Parenting requires an inhuman amount of patience, a veritable never-ending well that you can draw upon on a moment-to-moment basis in big, heaving gulps. Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m scratching the bottom of the barrel before the day has even fully begun, both of us still in our pajamas but me already thirsty for the space that patience brings.
So, how to fill such a well? When I am in a particularly patience-challenging moment with my daughter, which seems to happen much more regularly since she careened around the corner of Three, I think to myself, “Time to do my Patience Push-ups!” What this involves is utilizing all the tactics I know to calm myself down to get through whatever tantrum/stand-off/public awkwardness we are experiencing, and also trying to see it as flexing a muscle. So I breathe, I try to get to the bottom of what both of us is feeling and name that, and remind myself that this too will pass. Sometimes that works, and sometimes I lose my thread of patience anyway, and force the unbearable moment to end abruptly, but sure to return.
All of this goes much better if I have been doing things in my non-parenting hours that help me raise the water line on that Patience Well. One of those things is going to church, which, my editor and I recently reflected, is one of the few places in modern life where you don’t get to be in control. Entering the sanctuary means you consciously try to join a group of people all attempting to focus on a higher plane. At my particular church, we follow a liturgy that is written in the bulletin, and some days I find myself flipping forward, wondering when we’ll get to the next hymn, already, and others I’m so busy chasing my daughter around that I wouldn’t know the Gospel reading from the Offertory Anthem. But there are those days that I’m able to let go and sink into the structure that has been laid out for me, and I can just be.
This Sunday was not one of those days. The service was longer than usual, and about an hour in, my squirming daughter yelled out, “I’m hungry!” The congregation laughed, and few chimed in with “Me too!” and “Story of my life.” We took her downstairs to take a break and have a snack. To be honest, I needed it too – I was really building my patience muscles, one liturgical step at a time. When it came time for the Eucharist, I went over to get a healing prayer. When I asked for prayer for patience, the nun, who knows my daughter well, chuckled in recognition. In all, I felt like this Sunday’s service was more like a yoga practice than a celebration – I was earning my stripes just by staying the whole time.
Meditation, as my husband keeps reminding me, is also a great way to fill your patience well. I rather like Olive’s way of doing it: the other day I lit a candle, then left the room for a moment, and when I came back she was sitting perilously close to the flame, and upon a windowsill no less.
“What are you doing, Olive? You know you’re not supposed to be up there.” I asked.
“I’m keeping the candle company, Mama. Take a picture!”
I was happy to oblige.
Keep the candle company, my friends. Stay, stay with the feeling. Even if that feeling is impatience. Wait for the well to overflow. I believe it will happen, even if it is when we are in our next stage of life. The well is full, anyway, we just have to take the time to dig deeply enough to strike a water line. It’s something I’m working hard at, and hopefully soon, I’ll feel that fullness that only patience and gratitude can provide, more regularly.