The not yet principle

We were a healthy family. My mom would bring home groceries in paper bags loaded with newly purchased food, mostly plants. But also, more exotically: Oreos, Pretzels, Diet Rite, Golden Grahams, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, Fritos — a weekly goldmine of snacks into the otherwise snack-less househould. And when one of the four kids rushed to tear open a package, we heard the same sound. “Not yet.”

The not yet sound effect happened not only with groceries, but with anything new. New clothes still with tags hung in every closet. Letters sat unopened. Paitence truly was a virtue, delayed gratification embodied. New snacks, and all new things, were for the future, not now.

This wasn’t the experience I saw around me. Most memorably, at 16, my best friend received a new red convertible because she passed her drivers’ test. Later, after perhaps borrowing my parents’ stationwagons one too many times, I received a trusty (old) hatchback with four speeds and an AM/FM radio. If I had received a new car at that age, my parents reasoned, what would I have to look forward to? They wanted me to feel what it was like to do it myself. The time for a new car was not yet.

They were right (of course). Some years later, as is the case with many childhood things, I got it. Practicing waiting is a lifelong practice since, as it turns out, impatience has a particular gravitational pull. But after all that waiting, finding or opening or having that once-future thing feels very much present.

And that is worth waiting for.