What time is it?
The five—six if the rice maker is plugged in—clocks in my kitchen don’t agree. The one by which we leave for scheduled activities is two or three minutes faster than the others. Upstairs, I have three clocks in my room and bathroom. The one on the back of the toilet is a full twelve minutes faster than the one on the bathroom counter. That one is two or three minutes slower than the clock by my bed that I can’t really see from anywhere else in the room. I stopped wearing a watch years ago.
It’s no better at the studio where the credit card reader doesn’t agree with the weather clock or any of the three thermostats. There I start and end time by a Timex wristwatch that has never known a wrist, but is small enough to set alongside my yoga mat.
Soon, it’ll be time to fall back, and I will consult my cell phone to sync all of the clocks. For a few days there will only be one time zone. It’s never long before the ones in my bathroom slow down (counter) and speed up (toilet back), entirely on their own. It takes a fair amount of mental gymnastics to remember which one is how wrong.
When Thirteen was Four, he already had a well-developed sense of time. I was helping out one day, watching the class run around when his preschool teacher gave a five-minute warning on the playground. Four ran up, out of breath, to confirm, “Five minutes more?” Miss Heidi said, “Yes.” “Okay,” he called, tearing off to take a few more rounds of his circuit. She turned to me, “You know, five minutes means little to the rest of them. Your child actually knows.” I nodded, and neither of us was surprised when he zoomed over to line up ahead of his teacher’s call. He remains on time or early for most events.
By contrast, Ten gets lost in time. Given twenty minutes to complete a task, she might get it done in half the time or she might get distracted by a book, a cat, or a doodle and not look up before thirty minutes have gone by. Perfectly capable of marching easily through her homework or other chores, she can drag her feet and take hours without gentle and, more times than I’m proud of, nagging reminders.
I’m in the middle—generally on time or finished with things that have deadlines, work, children’s activities, generally a little bit late for social engagements. So long as I know the clock in my car is two minutes fast, I am more or less punctual without (too much) rushing.
Recently I read an article about changing your relationship with time. The most compelling suggested was to work on arriving to everything ten minutes early. But on the off chance I get somewhere early, my first thought is not, “Ahh, I can relax for a few minutes.” Instead, I immediately wonder what I should do to fill whatever small window of idyll I have. I can even start to feel slightly panicked, for there is a never-ending list of things I know I need to do. If none of them is available to me, what can I do with those precious minutes? Surely I must not waste them doing nothing?
Look in any line of people and most of them will be head down, checking an electronic gadget. I’m not immune. A short wait at the coffee shop drive-up window? I’ll check my email or quick text a friend. Mom’s not yet free from the dentist’s chair? I can flip open my laptop and tend to some copyediting for one of my clients. Twenty-five minutes left in Thirteen’s TaeKwonDo class? Perfect. I’ve got an email message I have been wanting to write.
All of that feels productive. But what about the times when I press the key on my phone to check my mail and there’s nothing that needs attention there? What about incessant checking of Facebook? In so many instances it’s electronic noise and it serves to masquerade as focus so I don’t get overwhelmed.
I am prone to feeling overwhelmed—overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. The house, the yard, the studio, my desk, correspondence, finances, writing, childcare … my list, like everyone’s, goes on and on and on. When I’m in those crunch moments, those times when there isn’t much time, that’s where my mind begins to spiral, my energy getting spun out fast until everything seems impossible.
School started for Ten and Thirteen about two weeks ago. The morning feels like a shuttle run, their buses arriving a few minutes apart. On the walk back from the second bus, I never fail to notice my neighbors’ manicured lawns, the many new roofs, some just installed this summer, the clean windows and the driveways with no weeds growing up through the cracks. Then there’s my house—that list doesn’t begin to cover what it needs. I could start just by sweeping the spider webs away from the front door. But it’s not just the exterior; the interior needs paint and the floors need attention and the basement needs to be cleaned and the garage needs new shelves … and … and … and …
I stem the spiral with my current favorite fantasy—a crew of dancing workers clad in pristine white jumpsuit is flowing over lawn, house, garden and interior, rescuing me from all of the ten-thousand things. They’re singing a happy working song and smiling. In no time the house and garden are scrubbed, repaired, and gorgeous, and they whirl off, leaving quiet sparkle in their wake.
A girl can dream, but I do know that my life isn’t like a musical. What will happen is that one thing will get done at a time. Some days it might be something tiny, like changing a light bulb that’s burnt out in the basement. Still, each time I do get something done, whether it’s cleaning a screen or figuring out what to do with the tree that came down in a July storm, it’ll be right, maybe not easy but also not insurmountable. I’ll be able to focus, get it done, and move on. It’ll happen in divine right time.
It’s a life lesson I seem to have to keep learning: how to navigate through the ten-thousand, one-hundred thousand, one-million things that distract my attention to focus on the one, the moment I’m in. It’s all I can do. It’s all any of us can hope to do, breathe into the moment and trust that another one will follow this one. Breath by breath, I come to my own rescue.
Once in a blue moon—what could happen this week in the waning light of August’s second full moon. May it be something magical … Rxo