Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Mom, How Many Hours Since You Graduated College?"

"Mom, how many hours since you graduated college?" was hollered from the backseat of the minivan last night on our way home from the playground. I responded it was LOTS and I wasn't sure only to hear an insistent, "Try, Mom, just try!"

My son did end up letting me off the hook on that one as the math was beyond what my head can compute while driving. But my own curiosity was peaked.

I graduated in 1990, about 19 years ago. There are 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day, so it's been 166,440 hours since I graduated.

My next natural thought since this is my week to address waste, was "how much of that time was wasted, and how do I define wasted?"

And I don't really know the answer to either. But here are some observations and an invitation to hear others' reflections on the issue.

When my older son was about two, we were once on the swings at a park and an older man stopped by, smiled and said, "Time spent with a child is never wasted." As he ambled on, I tucked that little phrase in my memory.

And while I agree with the concept, I question how much time I really "spend" with my kids. How often I mentally escape their unceasing energy and chatter into my own world of thoughts, responding to their conversation attempts with non-committal "uh-huhs and mmmms", until a phrase like, "so you promise, Mom, you PROMISE we're going to get a Great Dane puppy today...." and then I come back to them and try to recapture the thread of conversation and turn it around.

Highly recommended by the awesome posters at the Simple Living Discussion boards is the newest book on my nightstand. Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn stresses on page after page that what your kids really want is just for you to be there, now, really there mentally, experiencing what Thoreau refers to as the "bloom of the present moment."

I find though that if I don't have some time alone with just me and my thoughts, the well of attention, nurturing, humor and fun runs bone dry.

So time spent with the kids, not wasted. Time spent pondering my way in the world, not wasted.

What about the hours spent vacuuming, grocery shopping, folding socks and unloading the dishwasher? I often set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes and fly around getting as much of this pain in the tush stuff done as I can. But Eckhart Tolle admonishes us to consider getting lost in a task for the task itself, and not rushing through one activity to get to a future moment, where THEN I'll be happy.

But the simple truth is I'm more contented reading my garden books than washing dishes. Now if I could find a way to be happy in both, to enjoy the process of one and be lost in the moment scrubbing burnt cheese off the cookie sheet, there would be fewer wasted moments indeed.

In 1758, Ben Franklin wrote the following in "The Way To Wealth".

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us, Lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough, always proves little enough. Let us then up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

All of which sounds like good advice until you pair it with the thought one shouldn't "be so busy making a living she forgets to make a life."

In closing, I've been listening to Plato tapes lately. In the Apology, Socrates apprises us "an unexamined life is not worth living." Thus I sign off the computer in the hope this time spent pondering and typing was well-spent.

According to a 1991 chart from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, reprinted in Your Money or Your Life, the average time left for someone my age is 329,601 hours. And I don't want to waste another minute;-).


  1. So many people will tell the parents of young children to appreciate the abundance of attention small children require, because, these grandparents and parents of adult children will tell you, someday, they will not need you, will not ask for, or care for your opinion, and while they also will not interrupt mid important phone call to tell you what Captain Caveman just said, or that "something is wrong with the toilet" you may not get the chance to be in their lives very much at all. I have found it very helpful to remember, though I am not a buddhist, the teaching that all things are temporary. Including pain, sadness, that gross mystery smell and the phase of remembered imaginary promises (YOU PROMISED YOU'D BUY ME A TREAT! Hm... no...) So too will be the wide chubby cheeks pressed against mine, the giggling over spills and stains, the excitement over a bubble bath (which may take very long to change, as I still love them).

    My daughter asks me to spell out long phrases while I am driving.
    Mom, How do you spell "Allergic to peanut butter"?
    Mom, How do you spell, "Children must take turns"?

    Seriously? I want to say, "Let me drive girl, so we can make it to tomorrow." But I do indulge this as often as possible. I hope that one of these little ones is quite the speller some day.

  2. Loved, loved, loved reading this and had my morning laugh -the best way to start a day. Thanks for sharing.

    One day Dancing with the Stars may be defunct and Spelling with the Politicians may be all the rage...your daughter will be shoe in!;-)

    And I'm sure giving her, "I'd Like to Thank..." speech will include memories of mom.