Friday, March 28, 2003

Just a sec, it's only a matter of time

Married with children

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry
Enquirer contributor

The kitchen clock is 10 minutes fast. The clock in the car is one minute behind. The watch on my wrist runs three minutes slow.

And while I have to check the clock radio in the bedroom for the true time, I can cite the correct hour, nearly to the minute, from any timepiece at my disposal.

That's because in addition to the other titles on my resume, I am a timekeeper.

I never applied for the job. I don't really like the work. Nonetheless, among the tasks that somehow became mine is Official Keeper of the Newberry Clock.

"Time to do your homework," I call down the basement stairs.

"Time to eat," I call from the kitchen awhile later.

"Time to go," I call to whoever needs to go.

After a day (plus about 13 years) of such pronouncements, I sometimes get a little cranky. Every so often, just to remind my colleagues in Newberry Corp. that I wouldn't mind being relieved as the Official Timekeeper after my next performance review, I let loose with a full-throated tizzy fit and bellow, "Why do I have to be everybody's clock?"

I am the Official Timekeeper, I conclude, because:

• No one else tells time very well in my house, unless they need to turn on the TV for a critical favorite show.

• No one else cares much about time in my house, unless they are late for a birthday party, sleepover or Brownies outing.

• No one else is a control freak who wants everyone else, her children in particular, to do everything on her schedule or she will throw a tizzy fit.

Lifetime obsession

Sad to say, I can't remember a time I wasn't a slave to the clock.

I carried a Daytimer as a high school student, scheduled my college days in one-hour increments and chose a career (journalism) ruled by deadlines.

As a working mother of three, the rhythm of my life today is the ticking of a Timex, and my primary exercise regimen is a race against the clock.

But apparently this obsession with time is more of a learned trait than an inherited one.

My children have been known to ask if it's time for breakfast at 4 in the afternoon.

They regularly attempt to pop in a video when I've issued the first directive to put on shoes for school.

They frequently lobby to play outside just after I announce dinner will be ready in 10 minutes.

They don't understand why I start getting edgy if no one is out of their pajamas at 8:15 on a Sunday morning, considering Mass doesn't start until 9.

And they have yet to master "backward math." That's the parental practice of starting at the time you need to be somewhere and subtracting the number of minutes required by each preparatory task to determine when to start getting ready. (Example: Breakfast + teeth + hair + shoes + socks + coats + six or seven rounds of bickering with siblings x three children = 212 minutes, requiring everyone to get up at 4:30 a.m. to be to school by 8.)

These changing times

I recently heard a story about a group of moms who promised their children a New Year's Eve celebration. By 10 p.m., however, the moms thought better of their pledge and pushed all the clocks to 11:55. The children, none the wiser, enjoyed their early celebration as well as bragging rights that they'd stayed up to 1:30 in the morning.

I like these moms. They have made the job of Official Keeper of the Family Clock their own. Under their rules, "just a sec" can buy them 15 minutes, "I'll be there in a minute" can provide for a quick chat on the phone, and a midnight party can start at the more reasonable hour of 10.

Soon, the evenings will be warm and we will open the windows of our house and hear our neighbor's clocks chime on the quarter hour.

Soon it will be light outside when I, the Official Keeper of the Newberry Clock, will announce it's time to get ready for bed.

My children, hearing the clocks and thinking themselves clever, may declare their mother cuckoo, cuckoo.

But only I will know whether it's really 7:30 or 9:30 and just how to reset the clocks after they've gone to sleep.


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