There must be a mathematical equation confirming that the velocity of time increases exponentially with age. Why did the years before I turned 16, 18 and 21 crawl? And yet the time watching my son zip from two to ten, my daughter turn from dress-up to makeup, has passed in an eye blink. When did “time flies” go from being the phrase of my parents to the refrain of my peers? My rational brain knows it could not have been a single moment that began the process. However, I can’t help but wonder if the bearing of children doesn’t somehow set that clock in motion at an unyielding rate. I only know that the minutes seem a bit more swift of late, the moments a bit more precious.
It was one of those frigid Spring afternoons, dreary and raw, when I bumped into an acquaintance. Emblematic of our lives, it was a rushed hello and a dash out the door. But before the goodbye, she said she’d see me at the beach. Only in New England would a thermometer hovering still below 50 prompt the notion of a day at the beach. But the yearning is easy to identify with. In the shadow of our children’s footsteps, we race from sporting event to piano lesson, from pre-arranged play dates to carefully selected club meets. Perpetual motion behind the wheel of an SUV. In such tiny towns, how is it we spend such an inordinate amount of time in our automobiles? If our winter roads are so harsh how do we move so speedily through the shortest of days? And the routine only accelerates when the clocks bump forward. Spring sports verses end-of-year school activities and obligations cause universal conflict. The holiday bustle has nothing on overscheduled children coupled with the rising temperatures of Spring Fever. This break neck pace hurtles on for the too many of us who acquiesce to the race. Continues, that is, until the summer bell. Until we can tear up the weekly scheduling charts, put aside the lists of required reading, and take a moment to join in the collective end-of-year sign. Take a moment, perhaps, to dip into the frigid Atlantic waves, turn the cell phones to mute, leave the wristwatches on the nightstand and spend a day at the beach.
From my narrow perspective, there is a defining lift of burden with that last bus note, that last spring game. It isn’t just that my own work schedule slows to a trickle or that it seems there’s less to accomplish and more time in which to do it. It’s more a sense of the throttle decelerating, a life planing to a more even keel. And it all harkens back to the day when cloud watching had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the dragons in their billows; when the walk to the post office really wasn’t about the bill in my hand. With the caveats of the adults in my life who warned “how quickly they grow,” I frequented the museums and parks. There were rambling bike rides with the little girl in back nodding off en route. There was “Mommy and Me” day for the kindergarten boy. On one trip to the beach, we went off on a tangent and instead took the subway to Faneuil Hall in Boston in search of the “rock dove” from our bird chart. The commuters must have wondered about that five-year-old kid jumping up and down because he finally could check off pigeon from the chart.
Today, the simplicity has been supplanted with the temptations of their twenty-first century lives. While my children willingly maintain their position at the center of their own universes, there’s less space in there for Mommy and Daddy. Instead, we’re often relegated to the neighboring orbit. Held close by our gravitational pull rather than theirs, we hover with an assortment of competing celestial objects: school, sports, clubs, after school jobs, friends, boys. It gets a bit crowded. So my offer of a day at the beach today has appeal only if it includes the invitation to a friend or two. Unfortunately, the time I enjoy spending alone with my kids doesn’t always coincide with the time they wish to spend with me. I am not, however, so thick that I don’t take the time they still give, even if it’s at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
All this to agree with what we all agree upon. That life is short and time truly does pass by more quickly than any of us want. And to offer what I am certain is unneeded advice to my friend awaiting the birth of her first child. There will be a day in your future when you will have too much on your plate. Papers, work, a messy house. There won’t be time for the park or the beach. Go anyway. Ignore all but that tiniest of your responsibilities: that little person who’d love to show you his sandcastle. As a matter of fact, sacrifice the manicure and dig right in.