Tuesday, January 31, 2006


After close and considerable study under the carefree tutelage of my granddaughters, I've come to the conclusion that little kids perceive time the way it really is; i. e., completely differently from the way grownups do. Indeed, my recent and prolonged exposure to toddler time has given me a new understanding of the true nature of what's really going on. Which is another big reason for grandchildren.

Ever since I departed childhood I've held to the tacitly received conviction that time remained the same old chronic railwayline that we all travel along in life, with maybe a tangent here and there depending on the destinies we choose (insofar as we can affect the trip), and that we simply accelerate as we get older and the scenery becomes familiar, until maybe we get going so fast we're out of here and into the great beyond and all that conventional unthought thinking, but now that as an elder I've spent a lot of toddler time perforce and seen time for what it really is, I know that none of my former view is true.

As anyone with grandchildren understands, this is hard to explain. It's not that toddler time is fundamentally different from grownup time, but that the wee ones still have the gift: they can still actually see time all around them. To little kids, time is in fact a world-filling, elastic, brightly colored, jello-like fun material that is entirely theirs to do whatever they want with, and of which they are each the center. For them, there is no other point to time. There is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow, there is no age, no ago, no future: all of time is right there in their hands, like silly putty.

For us grownups, though, time has become a calendar-mache Gibraltar of schedules and yesterdays, appointments and tomorrows all pinned together with second-hands, a monolith of jitters, with in my case my eighth grade teacher's face on it as she glares down, tapping her foot.

Which understanding gives me great appreciation for the genuine kindness of nature in giving little kids, all little kids, including you and me once, a sort of introductory paradise, to show them how things could be, if they play it right, but then in our growing struggles to gain more time we turn all that beauty and wonder into nostalgia and anxiety. Which is a pity, once you've seen it.

But since nature has given it to the little ones, they in turn have passed it on to me, which is clearly the way it was intended all along. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back in time.


Joy Des Jardins said...

Robert, I loved this post. You are so right; and have said it beautifully. How wonderful to have our little ones to guide us back in time. What a joyous journey it is. Breathe in every excellent moment of the trip...as I know you always do.

Tabor said...

My daughter was explaining her version of why her 10-month-old wouldn't eat the time she had scheduled and when he SHOULD be hungry. She said he would postpone it at least 30 minutes the reason being fun time with her...because he knew when he was done eating it was bath and bed. But he is not yet a toddler.

Tamar said...

I have been trying to explain this to my students of early childhood education for years. You say it so perfectly well here, I will have to share it with my child development classes ... citing you of course!

Thank you.

Robert Brady said...

Thank you, Joy; I'll get everything I can out of the experience, believe me.

Tabor, here's hoping that pre-toddler can hold on to his version of time for a good while...

Tamar, my pleasure; glad to be of use!

samcandide said...

thanks for nailing it