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.

It’s a Good Time to Buy

I have never owned a home.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.

I have been trying, in fact, since May of 2007, just before my husband (Husbot) and I were married. For various unlikely reasons which included having been on the road for many years as a professional bass fisherman (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous, people actually do that), he had never owned a home either. So we started looking, in the final months of what we all now know was the bulbous methane-filled balloon that was the real estate bubble. Husbot, who did not work in real estate or finance but had been, in fact, a rose farmer for thirteen years (I know, as unlikely as a bass fisherman, but more lucrative), kept saying, “There’s something wrong. Everything’s too expensive.”

My answer, of course was, “Let’s look for something smaller. They’ll be cheaper.”

“They’re too expensive, too,” he complained.

“They’ll be more expensive tomorrow,” said every grinning real estate agent we met. “It’s a great time to buy.”

So we looked. And looked. We wrote one embarrassingly low offer after another. “No one’s going to take these,” I said.

“Nothing’s worth more,” my husband replied.

“It’s a great time to buy,” chorused the grinning real estate agents.

Then, of course, October 2007 occurred. Maricopa County, which encompasses the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area, became the nation’s fifth biggest loser in real estate values.

Fortunately, Husbot is not one to gloat. And fortunately, I’ve got strong legs, and climbing the twenty-one steps to our one-bedroom rented condo while pregnant and then with an infant (car seat: 10 pounds, empty, and when is it ever empty?) and then pregnant AND with an infant, didn’t make my varicose veins any worse than they were and actually maybe helped me ditch the postpartum pastry butt. And Safeway delivers. And Safeway sells wine. We managed.

“Why don’t you buy?” asked everyone from my mother-in-law to my best friends. “It’s a great time to buy,” they said. So did every newspaper and TV channel. Prices had plunged 30% . I personally did not know why it wasn’t a great time to buy. Husbot said no. I was too busy and tired to argue.

Eventually, we moved into a unit on the ground floor. This did not end well, as the owner, a little old lady in California who’d been talked into buying retirement home/investment property by her son, one Thiogest Deon Rosemond, of Rose & Fields Real Estate (I am not lying, I was suspicious from the beginning because of the cheesy name), called me to ask me to lie to the bank on her behalf, and stopped paying her mortgage the month after we moved in. (I did not do the first, and did not know the latter.) One year later, we received a letter from an attorney (whose assistant proved unbearably rude on the phone–who are these people?) notifying us that we needed to vacate the premises ASAP, as it was now held by the bank. In fact, the bank would give us $3,000 if we vacated by the month’s end. Husbot explained that this was the tactic banks were using so that tenants wouldn’t have time to gut the place before they handed over the keys.

A week later, we were visited by Mr. Rosemond himself, an unsmiling black man built like a bulldog, who proceeded to literally snatch the offer of $3,000 out of my hands. While my husband was discussing the issue with him (Husbot has endless patience for “discussing” without raising his voice, which can be enormously irritating), I grabbed it back. He turned and lunged at me. I fled with my children and called the police. I’ve always admired my husband’s tall, lithe physique, but that day (seen through Rose-colored glasses), he looked downright spindly.

We vacated the premises. We did not collect $3,000. There were contingencies, and there was grumpy, muscly old Dion barking out there somewhere.

“Why don’t you buy?” asked everyone from my sister to my dog. (Maybe I was just imagining that.) “It’s a great to buy.” Everyone said so. Prices had fallen 50%.

“No,” said my husband. “They’re still falling.”

We moved again. This time to quite a lovely little townhouse a few miles west. Still no yard, but a patio where a sandbox fits, in a nice, quiet community (the builders went bankrupt a quarter of the way through, so there is lots of nice open ground). There’s a pool behind a gate, a slide/mini-climbing wall/jungle-gym surrounded by dust (grass must be part of Phase II), and two nice men who take care of the palo verdes and the verbena. I looked into nonpermanent alternatives to painting a mural on the boys’ bedroom wall.

We have been renting month-to-month, due to eventual plans to follow my husband’s work to Durango, Colorado, where we both want to be for the long-term. Three weeks ago, one of the nice men who takes care of the palo verdes and the verbena knocked on the door. Handed me an envelope. Said with embarrassment, “It’s an eviction notice, actually. The bank’s making a push to sell.”

After looking forward to relocating, now I was reluctant. Mbot had just started in Montessori and the waitlist in Durango was a year. Gbot had a faithful if aging sitter in my mother-in-law. I had even finally started to make friends. We had made it through another scorching summer. I found I wanted to stay through the winter.

“What are they trying to sell this place for?” mused my husband. It turns out that in the past twelve months, the house has lost another hundred thousand dollars in value. Prices had dropped almost 70%.

He said, “It’s a good time to buy.”

The real estate agents grinned, and agreed. Today we signed papers to start the deal. I have no idea if it’ll go through. Both we and the house have yet to pass inspection. But I’m already looking forward to painting a mural on the boys’ bedroom walls. Even if it’s just for nine months. The walls will be mine.

Has patience paid off for you lately?

*Image of the Brooklyn Bridge from http://www.traveladventures.org/