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When I was 21, I walked into a tattoo studio in downtown Toronto on a grey spring day to keep an appointment with a man in a sparkly electric-blue apron. It took roughly half an hour for him to ink the best parenting advice I’ve ever received across the inside of my left wrist.
Back then, starting a family couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was a single university student with a part-time job selling art supplies. I had hatched the idea for the tattoo one year earlier. When my plan was dismissed as silly by my then-boyfriend, I stubbornly vowed that if I still thought it was a good idea a year later, I would get it done.
One year later, the boyfriend was gone, but the idea wasn’t.
I got the tattoo.
It’s just one word—a simple concept that is often difficult for me to practice: “patience,” it says, in a cursive script underscored by a bass-clef flourish. As an impatient young person, I wanted to have an indelible reminder etched somewhere I could see it.
I had lofty ambitions for my new adornment. I planned to tell ridiculous stories about its origins at parties. I thought I’d devote entire afternoons to deep, philosophical ruminations with my friends about virtues in general, and patience in particular—sparked, of course, by my tattoo.
I spent a lot of time looking at it admiringly for the first few weeks and months, but then it simply became part of my body. I often forgot it was there. It was never the party-stopping accessory I had imagined it might be.
Two kids and 15 years later, I've only now just realized that I’ve been walking around with the secret solution to just about every parenting problem permanently inscribed on my body. I’ve finally realized that my tattoo is not just pretty, it’s extremely useful: “Patience” has become my personal mom mantra. I just wish I’d figured this out sooner.
When my first son was born, the onslaught of unsolicited advice, like most aspects of life with a newborn, was relentless. Well-meaning friends and relatives chimed in to say I should sleep while the baby slept, or try to get him on a nap schedule so he'd start sleeping through the night sooner. Others had recommendations for baby gadgets and products that I wouldn’t be able to survive early motherhood without.
My son was generally a happy baby, but he hated sleeping with more determined perseverance than I had thought possible in such a tiny creature. I spent a lot of time reading sleep-advice books and despairing because my baby never reached the fabled state of drowsy but awake.
As he got older and naturally started sleeping for longer stretches, parent life seemed more manageable, even enjoyable, and we decided to have another baby. Of course, I still looked to advice books for help with age-specific problems: how to get your preschooler to stop biting, how to get your preschooler to stop swearing, how to get your preschooler to stop running away from his slow-moving, postpartum mother who is trying to chase after him in the park while babywearing her newborn in a sling. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through two toddlerhoods with my rambunctious, infinitely energetic and determined sons without having a copy of Raising Your Spirited Child on my nightstand, always at the ready.
But if I could go back in time and tell my new-mom self that above all else, she should remember to try to be patient—both with her sleep-detesting firstborn and herself—I think it would have kept me from feeling like an unhinged failure, and helped set a course for a more reasonable expectation of parenthood.
I should have been more mindful of the one thing I can always count on to help us get through a rough patch: a little patience. Because the one constant of life as a parent is change. My boys have unique temperaments and personalities that create ever-shifting challenges, both for themselves and for me, as they continue to grow and learn.
Many of the trying stages are so brief and age-specific: the sleep-rejecting newborn will become the sleep-dependent teen, and the punch-first-ask-questions-later three-year-old will, eventually, become the six-year-old who calmly reminds his younger brother to use his words to solve problems.
As my boys grow older and become tweens and then teenagers, there will no doubt be difficult terrain for us to cross. But remembering to be patient with them—and myself—will help us cross it successfully, together. Six years into motherhood, I’m finally following the advice I had the good sense to commit to my skin all those years ago.
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