Getting a grip on the slippery slide of time
As we dashed around our neighborhood on Halloween so my ninja (age 7) and his firefighter brother (age 2) could complete their annual free-candy binge, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in months.
We did what all my friends and I do when we see each other these days: We greeted each other (Hi!), apologized to each other (I keep meaning to call you, and I’m so sorry I haven’t had time.) and made plans we can’t keep (Let’s have lunch next week!). Then our kids dragged us away as we waved pitiful, frustrated farewells.
That exchange is just part of the manic rhythm of workdays bookended by scant family time and workweeks flanked by brief weekends full of obligation (birthday party, laundry, groceries, repeat). After eight months back in the full-time work world, I’m starting to realize that it probably doesn’t get easier. You just get used to it.
Part of that getting-used-to-it is that priorities change. A lot. Little luxuries, including friendship, get shoved aside. Cooking bows, cleaning folds, and yard work is a memory.
One day this summer, my older son’s friend from across the street — a very bright 10-year-old girl — took a quick look around our house and then commented “You have a lot of dust bunnies.”
I considered several sharp retorts but decided in the end that I appreciate both honesty and an eye for detail. “We do have a lot of dust bunnies,” I finally said agreeably. “I don’t actually care very much.”
I do care a little, though. Enough to vacuum every three weeks, or at the point when my children begin coming up from playing on the living room rug covered in lint — whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, whenever the doorbell rings, my 2-year-old yells, “Pizza man!” And he’s right more often than he’s wrong. There are three open, half-full bottles of grape juice in the refrigerator because no one is home anymore who’s inclined to say, “Be sure you finish the open one before you start another.” And as I write this I’m sitting at my desk eating a lunch that includes cheese crackers shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants.
We bought a house out in East Brainerd this year, a move that meant a rush-hour commute we hadn’t been used to. My friends in town moan, “Oh, don’t you hate that drive?” but I’ve actually grown to like it.
I like it because the boys are in the car with me every morning, big brother reading from his library book (“Did you know the dinosaurs died because an asteroid crashed into the Earth, and there was a tidal wave and then forest fires?”) while little brother demands that I drive badly so he can get a look at all the vehicles around us (“I want to see that big truck, go catch that big truck.”)
During our drive, I don’t feel guilty about not vacuuming because I’m nowhere near the rugs. I don’t feel bad about not having lunch with my friends because they’re all in their cars, too, somewhere, going to work. This guilt-free interlude is a good warmup for the workday, and it carries me until I see my boys again, usually about 10 hours later.
One of my worst traits, among several serious contenders, is that I get mentally stuck. I think that whatever struggle I’m moving through is forever, whatever crisis is at hand will never be over, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
Right now we’re in a pretty relentless mode of working, raising children and neglecting virtually everything else. It feels like forever, particularly when I hold up these days against the glowing, distant memory of the years my husband and I spent alone, mountain biking after work, eating quietly at restaurants that didn’t have crayons on the table and taking road trips every weekend.
But my mother is good about reminding me how quickly all this child-rearing exhaustion will be over. “The next thing you know they’ll be 35 years old,” she says wistfully. And I know she’s right when I look at my oldest son, who will be 8 in May and already has a mouth full of crooked adult teeth.
“Why does the time go so fast on the weekends?” he recently asked me as I tucked him in on a Sunday night.
“It always goes fast, baby,” I said. “Sometimes it feels slow, but it never really is.”
Our boys won’t need us forever. There will be time for lunch with friends (without crayons), there will be time for conquering dust bunnies, and there will be time for road trips with my husband.
First we just have to learn to enjoy the asteroids, tidal waves and forest fires.