Time is a funny old thing. The ticking hands of the clock fool us into thinking it’s a constant, moving at the same speed regardless of what’s going on, but time is actually surprisingly malleable. It passes slower the further you get from a source of gravity, so skiiers on a mountain are measurably ageing less rapidly than sunbathers on a beach. Likewise, the faster you travel, the slower time passes, so the astronauts on the International Space Station return to Earth younger than if they’d stayed at home.
Of course, we’re talking nanoseconds here – nothing that humans could notice.
Subjectively, however, time passes at vastly different speeds, depending on our mood, level of attention, hormones and the amount of processing our brain has to do. Ten minutes in the company of a bore can feel like hours; hours in the company of your lover can feel like minutes. The car about to crash into you seems to take forever to hit, but sit down for an exam and half the time is gone before you’ve finished writing your name.
And the larger scale passage of time can be a paradox, being both squashed and at the same time incredibly stretched – especially when you have kids.
‘Can you believe she’s almost four?’ they say. ‘I can’t believe she’s starting school in September.’
On the one hand, it seems like just yesterday she was born; like yesterday we took her home from hospital; yesterday she took her first steps and said her first words. But at the same time, it’s been one hell of a long four years, the longest of my life. And thinking back to before she was born – back when our lives weren’t dominated by children – seems like peering into the distant past. I read about it in history books and it isn’t me.
And another irregularity of time is when you get yourself stuck in a rut – when the days fly by without anything to mark their passing, but they go by So. Freaking. Slow.
It’s a trap I’ve fallen into over the past few weeks. I know we’re supposed to pay attention to every single moment, to enjoy our kids every second of every day because it goes so fast and they’ll never be this age again, but damn – at the moment I’m just running down the clock.
The days have become so slow, so repetitive, and I’m so freaking bored, all I’m doing is waiting for their bedtime, counting down the hours until I can be me again. But as soon as they’re in bed, I’m too tired to do anything, so I too go to bed. And that’s how I’m living. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Park, soft play, beach. Painting, play-do, bath. Every day, the same, the same. Life has been stripped of its fullness.
Time drags, but suddenly it’s the end of week and I’ve done nothing. And I just feel empty, this horrible sense of ennui, this existential nothingness.
Time stretches on endlessly and shrinks to nothing.
So today, to adjust my relationship with time, I have filled my day with fullness. I’ve driven through yellow fields of rape; explored old buildings cloaked in wisteria; and tonight I’m hunting for ghosts in the ruins of an old prison. Because life isn’t about counting the hours, it’s about making the hours count.
I just have to remember that.