Clock watcher

As I write this, the computer tells me it's 9:29 a.m. The clock on the wall says it's 9:32. In the kitchen, it's 9:31. The bedroom alarm clocks say 9:41 and 9:27. The VCR says it's 12:00, over and over.

Time, as every working parent knows, is at a premium. But at my house we can't even agree on what time it is.

I point to the wall clock as I'm herding my two sons out the door every morning, and they both consult their watches and inform me that we really have minutes to spare. We get to the car, only to find that the dashboard clock has made liars of us all.

It's not that we want all these variations on time. I periodically go around the house, setting all the clocks to the same time. But they gain a minute here or lose a minute there, and pretty soon confusion reigns. Fresh batteries seem to make no difference. The clocks all have minds of their own. They are, in that respect, just like people, and we know how danged unpredictable people can be.

The measurement of time is an arbitrary device anyway. The only trustworthy measure is light and dark, day and night. Our ancestors invented time so we'd know when to go to work and when our favorite shows are on TV.

We all have an internal clock, telling us when to hurry and when to slow down (if ever), but immense variations exist. Most people go at their own pace, and you can bet their pace will differ from yours. This is why people in management positions gradually pull out all their hair. You can insist that people speed up, yell and sputter and get ulcers, but most folks will go faster only when you're watching. Then it's right back to their own tempo.

We all think we know the correct speed for everyday living. This is why, as some comedian said, everybody driving slower than you is an idiot and everybody driving faster than you is a maniac. He could've added that we're also irritated by people going the exact same speed as us, especially if they're hitting the green lights and we're not.

Family members all seem to have their own timetables, based on temperament and time pressures and how much has to get done before bedtime arrives again. Spouses who work outside the home usually are in the biggest hurry, by necessity. They have too much to do and too little time to do it, plus they lose minutes or hours every day to commuting. Those of us who work at home can move along at a steadier rate, plugging away at our projects and our housework, sure in the knowledge that it'll all get done eventually. Unless we're facing a deadline, then we're the ones who are all harried and weird.

Then there's kid time. Children live at a different speed than us so-called adults. It's not a parallel universe. In their world, EVERYTHING can wait until the last minute. Procrastination is their byword, even if they can't pronounce it. No matter how well you plan and how much you urge and prod, they will move at their own speed (which is to say at a snail's pace) until even all the mismatched clocks in the house will agree that you're late.

At my house, we have to leave for school at 8 a.m. I start nagging at 7:15, saying "we're gonna be late" so many times that even I get sick of hearing it. At 7:59, as I'm ready to walk out the door, one son will discover that -- oops! -- he's still not wearing shoes. The other needs lunch money or can't find his homework. Or, they're both missing their wristwatches and we have to scramble around madly in search of them. Then it's up to Dad to race through traffic -- weaving between the idiots and the maniacs -- to make up that lost time. The fact that we reach school before the bell is a daily miracle.

I'd like to fix this situation. I'd like to teach my sons to plan ahead, to set a schedule, to make certain they can meet life's deadlines. But frankly, I can't find the time.

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