This week, my mother called around 10 one morning to chat for a minute and catch up. During our conversation, I realized that she was still in her bed, waiting for an aide to help into a wheelchair. My mom said, in passing, that she was trying to be patient, as there were quite a few other people in the long-term care facility where she is living who need help, and that it doesn't help to be impatient.
Yes, she is right, but how often are we impatient? For me, the answer is usually several times per day, and more often with myself than with others.
My mother's current view of patience is a 180-degree turn from what it was when she was raising me. Smart, energetic, and enthusiastic, she was a take-charge and move-forward-rapidly type of mother. To this day, I feel the urge to walk faster and do as much as possible (yes, like all children, I can blame almost everything on my mother, regardless of whether it's true). I've recently begun to notice this rush to action as often more frantic than is necessary (please do not tell my husband).
While I can be hard and demanding on those around me (again, don't ask my husband), I'm even harder on myself. My to-do list is never complete; I'm never quite organized, productive or together enough; I'm impatient with myself as well as others.
My mother's comment has given me pause. If, as a woman in her 70s, she is still learning to be patient, maybe I should pay a bit more attention to patience now, rather than waiting until I am in my 70s (does this make me impatient of patience?).
My mother's lesson has been challenging during a year in which she has endured much change. This time last year, she was in good health, living on her own, driving and watching her grandchildren when asked. But last July, she suffered a fractured vertebra, followed by an infection that left her in an ICU for a week.
Soon after she recovered from the infection, she suffered a series of strokes that left her unable to move her right arm and left leg, and with little movement in her left arm and right leg.
For days, she lay in her bed, moaned and cried. Her world had changed dramatically.
But she has rebounded. While still in a wheelchair, she now can move both arms and hands, push herself around, answer the phone and brush her hair. She is hopeful that she will resume walking, though her therapists are hedging about the possibility.
She has defied the odds before.
Years ago, after undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer, she ended up in a nursing home, where many thought she might stay. But she worked hard and moved to an assisted-living home and then back to her own house, where she resumed a life of independence. I would never count her out. Who knows what she might be able to accomplish?
It's fascinating to recognize that, even now, my mother is still growing and changing. It reminds me that we are all works in progress, that no one is perfect and that the point of being human is often to be vulnerable, open, and understanding of others.
As I've grown older, with two children on my own, I've begun to realize that change begins with me. As I attempt to be patient and understanding with my children, I can only do this if I am patient and understanding with myself. If I hold myself to impossible standards, then I will also hold them to impossible standards.
I'm attempting to find the balance between impossible standards and no standards, and beginning to realize that there is no set answer; that every person is different, as is every time and season of life.
As my mother has reminded me this week, at the perfect time, right before Mother's Day and the madness of May, it's about the journey and experience of life. This week, as we celebrate mothers and Mother's Day, remember that the journey and experience of life is always changing, always new, and mothers change, too.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.
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