Don’t you need to be somewhere? I did, five minutes ago. And no matter what, I’m at least five minutes late getting out the door. So I try to psych myself out. My alarm clock is set for 10 minutes before I actually need to wake up. The clock in the kitchen is set five minutes fast. Of course, I know that it’s set five minutes fast. But somehow, it helps. I look up at it, have a panic attack because I’m late, and then realize I’m not late.
And then I proceed to lose the five minutes I thought I’d gained.
Five minutes may not sound like much, but what happens is, once that slips away, there’s an almost undetectable exponential increase in time lost, and before you know it, you’re getting somewhere 15-20 minutes late. If this blog had a theme song, it would be “Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In the mornings, there are any number of tasks that can take up that much-needed five-minute cushion. These include: finding the cell phone; finding where I put down the travel coffee mug while I was looking for the cell phone; looking for the homework whose existence I have only been made aware of because it’s lost; listening to someone play scales on the trumpet so that I will sign off on the week’s practice card; watching the chicken dance; stopping the attack on the performer of the chicken dance; stopping the chicken’s counter-attack; and so on.
I recently read an article in which a stress-relief guru lamented that we all go “rushing around and we’re hard on ourselves and we need to stop worrying everyone and stressing them out about being on time, because, who cares? It’s not life or death, is it?” (Note to time guru: Using commas would also help you to slow things down.)
Clearly, this guru has never been the one to put his kids on the school bus. In fact, I would like to speak to the wife of said guru and find out whether she is shouldering all the stress in that household, while King Guru tells her to “stop worrying everyone,” so that he can avoid what he calls “the consequences.” (After which, he experiences actual consequences involving getting clobbered with the cast iron skillet.)
On the other hand, I remember how relieved I was years ago when someone told me it was “polite” to be 10 minutes late to a dinner party, because otherwise you risk arriving just when your hostess has realized she forgot to turn on the oven. For similar reasons, it is not polite to show up 10 minutes early for such an event as you risk arriving in the middle of the pre-dinner argument your host and hostess are having about whom to seat next to Stan, the single guy who always smells like cheese.
Also, it is not okay to arrive a half-hour early “to help,” without asking in advance. Please know that I am not ungrateful for your offer of assistance, and refer to these Shel Silverstein lines: Some kinds of help are the kinds of help that helping’s all about/Some kinds of help are the kinds of help we all can do without.
Part of my worry about lateness was conditioned from childhood. My mother was a stickler for being on time (and is a wonderful mother! and did I say perfect in every way?), so I used to stress out about this more when I was younger. Back then, I was a really annoying person to be around in my always-on-time superiority, if you were someone who was habitually late. And by late I mean 20 minutes. Not 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes is not a late arrival, it’s an on-time arrival for the next flight to Boston. Because the implicit message in habitual extreme lateness to the person kept waiting is, “My time is more important than yours.” Take that Mr. Stress-Free Guru: Your friends are totally sick of you.
So, I was taught to be on time by one parent. My father, on the other hand, was still shaving in his undershirt as guests arrived for dinner. Dad, this is not a secret—THE GUESTS WERE ARRIVING.
(It’s right about now when my parents are going: “Gee, maybe not so great to have a daughter who’s a writer?”)
These days, however, my parents have found a happy medium, as they are now almost always late, but they call on time to say so. I’m very glad they’re more relaxed about it. I’m glad because I am also almost always late to see them, but I’m not yet old enough to have it excused as the happy-go-lucky privilege of age. Please someone tell me what the cut-off for that is? The AARP is already agitating for me to join, and I refuse to do so until it’s clear that I’m eligible for the do-anything/say-anything age dispensation that seems like the primary benefit of membership. (Clearly, I have not waited to say whatever I want; life is short…I only want to know when it will be OFFICIALLY okay.)
There are, of course, times when too late is actually too early, as when I pull into the garage, hear my kids shouting at each other inside the house, and consider backing out again. Instead, I sit in my car and listen to the end of the song that was on the radio. Then when I go inside, and my husband is in the living room wearing earplugs and reading the newspaper, and the kids are collapsed in exhaustion, I can inquire breezily, “How was your day? Did I miss anything?”
With kids, showing up late or on time for things is a completely different matter. When they want to do something, they are like cheetahs: They can go from a deep sleep through eating, dressing and out the door in 40 seconds flat, while shouting at me that I’m taking too long. When they don’t want to do something, they move like garden slugs: They will wander vaguely around the house for a half-hour searching for the bathroom, arrive there, and then forget why they were looking for it in the first place.
So back to the guru. My question to him is, what planet do you live on where time stops and there are no consequences to arriving late?
And my next question is, is there room for one more on your planet?