Today I spent 3 or 4 minutes watching my 17-month-old try to put the cap back on a blue marker. This was the same one she had used to actually draw with for about 12 seconds.
And that's all I did. I watched. Even though I wanted to tell her to draw longer with that color before she moved on. Or at least help her get the cap on faster so we could move to the NEXT color.
Think about where I'm coming from. I'm used to a fast-paced work environment with near-unrealistic deadlines and endless interruptions. I'm used to checking my email, while I'm cooking dinner, while I'm doing the laundry, while I'm preventing a toddler from eating whatever that is she just picked up from the floor. I'm used to figuring out how many callbacks I can tackle while I'm driving from point A to point B, so that I can feel like I didn't just waste twenty minutes in the car. I'm used to having to choose between being productive, doing something fun, or taking a nap in the few free minutes I have when I'm not working, commuting, or hanging out with my little girl (sleep usually wins).
Hell, our whole society is built like that these days. People don't read; they scan. People multitask to the point of being ineffectual. People Google interesting facts for hours, then don't retain any of that information in their memories. People can't focus on one thing for more than five minutes. We've trained ourselves that way and it's a hard habit to break.
Even if we aren't actually doing multiple things at once, our brain won't let it go. Right now as I write this, I'm thinking about the budget that isn't balanced, the stack of papers on my desk I need to deal with, the dinner I'm not going to have time to cook / eat before heading out tonight if I don't do it right now, and the Minecraft house that is in dire need of a roof. I can't help it.
And so sitting still, watching a little human being try SO slowly and SO carefully for SO long to complete a simple task is really tough.
But here's the thing. She's been teaching me that when she wants help, she'll ask for it. And otherwise, I'd better move the heck over and let her try for as long as it takes. I'm so grateful for her independence. I bet another kid would let me help more. Would let me give more guidance (maybe even more snuggles–but that's a story for another time). But not mine. She's wanted to "do it herself" since day one.
So here I am, writing this down. I'm learning patience again, and it's beautiful to be forced to slow down just a little, sometimes. Slow down to the speed of toddler.
And she's teaching me a lot more than how to be patient. She's showing me how fascinating and brilliant and intricate and stubborn she is. As I watch her trying so hard to learn a new thing, I see how much she WANTS to learn. Wanting to learn is huge. That's hard to teach. I have to do anything I can to nurture her natural desire to do so. That's the kind of support she needs.
And then I see that each time I let her struggle a little with a task, those are the times she actually figures out how to do it. She doesn't get frustrated if it takes a little while. She only gets frustrated if I interrupt her to "help." And man, when she gets that blue cap on for the first time with her tiny little fingers, that grin on her face is just about the best thing in the whole world.
And then, of course, she wants to try with the green one!