My daughter has no concept of time. She's not supposed to, being all of two-and-a-half. But it quickly gets frustrating when Mommy needs to get to work or Daddy needs to take a shower and someone else wants to line up dinosaurs or watch just one more episode or go down the stairs just right with her hand on the middle rail, tiptoeing so that each foot hits each step just right all the way to the bottom and then it's Mommy's turn to do the same thing. And when this all happens, part of me knows that very soon, she'll grasp time. And then we'll be on time, right? But at what cost?
When we learn the importance of time, we lose a bit of our innocence. Time is a tool manufactured by adults in order to further develop a world where numbers make sense in the context of bank accounts and calendars. Time is one of the few overlords we let master us, unable to be emancipated form its methodical and cruel gaze. Even when we're sleeping, he's eternally at work, ticking away until it's time to get up, get dressed, go to work, go to lunch, go home, and repeat.
Meanwhile, my daughter doesn't know she gets picked up at four o'clock. She just knows that Daddy or LaLa or Mommy is here so it's time to go home and play or to get an afternoon yogurt or to go see her baby cousin. She doesn't know that noon means naptime; she just lays on her cot at school like all her other friends do after a morning full of puzzles, stories, bubbles, and tricycles.
Shame on us for letting the clock run as much of our lives as it does.
Sure, we need the rigid, impartial drill sergeant of time to make sure we get on the plane when we're supposed to and so that we can pay our bills when they're due and so that we can get to the game in time for the first pitch. But letting deadlines and alarms direct our every move - even those outside of work - is the surest path to live a life that is never yours.
When I come home each day now, I take off my watch. There's no use in knowing when it's 5:05 and then when it's 5:32 and again when it's 6:01. Each second spent looking at my watch is a second I don't spend fully engaged in building a tall Lego tower or finding all the elephants to put next to the giraffes or counting all the bouncy balls.
With each glance at the clock I'm reminded of a life that is full of obligations, when things are needed by someone else, and all that I'll need to do to make everything happen by a certain date. But when I glance up to see my daughter putting a blanket on Dumbo, I'm reminded that my legacy will have nothing to do with deadlines and everything to do with playtimes.
This isn't a reminder just for parents, that the clock shouldn't have as large a role in our lives as it does. It's a reminder for any of us who are always running late or not getting enough sleep or unable to do our best work or cutting dinner short or figuring out how to shave seconds off of an already busy day.
Every second counts, but not every second matters. The chief purpose of our lives is to put more meaning into each moment.