My internal clock is scary-accurate. On those (extremely) rare occasions when I'm not wearing my watch and my son needs five minutes in a time-out corner, my estimate of five minutes is usually accurate within a few seconds. I'll drive my husband crazy when we've just turned out the light for the night, and I'll say something like, "What time is it? 11:37?" And he'll check and then reply (rather crankily), "No, it's 11:36." Actually, that's how he used to answer. Now he's more likely to say, "Oh, shut up."
This accuracy comes from a lifetime of constantly checking my watch or keeping an eye on the clock. Even if I have nowhere I need to be and nothing going on later, I still need to know what time it is. (This is why I have to ask my husband if it's 11:37--he removed the clock from my nightstand because he got tired of hearing the minute-by-minute account of how poorly I'd slept the night before, what time I woke up, how long before I fell back to sleep, etc.). I don't know why it's so important for me to always know what time it is, but it is, and it always has been.
But every once in a while, I'll actually forget to mark time. It's an extraordinarily rare occurrence, but it does happen. And it happened this past Saturday.
I was bringing the kids to Hampton Beach to meet a friend I hadn't seen for several years. She'd never met them, and I'd wanted to introduce them to the beach anyway. We left the house at 11 AM, and I figured we'd arrive around noonish. I didn't anticipate the traffic. At 1 PM, when we finally crossed the New Hampshire border, I pulled over at a rest stop to use the facilities, call my friend, and have a picnic lunch with the kids. We got back on the road at about 1:45 (OK, it was 1:47). We arrived at the condo where my friend was staying at 2:15, unloaded all the accessories (two small children come with lots of those!), then went in search of a parking spot. One mile, twenty dollars, and thirty minutes later, the car was parked and the kids, the double stroller and I joined our stuff and my friend at the condo. It took nearly forty-five minutes for me to get myself and the kids in our swim suits and well covered with sunscreen. The beach was only a short walk away, so it was 3:30 when we laid down our blankets.
Then I did what I'd been dreading all day. I took off my watch and put it in my beach bag. Then I walked about fifty yards to the wet sand that was cooler and much more fun for the kids to play with. No watch, no clock. I was on my own.
My friend and I talked while the kids played. The sun beat down on us, and after a while I went back to our blankets to get some water. And check my watch. I'd guessed we'd been there for about an hour. I was right--it was 4:30 exactly. I put my watch back in my bag and went back to the group, where my son was splashing in the small pool my friend had dug for him and my daughter was doing her best to become one with the sand. Completely.
An hour later I saw the lifeguards take down their chairs and lay them against the wall near the sidewalk. I knew it was an hour because it had felt like an hour, and I'd seen the sign on the way in stating that the lifeguards were on duty until 5:30 PM.
And then it happened.
At some point after the lifeguards left my son announced that he wanted to go back to the condo. My friend rinsed all their toys in the ocean, and I rinsed the kids in the little pools we'd dug in the wet sand. We returned to the blankets, shook them out, packed them up, and went back to the condo. Once there I herded the kids into the bathroom and stuck them both in the shower, t-shirts, bathing suits, and all. They weren't happy. It took as long as it took, and when they were reasonably salt- and sand-free, I sent them into the living room so I could have my turn in the shower. I think I took a quick one, but I could be wrong.
After that, the kids and I hung out while my friend took her turn. By that time I was wearing my watch again and sitting in front of a clock. I remember looking at it a few times, but the positions of the hands didn't register. I didn't care, and I didn't notice that I didn't care. When my friend was ready, we went out in search of dinner.
We found one at a nearby restaurant, where we had a very enjoyable meal. When we were done my friend returned to the condo to retrieve the double-stroller, so I could introduce my kids to that staple of Hampton Beach cuisine--Blink's Fry Doe. Not surprisingly, they're now fans.
Having accomplished all that I'd wanted to accomplish that day, we got the car and were driving back to the condo to drop off my friend and pick up the kids' accessories when my cell phone rang. It was my husband. He was worried about me, because he'd expected me home a while ago. I started to laugh until I realized--it was full dark outside, and it had been for a while. I looked at the clock in the dashboard, and was astonished. "Is it really 9:20?!" I asked. Both he and my friend assured me that it was. I'd completely lost track of time.
I can't say exactly what it was about Saturday after the lifeguards left that made me forget to care what time it was. It wasn't just that I was relaxed and having a good time; I do do that sometimes, and I still need to check my watch obsessively. But I liked being freed from the schedule, especially with the kids. We had things to do, and we did them, and it took as long as it took. I know I can't live every day like that, but I certainly hope to do it more often than I have been. Especially with the kids. My son is three, and every time he sees a clock, he asks me, "Mama, what time is it?"