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Tue, Apr 01, 2014
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Enjoying the right here, right now
by Clara Chow

It was Christmas yesterday, and - oh! when will it come? - it's Christmas tomorrow.

I celebrated my birthday last month, why is it taking forever to be my birthday again? Wait, is it Christmas yet? Is it bright yet? Do I have school when it gets bright?

Parents of young children will be familiar with these incessant questions, a sign of the mysterious ways in which their children experience time.

Kids cannot comprehend why life should be divided into 24-hour days, seven-day weeks and 365-day years. Human inventions to compartmentalise one's existence, to give the semblance of linear progression, make no sense to them.

Having no sense of time and schedules, tots dawdle. Or they get impatient with anticipation. Or they dawdle while being impatient.

It struck me recently that my younger son Lucien, four years and then some, is feeling his way around this concept of counting out one's days like so much small change.

"When will I be five years old?" he asked one afternoon, hanging from the side of the kitchen sink, watching me do the dishes. "On your next birthday," I replied. "Oct 28."

"Is that tomorrow? When will it be Oct 28 again?" he persisted. "Why is it taking so long for me to be five? I'm never going to be five." He pouted and it looked as if the waterworks might start.

Drying my hands, I took him by the shoulders and steered him to the calendar. "See, here?" I said, pointing at the box with the number 28 in the month of March. "You'll be four years and five months when we get here."

And so it went, showing him month after month, until October. We stuck a sticker on Oct 28 and agreed that he should cross out each day at night until we reached the sticker, and - finally - he would be five.

That hasn't stopped the "what day is it?" questions.

"What day is it?" he would ask at least once on a weekday.

I would tell him. "What day is it after that?" he would ask next. Until, invariably: "When is it Sunday?"

Sunday is when he has his swimming lessons with an adored coach.

And so goes a listing of the days of the week, as though I am Apollonia, the Sicilian first wife of The Godfather Michael Corleone in the 1972 film, ticking off the days in bored English and the wrong order, before she gets blown up by a car bomb.

I suspect time, for Lucien, is like a giant lump of material that we can traverse back and forth whenever, however we want. It is a very liberating thought for me - to get away from the slightly panicked sense that there is, to quote the band INXS, not enough time.

You just make your way haphazardly, instinctively and impulsively to another point on this Swiss-cheese time planet, and then randomly pick another spot you fancy to get to.

As such, the journal that Lucien has started keeping is similarly surreal.

"Cut," read the first and only entry so far, painstakingly made a week ago. Cut, because he had a hair cut that day. Then "Eat", because we had lunch.

The two words are like brief points, Morse code or lighthouses, flashing in the rudimentary map he is making to negotiate the sea of time - plotted stars as he bobbed solo in the rubber dinghy of autobiography.

Time flies when you're having fun (and crawls when you're not). For children constantly negotiating the new-ness of their worlds, time ticks by slower than for adults, who are somewhat mentally immune to their environments, having mastered everyday challenges.

William Blake had more in common with neuroscientists than he knew, when he wrote in the early 19th century of holding "eternity in an hour" as an augury of innocence.

When you spend time with an older person who moves or speaks more slowly, your internal clock slows down, too, to match them.

"There is also a subjective slowing of time, which enhances social interaction between the two people," writes science reporter Marc Gozlan in The Guardian last year.

I have noticed that when I spend time with Lucien, my sense of time slows down in sympathy with his too.

As we walk together to his kindergarten in the mornings, already 15 minutes late, time melts away. My strides fall in with his leisurely steps.

There is nothing but the feel and clanking of the metal drain grilles under our feet, and the purplish-red hue of the shrubs slowly invading the path we are on. We move in companionable silence in the moment - right here, right now.

I am holding on to these temporal snapshots, when my child - this creature before time - still thinks of his life as an uninterrupted eternity. It is flattering to imagine that us parents are the immortal titans who walk alongside as they inhabit this epoch of infinite possibility.

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