Time

Time is like water.  It slips through your fingers.  Sometimes it makes great pools of stillness when it hardly seems to move at all: endless childhood summers, langourous days in the garden.  Sometimes it gathers into stagnant ponds, dank and slightly smelly: those hours hanging around on chilly railways stations or dismal afternoons looking out of the rainstreaked window at grey nothingness.  Sometimes it charges and spills like a waterfall: the rollicking day at the fair, the morning spent learning to sail or hiking a high peak, shouting into the wind.

It changes with company: the doldrums of an afternoon with the tedious, querulous, elderly aunt; the fast flowing river of a night with a lover.

It changes with the time of your life.  I remember when the words "Maybe next year" were as meaningless as the idea that I might one day walk on the moon.  Now years sprint past like the channel crossing from a hovercraft, a blur of grey and white.

Sometimes you can pack things in so your day overflows like a fountain.  Other times everything slows.  It takes forever to do anything.  You are stuck, a canalboat with nowhere to go and nothing to do but watch the lock slowly fill.

I remember when I had babies how hard I found it to cope with how little I could do.  At eleven o' clock I was still in my dressing gown, the dishes still unwashed, the baby still relentlessly feeding.  When we got ready to go out I would forget that it would take me nearly an hour to prepare the baby, the toddler and myself and find that after only a few minutes I would need to come back again, friends unvisited, the park deserted.  What had happened to my ability to achieve in half an hour what took most people twice that, to the quickness, the speed of response which had characterised my childhood and university days?  All lost in a sea of milk.  I never really learnt to go with the flow, which I suspect is the secret of happily mothering small children.  I remember how much happier I was when I knew I could make a timetable again and the day had a shape and a structure.

Time at work was a different, more desperate matter.  There was never enough of it.  It poured through my days like water into a bucket with no bottom.  No matter how hard I worked, how much I did, how busily I tried to organise and prioritise, life with a demanding job and children was always rushing past me at full flood, with the major achievement being just to keep my head above the swirling water.  When I had an occasional day off I would think I could achieve masses at home and was always astonished at how little I actually crossed of my accusing list.

Time up here on my hill has slowed into a calmer backwater.  Here there is time to wander the garden just for the sake of it, time to water cuttings and make jams and jellies, marmalade and bread.  I have loved the breathing time of the last year or so and now it is changing again.  Time with my father in  law is astonishingly like time with small children, astonishing because he is an intelligent and competent adult and most of the things that need to be done to get him up and going for the day or not done by me but by Ian, yet still I find that by the time I have changed the beds and washed the dishes and checked the hens and been for his paper and made a cup of tea for him and sat with him for half an hour it is somehow a quarter to eleven which is practically lunch time and then  there is lunch and he has a snooze and I do some Welsh and whoops, he hasn't done his exercises and there is supper to be made and still some work I need to do and the whole day has trickled away like water from a jar which you didn't know was cracked.

I am better at slowness this time around.  Maybe it is a sharper awareness that he won't always be here that makes it easier to sit at the kitchen table, cup of tea in hand, talking about life on the brick wagon or in the bakery.  I steal away to inspect snowdrops and spend half an hour on the computer choosing varieties of mint for the herb garden.   He wants to walk faster than his competence with his sticks allows.  "Just stop for a minute," I say.  "Look out of the window, stroke the cat."  He paces himself.  So do I.

I will need some rapids and some waterfalls sometimes or I shall go nuts but I am better than I used to be at idling in the shallows, trailing my hand, looking for minnows.

Comments

  1. Such a lovely post. Really lovely. I read it all through, because it wasn't the type you skim. All very calming. Your post should be prescribed!

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  2. Elizabeth, this is a stunningly evocative piece of writing. I related so much to what you say of the baby years, though I felt it more with Isabella than the others and think you are right about the willingness to go with the flow. There never seems to be a time when it all feels the right mix where time is concerned does there? x

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  3. Beautiful thoughts you have shared. Lots to ponder and appreciate. You help me to cherish the time that I have, here and now.

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  4. Time sits in an anxious bundle right about where my stomach is. When I sit, waste time? I feel the bundle tighten, grow larger...when I'm out, I rush to get home...when I'm home, I rush to get out.

    I'm going to print your post and put it in my journal...so I can return and read it again and again, when the anxiety bundle gets so big I feel like my chest is going to explode.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece Elizabeth.

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  5. A lovely lyrical post which was pure pleasure to read. Can relate to the days of childrearing 'lost in a sea of milk'. The Welsh hills are obviously in your blood now and growing a poet. Thank you
    Laura

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  6. I agree this is a lovely post, amongst your other thoughtful posts.

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  7. I smiled when I read your description of coping with young children, I never managed to learn to be one of those laid back mothers but we survived. And work is just as you describe it never enough hours but in my favour I always leave on time as I dont see the value in working long hours, if there is too much eventually they will have to get me help!! And as for days off and weekends I never seem to sit still. I often read yours and Zoe's blogs and envy you the time you have to make jams and jellies etc but I hope to have this time one day, I just hope I remember to appreciate it.

    I suspect that you are finding slow time with FIL easier than with children as you have grown up and have a more relaxed approach to life, you dont feel a need to be the perfect mother (though I never quite worked out what that was) or to do everything. I suppose it might be abit like being a grandparent in that sense, there is less of a sense of responsibility.

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  8. Well done elizabeth - you have caught the mood exactly - I am so glad you can find calm and stillness and joy in it all - so often one hears the opposite. It is such a pleasure to read your words.

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  9. What a wonderful post, Elizabeth. I tend to want to do things at a fast pace. As my husband now has Alzheimer's I am trying to learn to be slower - I am getting there I think but it is difficult as I now have to do the chores that both of us once shared.

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  10. I'll just add my voice to the chorus, Elizabeth. The thing about what you're doing with your life right now is that it matters . You are giving of yourself to another human, and I don't think there's anything worth more than that.
    I read the first two paragraphs and then stopped, thinking about my own attitude to time slipping by and how I'm not accomplishing much of anything, then when I went back to read more it was really clear that the times in your life when you have to slow down to accomodate others are possibly the most significant times.
    I don't know. Maybe this is drivel from a tired brain at the wrong end of the day. But you're giving something of infinite worth, of that I'm absolutely sure. He's very lucky and you're a very fine person.

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  11. That really was a very lovely post.
    I could identify with much of it.
    Seems that the process of ageing and slowness is much more bearable than when we were young with babies. Entirely different.
    We must enjoy what we have, when we have it. Not ne afraid to potter and take time.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

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  12. The time that you are giving now, is so precious. I'm glad that it is not galling to you, as it was when you had young children - but it's also good that you can find time here and there to enjoy the garden and your own interests. Such a thoughtful post.

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  13. What a lyrical post, ringing with honesty and thoughtfulness. You appear to be navigating the current tempo of your life with love and humour. I hope you find some wonderful ways to get the rapids and waterfalls you need for your well-being and balance. I love the thought of you stealing out to gaze at the snowdrops.

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  14. Yes, lovely E. Take your time. Leave something for tomorrow.

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  15. Your post is beautifully stated, - mindful and relevant. I seem to be in a little January backwater right now, floating in circles and anxious to get out into the stream of time again. I think February might see me on my way.... Time is more precious to me now, and I mark it with days, rather than years. My granddaughter said to me the other day, on her birthday, - in four years I will be thirty, and I responded with an alarming awareness, - in four years I will be ninety - but then I did some math and 1500 days seemed much less confining timewise - the trick is to make every one meaningful, and not to get anxious about accomplishments. I think.....

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  16. Beautiful post. Right on spot for me. I recently semi-retired and have been experiencing a dramatic change in my perception of time and the flow of the day, which seems to have fewer hours without the routine of structured work. Waiting to see how life changes. Thanks.

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  17. I'm sure you've had this a zillion times but I've listed you for an award over at mine.

    You write so beautifully.

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  18. To join the chorus of your admirers, Elizabeth, I think you've captured something very universal with your post. So much of it rings true to me.

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  19. I very much like the clarity of your assessment of time flows. I've been thinking about this a lot but couldn't voice it as well as you have.

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  20. Loved reading this, and it made me think long and hard about my own use of time.

    Thanks for that, think perhaps it is long overdue xxx

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  21. Fran - I think you are a real writer so am quite overcome! Thank you.
    Pipany - I am intrigued that you felt it more with Isabella. I might have imagined that it became easier to go with the flow when you became a more experienced mother but maybe not.
    Pienosole - that's a lovely thing to say. I think the challenge for us all is to cherish the time we have now. I am temperamentally inclined to spend far too much time looking ahead so any time I achieve it feels hardwon!

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  22. A temporary surrender to circumstances spun with empathy and compassion. Time well spent.

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  23. Goodness...your post is so rich and beautiful, I could comment on each and every paragraph. But I am most struck by the calmness you seem to feel about the change that has come to your life. It was easy for me to "go with the flow" when my children were small, much harder for me to do so taking care of my mother with dementia. When I imagine my mother with us without dementia, that is a calmer picture.

    I am with you on the need for some lively, rushing waters to dip into now and then as a contrast to the pace of life with an elder. A bracing walk over the Welsh Hills would do the trick for me!

    Wishing you well,

    Lesley

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  24. All so true, so true. And yet they never teach you this at school. Curiously I find that hours can flee unnoticed if I'm working at my computer and yet if, on the one day a week I ave to look after young Theo, I need to spend time with him I feel and age has gone by when in fact only perhaps an hour and a half has. We do so much - stories, hoovering, a game in the garden, a walk. The hour and a half is rewarding both for him and me, far more rewarding than the hour and a half that I wouldn't even notice at my desk. This is a post we should cut out and keep!

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  25. If I were there, I would hug you.

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  26. I've been thinking a lot about time lately - how fast it seems to go and how little is achieved. Your beautifully-written post made me feel that (a) I'm lucky in some ways that I don't have responsibilities like yours and (b) that you are a far more useful person in the world for having those responsibilities - and dealing with them so thoughtfully.

    Someone said to me once: 'Enjoy the moment.' and he was right. Too much time spent looking back or forward makes us lose our grip on the here and now - but you certainly haven't lost yours!

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  27. What a beautifully observed piece of writing Elizabeth - We have had some treasured "slow time" here with my 7 month old grandson staying - a far cry from when my own children were 7 months old and all I felt was a frustration that the day had dwindled away with nothing to show for it!

    I do think that you should write a book and include this and other observations - they are very comforting, yet thought provoking to read.
    K

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  28. Great post, excellent writing (you should come on my blogging course at Ty Newydd - see latest post).

    I often wonder how I will approach time when I am old; will I yearn for the waterfalls or be happy with the gentle trickle of melting ice?

    Today I stood on St Davids head, silent, still, alone - the gannets driving into to ebb off Ramsey. Time in such places moves slowly too.

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  29. Our lives seem to follow parallel paths. I am learning, because I have to, to pace myself more slowly. There have been some frightening rapids recently, and while I am glad to be in a quiet pool, I know that I will be wishing for open water. So much of what you have written has been true - is true - for me.

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  30. I was glued to that Elizabeth, you capture time so well and I could relate to everything you were saying, lovely images...

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  31. Thank you for a beautifully written and thoughtful post.I too have changed my pace in recent months, and it takes time to adjust. It is good to seize the day, rather than the day taking hold and running off with you.

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  32. This is a beautiful post -- and I'm sure that I'm not the only person who identified with many of your "stages of" and feelings about time.

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