It’s such a worthy and passive virtue isn’t it? Up there with decency, tolerance and honour, especially when viewed through the lens of our young and active selves. I remember when I was in Adland and having to describe myself in three words, I’d choose between sexy adjectives like ambitious, courageous, spirited, driven, adventurous…
Jon has often commented on my patience with the girls, and I’ve just thanked him, and continued with whatever particularly tricky Lego construction I was working on with them. But I’ve been musing on Patience, and I’ve realised that actually it’s maybe the biggest compliment he could pay me.
Patience isn’t sighing and whisking a crying child into the buggy to walk off their upset; it’s taking the time to cuddle them and work out what they’re looking at, what they’re desperate to communicate but don’t have the words, and discovering – of course! – it’s because one of the toy spiders has fallen off the mantelpiece.
Patience is never ending a snuggle on the sofa yourself, but waiting for them to spy something more interesting than your arms.
Patience isn’t putting Radio 1 on full blast to drown out the distress on the back seat; it’s singing Incy Wincy 17,000 times, complete with actions, until the distress has turned into giggles.
It’s laughing along with them when they keep trying to post a square through a blatantly triangular hole, and gently showing them the error of their ways.
It’s holding two little hands and doing endless toddling circuits of the living room, until they decide it’s time to stop.
Patience is being in full agreement with the twins that going Peekaboo round the curtain of the den is as funny the hundredth time as it was the first, in the same way ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ deserves reading ten times in a row.
And it reaps its rewards. After a full month of the daily heartbreak of sobs as I abandon them at nursery in the morning (both mine and theirs) I was waved off this morning with smiles and blown kisses.
Essentially, Patience is revelling in the now. It’s not wishing the hours away, hours that crumble through your fingers like butterfly wings, forever gone. It’s resisting spending time thinking how lovely it will be when they can walk, when they’re at ballet, our first horse ride; Patience is looking at that smile – those little teeth that will only look exactly that way for this one moment in time – and grinning back at its transient beauty.
It’s therefore NOT the dictionary definition of enduring difficulties, because that would be to see the cries and the strops and the stumbles as a negative, when actually they are all little miracles of growth. My girls cry because they want to say or do something and they can’t. It’s their ambition, courage, spirit, drive and adventurousness in action, but frustrated.
But Patience has a remit beyond mothering, and applies equally to the adult world. It’s telling that, whilst there are Greek gods for everything down to messaging and metalwork, there was none for Patience. Because in ancient times it wasn’t a virtue you aspired to, you simply had to be. In fact, Old English had no word for Patience. Its nearest equivalent would be ‘belaefan’ or ‘to be living’, the very definition of the present continuous, in the now. And therefore it’s very close to believing: an acceptance that we’re not in control, and that, if we allow life time, it will fall into place.
The reason I think it’s one of the greatest compliments Jon could pay me is that it’s a quality I generally struggle with. I have been ill for some time now but am finally on the mend. I have noticed, as I can feel normal service resuming, I am champing like an over excited horse to get out the gates. My things to do list stretches to pages. I have accepted not just one voluntary job but TWO (and for one of them I get to wear a genuine NHS badge, OMG!) I’ve bought practically every book going on Psychology and am already thinking beyond the MSc to what further courses and training I can do. I run the risk of being the most academically over qualified psychologist to never practice, though that doesn’t stop me fantasising about being promoted to Head of Department within a year of qualifying…I’m plotting redecoration schemes of multiple houses we might buy and garden offices and joining the WI and learning how to make the perfect apple pie and being a school governor and organising a theoretical babysitting circle in a village near a place we might move to and heck why stop at that, why not set up a whole Saughall Pound and then become a Councillor off the back of it. I’m whizzing round the Wirral in MY CAR and planning adventures I can go on. I’ve researched horse riding stables and walks and retracing the local Viking heritage and going on a Mummy and Joe trip to the Faroes or Ladakh in search of the snow leopard…STOP.
I am doing exactly what I have always done.
How many times did I wish that I could stay at home with four year old Joe and roll around on the carpet and make dens and paint our faces and just BE? To have the time to sketch murals on his wall and make cushions for the sofa and then just relax on those cushions and enjoy them? To finish the Sunday papers? To look long enough at a rainbow to realise it has a twin? To not be so focussed on the future that I was blind to the wonder of what was happening right here, right now?
None of this is to say I shouldn’t go back to work. I need to, and I will. But I have had so many lessons during my life on getting priorities right; it’s time I reread my notes. I should be there for the girls, and for Jon, and for Joe. Not just to make them happy, but to keep ME happy. That’s not simply about balancing family life and a career; it’s about balancing my brain, so that whilst I must – and will – plan, much more mental space is devoted to the need to ‘belaefan’.
It’s about growing up. Realising that Patience is infinitely more important than ambition, courage, spirit, drive and adventurousness. It’s actually the most active virtue there is.
Because what is Patience, but another word for Love?