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When impatience is touted as a virtue

A self-sufficient household grew up around me, ready for the gruelling present-day world of self-help

Gulf News

We were brought up on the adage: Patience is a virtue. We heard it at our mother’s knees, when we were tugging at her apron to get her attention — and there were three of us plus a dog or two and sundry other living creatures.

Mother did not snap impatiently and tell us to cut it out and wait until she was free; instead, she explained to us with gentle forbearance that we should be patient and wait until she was free for a hearing.

Some of us learnt our lesson and waited patiently until she was free — and then bombarded her with questions. Some of us sorted out our problems ourselves, most often in ways she would never have approved of.

And by the time she was free to listen to those problems they had been forgotten and replaced by something new and a mental debate was in process whether they could safely be taken to a higher authority or whether they could lead to our forever being banned from certain activities...

Some of us, however, took neither of these routes. Instead, we stood there and recited what we later came to know was Dick King-Smith’s verse: ‘Patience is a virtue, Virtue is a grace, Grace is a naughty girl who would not wash her face!’ and stuck out dirty faces or hands for inspection, determined to shock Mother into helping us get off all the mud, thereby claiming her attention and regaling her with our tales — which was the point of the whole thing.It usually worked and in despair, whether or not she was busy, Mother would leave everything and attend to us, shaking her head with mild irritation but never really losing her cool since she had abundant patience.

Magical acquisition of patience

Naturally, we thought that it was part of the entire deal of being a mother. Mothers had patience. And once the mantle of motherhood fell upon us, we would mysteriously and miraculously acquire this heavenly virtue. Right?

We couldn’t have been more wrong!

A lot of changes came with motherhood, but the magical acquisition of patience was not one of them. Rather, with all the million things that had to be done and the demands on one’s time and energy as we tried to cope with everything we had done earlier plus the huge responsibility (and wonder) of a child, patience was probably the first thing that flew out of the window!

Was that a bad thing? It is hard to say — because everyone, including our dog, soon got used to the climate of quick reactions, hurried explanations, speed-of-light stories, a whirlwind of noise, and a dozen things going on at any one time. Anyone who wanted anything done in the good old-fashioned one-step-at-a-time way learnt better than to come to me.

They also learnt the power at the end of their own arms, and that unappetizing tasks (those that none relish, but unfortunately have to be done by someone), are best completed as fast as possible.

‘Get to it at break of day and while the rest of your time away’ was the adage coined for them as strict labour laws were enforced. It was understood clearly that if one cooked, the other cleaned; if one swept, the other dusted. No patience — and no mercy — was shown to those who shirked chores.

In time, whether or not they wanted it that way, a self-sufficient household grew up around me, ready for the gruelling present-day world of self-help.

And now, when we see someone patiently quarter an apple for a teenager or clear up behind a spouse, all of us exchange amused and bemused looks.

Haven’t they heard of a little impatience going a long way?

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.