PATIENCE!!!! (lessons learned from young dad—not me)

It’s early Sunday morning and I am sitting in a coffee shop in Ely, MN, getting the last of some work done before 6 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The motel wifi was too slow to load the online learning platform I need for the summer course I am teaching—and need to get work done for before I unplug for a week. With my coffee, I get a password for 60 minutes of wifi. Must be a lot of wifi squatters in Ely? Time is ticking. I’m reading research proposals as best I can while others come and go. Others are heading to their cabin, taking a break from getting work done in the office, building a corral for his wife’s horse they got from Wisconsin. Bred for cold climates. Some horse won some race yesterday. Focus. Time is ticking.

In walks a young dad with his twin sons between the age of four and five. I’m old enough now that the dad looked no more than eighteen, but I suspect that isn’t correct. When you hit a certain age, everyone under thirty can pass for twenty. Focus. Time is ticking.

He orders his coffee and some scones. The boys notice the kids table with the different colored chairs. “We’re not staying,” I hear the dad say. “where are the scones?” asks the boy with the glasses. So cute.

More about some race. Focus! Tick tock.

“We’re eating them in the car.”


“I want the red one” says the other boy pointing to the chairs stacked on the table.

The dad takes down the red and yellow chair despite the fact they aren’t staying. “Which do you want?” he asks the other boy. So cute as well. Apparently there are springs in the cushions because they are back up in less than ten seconds. They stand up and move on to something else. No need to engage in a discussion about why not to get the chair down. He could see the “springs.”

The scones and coffee are ready. The dad is adding cream to his coffee and the boys are now exploring the packaged foods on the counter. How can you resist the tactile pleasure of handling the little bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans? Well you can’t.

“Put those back” says the dad as he stirs his coffee and replaces the lid. “We have scones for the car.”

“What are these?” asks the boy holding the little package of shortbread highlanders.

The men in the couches near me are discussing the weight of clouds (prompted by the trivia question on the chalk board). Focus already. Tick tick tick.

I notice the dad only told him one time to put it back, then continued what he was doing. The boy replaces the shortbread after a minute of careful inspection. He moves on to looking at the lindor truffles. Those look interesting as well. Perfectly round. He doesn’t pick one up. The bespectacled twin is looking closely at the coffee urn.

“That’s the coffee” dad says, “Don’t pull that or coffee will come out.” The boy withdraws his hand. Pulls a straw out of the canister on the counter. Sort of like a little telescope if you look through it he discovers.

“Okay, let’s go” and the dad and one of the boys heads out the door. The other is looking at something distant through his tiny telescope, until he looks up and rushes off to catch up to his dad and brother.

Through this bustle of activity, the dad first appeared to be in full “prevent defense” mode. But he but never raised his voice, never showed frustration, and in the end all was fine. The boys explored the area around the counter disturbing no-one really—except me and I welcomed the distraction. Masterful mix of giving giving freedom with form. Tick tock.

I’m pretty sure I would not have had the patience and trust that I didn’t need to have a tighter “grip” on their behavior. And If I did, would I have been doing so to teach them proper behavior and how to “be” in the world, out of respect for the gray-bearded guy typing on the laptop in the corner, or my own vanity as a “good” father? I shudder to think, so we’ll stop the reflection there and I’ll let my wife quietly mouth the answer so as to spare my feelings.

Back to work. Just one more document to upload.

“Your session has timed out” is the message on the screen.

Guess I’ll have another coffee. Decaf. A week of paddling a canoe sounds nice.

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