Learning patience

How do I teach my daughter patience? She is beside me, trying very hard to sleep, but her forehead is furrowed, her lips pursed, her body tense. Hers is the face of suppressed exasperation. She is also trying very hard not to cry.

Thirty minutes earlier we were just fine, laughing along in bed with her daddy, waiting for sleep to come. I don’t know who started snapping fingers — maybe I did, or was it Richard? I do not remember. You know how it is when you randomly do something you’ve always done practically all your life and somebody suddenly develops a fascination with it? Well, eight-year-old Juliana just decided she is fascinated with snapping fingers, specifically the clicking sound it makes, and she wants to produce that same sound with her own little fingers. Now.

She is so excited to learn she snaps, and snaps, and snaps some more — thumb meeting middle finger and slipping quickly away from each other over and over again. But she is so new at it and so desperate to learn the technique she sinks into a cloud of frustration with every silent, failed attempt. “How difficult can it be?” she states matter-of-factly. She tries again. She fails. The cloud is now bigger, she sinks in deeper. “How old were you when you learned to do that, Mom?” she tearfully asks. “I don’t remember when,” I tell her with a big smile, trying to make light of it. “I never gave it any thought.” She tries again. She is maybe on attempt number 38 now, if I were to keep tab. Still no sound. I sense her impatience and frustration even before she finally acknowledges it out loud. To make her feel better I show her I can barely make the same snapping sound on my right hand. I tell her I know for a fact, too, that I did not learn it overnight. Heck, to this day I still cannot even whistle, try as I may! None of these revelations lift her spirit; she still looks wounded. My poor baby.

How do I explain to her that most things, just like speaking and reading and writing, take time? That learning happens in bits and pieces, not in one-time, big-time whole chunks? She is putting pressure on herself and it’s not helping her any. I remember when she was just learning to write in big bold letters and she already wanted to learn script. She studied it on her own, outside school. Many tears and some weeks later, she got it. She was shiny and happy in her success. It was the same way with drawing. When she got bored with stick figures she ambitiously moved on to more sophisticated doodles — faces with real-looking eyes on top of three-dimensional bodies, words in fancy lettering, flowers with lovely details. When far from happy with what she’d drawn, she would crumple many sheets of scratch paper, snap a pencil, angrily cross out her work, like a teacher mad and incredulous at some student’s answer on a test sheet.

But one day I just found little notes and drawings on my desk, all showcasing not just her progress but her triumph. Her flowers and houses, “Dear Mommy”s, “I love you”s and “Love, Juliana”s were all done in beautiful colors, and fancy script. She still keeps them coming to this day and has her eyes set now on calligraphy.

I cuddle her and remind her gently about all those times, about how far away and silly those feelings of annoyance already seem now that she can do all these things easily. I tell her that one day she will add snapping of her fingers to that list. She is quiet, as if agreeing with me. She tries to snap her fingers again. There is a little sound but it still is not loud enough for impatient her. She is beyond frustration now and fat tears are forming like pools in her eyes, threatening to stream down her face. I hug her and honor her ache, not questioning it, allowing her/it to just be. I want to tell her it’s okay because there will be bigger things for hearts to get all broken up about when she gets older, and her world larger. But I just keep quiet. And when she has somehow settled in I teach her what I do when I am feeling the exact same way. I show her how I bury my face into the softest pillow I can find, allowing myself the luxury of a very loud scream that comes from the gut, passes through the heart, and out my mouth. That way I get to release my anger/frustration/disappointment without having to trouble anyone. She does it. I peel off the pillow and her eyes are wide with wonder. “That feels good, Mom,” she says, starting to giggle. She does it two more times. She really likes it, says she does not feel as bad anymore. I assure her that tomorrow there will be a finger-snapping breakthrough of some sort, perhaps very little but it will be there. And one day before she knows it, when she is all relaxed and just enjoying, it will just happen. She is happy with the thought.

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In our dining table is a cookie house from Goldilocks that we have been decorating for maybe over two weeks already. They send us a cookie house every year, for three years now, along with pretty candies in different shapes and sizes. With icing as our glue we decorate the cookie house, attaching candies in patterns and shapes. Each year it has been our goal to make it look like a house Hansel and Gretel would like to live in. This time around, we are successful. Juliana and I are happy to say our cookie house has never been this pretty, this sturdy. Unlike the years past, we took our time with this one, working on one side at a time. We let it sit. We stared at it quite a lot. If we weren’t quite sure about the direction to take, if we were not totally sold on a design idea, we waited it out. Inspiration will just come, it will happen, we would tell each other. There were days when we would not touch it all, weekends, too, when that was practically all we did. We did not allow little mistakes, little cracks and chips here and there to frustrate us. We were open to things going not quite as planned — running out of a particular candy, miscalculating distances between points, breadsticks on the roof breaking at the ends. We incorporated our flaws into the design, hiding imperfections when we could, rejoicing in those that turned out to be design blessings in disguise. Yes, we did not rush through this one. And when we got tired, we simply stopped.

We finished the cookie house in time for its deadline yesterday. It is to be exhibited together with many other cookie houses decorated by many others for a project with Gawad Kalinga. Thinking about it now, that is the one thing we did differently this year — we were very patient with not only the task at hand but with ourselves as well. Tolerance was key.

I look at my daughter again, sleeping now, forehead no longer furrowed, curled like a little pink shrimp beside me. How do I teach her patience? Tomorrow when she wakes up I will tell her about the little Goldilocks cookie house we made. Maybe then she will understand that patience is indeed an asset and that some things, finger-snapping included, will really just have to take some time.

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