“Mom, are you sure they’re cooked?” Joey asked, poking at the scrambled eggs he’d just made for himself. “They look kind of raw.”
“I don’t know, you cooked them,” I told my 11-year old brusquely. “Just eat them, the bus is coming soon.”
“They just don’t look right, you know? See here? They’re runny.”
I looked over from where I stood at the refrigerator packing a yogurt for Henry’s lunch. “They don’t look too runny. Remember how in the movie Rocky he drinks raw eggs every morning? Just eat them.”
“I’m not sure they’re cooked enough.”
“Joey. EAT THEM. The bus will be here in ten minutes and you don’t even have your sneakers on. Or you can put them in the microwave—“
“But then they get all rubbery! I don’t know—“
“Then just forget it!” I shrieked, grabbing at the paper plate. “Here, I’ll put them in the garbage.” I opened the garbage disposal and dumped them in while he watched me, stunned.
Some days, I am not patient. I want to be patient. People have described me as patient. But the truth is, I can only be patient for so long and then something in me snaps.
It usually goes a little something like this:
“Wow, Henry! You can really sing The Ants Come Marching In so well!”
“Oh, we’re going to sing it again? Uh, okay.”
“How about just one last time, but a little quieter.”
“Can you whisper the song? Or maybe hum it?”
“Henry, there is no need to shout about the ants anymore.”
“STOP SINGING THAT SONG ALREADY I HAVE HEARD IT FIFTY THOUSAND TIMES!”
It doesn’t help matters that I happen to be (self) diagnosed with a little affliction called misophonia; a disorder where everyday sounds make a person angered, enraged, possibly even violent. Teeth gnashing at steak and tongues slurping milk and forks clattering on dishes can drive a person with such a condition to the brink of insanity. Other sounds that make aforementioned person crazy: pen-clicking, gum -snapping, and snoring.
Sadly, there is no cure.
(In August, we spent a night with some friends at their lake house and Joe snored all night long. At 2:00 am he woke to find me standing over him, promising—promising—there would be a homicide that weekend if he didn’t knock it off. Eyes wide with fear, my 200-something pound hulk of a husband fled the bedroom and took refuge. IN THE CAR. We found him in the morning, reclined in the front seat of the minivan like a homeless person. True story.)
The dictionary defines patient as able to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people.
But what is the measurement for patience? What is the benchmark? If I can listen to a five-year old bellow the ants go marching two by two HOORAH! HOORAH ten times in a row, am I a patient mother? Or is it fifteen times?
Even Fake Mom has her limits.
I know all the things—all the little tricks—we moms are supposed to use to stretch our patience like a springy rubber band; slowly counting to ten and taking deep breaths. Announcing Mommy needs a time-out now! and retreating to a quiet space.
People talk a lot about having the patience of Job, a man from the bible who suffered many trials and setbacks and pains in a sort of wager between God and the Devil. It was a chance for God to show how devoted Job was to him. Job took everything that happened to him—bad things like terrible sores on his body and the loss of money and family members. He never faulted God once.
Unlike Job and his tested patience, I fault my children constantly. If only they could be quieter or calmer or cleaner or whatever, I could be more patient. If only they would just stop singing and take showers when I ask them to and keep their food in their mouths. If only.
We’re working with a dog trainer, Sandy, to help with Wolfie. Jack asked where I met Sandy, and I answered that my friend Sally introduced us. Then he trailed me around for the next few hours asking me over and over again where I met Sandy.
Because I have nothing better to do with my time, I kept track of how many times he asked me this question one day this week. On Wednesday alone, he asked me thirty one times. Thirty one times! And the child was actually in school for six hours that day!
And this doesn’t include this conversation about the list of ingredients for waffles on the back of the Aunt Jemima box:
“Mom. Do we have pecans. We need them.”
“Let me see the box, Jack. No, they listed that under ‘other ideas’, see? That means it’s optional.”
“What do you mean.”
“Well, optional means you can add them if you like.”
“Who said that?”
“Well, I guess Aunt Jemima did.”
“When was she born?”
“Well, she’s not really real, she’s like a character.”
“Do we have pecans?”
“No, the pecans are OPTIONAL!”
“Why would she say it’s optional?”
I think perhaps even Job would snap, and he probably didn’t have misophonia like I do. They didn’t have stuff like that back then.
That night I stood next to Jack while he was brushing his teeth, and for the thirty-second time that day he asked me, “Where did you meet Sandy?” I demanded to know why he kept asking me that when he already knows the answer.
“I forgeted it a lot.”
“No you don’t,” I sneered through gritted teeth. “You never forget anything Jack. Tell me, why are you asking me this same question over and over?”
“To hear you. I like to hear you. Because you’re there.”
Last week I wrote about a dear little boy succumbed to Batten Disease on his eleventh birthday. Our town grieved for this beloved family, and we all promised to learn from their ordeal. We ran into one another in the grocery store and at the baseball game and the library, reciting the clichés worn threadbare over time; we would hug our kids a little tighter and live life to the fullest and appreciate every last moment.
In other words, my patience should abound. And for a few days, it did.
But by Monday I was back to my mean, ugly old self, arguing with Joey about undercooked eggs. And as I watched him tie his neon yellow sneakers and sling his backpack over one shoulder, my guilt and shame and anger balanced atop of one another like the most unstable house of cards. I mean, how could I write about the perspective we’ve been granted one day and be dumping my own child’s breakfast in the trash the next? What is wrong with me?
Joey and I walked wordlessly down to the bus stop, and when the big yellow bus roared to a stop, he got on without a look back. As I headed back up the driveway, I noticed Jack’s birthday balloons drifting lowly around the mailbox.
And I was sorry.
I was sorry I couldn’t be more patient.
I was sorry I couldn’t stretch my own rubber band far enough to right the wrong runny eggs.
Mostly, I was sorry my oldest son didn’t see me walk back into the house, open up the garbage, and take out the paper plate of eggs. I was sorry he didn’t see me sit at the counter by myself and eat them while hot tears pricked my eyes. Taking bite after slippery bite, I thought again of Job and what he would say.
I think he would say that patience is not a thing to measure or score. There is no benchmark. Instead, patience is the smallest gesture; counting the ants two by two and pouring cereal instead of eggs and answering the question for the thirty-third time. That the fullest life is lived not in platitudes and clichés, but in the details of breakfast and singing and optional pecans.
Suddenly I couldn’t wait until Joey came home from school that afternoon, so I could tell him he was right. The eggs were runny. But they were also delicious.