Time Flies, Except When It Drags

“How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

This post was originally titled What Happened to September? when I drafted the first sketchy lines on October 19. But now, well, it’s November, and What Happened to September and October? doesn’t have quite the same ring. I’m feeling disappointed with myself because in January I set what seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal: posting something once a month. Obviously that didn’t happen. Sigh.

The past few months went by in a blink and a blur, and now that Thanksgiving starts in five minutes, the rest of the year promises to be heading the same way. How do the months fly past us, yet the last workday before a vacation is never-ending? Yes, one of life’s mysteries.

Here’s another situation when weeks drag on for months: home renovations.

It all started when Ret and I realized we could no longer postpone the most pressing matters. We had to replace our 47-year-old kitchen range (you can read about that appliance adventure in Say Goodbye to Bessie, May 15, 2018), and re-tile the shower in the master bath, where a leak behind the old ceramic tile was causing some weird bumps under the wood floor in the adjacent hallway. Just a single kitchen appliance and a shower. It wasn’t like we were planning to gut the whole house. How long could this project possibly take?

The answer is eight months, one week, three days, six hours and twenty-seven minutes from the moment we engaged the first contractor until the day I moved back into my bathroom. It felt like years.

The short version of the saga is that our first contract fell through, and in the end, Ret’s multi-talented brother Derek brought our 1970s-era ranch house into the 21st century beautifully. Slowly, but beautifully. After all, he’s just one guy. And like most things that seem simple in the beginning, reality proved to be far less so as we ran into one unanticipated complication after another. Plus, as the work progressed, we got more and more ideas: replacing doors, painting cabinets, updating old light fixtures. If you’ve ever built or renovated a house, I know you understand.

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Groovy wallpaper

The experience was revealing, and I don’t just mean the groovy wallpaper we discovered  when we removed the vanity mirror. Maybe this wouldn’t bother a nicer person, but having my collection of toiletries — hair products, lotions, makeup, bath salts, nail files and assorted paraphernalia — scattered over every surface in the bedroom for three months drove me absolutely crazy. And let’s not talk about all the dust! It was like a comic book villain, coming back again and again despite all my attempts to eradicate it.

Now that the work is complete, I feel differently. The outcome of our project made all the inconvenience worthwhile. It’s kind of like the miraculous result of nine long, sometimes uncomfortable months of pregnancy. When you’re in the middle of a challenge, it can seem never-ending. Then you look back on it and marvel.

Perception is everything

Hindsight and anticipation bend our perception of time in different ways, don’t they?

Surreal clock

I can’t believe my youngest son Jared is a 28-year-old married man when my memories of his childhood are so vivid and seem like yesterday. Now that he and his older brother Kevin both live in Seattle, the many miles that separate us make the months between our visits unbearably long to me.

It’s impossible to me that my high school graduation was 38 years ago, and that three decades have passed since I moved to Georgia.  Where did the time go? But geez, after meeting with a financial planner, my projected retirement date seems very far in the future.

We all get the same allotment of hours in a day, and from a scientific standpoint, each hour is exactly the same length. But seriously, there’s a big difference between spending an hour at an incredible concert versus waiting in line to vote. It’s all in our minds – and our attitudes.

Spending time

I often think that if days were money, we would treat them differently. If someone offered me seven $100 bills, I would never say, “No, you can keep the first five. I just want these two.” However, I do this all the time with my weeks, wishing away Monday through Friday so I can get to the weekend. One day, when I’m very old, I’m probably going to wish I had some of those weekdays back.

Since time is such a precious, irreplaceable commodity, I try to spend it wisely and not fritter it all away on social media. The Jack Russell terrier side of me feels compelled to accomplish more and more, and not waste a minute. There was a period in my life when I needed that kind of drive; without it, I’m not sure I could have juggled college, a full-time job and school-aged children at the same time.

Things are different now. I’ve learned that quiet time is not wasted time, solitude is not the same as loneliness, and sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best investment I can make in myself. I’m still juggling multiple projects, but I’m more selective about them, spending my time on the tasks that matter most and the people and things that feed my soul.

Time off for good behavior

This is my first day of a well-deserved vacation from work, something I’ve looked forward to for weeks. There’s a long to-do list on my kitchen table. I’m a planner by nature, so I like lists. This one includes mundane things, like grocery shopping and housework, but there’s also space for baking, writing (checking that one off now) and going to the movies with Ret.

Do I expect to scratch off every item on my list? No, it’s just a guide to help keep me on track. Last night’s planned vegetable potpie turned into a call for pizza delivery. So it’s a fluid thing! I’m giving time and space to my ideas and priorities so the week won’t get away from me.

But I know it will anyway. Sunday night I’ll look back on these nine brief days and wonder where they went.

And then, in about five minutes, it’ll be Christmas.

Clock head

Notes to My Younger Self

“If I’d known then what I know now…” Almost everyone

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The month of January was named for the ancient Roman god, Janus. Depicted with two faces – one looking forward and one looking behind – Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. Perfect choice.

During this month, we all become a little like Janus as we review the year that’s passed and plan the one ahead of us. Maybe because my birthday is in January, it’s a double reminder of how quickly life moves.

Depending on my mood, looking at the past can be sweetly nostalgic or remorseful, filled with the what ifs that hindsight brings. Looking to the future, I foresee either exciting opportunities or dreaded obstacles. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

Having another birthday (my 56th, in case you’re curious) is a blessing. I wouldn’t trade the wisdom I’ve gained for the young body I‘ve lost for anything, even with the annoyance of hot flashes and the occasional arthritis pain that have become a part of my life. It’s probably a fair exchange. I don’t think we’re allowed to have both at the same time, anyway. Growing older has its well-deserved rewards.

If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, would I change anything? In spite of the heartbreak of a failed marriage, I’d never alter the course that gave me my sons. And though I regret living so far away from my parents, and will probably miss my beloved New Orleans for the rest of my days, I wouldn’t have met my husband Ret or have the good life I’ve made in Georgia if I hadn’t moved away. Maybe that’s why we don’t get a crystal ball. We wouldn’t always choose what’s best for us. 

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With Ret, 2017

But if I could go back and counsel my younger self, these are some of the things I’d say to me:

Those mean girls in school are going to vanish from your life forever.

Don’t listen to hateful people who make fun of you. Chin up! (And don’t slouch.) Stick with the friends who are kind to you and forget about everyone else. People who bully or ridicule others do so to inflate their own meager sense of self-worth. It sucks to be them! Graduation day will come, and you’ll never have to see these people again. They’re irrelevant.

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Gawky sophomore

Ditch the pointy-toed stilettos. They are going to destroy your feet.

Believe me, one day you’re going to wish you’d spent the 80s in more comfortable shoes. You might cringe over that big hair in old photos, too, but at least it won’t inflict permanent damage.

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Big 80s hair

Be nicer to your mother.

She’s not going to be with you for long, and you are going to miss her for the rest of your life. Hold on to the memory of the sound of her voice, and the tender way she kissed your eyelids. Remember her playful silliness, and how she loved Coke floats with chocolate ice cream, and that she couldn’t ride a bicycle, and how she snorted when she laughed. And learn to let go of the sad memories. Mama loved you, and she would have wanted you to be happy.

Mama and Me w Cat Glasses
Mama and me

Your dad’s new wife is going to become your best friend.

Sometimes life is tragic. Even now, it doesn’t make much sense to me. But God knew that you would still need a mother, so He made a way for that. And this new mom really loves you. In fact, she’s going to become the person you call first when you need advice, or have good news, or just want to talk. So be nice to her, too.

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With Mom at my wedding, 2011

When the baby sleeps, you sleep.

This piece of advice will come from Ricia, and she was right. Steal a nap whenever you can while Kevin and Jared are infants. No one is going to judge a new mother by her unfolded laundry. (And shame on them if they do!) This time with your newborns is precious and fleeting. Take good care of yourself, and snuggle up on your babies every possible minute. The postpartum hormones, sore breasts and sleepless nights only seem like forever while you’re in the foggy midst of them. It’s over in a blink. One minute you’re pacing the floor at 2 a.m. with a colicky baby and spit-up caked in your hair, and then a few weeks later, that baby has a fuzzy little mustache and wants to borrow your car. Cherish this sweetness while it lasts.

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This is sleep deprivation, and big, big love

Stop straightening your hair!

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Women pay obscene amounts of money to have curls like the ones you inherited for free from your Sicilian grandmother. Save the 5,382 hours you will spend over the next 20 years trying to make yourself something you’re not, and embrace who you are – in every way. (It’s futile anyway; you live in the humidity capital of the US.)

Lee 5.13

And another thing: in your 40th summer, you’re going to be tempted to highlight your hair. Resist! Otherwise, what will start out as a summer fling is going to turn into an annoying, expensive, long-term commitment, complete with more bad hair drama than any one person needs in her life. Be a happy brunette. Trust me on this.

Use that 5,382 hours you’ve saved and write that book.

Enjoy your artsy side. Write. Draw. Play your guitar, for heaven’s sake, instead of letting it gather dust in the corner, vowing you’ll get to it one day when you have time. Yes, you have a duty to take care of your family and earn a living, but don’t let months or years go by without indulging your creative soul. It’s what makes you, you.

Oh, and don’t listen to anyone who says you aren’t talented enough, especially yourself. That’s not the point. It’s the process that matters, not the end result.

Find out about this weird thing called yoga.

Namaste

No, not yogurt! Yoga is going to change your life, giving you grace and strength you can’t imagine. If only we’d discovered it back in the 70s, when regular folks thought it was bohemian and outlandish, it might have dramatically altered the way we navigated our teenaged years, pregnancy and new motherhood. Maybe we could have even avoided some of these nagging health issues I’m dealing with now. And we would have learned to relax a long time ago.

Save, save, save money!

Seriously. Having to work for 40-plus years is just as excruciating as it sounds. And credit cards are evil. They suck you in with false promises of the good life until you wind up in bondage. Don’t fall for it.

And finally, this too shall pass.

Whatever you’re struggling with now, I promise it will come to an end. You will survive high school chemistry, fickle friends, getting fired and immense, consuming grief. You’re going to earn a bachelor’s degree at age 40 while working full-time and wonder how on earth you did it. Facing the shattering end of a long marriage will temporarily tear your heart to bits – but it will also forge your unbreakable spirit. Your cranky, never-let-you-sleep babies will become adorable little boys. Then those adorable little boys will transform into exasperating, petulant teenagers whose behavior keeps you up at night all over again. And then one day, they’ll hug you, say, “Thanks for everything, Mom,” and move away to build their own lives.

Nothing lasts forever.

So, the best you can do is take it one day at a time. The only thing you can control is yourself; give the rest to God and let Him be responsible for running the universe. Trust that whatever unfolds in life will ultimately be for good, and your responsibility is to do your part, the best way you know how. Have faith. Love people. Give yourself a break.

You’re going to be okay. Really.

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