Column by Vanessa Shields
I know there are many of us who are writers and parents. This is a wild duality to live. My intention with this column is to write about the challenges of being a parent and a writer. I aim to share stories that reflect both the difficult and the extraordinary experiences of striving to balance the creative and the caregiving mind, body and spirit. Find an archive of the Writing Parent columns here.
The virtue of patience comes up in our household a lot. Typically, it’s me talking to my daughter about her needing more patience. She is a strong, wise-for-her-age girl who knows what she wants when she wants it. And she usually wants it now.
While I love her attribute of clarity and her ability to communicate what she wants, it’s difficult for all of us when the things she wants we don’t have in a snap. Or, we can’t get for her. At least not without some time and, yeah – patience.
When I was a kid, I didn’t ask for much. In fact, I can distinctly think of maybe two things I wanted as a child. I knew it was difficult for my mom to pay for things, and her time was full with working two jobs and being a single mom.
My life as a mother is different than hers. And, I find myself wanting to give our kids everything. Especially if they ask for it. Mostly, we can. And our kids do ask. Not crazy a lot, but they ask. I find myself being extremely aware of my want to give them everything because ‘I didn’t get a lot when I was a kid.’ But that’s dangerous. Because, whatever our parenting differences may be, what my mother and I do share is our want to raise kind, generous, patient children.
Patience is hard, my daughter always says. And sometimes, I hold her as she cries because being patient is truly an emotional journey for her. I always say that the toughest life-lessons to learn often bring us to tears – and that if we’re crying and/or it’s really difficult, it means we’re learning.
Patience is also a form of action. Auguste Rodin is quoted as saying this. Rodin, the French sculptor who gave us ‘The Thinker.’ That’s some sweet irony there, isn’t it?
When we are learning – that is an action. And since becoming a parent never am I more aware of the act of learning than when I watch my kids learn. Virtues – the biggies – like courage, wisdom, knowledge, passion, imagination, joy, integrity – oh, there are many, but the biggies, we deal with on a daily basis.
I am in awe of my kids’ ability to do their best to learn these virtues with grace. But sometimes, it’s anything but – and there are hard conversations and tears.
Recently, I was on a writing retreat with a dear writer friend. We were working on edits for my novel. Going on six years – that’s how long I’ve been working on this project. I thought I was finished….but I’m not. It’s not. I got red-faced and sweaty when she suggested I do another rewrite.
“You have to be patient, Vanessa. This is a long process especially because it’s your first novel,” she said in her sweet, motherly-scolding voice.
I laughed and cried out loud. She shook her head at me.
“What? What did I say?” she asked.
“That I need to be patient,” I told her between sniffles. “I’m always telling my daughter to be patient. But you’re so right. I need to work on my patience.”
We all need ‘teachers’ in our lives to offer up a mirror – that spoken reflection that we cannot see ourselves because we’re too busy ‘living’ it.
Do no spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Says Epicurus, a Greek philosopher (341-270 BC), who believed that “the greatest good is to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility, freedom from fear, and absence from bodily pain.”
I remember when I dreamed about having my first book published. I couldn’t wait! Then it happened…and it wasn’t enough. I told myself, I needed to do it again. Three books later…published and selling well, and I was still feeling like it wasn’t enough. Because then I wanted to win an award too. I wanted that big grant. I wanted to get on that radio show. Indeed, it wasn’t until last year that I finally realized I am living my dreams – that to want what I didn’t have without realizing and loving all the things I do have was what was precisely causing me frustration, and making my impatience rise to dangerous levels. I was sabotaging my tranquility and choosing fear instead of abundance.
So the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, now does it? The amazing thing is – that the tree can bend and break even, yet heal its own wounds and continue to grow and reap delicious fruit.
When I got home from my retreat, I sat with my daughter on her bed and gave her a hug. I thanked her for being patient with me. I told her that she’s not the only one who struggles with this life-lesson. But that, together, we can work on loving the abundance that we have while we’re waiting on new dreams to come to life…or for that ‘thing’ we feel like we just can’t live without…whatever it may be.
Our bond fortified, and we both felt relief knowing that we had each other as we worked on being patient. And…that we can remind each other when we forget all the great things we are and that we have when it seems like our patience level is supremely low.
My daughter is also an avid writer. Maybe one day, her dream will be to get a book published too. I know that together we’ll work on our patience as we journey to bring this dream – and all the others – to life.
Vanessa writes in the in-betweens of a busy life as a parent, producer, photographer and poet. (That’s a lot of Ps!) She lives in Windsor with her hubby and two kids, Jett and Miller. Her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press) was published in 2014. Her book Look at Her (Black Moss Press) was released in the fall of 2016. Shields created and hosts a storytelling series called Mouth Piece Storytelling. For all things Vanessa, visit her websitewww.vanessashields.com.