It seems like such a simple thing. It almost seems silly to even say that we need to “practice” it. But if you are like me, you know you need to practice. Do you? Sometimes, when you remember, or when you realize you are mad that your toddler has been pressing the same button on his Leap Pad tablet for the past three minutes, even though you know it’s irrational to be mad about something so silly. Or maybe you recognize it at night, when everyone else is asleep (because let’s face it, those memes on Facebook about moms staying up later than everyone else in the family are pretty true). Whether you notice it in the moment or late at night, it’s still something you notice. And it’s something we could all work on.
Currently, my toddler son (the button pusher I may have been talking about above) is putting together his new Thomas train track tower he got for Christmas. The track has some supports you can put under the rails so they don’t collapse as the train comes down. Well, he’s not really putting the track together as much as he’s making a tower out of the supports and carrying the three-foot “castle” over to my coffee table saying “look at my castle, Mommy! Mommy! Look at my castle! Mommy! Mommy, look!” I feel like Lois Griffin in that one episode of Family Guy where Stewie says “Mom! Mommy! Mom! Mom! Ma!” so many times that she screams “WHAT?!”. I haven’t screamed, though.
In the other corner we have my almost one year old playing with her stuffed animals while sitting in the cat bed. She’s usually attached to me, and if I am not holding her she is either crying, pulling on my leg, or directly under my feet, conveniently making walking that much more difficult. Right now she’s calm, quiet, and not clinging to me, so I am not even going to fight it. The cat barely sleeps in his bed anyways. I’m pretty sure you can find him on MY bed right now, curled up in a ball on whatever clean clothes I have laying there. Because you know, the daily cycle, right?
Both of these things seem trivial, and on a normal day, they are pretty much just the general run-of-the-mill activities. But today… well today has been “a day.” Now here is a perfect chance for me to practice.
Sometimes when you are in the moment, it’s hard to get back to calm. I understand that. There were a few extremely rough months when the baby was brand new and my son, who had been an only child for a little over 2 years, wasn’t handling it well, and I yelled. I yelled a lot, and felt so guilty later. I used to cry on the couch when the day was over and everyone else was asleep (if you’re reading this and that’s you, just know you’re not alone; your babies love you so much, and tomorrow is a new day! Hugs to you)! But I was so mad! Why wouldn’t he listen? Where did this attitude come from? How hard is it to pick up two toys and put them away? Does he hate me? He must hate me to act like such a butt. He must be broken. Am I broken?
I wasn’t practicing patience at that time. I was trying to figure out the whole having two kids thing, so I was just kind of winging it, over-eating and crying. One of the greatest pieces of advice someone gave me was that if things are boiling over for me, stop. If no one is in danger of being hurt, just stop for a minute. Let him make the mess. It might be irritating to me, but it’s not hurting anyone. Or if he’s shouting, let him shout. For myself, just stop. Take a few breaths and in those few breaths think about why I’m angry. Is repeatedly pressing the same button over and over annoying? Of course. Is it the end of the world? Absolutely not. Is his castle tower three inches from my face the end of the world? Nope. Is it worth shouting about? Is it worth causing him anxiety? Is it worth making him cry? Should we both feel bad and have a crappy day because of the annoying little things three year olds do? Absolutely not. Nothing happening in these moments is really worth becoming so angry over that we can’t just stop and calmly deal with the situation.
So in this moment of taking a breath, we all have a choice. Do we shout, yell, or speak sternly at our children because we are irritated by their actions? Or do we practice patience? Do we stop to realize that play is their way of learning, that they aren’t REALLY doing anything wrong, messes can be cleaned, and that they are only this little once? In this moment of taking a breath, it is also a good idea to realize that we are most likely NOT angry at our children, but we are upset for another reason, whether it was our boss, bad coffee, a traffic jam, something our significant other said, or any other number of things built up from the day – nothing our children did. We need to take this moment, these few breaths, and find a way to calmly deal with the situation rather than exploding on these tiny humans who look so lovingly at us for guidance and comfort.
After these breaths, we need to choose patience. I know it seems much easier said than done. I still need work on this. That is why it is called PRACTICE. This practice can be applied in pretty much every area of our lives, so there are always moments to practice. You’re in a traffic jam and you’re mad because *insert your reason here*. Everyone in the universe went to the grocery store at the same time as you when you really only went for one thing and now it’s taking a century. Irritating? Of course. But here is where we can breathe, here is where we can focus on the things we can change about the situation, and if there is no physical thing we can change, then we can change our attitude.
It all sounds so cliché. But after talking with professionals (my son was in early intervention for speech) and picking their brains about why my son possibly hates me (turns out he actually doesn’t!), I got the same answers: practice patience, and if nothing else, change your attitude. These little creatures need us and they need our patience, and in turn, as they grow we can teach them the same things we have learned. Because someday, we might need the same from them.
Also, the cat was right where I said he was, right on my clean jeans. Go figure.