Tick Tock

“All of the time giving up could be spent on the things that we have.” ~ lyrics from “Time Is Running Out” by the Parson Red Heads

Sitting in the stands looking down at a small six-lane pool in which my daughter is competing in her first swim meet, I can see her checking the event numbers written on her hand. She got disqualified on her first event when she forgot to put on her goggles and then stopped cold when she hit the water and realized what she was missing. Her next event, the 50 fly, earned her a 5th place ribbon (they’re a bit more judicious with the ribbons than when I was a kid). Last up—the 100 free.

The morning started early. Earlier even than we’d planned. We got up at 6:00 AM and left the house close to our goal of 6:30. In the dark, cold car, I nestled my cup of steaming team in a safe place and stuck our backpacks in the hatch. “Will it ever get light out?” Bella asked, a bit worried that today it may not. Turning on the car I noticed the clock:  5:36. “Could we possibly be early?” I ventured, thinking through all of the steps – including back to a few weeks ago when I changed Bella’s clock after the time change. That was the clock that had gotten us up just 36 minutes ago.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

“Oh, I had to re-do my clock a little bit ago, and I set it by my watch …. which is wrong,” Bella admitted sheepishly.

I felt a twinge of frustration but also knew that three years ago I would have been upset and ten years ago I would have been pissed. This morning, I very quickly switched to relatively amused. A good thing given what happened next:  I realized that in changing everything from my regular bag to the backpack, I’d forgotten my house keys and we were locked out. I didn’t want to ring the doorbell and wake up everyone inside, so a backup plan emerged. “Let’s go get breakfast.” We headed back to the car but in the darkness I hit the wrong button on my car clicker. Then another wrong button. Enough wrong buttons and my car believed I was trying to steal it. “BLANG BLANG BLANG!!!” The car alarm went off for a full minute before falling silent.

I could just make out my daughter smiling at me through the murky light. “Well, this is getting off to an interesting start,” she laughed.


Bella will surely be tired. She has a right to be – she ran a 5K yesterday. It was her fourth one and among her slowest. She’s training for a 10K that she’ll run on Thanksgiving so she’s been running every week with a friend-trainer. She’s intent on doing the race, but speed isn’t her thing. After Saturday’s race when I reminded her of her fastest time – six minutes faster – she was a bit testy with me. “I have my pace and that’s just what I do, ” she said firmly.

Given that swimming is all about times, I wonder how she’ll do with this. What she’s known for the last six months since she started practicing with a team is up and down the lane, a steady-Eddie progression occasionally punctuated by sprinting. I swam as a kid and I loved being part of a team. I loved the way my body felt when I got done with a hard workout. But I didn’t like the tyranny of the clock. Still, I was obsessed with it. Qualifying times were written on the bulletin board above my bed. I knew them by heart and was their slave. Deep down I hate them. Couldn’t we just swim?

“Tick. Tock. You are 45. Your kids are getting older. They’ll be gone before you know it.”

Today — two days after the swim meet — Bella has left for Washington, DC with her brother and dad, who has been in Africa much of the fall and just returned. Following two months of nearly non-stop parenting, my children’s absence is a bit shocking. I’m sitting alone in the house listening to the cat eat his kibbles and the ticking of the clock. “Tick. Tock. You are 45. Your kids are getting older. They’ll be gone before you know it,” the clock says.

On the way to the airport, Bella figured out how to change the time on her wristwatch. She switched it to CDT right then and there even though we pointed out that now it will be off by an hour when she lands on the east coast. She didn’t mind.

She packed with her a few good luck cards for the 10K she’ll be running on Thursday, as well as a new shirt from her running buddy and a locket that was my good luck charm through years of swim meets. “I’ll call you before AND after the race,” she told me as hugged on the airport curb. How long it takes her to run this race clearly doesn’t interest her. That she’s worked toward this goal and will actually do it – with her dad at her side and family to cheer her on – pleases her immensely. Just as it should. Some things are timeless.


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