Motherhood is learned patience.
For negotiating each moment with small, unwilling beings, you are a surfer waiting for the wave of capitulation, the majority of your time spent stalled on still water, watching the horizon of your child’s mood with hope.
You quickly pass through anger, frustration, self-pity and then you settle in. You have no choice. You lay down on that surf board and breathe. You stare at the sky. You think, “Who the fuck cares if we’re late for summer camp?”
Then there it is. The wave. And things are in motion once more.
Day after day, this is our practice and almost against our very will, patience is slowly born out to mothers. But if motherhood teaches us patience with our children, by that same token, patience with ourselves is diminished.
In those first few years – the Baby Years, the Thick Of It, the Bermuda Triangle of Me Years – we are taught that we can have it all. Children AND! Family AND! Right now I have no time for AND but I’m consumed with impatience for it. I can taste it as I fall asleep at night, running for it the moment the babysitter walks through the door, never quite attaining it, mourning the near-miss, always the near-miss.
Impatience, of course, is a breeding ground for jealousies and resentments: she has AND why don’t I have AND? She looks so great with AND – would I look that good with AND? Why does AND pass my by? Will I ever have AND? The ultimate fear: maybe I don’t have enough talent for AND.
Of course while self-patience seems impossible, guilt is ever at the ready: ”Be in the moment! Enjoy this time! It passes all too quickly! You will look back with such longing!” True. And ever the nostalgic, I look back with longing at a great many things already. Except 8th grade. And culottes.
As with my toddler, I work myself up into such a state – calling my mother and saying maudlin things like, “What happens to a dream deferred?” – that the only recourse is surrender. Let it all go. If only for an hour. A day. My mother says, “Be the stone and let it wash over you.” Aside from the fact that I hate that meditational shit, I am calmed by the very phrase.
And so I’m the Storm and the Calm, the Storm and the Calm, running myself ragged to write three sentences, beating myself up and bringing myself down until I’m the lowest and that’s when the Calm hits.
Then I’m lying on the surfboard, just breathing and thinking, “Who the fuck cares if I have the muscle tone of James Gandolfini? If my writing is not where it should be?” It’s all washing over me. Allow for the possibility that dreams deferred can be long-planned realities. Breathe. Surrender. Wait for the wave of movement to carry you forward.
Suddenly, your son throws his unfinished puzzle across the room, weeping and indignant.
“Patience,” you tell him.
Patience, you tell yourself.