“How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss
This post was originally titled What Happened to September? when I drafted the first sketchy lines on October 19. But now, well, it’s November, and What Happened to September and October? doesn’t have quite the same ring. I’m feeling disappointed with myself because in January I set what seemed like a perfectly achievable goal: posting something once a month. Obviously that didn’t happen. Sigh.
The past few months went by in a blink and a blur, and now that Thanksgiving starts in five minutes, the rest of the year promises to be heading the same way. How do the months fly past us, yet the last workday before a vacation is never-ending? Yes, one of life’s mysteries.
Here’s another situation when weeks drag on for months: home renovations.
It all started when Ret and I realized we could no longer postpone the most urgent repairs. We had to replace our 47-year-old kitchen range (you can read about that appliance adventure in Say Goodbye to Bessie, May 15, 2018), and re-tile the shower in the master bath, where a leak behind the old ceramic tile was causing some weird bumps under the wood floor in the adjacent hallway. Just a single kitchen appliance and a shower. It wasn’t like we were planning to gut the whole house. How long could this project possibly take?
The answer is eight months, one week, three days and twenty-seven minutes, from the moment we engaged the first contractor until the day I moved back into my bathroom. It felt like years.
The short version of the saga is that our first contract fell through, and in the end, Ret’s multi-talented brother Derek brought our 1970s-era ranch house into the 21st century beautifully. Slowly, but beautifully. After all, he’s just one guy. And like most things that seem simple in the beginning, reality proved to be far less so as we ran into one unanticipated complication after another. Plus, as the work progressed, we got more and more ideas: replacing doors, painting cabinets, updating old light fixtures. If you’ve ever built or renovated a house, I know you understand.
The experience was revealing, and I don’t just mean the groovy wallpaper we discovered when we removed the vanity mirror. Maybe this wouldn’t bother a nicer person, but having my collection of toiletries — hair products, lotions, makeup, bath salts, nail files and assorted paraphernalia — scattered over every surface in the bedroom for three months drove me absolutely crazy. And let’s not talk about all the dust! It was like a comic book villain, coming back again and again despite all my attempts to eradicate it.
Now that the work is complete, I feel differently. The outcome of our project made all the inconvenience worthwhile. It’s kind of like the miraculous result of nine long, sometimes uncomfortable months of pregnancy. When you’re in the middle of a challenge, it can seem never-ending. Then you look back on it and marvel.
Perception is everything
Hindsight and anticipation bend our perception of time in different ways, don’t they?
I can’t believe my youngest son is a 28-year-old married man when my memories of his childhood are so vivid. Now that he and his older brother live in Seattle, the many miles that separate us make the months between our visits unbearably long.
It’s impossible to me that my high school graduation was 38 years ago, and that three decades have passed since I moved to Georgia. Where did the time go? Conversely, after meeting with a financial planner, my projected retirement date seems very far in the future.
We all get the same allotment of hours in a day, and from a scientific standpoint, each hour is exactly the same length. But seriously, there’s a big difference between spending an hour at an incredible concert versus waiting in line to vote. It’s all in our minds – and our attitudes.
I often think that if days were money, we would treat them differently. If someone offered me seven $100 bills, I would never say, “No, you can keep the first five. I just want these two.” However, I do this all the time with my weeks, wishing away Monday through Friday so I can get to the weekend. One day, when I’m very old, I’m probably going to wish I had some of those weekdays back.
Since time is such a precious, irreplaceable commodity, I try to spend it wisely and not fritter it all away on social media. The Jack Russell terrier side of me feels compelled to accomplish more and more, and not waste a minute. There was a period in my life when I needed that kind of drive; without it, I’m not sure I could have juggled college, a full-time job and school-aged children at the same time.
Things are different now. I’ve learned that quiet time is not wasted time, solitude is not the same as loneliness, and sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best investment I can make in myself. I’m still juggling multiple projects, but I’m more selective about them, spending my time on the tasks that matter most and the people and things that feed my soul.
Time off for good behavior
This is my first day of a well-deserved vacation from work, something I’ve looked forward to for weeks. There’s a long to-do list on my kitchen table. I’m a planner by nature, so I like lists. This one includes mundane things, like grocery shopping and housework, but there’s also space for baking, writing (checking that one off now) and going to the movies with Ret.
Do I expect to scratch off every item on my list? No, it’s just a guide to help keep me on track. Last night’s planned vegetable potpie turned into a call for pizza delivery. So it’s a fluid thing! The list gives time and space to my ideas and priorities so the week won’t get away from me.
But I know it will anyway. Sunday night I’ll look back on these nine brief days and wonder where they went.
And then, in about five minutes, it’ll be Christmas.