Poems & Essays

10 Nov

Keeping Time

Toddlers to Teens No Response

“Seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four.” My son whisper counts on the pillow next to me. His dad, squinting into the closet in the early-morning darkness, snags a shirt from its hanger and starts counting on. “Seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven—”

“Papa is seventy-four,” my son interrupts.

“How old are you?” asks my husband.

“Four.”

“How old am I?” my husband presses.

“One hundred!”

“One hundred? How old is Mommy?”

“Twenty.”

“Yep,” I chime in, laughing. “You got it right!”

He divides age into those who are “kids” and those who are “people,” so twenty and one hundred have a single meaning: not a kid. Five minutes to my son means counting to five. Ten minutes is a million billion of too long to wait.

He savors his food, soaking blueberries in his water cup before eating them one by one and saving the last fruit-snack bunny because “he’s my best friend and I’ll keep him forever.” Last year was last week, and yesterday was a visit to grandma’s that happened three months ago.

Time matters in moments.

Dad is indeed seventy-four. A number of the elderly, but who am I to talk as I approach the ancientness of forty. To look at his face—he’s tired but hardly a wrinkled old man. Hair went missing long ago, but he can’t pop out his teeth like his dad used to do.

He says time goes faster when you get old.

Retirement lifted the pressure of “have to” and opened up a paradox of so much time to do as he likes with only so much time left. Perhaps the urgency to live fully has renewed vigor in him as he began to feel the fleeting of days. He started volunteering at a museum. He joined the community choir.

Time before my thirties was like the metronome set on adagio. Some moments hit presto, such as the milestones of school graduations, but the tempo always reset to slow and steady.

Perhaps the endless looping played into why I swore I never wanted children. I could pick and choose my own adventure. The symphony kept adding movements and I didn’t see the song ending. Besides, the dark and twisted world didn’t need more babies to hurt. I could fend for myself and maybe even make a difference, but what time did I have for sons or daughters, and how could I make their song turn out sweet?

The switch from no to yes, please, I want a baby, grew out of mere months of working with five and six-year-old students. The metronome couldn’t keep up with their daily spontaneous witticisms, and I found myself stunned to hear the music changing in me. I couldn’t wait for each day to start where I could mentally record every encounter with their silliness and wisdom. Sadly, I could only take home anecdotes not kids.

I honestly don’t remember how the baby conversation went with my husband, who was always on board. But, when I made my decision, I wanted to start trying right away because my father wasn’t getting any younger. I wanted the two generations to have time together for bedtime stories, model trains, and inside jokes.

Then presto, less than a year later we had a son. My dad was at the hospital to hold the baby in his first hours of life. We shared this beautiful new one and time stood still.

Though the baby days inched along in sleep deprivation and soothing lullabies, something happened, something that felt like a time warp, because my son grew to four. On a recent outing, I stood back smiling as we ambled along the river trail, and my son, sticks in hand, started to sneak up on his Papa. He darted from tree to tree, making his way like a playful kitten ready to pounce. My dad turned around to the sound of shrieks as my little boy froze in place. Then the sneaking progressed until he ran out of trees.

Papa and grandson share many interests, such as a love of music. My boy slams out his original piano “compositions” while sometimes letting Papa play him a song. On Thanksgiving Day they sat side-by-side on the piano bench, taking turns with their own tunes. Like a pair of crows they collect everything—hoarding scraps of paper, birthday-party trinkets, stair-stepped stacks of books, random LEGO pieces or electronic parts. Each treasure has a memory worth preserving.

For more than a decade, I followed the work of author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who spread the message: “Make the most of your time here.” Her journey of life created beauty from the ordinary. She died this past March, only fifty-one, in the month my father celebrated his seventy-fourth year. I return to her words as I wipe my eyes at her life cut short but spent with purpose.

I see my son and my dad pressing play on her words like a soundtrack to their lives. Making the most of his time, my son accepts every butterfly’s invitation to dance, and gives pause to celebrate every roly poly in the dirt. He blows bubbles and watches them fly high “to outer space” because he believes in possibility.

Dad may have regrets, but he’s constantly on the lookout for ways in which to fill his life. He’s not beer and golf and Saturday football; he’s 10,000 steps a day and Friday night art shows and the history of England. He’s radio antennas and how-does-this-work and serving food to students who could use a little more. Maybe he knows that making the most of your time here is just living each moment completely.

Choosing motherhood changed time for me. Gone are the feelings of endless days of youth, yet not quite here is the rush of life almost over. The metronome ticks, but I don’t count the beats. I’m trying to find a balance on the timeline between kid and old. The wisdom of my son and father urges me to vacuum less and save more worms from the sidewalk. Remembering Amy, I know that it’s never too late to keep making music with the notes I have.

 

 

 

Annie Hindman writes from the wilds of Idaho, where she stays home with her four-year-old son. When she can’t answer all of his questions she writes about them, sometimes on her blog at touchingoninfinity.com.

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