I destroyed my kids’ toy in a moment of frustration. I am not proud. It was a typical morning. I was just trying to get everyone to daycare and school quickly so that I would not be late to work again. The children had their own agendas, however, and inevitably I lost my patience. Shredder hit the floor and sadly met his doom.
Shredder, formidable enemy of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, rests pathetically on my desk in two pieces now. I brought him to work hopeful that someone in the maintenance department would be able to restore him to his infamous stature since my attempts to fix him have failed. Unfortunately for Shredder and the three boys in my house, no amount of glue has been able to secure the severed limb.
I kept him at work initially because I am much too frugal these days to throw him away and too embarrassed to take him home and remind the children of my parenting fail. While I fantasize that his leg will miraculously reattach to his body (he is radioactive, after all), I know that seeing the action figure in his broken state every morning is also a humbling and helpful reminder that I must try harder.
So I have started paying closer attention to the times I feel my patience dissipating. This is mainly during the morning rush, unstructured times with the children, and bedtime. What I have come to recognize is that behind my impatience is an ever-present fear–fear of losing my job, fear of a serious injury that may result from their wrestling in the living room despite my pleas to stop, and fear that if they do not listen to me as young children, I will have lost all respect by the time they are teens. My greatest fear, however, is that I will appear less than perfect and give fodder to those who suggest that a single parent cannot do it all. While addressing my fears is complicated, I know that changing my behavior is not.
Therefore yesterday I tried an experiment. I promised myself I would not allow anything to rattle me as I prepared everyone to leave the house. I set aside all three outfits and encouraged the older two boys to dress themselves as I do everyday. I made their breakfasts, snacks, and lunches, then packed their bags before drinking my routine cup of coffee, showering, and getting dressed for work. As departure time approached, I tried to gently coax the children to the front door to put their coats and shoes on before loading them into the car.
As usual, that is where the trouble ensued.
The toddler refused to wear his hat, the middle child suddenly had to find a specific toy to take for extended day to show his classmate, and his older twin was insistent that he have one more minute on his gadget. Instead of becoming agitated, I inhaled deeply and began to address each child in reverse birth order. I took my time, I utilized tips I gleaned from the internet including lowering myself to their eye level, offering options instead of forcing my will, and even smiling through the various negotiations, conscious that if I kept my cool they would as well, and we would eventually make it to our destinations peacefully.
And of course all of this took extra time. Then I got stuck behind not one, but three school buses before encountering a road block on a main road I travel on unobstructed daily. It was as if the universe was taunting me further, begging me to freak out, but I did not. I pictured the worst-case scenario and accepted that it was out of my control and that alone gave me an odd comfort. I was 25 minutes late to work, but there were no tears and my body did not ache from stress. If my boss noticed, he was kind enough not to say a word. Perhaps he did not want to disturb my calm.
Today, as if by divine design, I noticed the word patience (salvolnut in Hebrew) literally written on the wall outside the sanctuary of the synagogue where I teach. The congregation has committed to focusing on this particular middah, or Jewish value, with the goal of consciously making positive changes as individuals and as a larger community. I am grateful to have that additional reminder before I enter my classroom full of energetic 2nd graders, and I am indebted to Shredder, archenemy of the Turtles.
Photo credit: Rob Blatt