Parenting Without Patience

I hate to rush. I’ve hated it since I was a kid. Every time we left the house it was the same thing. My father would say “Come on, Viki, come ON!” waving his hands to push her out of the house. “Let’s go, let’s GO! Come on, we gotta go! Oh, we don’t need that, just get in the car! You gotta go to the bathroom now? It’s not that far, just get in the car!” He’d chase us down the stairs and out the garage and then we’d be in the car and he’d stay in the house for what felt like 10 minutes. He would check all the doors and windows to make sure they were locked. It was a three-bedroom, three-level house. So we’d wait in the car with no key, no A/C and no heat, until he finished. As we waited, I’d try to calm down after the stress of rushing, but once I saw that garage door close and my dad duck under it, headed toward the car, the anxiety enveloped me. He’d be all hyped up from getting us out the door so there was always some reason to scold. As we backed down the driveway, my mom and I sat through a “lessons learned” presentation after each unsatisfactory exit.

I decided that once I was on my own, I would stop rushing — forever. And I stuck to it. I left enough time to get ready and get there on time. I planned what I had to bring so I’d be orderly and organized on my way out. It suited me very well. When I got married, I’d chastise my husband if he tried to push me out the door.

And this was the scene at my house Wednesday morning:

“Let’s go, we’re gonna be late for preschool! Down the stairs. Down, down. WALK! Ok, put your shoes on. Other foot. Other foot! Here’s your jacket. No, Big Bird does not have to come with us. You don’t want the other kids to take him, do you? No, we don’t need that, no! All right, take it, just GO! Walk. Come ON! Ok, Mommy’s going to the car. Bye!”
“No bye!” She cried from the landing.
“Then come ON! We’re going to miss circle time!”
“No circle time?”
“That’s right. No songs, no letter of the day, no snack. We’re LATE, honey, and it’s starting, so we have to go. Now! Come on! Move!”

When we got in the car, I asked myself: How did this happen?

Ashamed and concerned about the long-term effects of rushing Rose, I examined my behavior. I always hated being the rushee. How did I become the rusher?

The explanation wasn’t much of a stretch. I’m not a patient person. At all. I fake it pretty well for parenting purposes, but deep down, I’d rather have everything now, now, now! I’m even worse now that I’m pregnant. I can’t deal with the mundane patience-testing experiences that normal people can handle. Traffic is the perfect example. When I was pregnant with Rose, my husband, Matt, and I were on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge heading to Kent Island to see a band. We’d breezed through Annapolis, but now we were at a dead stop at the toll plaza. As soon as we stopped, I began to fidget. Then I said “This sucks. I hate the bridge in the summer. How is it that this is the only freakin’ route to the beaches? There’s millions of people in D.C. and they all go to the beaches in the summer and this is the only bridge. That’s just wrong.”

Matt, ever helpful, said “Well they are talking about a ferry.”

“’Bout fuckin’ time,” I slumped in my seat, pushed every radio button, looked out the window. “You should be able to see our neighborhood from here. I mean, we can see the bridge. God, why didn’t we go look at it before we left? We wouldn’t have left the house. This totally sucks.” I looked behind us. Stopped cars as far as I could see. “We’re never gonna get there. I’m hungry. I’m gonna pass out before we can get our food. Crap!” Fifteen minutes passed. We’d moved three feet. “Oh my God, I can’t handle this. Can we turn around?” I looked for an out. I couldn’t even see where the backup started. The cars behind us didn’t move. My eyes darted around the outside of the car. Guardrails, cars, pavement – all just inches apart. I considered getting out and walking off the bridge. But then Matt would be mad at me. Really mad. Too mad to get over it. And how would I get home? Defeated, I slumped in my seat, grumbling, “This sucks.”

Now that I have been cursed with a pokey toddler, my patience level hasn’t changed. It may have appeared to improve after I had Rose, when I could, for example, take mood stabilizing drugs and, if they didn’t work, get drunk. “But how can you be a parent?” you may ask, as you start to dial Social Services.

Here’s how: when I’m with Rose, I’ve learned to fake it by substituting actual patience for parenting strategy. If she throws something hard at my head, I’ve learned to say, “Honey, we do not throw the remote. We throw a ball, or a pillow or Elmo, but we do not throw the remote. And we do not throw anything at anybody’s head. If you do it again, you will get a time out.” When she clings to my leg like an infatuated Chihuahua, I say, “Honey, you said you wanted milk. I cannot get your milk until you let go of my leg.” And I stand still until she complies.

I’ve also learned to assess each behavior by importance. Years ago, in somebody’s bathroom, I read a bit of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” and I learned for the first time that some stuff is, in fact, small. Some stuff is even inconsequential. And it’s not always obvious which is which. For example, Rose has learned to unlock the sliding glass door and go out on the deck by herself. I don’t have a problem with this. Before you pick up that Social Services hotline, let me describe the deck. It’s essentially a big pack and play. Last year we installed mesh between the rails because they were too far apart. We also installed a gate that closes off the stairs so she can’t get down to the backyard. And the entire deck is visible from the kitchen, so if I’m cooking, I can see her. So I let her go out on the deck by herself. The first time Matt saw her do it, he freaked out.

“ROSE! Never go out there without Mommy or Daddy! DO YOU HEAR ME?” he yelled. Naturally, she was confused and kept going. I had to explain my whole safety rationale to Matt and then we had to teach her to tell one of us if she wants to go outside. Matt would never have tolerated this behavior on his own, but after I explained it to him, he thought my assessment was fairly reasonable. He’s not very up on the small stuff philosophy.

So when Rose wants to bring her Etch-a-Sketch in the car and we don’t need it, my first instinct is to say no, but then I think, Is this important? Seriously, what difference does it make? If it gets us out of the house, who cares? And then I say, “Fine, bring it.” It saves me a lot of grief and exempts me from developing actual patience.

As we sat in the circle at preschool on Wednesday, I, concerned that I’d damaged her, watched her make the Itsy Bitsy Spider go up the water spout. And then she voiced all the animal sounds for “Old MacDonald.” She’d reached a new level of participation, and this was the first time I’d seen it. So I didn’t cripple her by rushing out of the house. Kids bounce back, I guess. And if Mommies don’t start out with patience, they learn to work around it. I guess Mommies can bounce back too.

One comment on “Parenting Without Patience

  1. It takes a lot of awareness and effort not to turn into your parents. Rose is a lucky little girl to have you for a Mommy.

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