My daughter came home from school the other afternoon with a folder full of completed and not completed papers covered in tally marks, paste, cut-outs, and empty clock faces needing to be adorned, blank like a packed up Mr. Potato head waiting to have his nose plugged in. After a shuffling of coat, backpack, gloves and pencils we cleared a corner of the table to get started on those blank clock faces so as to get on with the more fun aspects of afterschool relaxation (the iPad).
Pleae write your name at the top of your paper. N-a-m-e. So far so good. Please write the numbers on your blank clock (she like's to play school during homework time. Works for me.) Then the first question came.
"Mommy. What are clocks for?"
"To tell time, sweetie."
I answered that one like a champ.
"Mommy? What is time?"
"Uh... A series of moments?"
"What's a moment?"
"A snippet of time? Here. Have a juice box. Mommy needs to think."
I don't know what time is. I know lots of people have very grand notions that involve space and energy, distance, matter, things that are linear and non-linear and stuff like that, measuring of change, maybe? Most people, I imagine, are happy to merely (not that it's a bad thing) think of it as distinct measurable and constant units that come one after another like the ticking of a second hand on a meticulous Swiss watch or maybe the predictable passing of the seasons. Of course, I can't even put that into a simple sentence.
What is time to a kid? It's certainly different for them than it is me. Christmas takes eons to make its return visit in their little kid worlds. I, on the other hand, feel like it's been nothing less than a hot second since vaccuming up the last ornament hook before it's time to drag the boxes of decorations out yet again. Birthdays, appointments, annual events, final Fridays, second Sundays feel like they are falling all around like a waterfall of moments that drain away before I've had a chance to catch my breath, whereas for her, Halloween beckons from a distant shore seemingly unreachable-- a future Disney princess costume taunting her from so far away.
I read a study once (or maybe it was NPR) that said when you're in you're in your 20's, 30's or somewhere aroung that time, you can most accurately judge a true second (1 Mississippi). When you're younger, you count them more quickly (I thought an hour went by! Nope. 20 minutes). And when you get older, you count them more slowly (Didn't we just have the Winter Olympics the year before last? Guess again.).
But even that's not constant. I know that I can savor an instant. I can stretch out those delicious little moments that seemingly exist outside the ticking of the clock-- watching your daughter sleep before it's time to rouse her from slumber where you watch the steady rise and fall of her chest and count the freckles on her nose realizing that next year, the count will be different all the while knowing it's a moment you'll never get back. But you have it now and roll it around in your mind before it too falls away but you've made it last longer than the same instant that occurred with almost identical similarity the day before. Some moments, even little ones, are bigger, longer, than others.
Or what about those little micro-naps that you may have experienced (*cough-guilty-*cough) in an overly warm class room where you suddently are unsure if you've been asleep for 3 seconds or 30 minutes. While it may not be a winning argument with your boss on why you were late, I think that the perception of time is important to its definition.
"Mommy! Please, will you tell me what time is?"
Then my best answer came to me.
"You can ask daddy when he gets home. But now it's time for a snack."