Sitting in my second-grade classroom in 1982 I felt as if I was frozen in time. The typical circular thin disc of a wall clock hung above the dusty chalkboard in the front of my classroom. When installing the colorful wallpaper border decorated with math problems the teachers trimmed it into an arc so the clock didn’t have to be taken down. The clock was that important. Its second hand seemed to move, but the rest of the hands appeared as if they were glued to the center shaft. The clock was my enemy. I wanted to be at home or outside playing; anywhere but at school. I had good friends at my elementary school that I looked forward to seeing every day, but I preferred the possibility that I could hang out with them daily elsewhere.
School seemed to last forever. I struggled to keep awake daily taking notes in my Trapper Keeper. I’d glance in earnest every few minutes to double-check time was indeed moving forward. I’d sigh in disgust every time I looked. Time seemed to stand still. The clock didn’t miraculously jump to 3 p.m. (when we were given our freedom) but instead calmly showed that it was just a few minutes later each time I looked. I would silently beg the clock to help me out. Hurry up! But that just seemed to make it slow down. Clocks are evil. Each class period felt as if it dragged on even longer every week. My frustrations grew. I’d stare at the clock more often. The clock used this against me and seemed to slow down even more. It was playing games with me.
As I’ve aged, clocks have decided to play a different game. They’ve sped up. In my 40s I found morning routines to be refreshing. Waking up early, before the sunrise, to exercise and get work done is peaceful and productive. I would never have attempted this plan in my 20s and 30s. Time didn’t seem to speed up every day back then, so there was no need to worry about not finishing things. I had ample time it seemed. Today, however, my ambitions for each day start in a sprint set off by a starter pistol posing as my alarm. Those idealistic goals quickly stumble and fall soon after. 3 p.m. comes fast. My to-do list is usually half done. Where did the day go?
As I have a daughter, 3 p.m. is still that magic number where schools grant their pupils freedom from books, lectures, and tests to head home to Netflix, iPads, and outdoor shenanigans.. This means as a parent my day ends at 3 p.m. as well. A car ride to my daughter’s school and whatever activities she’s involved with after are capitalized in a yawn as I crawl into bed. I set my alarm to start all over the next with delusional hope that time will slow down. 3 p.m. in second grade marked the beginning of my day; a time of freedom and adventure. 3 p.m. in my 40s is typically the end of my available time to be productive and creative. It’s the start of renewed responsibility and rushing around.
I do not regret being a parent nor do I dread transforming into a chauffeur after school lets out. What I do wonder is if I made the best use of the time I had up until 3 p.m. These thoughts spin in my head while I drive my daughter all over town. Ever since I started to observe time seemingly move faster, the clocks in my life have decided to speed up even more. The 3 p.m. shift of responsibilities, which once felt adequate, often now feels like it was only an hour after 8 a.m. when I dropped off my daughter at school. Lunch happens each day, but instead of noon, it feels like it happened 30 minutes after I left the middle school parking lot in the morning.
I fear daily that time will decide it needs to speed up more every week. I already feel like my life isn’t long enough to do what I hoped to do, whereas when I was 7 being 40 felt like a hundred years away. I had lifetimes to see the world and be a famous artist two times over. Now it feels like five years from now I’ll be in a nursing home while my daughter drives me to save money eating an early bird dinner at a Denny’s. I’ll be humming Cat Stevens and wondering where the time went.
Maybe I’m being overly emotional about time? Time happens. It marches on. Humanity invented the concept, however. Possibly removing clocks from my peripheral and direct vision would help me not view it as working against me? It could be worth the experiment. Enjoying my day without the worry of 3 p.m. seems like a risk worth taking.
When I was 7, clocks kept me from having fun and trapped me in the classroom; bored. At 46, clocks prevent me from something similar. I’m stuck in a loop feeling like I can’t be productive and enjoy life in the time leading up until 3 p.m. It’s time for a change; a new perspective on time, which means not paying attention to it. I can enjoy my day without 3 p.m. as a marker for success or failure. Instead, I can try to be ok with what I’ve done and experienced prior so I better enjoy everything that comes after with my daughter – even a possible meal at Denny’s one day when she becomes my chauffeur for a 3 p.m. early dinner.