Elastic Time

It’s recently been hammered home to me how elastic time can be. I’ve suspected it for a while – ever since my husband was supposed to pick me up from work 5 miles from home at 6pm and didn’t leave home until 6pm (this was about 6 years ago and he’s never going to hear the end of it). Man-time is definitely on a different scale to normal time.

But today Toddler Time really hit me. I know children have no idea of time, I knew this before having them. It’s the excuse they give for waking at all hours of the day or night (although personally I’m sure they’ve been to Parent Torture School to get it down to a fine art). The thing I wasn’t prepared for was how elastic their perception of time is.

Example: 3 year old: “I need a wee, I really need a wee. NOW!” We rush off to the toilet, abandoning work in progress, baby, pots of something vaguely home-cooked boiling over on the stove. I help child pull down trousers and pants, expecting him to leap onto the toilet and heave a sigh of relief, as he has obviously been desperate. Instead he becomes fascinated with some pattern on the floor or the way the toilet paper roll spins on the holder. Me: “Daniel? Do you not need a wee any more?” Daniel: “Oh yes I do.” And he carries on gazing around the bathroom searching for the answer to life, the universe and everything. Eventually he gets on the toilet. About 5 minutes after he desperately needed a wee, NOW.

And I won’t even mention getting out of the house for nursery. Now he’s in school nursery, not pre-school, and there’s a proper start time (although his teachers, bless ’em, are so kindly relaxed about it) and it’s almost an Olympic challenge to get both children fed, dressed and a cup of tea down my throat and into the car on time. At this point the Elastic of Time gives up the ghost completely and we move into Slow Treacle mode. Watching him is like watching one of those scenes in panto where the strobe light is on and the actors are playing to it, with exaggerated slowness.

So we’ve established that with small children, as with their fathers, time moves at at least half the speed of the real world. Except that that’s not the end of it. In some ways that would be quite nice. We’d have that cuddly stage for twice as long, he’d be cute and snuggly for longer. Clothes would last for months instead of minutes. But here, time snaps back together with a vengeance and before you’ve blinked, they’re growing out of their clothes, shoes, car seats. They’re not just speaking, they’re stringing together sentences and practically re-writing War & Peace. I keep calling Daniel a toddler, then correcting myself because he’s not anymore. I have to fill out his school application next month. Where’s that time gone? Why couldn’t that move at Toddler Time too? I hear lots of advice to make the most of this time, but it’s impossible because it snaps back and forth too randomly for me to grasp.

Never mind 42, if someone could figure out the secret of Elastic Time they’d have cracked the answer to life, the universe and everything.