Minutes aren't all equal in my life as a mom. Some minutes are over faster than you can
yell at the top of your lungs say "THE BUS IS HERE!" and some drag on, expanding tortuously, defying all logic and wearing at that last frayed nerve that is like an ancient rope suspension bridge connecting you to sanity over the raging waters of parenting chaos.
First, the fast moments of my day. For the most part, the last 10 minutes before we need to go ANYWHERE at any time do not go at normal speed. We can be trucking right along, the kids are dressed, jackets have been located, I myself am ready, and then all of a sudden time speeds up unexpectedly like the narrow part of the hourglass decided to just widen completely and dump all the remaining sand at once. Where is that last mitten? (three minutes goes by in about thirty seconds while searching) I thought I put the car keys right here? (two more minutes go by in between the time I look at the oven clock, blink, and look back).
Then there is the time it takes to actually get from the house into the car, buckled into car seats, keys in the car and backing out of the driveway. Now, in normal Earth speed of time, this should realistically only take maybe like two minutes, but I enter some kind of bizarre parent time warp after I step through the doorway of my house and make my way to the car. I am always, ALWAYS late after I get the "all ready" sign from the backseat that everyone is buckled in.
This specific area of "speed time" usually (okay, almost always) occurs when I have to take the kids to the doctor's office. Even when I start out with extra time, trying to be very conscientious of getting there early, without fail I will wind up at least a few minutes late. But, oddly enough, time decides to flip-flop at the doctor's office. It goes at warp speed making you late, UNTIL, that is, you get into the waiting room. That's when time stands still. While time is standing still your children however remain animated. Very animated, even. You flip through the books in the room, keeping your voice low, pleasant, calm, you are at the doctors office after all and no one wants to be seen yelling at their child who is bouncing around the exam room in their underwear. It seems like you have been in there for an eternity and you start wondering if you should in fact just poke your head out and then you realize you've only been waiting ten minutes.
Another witching hour where time plays tricks on you? The hour after dinner and bath but before actual bedtime. Maybe you started the bedtime stuff early and all of a sudden you look at the clock and you're like "6:30? That can't be right!" I have even looked at the oven clock and then checked my phone because I was in disbelief at how EARLY it still was. How could we still have an HOUR until bedtime? So we putter around and maybe watch a show, but time is inching, crawling by. It's as if the collective unconscious of children wanting to postpone bedtime has somehow altered the space-time continuum and has doubled the amount of time in an hour. This occurs usually on those days where you have just slogged through. We all know those days. Those days when you tackle one task at a time without thinking of all of the things you had to do, because if you DID think of all the things you had to do you would hide under your covers watching Dancing with the Stars episodes while drinking wine from a coffee mug. But no, not you, you get through it and finally, mercifully arrive at bedtime, only to find out, no. You aren't at bedtime, you are THIS CLOSE to it but it isn't bedtime. Not yet.
This hour is usually filled with the kids getting an 11th wind and finding out new ways to jump off the couch onto their heads or spilling a glass of orange juice under the couch but only half under the couch so you can't ignore it even for a minute. The dumping out of the box of blocks or Legos occurs most frequently during this hour, and without fail children will remember things they have known all day during this hour like "I have to bring in a project about wind tomorrow" or "Don't forget it's a two hour delay tomorrow." YES.
Other times that are affected by this drawn out extended time include but are not limited to: the last day of winter vacation, any time spent waiting in any line with a toddler, airplane rides, the time it takes to locate a bathroom with a potty training or just potty trained child, the time between afternoon and bedtime for a toddler who just gave up nap time.
Even with this seeming injustice of time in parenting, there are opportunities to make the most of it. Like catching the last tail end of that super mega long hour of bedtime. After they've settled down enough to remain at least ON their beds for the most part, they've already used an inordinate amount of minutes brushing teeth and getting water, using the bathroom, getting more water, picking out books, deciding against that book and then arguing about said book with brother and finding another one, there they are. Clean, fed, teeth brushed, wet hair plastered against damp foreheads. And you look at the clock again and realize that yes, you do in fact have the time to read a story. You begin to read, and they begin to get sleepy, maybe they snuggle up with you, or you get to peek at them, still for a moment but still awake, in that quiet hum of little energy filled children falling asleep.
The problem is, you can't really control which ones are long and which ones are short. Even when you really, truly want the time to stretch out, that's when it seems to jump out of your hands the fastest. But sometimes it is those blink and you'll miss it moments that will stretch out in your heart and last the longest. Like when Levy was in The Nutcracker. Sitting there waiting for her to come out seemed like an eternity. I made the biggest effort to focus on each and every dancer and take it all in, but in the back of my mind I kept wishing it forward to when she was coming out. And when she did it went by so fast I almost cried at how brief it was. There will only be one moment when I had a five year old smiling Gingerbread dancing on stage. But in my heart, and in my mind, I have stretched it out to one of the long hours. Playing it over in my head, trying to remember and flesh out every detail, making it last longer.
As the kids get older, it all seems to be going at warp speed, and it's almost as if chunks of time didn't even happen. Finn is in second grade? But I was just at his preschool graduation? I mean it, I was JUST THERE. I swear.
I'm not going to sit here and say something about making each moment last, because as parents we know that's not very close to reality. We will all wish for more time eventually, even if we tried to practice mindfulness in every single moment, it will never be enough time. And you don't have to feel guilty for when you wish certain hours to move along faster. Those long hours are still going to drag by on days when you are tired. You are going to wish you could put them to bed at 4 p.m. on some days. What I want to say is, even when time seems like it is speeding up, just keep your eyes open, keep your heart open, because those moments will live with you as long as you are taking them in, however brief. And once in a while you will find yourself at the sweet spot of a long hour when you and the kids both meet at the perfect minute to share, and that minute will open up for you, giving you space to breathe it all in.
Jenny Witte writes a regular blog at mamatoga.com, where this piece first appeared.