On Waiting. Or WHERE’S MY MARSHMALLOW?

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After Gbot and I stopped at the third home-improvement store in two days, in search of proper track lighting, proper bulbs, an adequate fan, and a dimmer switch in the right size plate in the right color (the less off- of two off-whites), I was waiting in line at the Starbucks.  I deserved, I thought, something I had not made myself. I was pleased to see there were four cars ahead of me, because of the new gift I’m giving myself, the time to read. I reached across to the passenger seat where my copy of Pamela Druckerman‘s Bringing Up Bebe was optimistically waiting.

Last night, I got to the part in the book about waiting. That is, making your child wait. Not too long. Just long enough to begin to teach him how to deal with small frustrations. The theory is, if he learns to self-distract, if he learns patience, he will be happier and more successful in dealing with the old frustrting world which certainly, on a daily basis, makes you wait. Having a child wait also has the happy effect of keeping the constant requests that ricochet off a mother’s skull fourteen hours a day from actually penetrating bone and causing the gray matter to dribble out onto your blouse. “Attend,” the French mothers simply say. “Wait.” And, astoundingly, the demand is met, according to Druckerman, with actual waiting.

I thought I’d been effectively saying Wait. But in the past few days, we’ve been practicing more. I have said it twenty times today, in situations ranging from “I want a drink of water” to “I need a pencil.”

Needless to say, in the past sixty “waits,” I’ve become acutely aware of how immediately my children want things, all the time.

As I was waiting in the drive-through, reading as fast as I could, I remembered the famous marshmallow test of the sixties–and then, several paragraphs down, Druckerman brought it up. She not only discusses it, but she goes to the source–one reason I am enjoying this book so much. She meets the man behind the marshmallows, Walter Mischel who invented the famous marshmallow test.

The marshmallow test isn’t a way to choose the best filling for your s’more–it was a longterm study on how the ability to delay gratification in childhood relates directly to an adult’s longterm success in school and a career.

Briefly, the marshmallow test involved watching on hidden cameras a child left alone in a room at a table with a single marshmallow on it. The child has been told that if he doesn’t eat the marshmallow right away, he’ll get another soon (in fifteen minutes). Then the child is left alone in the room. Just he and his impulses and the marshmallow. Seventy percent of the time, the results were the same as when Walter the Farting Dog (not, apparently, named after Walter Mischel), was left in the cruise ship’s hold with the cheese. (Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise.) (Walter eats the whole cheese.) The children who didn’t eat the marshmallow–who waited and got two–proved to be more successful in school, have significantly higher SAT scores, and feel more fulfilled in their careers later in life.

The marshmallow test revealed not only that the children with self control would learn to fare better in the world, but how they did it. They weren’t just better at being patient–merely sitting quietly with their hands folded–but at–lo and behold–distracting themselves while they waited.

After waiting in the drive-through for nearly ten minutes, I got my coffee, and I got a reading fix. (I was distracting myself from waiting for my coffee by reading.) Gbot and I returned home with our bounty of electrical gadgets, and the electrician announced we would have to wait ’til Monday for him to finish the job. No lights in the bedrooms for four days. Waiting. It’s for everyone.

But I have too many things to do to let lightless bedrooms faze me. And–not married until thirty-nine–I’ve got a lot of years of practice under my belt.

For the bots, this waiting thing hasn’t been easy. As I type, Mbot is slouched in a chair looking at The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit, by Susan Lowell. He doesn’t want to be looking at the book, or sitting in the chair. Husbot has told him that it’s time to sit quietly in the chair with a book. The moment Husbot leaves the room, Mbot slides off the chair, his feet touching the ground, and makes eye contact with me over the edge of the book. He points to the sofa. His mouth quivers. Tears begin to fall. “Mama,” he wails.

Husbot returns. “You’re old enough to practice sitting in the chair,” he says. Tears. More “Mamas.” It is uncomfortable being me right now because my heart has migrated across the room and is in that chair while the rest of my body perches, feeling heartless, on my own chair. “I’m just waiting and wating,” wails Mbot. “I really just wanted to hug Mama…”

I know this is best. I know he must learn to distract himself. I know it is harder for Mbot to learn this than for many children–Gbot, for example. I don’t trust myself that I know the best way to teach him this. But surely practice cannot hurt.

“I want to get out of this place.” Pause. “Mama.” Pause. Big gulp of air with the hint of a yawn. “Mommy, mommy.”

He never calls me Mommy.

“Malcolm, that’s enough,” says Husbot, striding in. “I want you to sit still and read your book.”

“I don’t want to read my book….” Wail, wail, wail, sniffle, bawl, gulp, cry. How many sounds there are for self-pity. The wind chimes clong and gong from outside the screen door. The wailing stops. The soothing tones have changed the subject, at least for several seconds.

“No, I wanted to hug Mama. I’ve been sitting here for these many minutes…I want to go…”

I remember again the clock my sister recently bought for her twins. Not just any clock: the Time Timer:

This model is suggested for children with autism or ADHD. A list of various models can be found on Friendship Circle Blog.

I order it. Husbot leaves the room. Mbot sits quietly for several minutes. “Can I come out now?” he asks.

Husbot lets him, telling him he’s been a good bear, telling him he’s old enough to learn to read quietly for thirty minutes while Mom works.

And I’m thinking this is working only because Husbot and I are working together and Gbot’s got the croup and is in the bedroom lying down. I have found it impossible to enforce a quiet reading time while running interference between the bots.

But it is rewarding to see that Mbot can do it–can sit in a chair with a book for thirty minutes, even if it’s thirty whining, wailing minutes. It’s a start. We will work on it. I will wait.

They are Both So Beautiful Girls

(from the very interesting blog, http://www.buckbokai.com)

I’m blogging infrequently not because I’m participating in NaNoWrMo (is that how you spell it?)–I’m not. I’m blogging less because right now, there are so many things competing for my two most marketable commodities, 1.time, and 2.the ability to have things not die on my watch.

Although my plants would argue about commodity #2, if they weren’t shriveled, blackened versions of their once plumply-chlorophylled selves that looked out eagerly from the shelves at Lowe’s at all the possibilities open to them. If they had known better, they would have screamed to be spared when I put them in my shopping cart beside Mbot and Gbot. For all I know, they were screaming, but their plantly pleas were overwhelmed by whatever bottish conversation/bickering was already occurring in the cart.

I plead guilty to the murder of two fine plants that had not wronged me in any way.

I am starting to feel like my writing is wizzling, too.

Yesterday when I might have been writing, I was installing pull-out bins in the kitchen cabinets so I can finally organize the kitchen and get all my paperwork off the counter. One can only ignore such an ungodly mess for so long (a year). My friend Solveig, visiting from Colorado, helped enormously by not only ripping out the original crappy shelving, but by playing a game with the bots called “Who can stay out of the kitchen the best?”

Tuesday, when I might have been writing, I was doing fifty-three administrative tasks related to my volunteer work as caregiver, teacher, peacekeeper, entertainer, home manager, laundress, sous chef, chef, dessert chef, server, busser (although the bots are junior bussers now), interior designer, social secretary, event organizer, correspondent, and chauffeur.

Then I was attempting to keep my children from ransacking the child-free home of the very nice child-free friends of Solveig’s, with whom we were watching the election returns. Or rather, Solveig and the very nice child-free friends were watching the election returns. I was watching to make sure the bots didn’t launch themselves through the very nice plate glass window as a result of jumping on the supersized beanbag chair. What? Huh? Who won? The candidate campaigning on the platform of subsidized childcare? What do you mean, there isn’t one???

Monday, as Solveig watched the bots at home, I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble, telling myself I should be writing. Instead I slouched in a stupor in the children’s book section, reading picture books. The kid’s book section–when I am there by myself–is one of my go-to recharging stations.

It is a challenge finding the necessary combination of time and energy to complete any task larger than emptying a loaded diaper or laundry basket. (And even then, the towels get left in the dryer overnight by mistake…when will I get around to hanging that clothes line in the garage? Oh right–right after I put up the shelving in the garage….)

It is not that I dislike any of the tasks I am called upon to complete. (Well, anyone interested in doing just dishes, laundry, mopping, sliding bin installation, and plant watering, please call, I am hiring.) It is simply that there is such a vast accumulation of tasks, that I find it difficult to complete them, and my writing projects, too.

Do I want to play with the bots? Yes. Do I want to cook a lovely dinner? Yes. Do I want to sew Junepbear a fluffy sweatsuit out of fabric Mbot picked out himself, because Junepbear sports more and more unfluffy spots these days? Yes. Do I want to paint a mural in the bots’ room? Sit in a quiet room by myself with books and a computer? Get on a bike and sweat for an hour? Start teaching at the college level again? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Do I want to clean the litter box? Actually, yes. But what do I need to do? For my family and for myself? The need to prioritize wisely–and reap contentedness from my choices–has never been so urgent.

I am working on solutions. One is as simple as leaving the YMCA and joining, for $11 more per month, a gym that has educational computer games in the childcare area, which is open all day, as opposed to the one at the Y which, as fun as Gbot finds it, is closed during the critical hours of one to three. If I took advantage of this service, I could get up to two hours per day to either write or ride, work or workout, while the bots are in good hands. It’s a start.

I am trying not to feel guilty about this decision, and to understand the roots of the guilt. Guilt rarely has roots in logic or rationality. I just started reading Pamela Druckerman’s bestselling mommy memoir, Bringing up Bebe, about the differences in American and French parenting–and so am trying to open myself up to “there are many ways to raise a child right,” and, “as long as I am worried I am not doing a good job, I am probably doing a good job,” and, “I need to be healthy and happy to help raise children who are healthy and happy.”

Finding myself with so many things I want and need to do, I feel a little like Mbot must have yesterday at snack time. On the drive home from school, I asked him who he’d had snack with–his friend Mbug? Obot? Hbug?

“Oh, by myself,” was the answer.

“Why, Potato Sweet?” I asked.

He shrugged, raising his hands in the air, both palms up. “Well, Mbug and Hbug are both so beautiful girls, I just can’t pick.”

Hiding my smile–he just turned four! It starts so early–I explained that he could sit with Mbug one day, and Hbug the next, and be friends with both.

There is not a lot of time for introspection these days, and so I will leave it at this: I may not be able to do everything on my list. But I need to be friends with my achievements, and friends with my expectations, too.

I think this means I need to stop buying house plants.