Thursday, December 17, 2009

Are We There Yet?

Kids are notoriously incapable of telling time. When my daughter was around three, anything that had once happened to her, including wearing diapers and living in another state, happened "last night." For her favorite friend Dorienne, everything in the past was "yesterday." All past events could be grouped in one single amorphous PAST that floats seamlessly from just a second ago to the very day the child was born.

Children are as time-goofy in the other direction, as well. Just try telling a child he's going to visit his grandma's, but not until next week. Without fail, the child will wake you earlier than normal the next morning, informing you that his bag is all packed for the stay at grandma's, and you need to feed him some toast before both of you leave on the trip. What's a week? Seven days? Is that the same as seven minutes? Oh, longer? More like ten minutes? No? Fifteen? What? How long is that?

The anxiety can be tremendous, for three minutes in time out feels to a three-year-old like a day and a half. Oh, when will the happy moment come when I don't have to sit here on this timeout bench anymore? When is daddy coming home? When is breakfast? Yum. When's lunch? What do you mean I have to wait four hours?!?

Driving trips are the same. Are we there yet? How long is this going to take? What town are we in now? (That last one is my kids' personal favorite, and I name off the towns as we go by... Monroe, Snohomish, Woodinville, Bothell, Bellevue, and so on.)

I could keep on criticizing my kids, but it isn't their fault. They truly cannot grasp the concept of time until their brains develop a bit more. In fact, even as adults we don't grasp time well. My husband, for instance, thinks that time runs more slowly than it actually does (and is therefore nearly always late). A student once tested me with regards to time keeping, and my task was to tell her when I thought 60 seconds had passed. I waited, waited, in silence, stressing out, afraid 60 seconds had long since passed. I finally couldn't take the strain and said, "Now." It turns out 36 seconds had passed. As you might guess, I'm habitually early for everything.

But it isn't just deadlines that have us mixed up. We still so often get caught up in what is coming in the future, so much so that we forget to look around and enjoy what is happening right now. I have done this countless semesters (as have my students), telling myself that once I get my grades all turned in I can relax. Or I say, this semester was awful, but next semester is going to be great. Or, I don't like where I live now, but the next place I live will be perfect. My next job will be ideal. My next house will be exactly what I want. My child's next teacher will be better.

But is anything as spectacular as we imagine, when we bank our soul's happiness on it to that extent? 

I just turned in my grades today (yahoo!), but even before this milestone, my life's been pretty good, including the finals to grade and underachieving students to reprimand. My daughter turns nine in two days, and I don't have any expectations about what that will mean for her. I just want to enjoy her now, at this very moment. Right now I am enjoying watching her sleep with the little Christmas tree in her room at this very moment. 

I hope she's not dreaming about someday. I hope she's dreaming about now.


  1. I just finished my novel, right now. Does that count?

  2. Being now, is one of the hardest lessons for us all to learn. To live a lifetime in the beat of a heart and then birth the self again at the next beat AND then to stay focused on just the task of the moment.

    And when the hour of your daughters birthday does arrive may it be a wonder of five hundred lifetimes packed into a single moment.

  3. Sorry, first comment was brain-dead.

    I think people need balance. Living in the now is a great thing, it's why children, as a whole, are happier than adults. They live now and their worries about the future are minimal.

    I disagree that it's a lesson one needs to learn, though many adults end up needing to relearn it, if you know what I mean.

    But always living in the now has it's downsides, too. The credit crisis in this country has a great deal to do with people wanting to live in the now without asking themselves how they'll be living in the future. Living in the now makes one feel fearless and immortal. There's a reason so many teenagers fall victims to drugs and alcohol.

    But always focusing on the future isn't smart either, or happy any more than focusing on what you don't have is healthy. If you can't enjoy today, what makes you think you'll enjoy tomorrow? After all, tomorrow never gets here; by the time it arrives, it's today.

    I think you need a healthy balance, some part of your brain that thinks about the future, sets aside some of the excess for whatever comes, appreciates the discomfort of today because of what it buys you, but also you need to be able to live in the moment.

    If you stress and struggle to arrange a vacation, relax when you get there. If something falls of the itinerary but everyone's happy, it's still good. Spend an afternoon reading books to your kids or playing a video game, or window shopping.

    In the end, the time you spent with the people you love enjoying yourself, those will be the memories you cherish when you're in tomorrow and looking back on today.

    I also meant to add, I'm equally clueless with my time sense. CLUELESS.

  4. I live for tomorrow. Maybe that's why time flies by so fast... I swear it just turned 2000 and we're almost to 2010, and in a blink of an eye we will be in the year 2020...

    Good advice to stop and enjoy life, and especially your kids why they are young.


  5. Perhaps, Stephanie, it is a question of definition. Is "living in the moment" synonymous with "racking up the credit card debt"? I would actually think it isn't. Perhaps it's time for another blog post on it.