Keep Calm and Carry On: How I'm Trying (and Failing) to Teach My Kids PatienceDawn Meehan
I used to be a pretty laid-back individual. I think it’s time for me to admit that I’m no longer the easy-going, patient person I once was. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I abandoned my que sera sera attitude and replaced it with one of perpetual annoyance, but it has definitely happened. I want to be an eternally happy person. I strive toward that goal. I want to be the kind of person who brings a smile to the face of everyone I encounter. I fall short of that goal. Daily.
The other day, I took my kids to a theme park. Somehow these happy places tend to bring out the absolute worst in me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t always act like a nice person at theme parks, and the last time we went I noticed my kids taking my cue and getting frustrated over things that never used to bother them. I don’t want them picking up bad behavior from anywhere, least of all from me! This time, as I drove toward the entrance to pay for parking, I vowed, “I’m going to be really good today. I’ll keep a smile on my face, I’ll be happy, and I won’t say that I hate people even once. I won’t even get mad when self-absorbed tourists randomly stop in the middle of a walkway like they’re the only people on the planet because they’re inconsiderate jerks who shouldn’t be allowed out in public!”
“Mom, it sounds like you’re already mad at people.”
“No, no, noooooo, no. I’m just saying that I will remain positive and will not get mad at rude people today, ” I said in my best talking a person down off a ledge, scary-calm voice.’
Dubious, my kids rolled their eyes and murmured, “Uh-huh.”
“Seriously. I can do it! I’ll be really nice!” I insisted.
We made it to the booth where I paid for parking, then I sat there unable to move forward because the car in front of me had simply stopped driving and was just sitting there for reasons known only to them.
“The accelerator is the one on the right. Use it!” I instructed the car in front of me, sarcasm dripping from my voice.
“I think you blew it already, Mom,” came the comments from the peanut gallery.
“No, noooooo. I wasn’t being mean. I was just trying to be helpful because they seem to have forgotten how to drive.” Then I turned back around and addressed the car through my windshield. “I’m not sure what your problem is, but perhaps you can continue to drive while figuring it out so as not to create a huge back-up,” I said in a voice sweet enough to cause a cavity.
We inched through the parking garage like a line of ants marching to the watermelon at a picnic. “Oh, come on, people! This is not rocket science! You follow the line of cars and park in the next empty spot where the guy is directing you! Really, why is this so difficult?” My lament broadly covered every vehicle in front of me.
“Um, Mom … ” My kids looked at me disapprovingly.
“I mean take your time, people. There’s no rush. I understand that parking can be pretty complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to see the employee in the bright orange vest with the light stick motioning to the parking space,” I backpedaled while using Herculean effort to tamp down the sarcasm.
We parked, disembarked, and shuffled along like cattle, lost in the crowd of people approaching the park.
I stepped onto the moving walkway and continued walking toward the entrance. Several people in front of me were standing on the moving walkway, blocking the path. After saying, “Excuse me” numerous times, finally the crowd parted and moved out of my way. I muttered under my breath, “Does no one have common courtesy anymore? If you want to stand, move to the right, keeping the left side clear for walkers. If you want to walk, stay to the left, don’t plow into people who’d like to stand. Why does everyone think they’re the only people on the planet?”
“Ahem, Mom,” my kids shook their heads at me, a silent reminder of my vow.
“What I meant to say was We don’t need to walk, kids. Patience is a virtue. Let’s just stand here behind these people and admire each other,” I stated with a smile that stretched my face so far I thought for sure my ears would touch in the back of my head.
My kids and I voted on which ride to visit first and headed in that direction. On the way, we were confronted by groups of people who came to sudden, screeching stops while walking along. Like cars that had run out of gas, they grinded to a halt causing a multi-car, er um, multi-person pile-up in their wakes. I launched into a passive-aggressive rant. “Oh, let’s stop right HERE! Nevermind that it’s in the middle of a walkway! Who cares about the people behind us. We own this park!” I dramatically stalked off, stomping around the offending park-goers in a huff.
“Mom, you totally blew it!”
Ashamed of my behavior, I tried again. The next time a group of people who stopped dead in their tracks right in front of us, I asked (instead of going postal on them), “Can I help you? Are you lost? Do you want me to take your picture?”
The family looked at me like I’d just told them I wanted to eat their livers with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
I whipped my head around to my kids and gave them a pointed See? SEE? I tried to be nice and THIS is what I get!’ look. Then, with concerted effort, I shrugged it off like it was no big deal. I had been friendly and helpful. I have no control in how others respond.
I made a hasty retreat and continued walking. We arrived at our first ride and got in line. People filed in behind me, and by “behind me,” I mean that people started mistaking me and the guy “behind me” for conjoined twins. I considered my options. I could:
- Start talking loudly about how the test results had come back and none of the doctors know what my rash is, but they agree it’s highly contagious.
- Turn around and start fake-coughing like I have Typhoid.
- Swing my backpack up over my shoulder, taking out his eye with the maneuver.
- Turn around and say, “If you hit me in the butt one more time, I’m going to expect dinner!”
- Take a deep breath, pretend like some random guy isn’t attached to me like a barnacle, go to my happy place, and show my kids that we can still be civilized even when surrounded by annoying people.
I chose option 5. Then I got a beer immediately after the ride.
When you become a parent, you become an automatic role model. Your kids will see and absorb every little thing you do. How you behave matters. Yes, there will be times when you fail, times when you display the very behavior you don’t want them emulating, times when you fail to display the behavior you do want them to follow. We’re human. We’re flawed. It’s going to happen. But what you do when you behave in a way that is less than perfect matters too. Let your kids know that grown-ups make mistakes and don’t always act appropriately. Then try your best to correct your less-than-wonderful habits and replace them with better ones. You’ll be happy you did when you see your kids following in your footsteps (and your footsteps are the kinds that leave smiles on the faces of the people you encounter, not the kind that demonstrate impatient intolerance.)
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Image courtesy of Flickr