From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Blown Away

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

James Baldwin

It’s really true that we have to teach through behavior, not just with words.

I used to chide my three-year-old son, Noah, “You must learn to be patient” or “You have got to learn to wait,” all the while knowing that patience is not one of my finer qualities. In fact, I’m terribly impatient. I’ve always recognized this and tried to catch myself before I blew my top in front of him, but it wasn’t until he started calling other drivers “idiot” that I knew I had to change.

In an effort to control my impatience, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to wait. But my body language spoke as loudly as my words. My jaw clenched; my shoulders rose up; my arms and legs stiffened. Had steam come out of my ears, I could have been a cartoon character.

Noah saw it all. That was no better.

I tried weighing the importance of each situation. Sometimes I was able to calm myself down, but I have a very fine point of focus. Too often even the little things seemed important at that moment. Why was the ring on the milk jug so hard to get off? Who left the bathroom light on again? Where did all the pens go? These little things undermined my sense of control. So much of my life involved managing details, and I wasn’t used to relinquishing the reins. I needed to broaden my scope.

So I focused on the “big picture” whenever possible. I counted my blessings—my family, home, dishwasher and flush toilets. Sometimes it worked, but I didn’t always remember the larger meanings of the journey of life while in line at the grocery store. It was the store’s fault for not having enough checkouts open. It was other people’s fault for needing so much food. It was the clock’s fault for ticking so fast.

These absurd thoughts raced through my head like a bad habit. It crushed me to realize I was transferring this negativism and criticism to Noah. I just couldn’t find a way to stop myself.

Then one morning, Noah was engrossed in peeling the price tag off a book while I struggled to get him dressed. We weren’t in our usual rush, but I could feel my blood rising. I felt frustrated, and then I felt frustrated at feeling frustrated.

Exasperated, I sat down and looked at my son. “I’m sorry, Noah. I’m no good at this. I think you should teach me how to be patient.”

“It’s easy, Mama,” he said. “Sometimes at school we want to go outside, and we say, ‘Mrs. B, when are we going outside? When are we going outside?’ and she says, ‘Oh, you kids. We have music or snack first, and you have to be patient. Just put it in your hands and blow it away like this.’”

Noah cupped his hands in front of his face, puffed up his cheeks and blew. “And that’s patience, see Mama? You just blow it!”

As I watched him demonstrate, my frustration dissolved into laughter.

I don’t know if he realized that it was the laughter that calmed me down, but from then on, whenever I got impatient and Noah was nearby, he’d say, “Be patient, Mama. Just blow it!” I’d laugh again and mock blowing out a big breath into my hands.

Yes, I’ve always known that example is the best way to learn. I just never expected that my child would be the teacher and I would be the student.

Kristin Walker

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