Patience for me

Light across the rooftops of Tai Hang one day

In the early afternoon, as one lady projects (a family verb meaning does things around the house that aren’t daily chores”) and the other naps, I sit quietly and watch Tai Hang. The light is great, late summer humidity giving the approaching golden hour a helping hand. The squawking birds wheel and yell, perch on rooftops and cavort in bunches above the low buildings. The balconies and roofs of this small neighborhood are empty, the day’s sun still too close. This morning, a breezy 28 C, was the first sign of fall’s approach, the kind of morning that perks everyone up, that gives the dogs and children an extra bit of energy. Fall is not yet here though, in early September, not in Hong Kong, where the heat will linger until November. Just it’s finger tips, brushing over the city before the full light of day. And so in the afternoon we swim in the public pool, indoors, and nap, one and then the other, until the heat fades.

Hong Kong has wonderful public pools, part of the athletic infrastructure that shapes both the space and the population, who are active, are athletic, are fit and adventurous. In so many ways the foundations laid here are good, and should be built on. In so many ways we are trying to build, to be part of this city. On Saturday I chat with neighbors, with shop owners, with the fruit stand family, and am happy. It’s been four years and Hong Kong feels like home.

The question, then, is how to be patient with myself, with our trajectory. Patience is an oft-mentioned requirement of parenting, a commonly mentioned challenge, to have enough. Yet in all those tellings it is patience for the child, for the burdens of care, for the pain and limitations of childbirth, of rehabilitation and recovery, and of physical growth. These, to me, are the external requirements, the clear and valuable lessons of being part of a family, of trying to build a structure that can raise a human. Patience for each other, while still too limited, is a common goal, and a well-understood shortcoming when it falters.

Less discussed, and perhaps less easy to build, is patience with one’s self.

In our family this too is a constant thread, due to injuries and rehab, due to the challenges of climbing and frisbee where our goals are so frequently beyond our bodies’ abilities. We council the other to give their body the time it needs to heal. We try hard to remind each other to have patience with our own sore knees, with the wrist never quite perfect after that motorcycle accident, with the back that refuses to bend smoothly, and with shoulders that are never again as flexible as we’d hoped. We try to be the buffer between what the other person wants to achieve and what they are able to, to cushion them from their own disappointments.

It is not always easy.

Harder still is to give ourselves that gift. Harder still is to be truly patient with our own slow pace of improvement, with our own slow progress towards strength, towards competent leadership, towards deep friendship and emotional intelligence. Harder still is to be patient with the years of our life that seem to drift by without the kind of growth we’d hoped for, without the experiences we once thought we’d have.

In many ways these are the challenges not of children but of the pandemic, not of our family but of our expectations. Yet the same call for patience comes to me in seeing one family member asleep across the room and feeling the immediate need to accomplish things in this bit of time. The true need is for patience with my back, sore from rocking her to sleep, and with my mind, tired from the work week. The challenge is not in being calm until she nods off but in being calm once she has done so, in being productive, whatever that means, without feeling like these moments are fleeting. At forty three I am half way through the average lifespan of someone of my gender and country of origin. There are not infinite days to come, but there are enough to let the body and mind appreciate this sunset, and watch these birds for a while. There is no need to move quickly, and nothing I am missing, other than perhaps a good photo as my phone is in the other room.

Ah well, the sun will set again tomorrow. Time instead to watch the sky.

Faith in each other

A view of the river in Nong Kiaw

A month in, the clearest part of parenthood is the reflection it provides. In the late nights, in the long days with sparse sleep, we see few things clearly save each other. Our ability to rest, to walk, to eat, to see friends, and exercise depends on our partner’s abilities, on their tolerance, and on our mutual trust. We have, in this small child, a way to finally see the compassion in our relationship, and our kindness for one another. It is humbling, to understand that our ability to hold the baby while she cries and our partner eats is perhaps the best gift we can give. It is clarifying to understand that our push for an extra smile when she will not sleep takes more energy and is therefore more appreciated than anything else we’ve done in weeks. And it is revealing to understand that our ability to do things, from lunch with friends to climbing workouts to dinners out depends entirely on our partner’s ability to be ok when things go wrong. We serve at the pleasure not of a higher authority, but of each other, a pleasure that must be re-iterated daily. Would you like to go out, would you like to go to the gym, would you like to meet friends? Each one requires explicit confirmation, and the understanding that it could take extraordinary effort, extraordinary patience.

Mostly they do not, and Clara is peaceful, is at peace with our decisions. She is ok with electronic music and ambient heat outside the pizza parlor on a Friday night, where we eat on a bench and share a beer with friends after a long week. She is ok with the bright lights and bouncing tunes of the climbing gym, with the many voices and odd sensations of an afternoon at the swimming pool. She tolerates a ferry ride, an MTR ride, and many taxi rides, without outburst. In some ways we adventure at the pleasure of the child, and I think in some tellings this would be true. But it is not, for while she has a voice, and uses it at will, she has no say in the initial agreement, in the planned outlay of patience and effort. That is instead an agreement built on all our years together, almost fifteen now since those early scooter rides in Shanghai. Almost four now here in Hong Kong, where the idea of family became more possible.

And so we continue to grow, our true selves revealed to each other in the things we are willing to smile together after. It has always been this way, of course. In many ways our four hours together in the back of a flatbed from Nong Kiaw to Luang Prabang remains the clearest mirror, held up to our relationship in pain, guilt, and the joy of adventure. It is good, then, to find new joy together in these late nights and the early mornings they blend into.