I’m pretty sure that when I die, my epitaph will read, “C’mon c’mon c’mon! We’re going to be late!” It’s a sobering thought, really. Not so much the dying part, but the “we’re going to be late” part. Because I come from an impressive line of on-time people. My family has long prided itself on our timeliness, to the point that even my typically clueless children have noticed that their grandmother can absolutely be depended upon for arriving at least 15 minutes before any engagement. One of our family’s favorite stories to re-tell is the time our irate father nearly broke his watch at a restaurant in Arizona, as he pounded on it furiously while asking an unsuspecting waiter if he had any idea what time it was (while not so subtly indicating that our food was, indeed, quite late). My brother doesn’t even wear a watch, yet he is freakishly on time. And for the first 30-something years of my life, I too was Little Miss Timely when it came to being somewhere at the appointed hour.
And then I had children. Two boys who blithely ignore the concept of time. Who don’t seem to care that it’s raining out and their poor dad is waiting for us at the Kiss & Ride. That we’re late for a birthday party at the Ultra Zone. That the soccer game starts in five minutes (!) and we don’t even have our cleats on. That we can hear the squeal of the school bus’ brakes, and we’re still struggling to get backpacks on.
I’ve tried everything: setting buzzing egg timers at breakfast, surreptitiously moving the clock hands a few minutes ahead, giving advance 10-5-3 minute warnings. And yet still, I have more than once walked into my son’s room, only to find him sitting motionless on the edge of the bed, sock halfway onto his foot, staring dreamily at the ceiling.
I’ve bought them both watches, patiently worked with them to learn how to tell time. Tried guilting them by asking them to imagine how it would feel if their friend was the one who was late. Ranted and raved. Screamed. Explained in no uncertain terms that being late is unacceptable … that by being late, they’re indicating that they don’t respect others’ time. And still, nothing.
So this summer, I threw in the towel. Not by giving up on being timely, but by giving up the need to be anywhere. Camp catalogs got tossed in the recycling bin the moment they arrived in the mail, and the only thing we signed up for was swim team at a pool 2.3 minutes from our house, which doesn’t start until three hours after my kids typically wake up. This, they can manage.
The result is that our summer has taken on a dreamy new quality. I wear a watch only sometimes. I haven’t yelled in at least a week that we need to go NOW. Bedtime is, well, whenever. I have even noted that our family’s “Summer List,” which we make every Memorial Day and which includes such things as “make home-made lemonade, pick berries, catch fireflies, eat ice cream on the front porch, camp out in the backyard, and go kayaking,” includes not a single item that must be done at any particular time. We are a family without deadlines.
It is a glorious state of being, and I find myself dreading the start of school—with its schedule of bells and tardy slips and requirements—as strongly and as purely as a teenager. I watch the calendar pages turning far too quickly, feel panicky that summer is slipping by, wish desperately that I could just slow down time.
And I realize (with a sad, deflated sigh) that this summer is just as much about paying attention to time as it’s always been. Little Miss Timely cannot, it seems, escape from watching the clock.
This article was originally published July 14, 2011 on Patch.com.