At a school visit earlier this week, a third-grade girl complained to me that time was going by too fast. As if proving the point, I had no time to probe for her meaning. Perhaps she mimicked an adult’s comment or attitude, but I worried that a child should feel this pressure, a hurriedness that I assume only older folks like me experience. Of course I resented the usual constrictions of time at her age: come-inside-time, bathtime, bedtime. But what I most strikingly recall is that waiting for the good times–my birthdays, Halloweens, summer break–seemed as long as a lifetime. I heard my great grandma say one Fourth of July that Christmas was just around the corner. What?!? Where was that corner?
Learning fractions the next year helped me understand: as an octogenerian, a year was about 1/80th of Great Grandma’s life, a mere sliver. But at 9, my tour around the sun was 1/9th, a hulking slab of life, luckily shaved thinner every year. I’d just have to wait a little longer to escalate.
No doubt times were simpler in my own childhood. I didn’t have to take charge of much except my pet rabbit Harvey. Nor did I control much of anything. Not my bedtime, or what I ate for dinner, or where I had my birthday party (always in our unfinished basement). But I did have one freedom and that was choosing the books I read. Free run of my parents’ bookshelf, unlimited trips to the library, and a good flashlight stalled time within the pages of another world, a private world where the only measure of passing time was how close I was to the end of the story. Time faded as the world of the tale grew larger and never caught up because that’s how books were, a dream outside of time. And still are.
To hell with fractions.