Once in a lifetime

Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.  ~John Archibald Wheeler

My kid is pre-occupied with numbers.

He wants to count things, add things, subtract them, and wants to know what time it is; what’s the order of the numbers on the clock. I have the time set ahead on almost all the clocks in the house, but none of them are ahead by the same amount. He knows this, so asks for the time ‘in real life.’

He wants to know how long something is, how much time it takes. I say he can have two more minutes to play. “Is two minutes long?” “It depends on what you are doing. It’s not very long to eat a hot dog, but it can feel long if you are holding your breath.” “How long is that?” he asks again. Unless we agree to measure it, the idea of time seems a bit useless.

When the time (to leave or to stop playing) is 15 min, I compare this to recess at school. “Then we have hours!” he says in victory. I want that kind of time. It’s what you do with your time that makes it valuable.

Time goes faster as we get older, as we have more to do within those same skinny hours. We tend to borrow time, and by this we mean we sleep less. We are constantly trying to get one more thing done before we have to move on to the next thing. Why do I still have time to do dishes when I really should have left the house two minutes ago?

Time seems bendable, but often not in our favor. Emotionally uncomfortable situations can take minutes, but seem like hours. Uneventful and obligatory appointments can bore us into clock-watching. Why is so much of our life spent in time vortexes: sleeping, commuting, idling in traffic, waiting at doctor’s offices, waiting to be seated in restaurants, waiting in lines? This is part of our reality now, but maybe it’s what we do within these waiting spaces that can help us do more in our time.

Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us. – Talking Heads

Waiting is like using the ingredients for daytime. The day is like a beautiful meal, planned and prepped, but as you wait you start to eat away at the ingredients, leaving less and less for the finale. I don’t like waiting and when I do I ponder all the things I could have done with that extra time at home. Fifteen minutes is loading the laundry, a few sips of tea, feeding the cat, and probably watering some plants. I like the feeling of enjoying the quiet when I wait, but then you never know when the wait will be over, so how can you be restful?

If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything. – Eckhart Tolle

An hour before I have to leave the house, time is golden. I have so much time to do things – make lunches for kids, have a shower, check email, have breakfast. Time moves so slowly, with such a buffer. Then 30 min before I need to leave it turns into an Escher-scape. Everything twists in and on itself, simple things take forever, there are more things to do, and suddenly I need to leave and I am in the shower instead.

I stopped wearing a watch for a while. I found that I wasn’t always so stressed and micro-managing my minutes. No one complained. Maybe I was late some of the time but the relief was in not knowing.

We are all a bit pre-occupied with time in our own ways. My brother never wore a watch when he was younger. When asked why, he said someone else always told him the time. We want efficiency and express how we control our lives through our adherence to time. That control is malleable only within our expectations of what we will accomplish. But also how well everyone else tolerates waiting for you.

*How do you spend your time waiting? Do you wear a watch?

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9 thoughts on “Once in a lifetime

  1. I gave up wearing a watch years ago. There’s always a clock or someone else’s watch around, and I’m always on time. When I wear a watch I tend to check it often and make myself more preoccupied and stressed by time than I should be.

    Conversely, I rarely run without my Garmin. It’s not so much about my time (or so I tell myself) but more a way to know when I’ve reached my mileage.

  2. I realize that I hardly have anything to be on time for these days! But when I do, my phone is usually on me, and I use it. When I have to wait for something during the day, like my computer to un-freeze or for dishes to be done as I do them, I sometimes try to make that otherwise-unpleasant time into a time to just notice details or feel different sensations, like gratitude and happiness. Otherwise, I get really pissed that the computer is slow or that there are still so many dishes 🙂 So I have been trying to catch those grouchy moments of “waiting for something to be different” and turning them into mindfulness opportunities. So gosh darn difficult!

    • A great idea: waiting as a mindfulness opportunity! If we can be present in our lives then waiting is nothing. You are just being present with yourself for that time.

      I have kids and appointments and work and daycare so a lot of my day is timed.

  3. What a wonderful mother you are: attentive, intelligent, sensitive, compassionate. Yeah for you!
    Now are you always that for yourself?

  4. I stopped wearing a watch when I stopped working, after my twins were born. When I went back to work @ 4 years later, I didn’t want to wear a watch. Explaining time to children, is a very difficult concept. Don’t even think about travelling to a different time zone…it’ll blow their minds. =)

    • My husband just came back from a trip overseas. He was in a very different time zone (+15 hours). It was weird for the kids to understand that when he flew home he would arrive at the same time he left.

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