The Jekyll-and-Hyde half hour

Spring semester is underway, our little is in full-time day care, somehow it is February, and  days and hours pass in blurs. Today I thought I would talk a bit about time: the half hour, to be precise.  Why a half hour?  It takes me approximately 30 minutes to be at day care, pick up the babe, and get home. On the drive home one afternoon last week, my daughter transformed – seemingly without provocation – from little angel singing “itsy bitsy spider” to happily to herself into a wailing, kicking dervish resulting in the longest half hour of my week.  Once home (with baby happily cramming raisins in her mouth), I started thinking about how, depending on context, the seemingly insignificant half hour can assume radically different characters in different aspects of my life.

On the geologic scale, a half hour is completely irrelevant. For instance, my dissertation discusses the last 90 million years of mountain formation in the Rocky Mountains, and my masters thesis studied the “very young” Black Canyon of the Gunnison: a freshly carved canyon that has been in existence a mere one million years. For geologists, and for the earth itself, thirty minutes is less than infinitesimal measure of time.

As a runner, thirty minutes is equivalent to roughly 4 miles of easy running. It can be a really fast women’s 10km track race, or a new runners’ 5km race time. The first thirty minutes of a marathon flash by without even the blink of an eye, but the last thirty – whether those minutes conclude to a finishing time of 2:30 or 5:30 – those minutes define both the runner, and the race. Thirty minutes of running can clear my head, drain my body during a hard effort, be barely long enough to chat with a best friend, or seem like an seven hours when water running.

On the graduate student timescale, thirty minutes is equivalent to my being able to skim the main figures of a journal article or take a coffee break and walk through campus. By the time I am done with school, I will have spent 5 years (or approximately 15% of my life) pursuing my PhD. For an adult, thirty minutes is a short lunch break, a waiting line at the DMV, or time the time it takes to make and sip coffee in the morning; it can be a usable amount of time, or just long enough to be frustrating if wasted.

On the toddler time scale, the half hour from day care pick up to dinner is a measureable percentage of waking time between nap time and bedtime (10%). The difference between dinner at 6pm and dinner at 6:30 pm can seem unbearable. After a full day of adventure and exploration, my 18-month old is far less likely to listen to my rational argument that an additional half hour of cooking will result in much tastier food than to listen to her grumbling tummy and scream for something to fill that gaping void in her midsection (as we experienced in our recent car ride).  However, splashing in a bath before bed, building block towers, or as she sits on my lap, trying to resist closing her heavy, sleepy eyes as we read bedtime books, thirty minutes flies by.

OMG the pasta won’t boil fast enough! Baby spilled the sippy cup of milk on the leather seats! Legs feel like lead and still 6 hilly miles to run! Grant application is due in 2 days! Goal race in X months, will I be ready! (etc., etc., etc.....)
Brain Overload = Panic over silly detial: OMG the pasta won’t boil fast enough! Baby spilled the sippy cup of milk on the leather seats! Legs feel like lead and still 6 hilly miles to run! Grant application is due in 2 days! Goal race in X months, will I be ready! (etc., etc., etc…..)

When I start to feel panic rising about some small daily life detail, I try to actively walk myself from toddler time (when seconds are critical!), to runner time (when minutes and hours matter), to student/adult time (when days and years are important), to geologic time (when a million years may slip by unnoticed), and remind myself that stepping back to take a little perspective on “time” goes a long way toward happiness.

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