Time Travel With My Daughters
25th May 2015
Time has become slippery since my daughters arrived.
When they were babies, time seemed endless. Afternoons would yawn ahead of me and I would think of ways to kill time between three and five pm before the sudden temporal acceleration that comes with dinner-bath-and-bed.
Now our days are rapid, hectic, fast. I can feel time passing at great speed. I can see it too – Sophie’s trousers are shrinking, Liv’s tooth is wobbling and I have stopped buying baby wipes. That irritating oxymoron “enjoy them while they’re little” is beginning to make sense.
Our days are full of routines and activities and urgency. I have started saying things like:
“I don’t want to be late.”
“We’re going to be late.”
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”
I’m breathless when I arrive somewhere, consulting my watch like a marathon runner checking for a PB. It adds adrenaline to my days; a frantic kind of time-lapse terror that I never knew before children.
Getting Olivia to the bus on Wednesdays and Fridays puts a pulse of stress through our household. If we aren’t out that door by 7:45am then life as we know it might cease to exist. Once, Matthew made it to the bus with just seconds to spare. He came back and told me about it with a triumphant twinkle in his eye, feeling like he had done the impossible – left the house at 7:50 and still caught the bus. I think he was hoping I would hand him a magnum of champagne that he could spray around the kitchen like the Formula 1 Grand Prix winner. But, we only have milk in our fridge these days.
It’s interesting though that my children have no concept of time – slippery or otherwise. They wake and ask what day it is, like elves – oblivious to the days of the week, calendars and clocks, watches and schedules. I envy them. And I feel bad when I cut short their pyjama-clad play to wrestle them into ironed uniforms and too-big back packs.
My daughters move slowly of a morning – they’re like sloths in thick mud. The older one wanders around, reluctantly moving away from her toys and into the kitchen. She stops to fiddle with magnets on the fridge and becomes distracted by the moon still mooning in the morning sky. When she takes her place at the table, she challenges her sister to twist her hands to make a loop like this and then this and…
…and the whole time I’m stuck in my head screaming
HURRY UP AND EAT YOUR BREAKFAST!
I grow old just waiting for them to get into the car. First we admire the spiderwebs/ flowers/ weeds/ bees/ possum poo/ shadow or whatever other freak of nature catches the four-year-old’s eye. Then it is the slow clamber up into the car. I know it’s hard for her – I know she’s little – I know it’s a bit of a climb, but seriously? She doesn’t need to poke her hand into every alcove on the door or try the window button or press the childlock thingy as she climbs aboard. On making it into the vehicle, she does a ground cover sweep that includes picking up every single piece of junk littering the floor – this includes most of Barbie’s accessories.
(side note: I try – every now and then – to enforce a rule:
NO TOYS IN THE CAR.
This rule is hard to impose because when I am trying to get them out the door and into the car, they start making demands. It’s like a hostage situation. There’s no time to negotiate. I am forced to agree with their terms. “Yes – okay – you can bring Barbie/Elsa/Anna/the cast of Frozen and Ken with a change of clothing for each.”)
Finally, Sophie is in her car seat; a seat that I believe was made by sadists at Bastards Incorporated. The shoulder straps are made in such a way that they fold over, invariably twisting the belt. This makes it a millimetre too short for the satisfying click that means the child is strapped in and safe to travel. So, there’s a few minutes of seatbelt wrangling and swearing (which has to be done at a whisper because kids are like a pirate’s macaw and repeat every naughty word they hear).
Once she’s strapped in I shut the door just as she drops her beloved toy. She cries out as though her fingers are jammed and I have to whip open the door and retrieve the toy, lest she undoes her buckle and the process has to begin again.
Sometimes the process of getting into the car is longer than the car trip.
This is not a joke.
Meals also provide a sensation of time travel: two planes of time seem to intersect when it comes to my daughters and food.
The first plane is hunger. Perpetual hunger gnaws at their bellies and even though I have wormed them regularly, there seems no relief for this condition. No sooner have I packed up the breakfast dishes than the four-year-old starts swinging off the pantry doors singing “I’m hungry…”
And yet an additional and contrary plane co-exists with the hunger plane. This is the dimension of slow eating. Their food has to be sniffed, sauced, prodded, poked, mashed, moved, flattened, forked, observed and overturned. An entire commentary accompanies this process: the food is described, sung to, spoken to and spoken for. I do not know why I bother making their meals hot because I am confident they’ve never eaten anything until it was stone cold. Meals like tacos take over an hour to eat because they talk through the construction like Jamie Oliver. People tell me (all the time) that eating at the table as a family is special. Those people have never known the joy of a Happy Meal thrown on the lounge room floor while Dora the Explorer tramples across the television screen.
My girls can time travel to the future too. Lately, the nearly-seven-year-old has provided me with alarming glimpses into the teenage years. She’s rolled her eyes, huffed at me and sighed – and all because I asked her to do something… something that a few days ago she would do with an agreeable ‘yes Mum’ and a pleasant smile on her angelic face. The teenage glimpses have frightened me – I’m Mum enough to admit that. There’s a sickening sense of control slipping away and the gnawing awareness that she’s soon going to realise I’m only human. The four-year-old tries it out too; imitating her sister’s huff and puff and telling her father he’s lame. Right now, it comes off as cute and funny but I’m dreading the days (the years) when they are teenagers together, huffing and puffing and bitching the house down.
I’ll confess now that I’m a self-help junkie and have read enough about being present to recognise the irony of my situation. My children are forcing me to live in the moment and cognitively, I ‘get’ that it’s important to BE in the PRESENT. But it’s a grudging, almost aggressive mindfulness I’m exercising when they take turns pressing the remote that makes the roller door move up and down.
‘Enjoy them while they’re little’ or regret it forever. That’s the sinister subtext that nobody says out loud. But it’s hard to enjoy every minute. Some minutes aren’t enjoyable and sometimes I’m too tired. There’s no pause button for childhood. I’ve got no way of slowing things down or speeding things up (namely those nights when everyone’s vomiting). It’s just day after day after day where it seems like nothing much changes but everything is – right in front of us. I think noticing those changes is as important as enjoying them. It’s good to just take stock every now and then and notice where things are at, where we’ve travelled from and where we might be headed to… Like just taking a moment to think – I’ve got a remarkable four-year-old and a witty almost-seven-year-old. And look at that – Liv’s tooth just fell out!