Impatience is a virtue 

I write this sitting cross legged on the floor just outside my son’s door, impatiently waiting for him to fall asleep. Tonight he is singing and calling for me and telling me wild anecdotes about his day and thrashing and jumping out of his cot, still, an hour after I put him in it. I’m guarding the door. I was looking forward to a glass of wine, a little unwinding: some writing before my own bedtime. Feelings of impatience rip through my chest and lash through my veins. I’m chomping at the bit. I want wine and silence and the bath I drew for myself has gone cold.

It has only recently occurred to me that impatience is a virtue that I should cultivate alongside the patience I have so virtuously, proudly, hot-housed and fussed over and displayed for all to see. I have lived so much of my good-girl life by the truth that patience is what gets you into heaven, buys you love, changes the world. And maybe those things are true, but the cost is a loss of self. I’m not sure that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

When I tried to end with my therapist two years ago, I felt, six years in, that I’d had a cure, he tentatively suggested I perhaps hadn’t felt ‘frustrated enough’ with him. This astonished me then, and I understand now, having spent the last two years welcoming in those uncomfortable feelings. Frustration and impatience and anger and longing are the painful, sharp intakes of breath that remind me I am alive. I was still living inside the confines of a bovine, vegetable life. I was someone who wanted just the right amount, just enough, was, as my husband observed, ‘pathologically reasonable.’ I hadn’t grappled with the terrible, beautiful places longing and frustration take me if I decide I might let myself want too much, be too much, love too much. I hadn’t let myself be impatient very often.

To feel impatient means to know what one really wants. Even if it can’t be had. At least it can be known.

I love the paradox of this though. Parenting requires insane amounts of patience. Any sentient, sane person would balk at the amount required to spend a day with a three year old. I wish there was some way to measure capacities or patience tolerances. Like blood sugar or blood alcohol. What percentage of my blood is patience, I could ask my doctor. If it gets above certain levels, maybe I could get an injection or a pill or be admitted to hospital. I’m probably in danger of psychic death.

I’m trying to stay alive to the hot pricks of impatience that needle me after the 468th why question in the afternoon or the 238th request for more water at bedtime. These are feelings that are culturally taboo for parents (perhaps especially women?) to feel, much less voice, and it requires some real intention to dignify them with some space to exist. It’s hard to admit to feeling impatience because the guilt-over is so bad after. Impatience is also a hard feeling to bear. It is hard work to want and not have, and to do so bucks the logic of late-stage capitalism. But maybe there is some virtue in at least knowing what you want, even if you can’t have it.

And so I’m opening the floodgates. I want to ride these waves of despair, feel them crash against me and well up inside. They remind me that I have needs and desires too, it is not just my incredibly strong willed son who endlessly wants. I also endlessly want and am not satisfied just like him, and I too am unquenchably curious with a million questions, and I too try and shift my own bedtime later and later even at the expense of needed sleep because I want to stay up so I can read and think and eat and play and explore and love. I get it. And this is what makes me feel sympathy towards him. I understand, personally, how generative it is to want. And perhaps this is, as Esther Perel so elegantly theorises about desire, ‘a paradox to be a managed, not a problem to be solved.’ My son wants and I want. Patience is maybe what enables me to generously let his wanting and curiosity take precedence, for now. This is his time to find his footing in the world, latch on to his burgeoning desires. And impatience is what allows me to keep a hold of my own, it is what tells me I might need a break soon, some time to myself, some wine, time to write, a walk, some soul food to read. Even if I can’t have it right now. I can at least eat the feeling. And so, as I answer the question, ‘BUT mummy how do cats laugh,’ and feel the surges of pleasure and bemusement -it was probably one in a long string of questions and observations I’ve been attentive to over the hours and hours- I also tune into the crackling of my own impatience.

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

No greater love hath a friend than to know the exact co ordinates of her mates literary taste and then to warmly hand her a book saying, I think you’ll love this, she talks about so many of the things you talk about. I feel like I’ve been re-born after reading Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living. Her voice is dazzling and in her thinking on motherhood and writing, she places De Beauvoir’s ‘deadly patience’ of mothers side by side with desire. That is when the penny dropped.

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