art of discovery.  I remind myself one gazillion times a day that life is all new and different to her and she needs to explore it. Please don't get me wrong. The patience often runs thin and I scoop her up, not giving her time to crawl through the grass or play in the bathtub. I too have things to do and places to be, and that is okay, because such is life. But I do realize that I need to let there be moments of discovery, self soothing, and sometimes crying.  Part of life is not always getting what you want and figuring out what else there is out there. I know eventually she will have to use a little patience dealing with her old mom as well, when I can't use the newest gadget or cry the day I drop her off at college. Hopefully I am laying the foundation of patience in Alice, and I will remind her of that when her own children are crushing cheerios into the carpet and rubbing lotion in their hair.


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