As I sit down at a table in my favorite coffee shop today, the moment of peace in an otherwise rather loud and chaotic day, I have so many thoughts swirling in my head that I am not sure where to focus.
So, we're gonna say this post is about patience. But it's really about so much more.
I'm reading a book about letting go of our constant connectedness to the less-meaningful world in our computers and smartphones and focusing on the real world (and people) right in front of us. I am also part of one online discussion group on living simply and another on banning busy. My brain is knee-deep in this subject-matter right now.
And then I found out that our neighbor's little girl was just diagnosed with leukemia. It's like being hit over the head with a rock. ("Pay Attention!!" It screams, right in my ear. "This Is Important!") And it's not even my child. And they are not even close friends. We just moved here, so we've only just met. It. Does. Not. Matter. My heart breaks for them. I want to do anything and everything I can for them.
No one wants to hear of bad things happening to children. Anyone's. Ever. But when you're a parent. Oh, God. When you're a parent. The empathy vibrates through my whole, entire body like a just-thrummed guitar string. Every time I think of it two things happen: I am filled to overflowing with empathy and I internally drop to my knees with gratitude for my healthy, happy children.
And suddenly I find infinite patience for them.
There is nothing quite like that kind of terrible news to bring into focus what is important and what isn't.
- The backlog of emails in my inbox? -- Not important.
- The to-do list I'm so often driven by? -- Not important.
- Having the perfect looking home? -- Not important.
- Looking like a photo in a magazine? -- Not important.
- My children? My husband? My family? My health? Our happiness? Creating memories? Loving my life every day? -- All important.
- My children knowing they are important and lovely and amazing? -- So important.
- Not losing my cool--or my patience--and yelling at them? -- Also important.
But it shouldn't take a tragedy or trauma or terrible news--mine or someone else's-- to gift me patience. And I don't want this patience to slip away as the distance grows from the impact of this news.
I feel an urgency to change the way I live right now. To never get caught up in the crazy and the busy again. To focus on what is important, not what seems urgent. To let go of the junk and keep close that which is precious to me. To let go of being...Always Responsible. Always Productive. Always On-Top of Everything. And certainly to let go of the silly screen habit (addiction?).
To slow down. To stop rushing my children. To stop feeling pressured to perform or to get it all done. To strive for simple. Uncomplicated. To be less busy. To cut the to-do list. To play way, way, way more.
To live the life in front of me. Really live it.
I think the keys to patience are slowing down and being grateful. And maybe getting over yourself. And letting go of your sky-high expectations.
First, you've got to figure out when you often lose your patience and understand why...what triggers you? For me there are some basic physical things, like being tired or being hungry that usually mean a short fuse. Also, like a baby (or, in my case, like an introvert), being overstimulated (from too much noise for an extended period of time or too much time out-and-about) equals lack of patience for me. I wear out emotionally and psychologically as well as physically.
And I know that time pressure typically sends me over the edge. As soon as I feel the need to rush, all hell breaks loose. I yell at the kids to hurry up. I yell at the dog to get out of my way. I bumble stuff and drop things and forget things. I yell at the slow car in front of me to drive the speed limit. All because I feel rushed...I feel the pressure to perform and I know I'm not going to succeed in perfect fashion. The kids will get to school...but they will be late. Mommy fail.
But really? A fail?
No. Of course not. My rational brain knows that the kids being 5 minutes late to preschool is not a fail. Is it a minor annoyance for their teachers? Yes, probably (though maybe not even that). Is it a Mommy fail? No, not really. But once that old habit of perfectionism wrapped-up in my self-worth takes over, my animal brain takes hold and starts barking (Be on time! Get things done! Be productive! Be perfect!).
So what do I do?
Fight it. Go to the mattresses.*
Slow down. Be less busy. Take a time out. Count to ten. Let it go. Find something in the annoying situation to be grateful for.
And give myself a break. A great, big break.
Because nobody's perfect. Because no body can or should be "on" all the time. Because I don't need to be responsible and productive all the time. Because I don't want to be that.
That is not the person I want to be.
I want to be fun and creative and loving and warm and energetic and full of smiles and cuddles and and imagination and long chats. I want to be a yes-man to my children and my husband. And I want to be patient.
Impatience has a high cost. A hurried life creates unnecessary frustration and stress and anger. And it robs us of wonder and beauty and joy and moments that matter.
What's the worst that could happen if you're a few minutes late? What's the worst that could happen if you have to sit in traffic for ten minutes or get stuck waiting behind a slow person in line? What's the worst that could happen if the dishes sit in the sink or the email doesn't get returned or the phone goes unanswered or you miss an entire day of FaceBook updates? Usually it's nothing all that bad. And maybe, just maybe, by having to wait, you're exactly where you're supposed to be. Maybe you're supposed to feel a little awe over the beauty of that rainbow that you're only noticing because you're at a dead-stop on the expressway. Maybe you're supposed to be in the car longer than expected so that you can have a great conversation with your child. Maybe you're supposed to be headed out the door ten minutes late so that you'll miss the car that runs the red light right when you normally drive through that intersection. Maybe you'll find playing Candyland with your kids is way more interesting (and fun and relaxing) than who's doing what on FaceBook. Who knows. The point is this:
Maybe where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.
So you might as well enjoy it.
Slow down. Take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself, what is really important? Today. Right now. What is really important?
And go do that.
Speaking of which, I'm going to stow this computer and go hug my kids. We're going to have a tea party. And then maybe they'll want to play Candyland.
Until next time, practice patience and do a little more of the good stuff.
* Random double movie reference...see The Godfather or You've Got Mail. :-)