Time for This
Last Tuesday morning after a long weekend I heard a mom say to her crying child on the playground before school, “Come ON, you need to stay here. I don’t have TIME for this.” The child wailed softly, “I don’t want to be here today.” I didn’t stay there to see what happened after, but the mama and the child and the younger child went off the school grounds together. The mom didn’t seem especially fierce, in the way that I have had moments of being implacable and frustrated and fierce in the face of my kids’ needfulness that I wouldn’t/couldn’t let myself be soft to.
But there is so much here that makes my heart hurt, and most of it wraps around time and our measures of importance and mattering.
This isn’t really going to be about parenting, except that in my worldview many things come down to how we were parented and how we are parenting: how we learned and are passing on what we know of how this world works. And we all live in differently functioning worlds. Some habits and patterns are of course more functional than others.
What I am thinking about this morning is TIME.
I read an article a while back somewhere in the vastness of space that is the internet on how European life was changed by the invention of the clock and the installation of the clock tower in the centre of every town. (I just did a brief search for the exact article that I read, but couldn’t find it. There are many articles out there, though, if you’re interested.) The ringing of the bell tower to mark the hours of the day and night was the beginning of the equation time=money. I’m sure it didn’t take long before time=money=human worth. This is one of the pillars that hold up the capitalist system that we still live within.
I guess I’m gutted by what I’m feeling about how easy it is to sweep messy human feelings and body needs under the rug of time. “We don’t have TIME for this,” means, “Suck it up, push those feelings down, and turn your attention back to the more important outside world and its demands.” I think here of the report that I read recently of a women in her late 20s in Japan who worked herself to death in a corporate setting – the total denial of body needs…
How many, many times during my kids’ young childhood did I try to rush them when they were having lots of feelings only to have it explode on me into full-on meltdown mode? How many times did I have to learn the lesson that slowing right down, sitting down and reaching for them and listening actually got us where we were going faster than trying to force them to stuff it and “behave,” where behave means not letting the feelings be seen or expressed? How long, oh God, how long did it take me to see that when I was rushing them I was also glossing over my own feelings that I had already automatically squashed and stuffed? All I had access to then was frustration, not my underlying feelings of wanting connection with my kids and resenting wherever it was that we were trying to get to that I had made more important than the possibility of sweet connections with my people.
One of the most important things that I am being asked by my daughter to do right now is to connect with her through conversation at the end of the day before she sleeps. Pillow talk of immense proportions. She wants to talk about the things that she has chosen to read about at school: the English children who came to Canada as “war guests” during WWII and the polio epidemic, for example… On a night that her school had had a “Hold and Secure” order from the Victoria Police where they lock all the doors and no one gets in or out because of something going on in the neighbourhood, we ended up talking about Lockdown drills and US gun policy and mass shootings. It’s intense. And though one would think, holy moley, that’s not bedtime conversation, this is what is giving her juice these days and our bedtimes are clearer and so much easier when we have connected over these things, strange as they are in terms of subject.
When I don’t make the time for these connections, her bedtime is rocky and full of silliness as she puts herself out into the world to try and connect. And actually I’d like to clarify “bedtime” as the time at which she goes to bed, which is not in fact any particular hour on the clock. One of the ways that bedtime goes sideways with this kid is if I lean too hard on “clock time” as the reason that she should be settling down – trying, in essence, to use this abstract thing to force her to control her emotional needs. Sheesh. Another of the ways that bedtime can go sideways is if SHE leans too hard on clock time and isn’t listening to “body time” for the needing to go to sleep cues.
It’s really hard to balance living in this clock time dominated culture with making the time/space for emotional and body needs as they arise. Heck, it's hard to even give value to those body needs - to admit that they matter.
We circumvent our feelings and our bodies for clock based situations on a regular basis.
Late for the doctor’s appointment, you bash your head on the car doorframe when you’re getting out because you’re rushing. Your body would have you sit back down in the car, hold your head and weep. The clock says suck it up and go. What do you do?
At work your co-worker says something totally unrelated to you that triggers immense grief for you. Your body would have you hide in the bathroom moaning, but you are on company time. What do you do?
You are short cash this month because last month you missed three days of work because of this impressively explosive… thing. But now you are sick with a lung thing and you look like death. But if you don’t put in your time, you don’t get paid. What do you do? How do you balance your health against the need for rent money? What about your co-workers’ health when you expose them to what you’ve got? It is insane to have to use measures like this on our health and well-being.
The one morning that you absolutely have no time to spare, you’re rushing your kids through everything trying to get everybody out the door on time, and of course they’re dragging their heels. You’re so wound up you’re barking at them to get their shoes on. One of them is going to burst into tears soon, or they’re going to start punching each other to ease the tension. Breathe instead. Kneel down and put that kid’s shoes on for him. It doesn’t matter that he’s six and can do it himself.
It matters that you’re connected.
It matters that you’re connected to yourself, to your body, to your feelings, and to your people and their feelings.
Think about all the places where you feel tight for time. What can you do to loosen that hold? Where can you take off the pressure and the stress that hang off those numbers on the clock? How can you connect with you, and with your beautiful, one-and-only body?
For me, by the time we get to evening, I’m done. And I’m talking like 7:30, not 9:00. It turns out that the best thing for me to do if I’m done at 7:30 is to go lie down in bed, even if I’m not going to sleep and I’m going to move beds a lot as first one kid and then the other comes to bed and wants snuggles (we all sleep in the same room, though different beds). If I take myself out of the bedtime grind and I’m not hassling my kids every five minutes to brush their teeth, quite often everyone is happier and we get to bed overall earlier than if I nipped at their heels. At first I felt a bit ridiculous to be doing this. You’re an adult and you’re going to bed at 7:30? Yes, yes I am. My body says to lie down, so I’m going to lie down. Those numbers are just numbers. When I lie down because it’s body time to go to bed, then I’m more in my body and my body is softer. It takes so much goddamned precious effort to force myself through to some more “acceptable” adult clock time bedtime, putting stress on my body for some set of arbitrary concepts.
What can you do for you to separate at least a little from the self-denial that we learned when we learned clock time?
How can you let your body and your feelings know that you do, actually, have time for this?