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Speed and Stillness

Oh, these poor, poor children of mine.

They have inherited my incendiary impatience, my lack of tolerance for anything taking even a second longer than it has to. This weekend we were stopped at a red light in the car. As soon as it turned green, there was a cacophonous howling from the back seat: “Mummy, go! It’s green! Go, go, go!” my daughter even said, as snidely as I often do, “It isn’t going to get any greener, Mummy.” Wow.

And then my son broke in with, “Maybe that person didn’t see the green light because they were on their blackberry.” I guess they really are listening, all the time. The irony is not lost on me that as I struggle to slow down and enjoy moments with these children, they actually urge me to speed up, move on, go faster, faster, faster. And beneath that irony is the knowledge that this is All My Fault. They have internalized the fact that everything is basically a rush from me. And then we get there five minutes early, and have empty time with which to stand around and wait. Always.

Here it is, the burning hot center of my struggle with parenting—no, with life itself. I am so keenly aware that the days are flipping by with the speed of those scrolling album covers on the screen of my iPhone, yet I am absolutely incapable of translating that awareness into an aptitude for slowing down and appreciating. I just CAN’T.

When I really sit still and think about the times when I’ve genuinely wanted time to stand still, there are perilously few of them. A few crystalline moments of parental joy stand out, like the morning this summer when Whit woke Grace up with a kiss.

Even that was not unmitigated joy, because he woke her up earlier than I might have wanted, and was initially rewarded for his sweetness with an avalanche of parental criticism. If I were paying closer attention, would there be more moments like this in my memory?

Children have inherent forward momentum. They will also stop in their tracks at the slightest detail. A block-long walk in the rain with a two-year-old Gracie took forty-five minutes, because we admired all kinds of bugs and leaves that I genuinely would not have noticed. Of course, her lower vantage point helped, but she was also just looking more closely. In every single day with my children I experience the push-pull of slow down, slow down hurry up, hurry up!

This tension between speed and stillness is never more acute for me than at the start of a school year. The turning towards September brings with it a sense of both beginnings and endings, a reminder that my body’s rhythm is permanently set to the academic calendar.

As the children climb the ladder of the grades their pants from last winter are suddenly too short, their non-Croc shoes are all too small, and their teeth fall out. Their very bodies trace the inexorable forward motion of time.

At the same time, the occasion of the start of school is one of those moments, like a birthday, that compels a pause. I find myself hesitating over the markers of their growth, photographing carefully the various details of their new classrooms, trying to soak up all the minutiae of this new year.

The kind of being here now I wish I could do all the time. Inspired by school’s reminder of time’s rapid flipping, September is a reason to stop for a moment and look around, to honor the reality of my children right now, even as I know that reality is passing as I watch.

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