“Daddy, I need to use the potty,” came the little voice in the backseat. I sighed. We were only 20 minutes into our 3 hour drive, and already it was beginning. The latest in my daughter’s attempts to push the limits and figure out where the boundaries are (and maybe even answer the question- who really is in charge here?)
Rewind to just a few days earlier. We had been making the same trip (only in reverse), and had stopped exactly 3 times in our 3-hour-turned-4-hour-long trip. We would have stopped more, except that mommy and daddy were starting to get a little wiser about our 2-1/2 year old, fully potty trained, daughter’s antics.
You see, at each stop she would ALMOST make it into the bathroom before peeing her pants, stretching out our stop as we dug around in our bags for spare undies and pants, and then hit the road again only to hear her whining for another pee stop just 20 minutes later. This from the girl who will play for hours before finally admitting that her wiggly self has to use the potty, and STILL make it there on time, nice and dry.
To say my patience meter was at its max is an understatement, really. I felt like I was going to boil over on the inside, all the while trying to calmly deal outwardly with my daughter. I was feeling mad, annoyed, frustrated, and trying to come up with a creative, awesome mom solution to keep this from ever happening AGAIN while also not coming across as a total JERK to my daughter (I don’t always strike this balance well, by the way).
The Seasons of Patience
Throughout my life there have been many different seasons of learning patience. Different circumstances or relationships that have pushed the edges of my ability to keep my cool and a gentle spirit. I suspect everyone has these seasons as well, although for some (like me) the ability to remain patient under pressure is a real challenge. A real growth exercise.
There have been simple circumstances, like the Cleveland rush hour traffic jam that I (and my poor mother) will never forget. I was probably 14 or 15, and my frustration about being stuck in traffic rose to the point where a simple disagreement with my youngest brother turned into an all out brawl, in which I got a chunk of my arm ripped out (I still have a scar). Classy.
Or how about the season where I knew Mike and I were going to get married, but he still hadn’t proposed to me yet. I watched while several friends got engaged and married, some who had even started dating after Mike and I had. I tried not to let it show to him or my getting-married friends, but man was that a painful couple of months to wait, and wait, and wait.
And bringing home a colicky baby who never slept, day or night, and rarely stopped crying unless she was being nursed. Those were desperate, sleepless months.
Even now, long since Olivia stopped crying 12 hours a day and started sleeping through the night, motherhood has never really stopped being one test after another for this impatient heart. It has been a supreme gift and privilege as well, but one that has not been received without some blood, sweat, and tears on my part.
I’m also certain motherhood will not be the last source of testing for my impatient heart either. It’s just the one I’m face with most frequently right now.
Since I’ve been in some sort of season of the testing of my patience for nearly 3 straight years now (Olivia’s birthday is next Monday!!!), there has been more time and opportunity for me to start examining my patience (or lack thereof). What is it that makes me tick so easily? What is really going on internally?
One thing I have noticed is that very rarely does my lose of patience have anything to do, truly, with what the person (or persons) in the circumstance around me are doing or have done. Like Olivia’s bathroom escapades. She’s not quite 3. She’s still working out the whole potty training deal. She is also, very naturally, exploring her independence. Learning how the world works. She’s not being totally outright rebellious. I don’t even think she’s trying to push my buttons. She’s just being herself. She’s learning, and I can sometimes be a pretty poor teacher!
What is really setting me on edge are my own unmet, unrealistic expectations. Honestly, I’ve realized recently that deep, deep down, I expect Olivia to be perfect (cue the laughter, please). Am I insane? I can’t live two hours without messing something up, and here I expect my practically just born daughter to get it all right 100% of the time. It’s like I am truly shocked when, surprise, surprise, potty training wasn’t just a 2 minute basic training course and smooth sailing from there. And the impatience meter starts to creep up there.
Noticing these expectations has made me more aware in the moments when I start to feel myself loosing it. Even if it doesn’t totally dissipate the feeling of frustration and impatience, it helps keep me on level ground when I can mentally assess, “Ok, why am I feeling this way? What was I expecting to happen that isn’t right now, and was it fair to expect that?” Most of the time, it wasn’t. The common mantra around here is, “She’s only 2.” She is ONLY 2, geeze louise. Let’s cut everyone some slack here!
Similarly, other circumstances, like that traffic jam, or waiting for a ring, have surfaced heart-level issues that I have needed to deal with and get rid of. For me, these issues tend to circle around the ideas that life isn’t perfect, and I am not in control of everything.
The Log and the Speck
Another thing has really jumped out at me recently regarding my lack of patience with my children. You see, I believe that it is my job as my children’s mother to be their primary teacher and guide. They aren’t born potty trained. Someone has to do the job.
They also aren’t born with a natural bent toward patience. Someone has to teach them.
This has big ramifications for me. How can I teach my daughter patience when I’m constantly going over the top about her simple, 2-year-old, immaturity? And worse, what kind of mother am I when I am constantly nit-picking her imperfections, her shortcomings, the places she has yet to fully master, and I’m the one who has yet to live a perfect minute of her life in 25 full years?
Then Jesus’s words came to mind:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
Who cares about that tiny speck of sawdust in Olivia’s eye? So what, it’s taking a few tries and a few months to totally master potty training? There will be a few bumps in the road, but her learning to be potty trained is downright insignificant compared to the big fat log of impatience sticking out of my eye. The one I all too often use to whack other people in my life with when the going feels tough.
We can easily deal with potty training (whoever heard of teenager entering high school and still wearing pull-ups?) But this whole patience thing? That has a lifetime of testing and failing and learning and trying again attached to it. For me, as well as the daughter who is looking up at me with wet underwear and those deep dark probing eyes, asking me to show her how to do this thing called lifewell. Oh man, it’s a sobering thing to be a mother.
Olivia, I will deal with your potty training later. First, mama needs to deal with her own heart. She needs to recenter and renew her own heart and mind. Uproot those vicious, life killing expectations. Reel in the impatience. Surgically remove that log before it hurts someone else. Maybe then I will be able to see clearly enough to remove the sawdust in your eye before it takes root and grows into a new log that looks just like the one your mama carried…
before it takes root and grows into your own log.