When your entire existence in this world of ours does not yet reach 1500 days, I guess it should come as no surprise that the concept of time lacks a little perspective to a three and a half year old. Particularly when I play so fast and loose with the notion of time when it comes to communicating with my offspring.
“Just wait a minute, please,” roughly means ‘I will get round to getting that toy off the shelf sometime in the next quarter of an hour, first having been painfully distracted by stepping on a Lego brick and debating if I should call an ambulance.
“Put your shoes on, we’re going now,” tends to mean ‘I am starting the shoes-on topic now as we need to leave the house within the next forty minutes’.
“I am just going to quickly phone grandma,” usually translates as ‘now might be a good time to start that 500 piece jigsaw, this could take some time’.
“We’re leaving soon, so don’t run off,” can mean exactly that, but can also mean we’ll be leaving in another ten minutes as I bump into someone I know and have a quick chat.
“I’ll come and check on you in five minutes, so try and go to sleep,” always means that I have the dinner to cook, or the washing to put on, so don’t expect me to check in on you until I suddenly remember I promised to do so, in which case I’ll be up again about half past nine.
So unsurprisingly, E has very little concept of time. At the mention of an activity to happen at some future point, his sole clarification will be: “This day, mummy?” Despite a daily evening routine of bath, stories and bed, any mention of what we will do the next day at this juncture prompts the same question: “This day, mummy?” Yes, I am tempted to say, whip off those pyjamas and grab your scooter, we are going for a moonlit play at the local ramps. But for a toddler who lives inexorably in the present, experiencing each moment as it arrives then releasing it from his little sweaty palms as he grabs the next one, I guess a trip to the ramps at 7pm is no more bizarre than having to wait until… well, to wait until an unspecified, unquantifiable and unfathomable time that is apparently called tomorrow. Whatever that is, when it’s at home.
And in a foolish attempt to explain to E when his next birthday is, trying to represent the idea of six months in terms that he will understand, there was an alarming moment when I thought his head might explode. It turned out he had a sneeze brewing, and the ensuing slug of mucus that flopped across his mouth and chin luckily provided sufficient diversion that all talk of future birthdays were mercifully dropped.
And when it comes to time, I appreciate that I expect the impossible. “Can I have my pudding please, mummy?” E asks. Or: “Can I have the television on now?”, or “I want to play on your phone, mummy,” I inevitably reply: “Be patient, please.”
Patience. A notion that only works if coupled with a sense of time passing, and an understanding that waiting is a finite activity. In E’s mind, I am not sure either apply. It has to happen NOW, or it will never happen. Mind you, I know some adults who have yet to master the art of patience. The only discernible difference being that most adults do not resort to asking “can I have it now?” approximately every eight seconds which escalates into full-on whinging and a few foot stamps to reinforce the point, until you give up what you are doing and fulfil his request. I realise now that my request to be patient is not only futile but no doubt highly irritating for a three year old. However, E might be crap at grasping the notion of time, but turning tables seems to becoming quite his specialist subject.
“Come on E,” I implored him earlier in the week. “Put that down, it’s time to go up for bath.”
He glances up briefly from his digger and sighs. “Be patient, mummy.”
I was, for once, right. That is highly fucking irritating.