I never knew how confusing time was until my daughter, Savannah, turned 4. It started with a simple question: "When are we going to the pool, Mommy?"
"Tomorrow," I answered.
The next day arrived, and I asked her to get ready to go to the pool.
"Oh," she said. "Is today tomorrow?"
"No, today is today."
She stopped and looked at me from under the rim of her sun hat. "Well, yesterday you said that today was tomorrow." That gave me pause. Yesterday I did say that. Sort of.
The conversation got me thinking about time and what it means to a small child.
Savannah knows that there are still three more months till her birthday, but she thinks she can invite the guests to her party now. And she remembers things from a couple years ago, but thinks they happened just the other day.
I asked her recently if she remembered the day her 18-month-old brother was born. She nodded her head sagely. "That was last month."
Sometimes I wish I had her sense of time. Adults never feel that there are enough hours in the day, but kids seem to think there's plenty of time to do whatever they want.
If I had Savannah's attitude, I'd feel that there was plenty of time to work, play, exercise, cook, clean, sleep, and do all the other things I'd love to have time for. Maybe it's my attitude and I've been looking at the world (or the clock) too narrowly. If I'd stop worrying about not getting everything done, I might realize that I don't really need to. Tomorrow is another day. (Isn't it?)
SINCE I've became a parent, though, not only do I not have time for anything, I am never on time for what I do have to do. Just getting ready to go somewhere with two children seems to take hours of planning and packing.
Going to the pool, for instance: I have to put the kids in their bathing suits, slather on the sunscreen, and find their sandals and hats. Then I pack the car with towels, swim goggles, floaties, beach balls, toy boats, two changes of clothes, snacks, drinks, sunglasses, and every other item I or they can think of.
By the time our vehicle has turned into the Funmobile, I can't remember where I'm going. And after I strap my son into his car seat, I realize I have to change his diaper. By that time, I'm an hour late. But why worry? The person I'm meeting has children, too, and will undoubtedly be late as well.
To children, the issue of past, present, and future can be so baffling.
Last week, my niece was spending the night. As I was giving the girls a bath, I asked Leah when she had last washed her hair. She tilted her head to the side, blowing some bath bubbles off her nose as she considered it.
"Oh," she cried. "I think it was tomorrow!"
Then we get to the "When are we going to get there?" question, which my mom says ranks right up there with "What should I do now?" on the list of my childhood favorites. We were driving to visit some friends recently, and Savannah asked: "How much longer do we have to drive?"
"About an hour," I replied.
"Is that a long time?"
Well, now that depends on what she will be doing: an hour of "Sesame Street" goes by too fast; an hour in the car seems an eternity.
Less than five minutes later, she asked me again. And it brought to mind the answer my father used to give me: "Five minutes less than the last time you asked me." Since I strive not to repeat my parents' answers (smart as they sometimes were), I tell her it will be about 55 more minutes. She smiles. "Then we're almost there."
I frown. "No, we're not."
"But last time you said an hour, and minutes are a lot shorter."
(Actually, this is surprising, because "just a minute," coming from me, usually means a pretty long time. But that's another story.)
I eventually tell her to look out the window or read a book, because time flies when you're having fun. "Time flies," I muse: I wonder what she thinks of that?
Just when I think she's never going to get it, she shows a flash of brilliance. While playing in her bedroom one evening, I ask her to go look at the clock and tell me what time it is. She has digital clocks down pretty well, with the exception of confusing a few electronic numbers like 2s and 5s. She tells me it's "7-5-8." "Are you sure?" I ask. "Because if it's really a 5, then it's your bedtime."
Without missing a beat, she says: "Oh, it's a 2."
I do need to think of a way to explain time to my children. But I just can't seem to find the time. Maybe I'll do it yesterday.