Clock Slayers Bring Time Back to Life (or something like that ... I'm too overtired to understand Faulkner)

“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” – William Faulkner

This morning I was woken up by my 2-year-old, who slid all the covers off my body, pulled himself onto the bed, climbed onto my back and proceeded to use all four of my limbs as train tracks for the little red engine in his hand.

Neither one of us said a word, and after opening one eye to see the time — 6:29 a.m. — I closed it and sank back into my pillow, trying to convince myself this was like a little mini massage and I could just go right back to sleep.

That’s when he turned on the train’s whistle.

As I lay there listening to the shrill whine and chug-chug-chug of the toy, I thought about how long it had been since I’d woken up on my own. My internal alarm clock is no doubt rusted out and dead from lack of use. Having children has meant their internal alarm clocks trump mine every single time. It doesn’t matter how late I stayed up or how many times they woke up in the middle of the night for feedings or diaper changes or a parental reassurance in the dark. They’re still almost always up earlier than my body would choose to be if it was in charge. Which it isn’t.

I have friends who tuck in their kids around 7:30 p.m., close their bedroom doors and rarely open them again until 7:30 a.m. I’m sure some of these kids are amazing sleepers. I suppose others are well trained to stay in bed, or at the very least stay quiet. Our boys were never amazing sleepers, and a strict lights out, parents out policy was never our style. So while I’ve always been envious of the predictability of such lavish amounts of free time and uninterrupted sleep, I still prefer the loose system we have of musical beds and multiple wakings. (OK I don’t prefer the multiple wakings, but I’ve made my peace with it.)

Very young children are acutely aware of their own internal clocks, and nothing else. They wake when they’re ready to wake, no matter how obscene the number is on the bedside clock. And they sleep when they’re ready to sleep, no matter where they are or how high the sun still is in the sky.

Externally, though, they don’t quite get it. My kids ask what’s for dinner when they mean breakfast. “Yesterday” could be 10 minutes ago or two years ago, depending on what they’re recalling. They think that a return to a local amusement park we went to weeks ago is imminent, even though we’ve told them we’ll go again next year. That’s because “next year” to them is both tomorrow and a million days away.

Conversely, living with them has shown me how dependent we adults are on schedules and clocks. There are many days I spend 20 minutes or more trying to cajole them into sitting down for lunch “because it’s time for lunch.” They revolt, saying “It’s not time for lunch, Mommy!” What I mean is that it’s noon, and we have to get lunch out of the way so that we can move on to reading books and taking naps. What they mean is that they’re not hungry yet; it will be lunchtime when they are hungry, and until then please leave them alone. I am paying attention to the clock on the wall; they are paying attention to the clock in their brains.

One of my biggest challenges as a mother has been honing the ability to focus on the brilliance of the moment rather than the five things I have to get done before naptime. To watch their faces instead of the clock, to respond to their wishes and giggles and neediness regardless of what I think they should be doing based on what the big hand and the little hand are pointing to.

It can be so hard to succumb to the immediacy of childhood, to respond instantly when you feel your covers sliding away and your happily slumbering body being roused prematurely yet again. But doing just that is imperative, if for no other reason than because the tick-tick-tick never actually stops. In fact it’s pretty much on warp speed from the second you give birth until forever. Kids change in a heartbeat. I swear to you, there are days my children wake up from their naps and their faces have matured in that hour while they slept. Two months ago I was still cutting Evan’s sandwiches into bite-sized pieces because he hadn’t yet mastered the whole “Just take a bite!” concept. Now he’s biting his way through an entire PB&J like the big boy that he is quickly becoming.

Last week Kostyn couldn’t reach the faucet to turn it on and wash his hands by himself. Today he can. I don’t know how this happened, but it did, like magic. And the recognition of this feat, for me, was both wonderful and sobering.

Time is magic. Now you see it, now you don’t. It is at once a pounding in your head of to-do lists and deadlines and meetings and appointments and dinner to get on the table and one more book to read before lights out. Then, *Poof!* It’s gone. The lights are out.

One day right around the corner I will once again wake to the persistent, emotionless beep-beep-beep of my alarm clock, and I’ll plod down the hall to the boys’ room to wake them for school. “Time to get up!” I can hear my future mom self calling to them, opening curtains and telling them how much time before the bus gets here. “Hurry or you won’t have time for breakfast.” Because there’s never enough time.

And in that moment of wishing for more time I will be greedy, as all parents are. I will long to rewind the clock not just to give us all more time for breakfast, or more time to sleep in. I will wish the clock much further back … all the way back to the days when my body became a train track at 6:30 in the morning. Back to when the clock stopped, and time came to life.


Rachel said...

Thank you for the reminder that one day I will miss these too early wake up calls. I hope I am able to enjoy these moments while they are happening instead of looking back and wishing I hadn't complained so much about hearing my almost 2 year old yelling, Mommy sleep all done, at 5am.

Sara (The Middle Daughter) said...

The only way I've survived the sleepless last few years (and gear my self for the ones yet to come) is to remind myself that it won't last forever. They won't WANT to sleep with me forever, won't' NEED my cuddles forever... and that my time with them is limited... so I will take what I can get right now!

Sheila said...

Love the post. And you make some great points. But I'm not about to revoke the "Seven-o-clock" rule in our house just yet :)