Drifting, Rushing, Slipping Time: An Essay for Parents

by Susie Cortright

“When are we going to go again?” my oldest daughter always wants to know, “just you and me?”

Cassidy is five, and she shares a home with two younger siblings whose demands for my eye contact are constant and loud. So I try to orchestrate this one-on-one time with her on a somewhat regular basis. I ask Grandma to watch the other kids so that we can sneak off together, and so she’ll talk to me. I’m always amazed, when I get one of the kids alone, by how very much they have to say.

“I have some running around to do,” I told Cassidy last Saturday. “Do you want to come — just you and me?” I was ready for the usual flurry of words and for the desperateness. “Don’t leave without me. Where are my shoes? Mom, don’t leave without me. Can you help me find my socks? Don’t leave without me.”
But today was different. “What’s Callie going to do?” she asked.

“She’ll stay with Grandma.”

“Do you think Grandma would doctor my baby?” Grandma, a retired school nurse, would most certainly doctor her baby, and she probably wouldn’t be looking at the clock and thinking about the cruddy dishes in the sink while she did it, either, like the dolly’s regular doctor.

And so it was settled. I had to remind myself that this is the same kid who, just six weeks before, was chasing me down the driveway shouting “One More Kiss!” when I left her with daddy one evening to ever-so-subtly bolt for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and ten minutes of peace and quiet at the 7-11 on the corner. Leaving the kids had always made me feel a little guilty but also very, very central and very, very important.

So I left that day, and Cassidy gave me a peck and a quick wave because Grandma had determined that her favorite baby doll had a rather high fever and was at that moment offering detailed instructions on what she, as a good mummy, could do to help.

I missed Cassidy that day as I ran my errands. I missed feeling the way her hand fits into mine. Everyone says we have the same hands. Long, skinny fingers; bulky knuckles, square nails. Eternally dry. I missed the self-conscious way she holds her mouth between sips of hot cocoa that makes me wonder if she’s not imaging herself to be Cinderella. I missed feeling the way time spent alone with my daughter makes me feel — like the queen, with nothing to do but allow each glorious moment to perch on my tongue for a time, like a communion wafer.

The passage of time is an enigmatic thing when you have small kids. In fact, there are two remarks that parents of young children hear at least daily. They are: “You sure have your hands full," and “Oh, the time goes so fast.”

I’ve always been fond of meeting that lament with a reminder to those older, wiser parents that the years sometimes seem to go faster than the actual days. But now I’m starting to see. I’m starting to look back on the last five years, and I'm starting to wonder where it went. Wondering if Cassidy will still hold my hand in a year or two as we walk the crowded downtown streets with our hot chocolate. If she’ll still look at me like the queen. If I’ll soon be telling the tired mothers I pass that oh, the time goes so fast.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would actually look forward to the time each week following our trip to the supermarket when I would have all three kids strapped safely in their carseats so that I could take one guilt-free minute to push the cart to its corral, to hear my shoes scratching across the cement, to notice any birds in the sky and whether the air felt cold against my skin. One lone time-out minute from my life with three kids under age 6 when, yes, I had my hands really, really full.

But I shock myself by writing that last line in the past tense. Clearly, I’m having trouble knowing just what I want the time to do. This week, I’ve spent time looking for life’s rewind, fast forward, and still-pause. Sometimes all at once. But, even as I’m lamenting the time that is gone, I’m beginning to learn how to slow time for myself with pure reverence. Reverence for the process, and for the puzzling way time passes and the way our children grow, both gradually and all at once. And then to resignedly watch time slip through my hands with a detachment and a sense of grace that comes from respecting the process; the drifting, the slipping, the rushing of time that is gone. To hold each of those God-given moments and then to release it, ripe for another.