Tolkien, Time, and Why Does It Go So Fast?

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring

Observatories always have scared me a little bit.  I’m not sure why, other than my extreme childhood motion sickness that kicked in every time the stars and planets swirled around overhead.  I much prefer the real thing.  Laying on my back on a wooden dock, looking up at the meteor shower, or watching the sunset from my upstairs window, or witnessing the dawn over the ridge of the Sierras creates much more meaning than seeing the entire universe spin before my eyes.

It’s all about time, though.  Stretching my brain big enough to encompass the billions and billions of years our solar system has existed simply exhausts and terrifies me.  I was born in the 60s, a time of revolution. A time of possibility.  A time of purpose.

So today, in the 21st century, how is it that the exact same number of seconds, minutes and hours that every human has possessed, the precise amount of time, does not constantly fill me with possibility,  purpose. or revolution – instead of panic?

Live in the moment. Seize the day. Live every day like it is your last.

I’ve heard them all.  We are all busy, busy people. We all have a new day every 24 hours to use as we see fit.

So why is it that my day, which starts well before dawn, never seems long enough? Is that why I’m always running a e message in my mind?  Slow down, focus, be in the present, there will be time for that later…

I wish it was as simple as Tolkien said.

Nicaragua Lily and Cameron

I wish all I had to decide was what to do with the time that is given us.  I wish that such a simple decision wasn’t so complicated.

I’m great at it in the classroom. I maximize every single second. I don’t believe in wasting one minute of the 55 I get with my students each day.

When the school day ends, and I start my second job at home, I feel the same way.  The afternoons and evenings are jam packed with chores, homework, lessons, and a bit of reading, writing, cooking, and the occasional chess game.

Weekends- November to April are in the snow.

Summers? Travel, camps, gardening, and catching up on the neglected issues from the school year.

I wish every second I have could be frozen, duplicated, or held in my heart. I am acutely, painfully aware that the time with my daughter at home is rushing by. My son is on the cusp of all that is good and terrifying about adolescence.  It’s  not really as simple as Tolkien says.

I tick the hours by; days turn into weeks, then months. Then years.  Suddenly, it’s been nearly 18.

Time is more precious now than ever.

Someday soon, I will have more time than I can imagine.  Endless hours to decide what to do.

Just not who I want to spend it with.

 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Sixteen-Year Test

Sixteen years ago today I was waiting to give birth to my first baby.  Today, I’m waiting for that baby to take her first SATs.  The words of my grandmother ring loudly in my ears, reminding me of how fast the time goes.
I always thought that was old people just complaining, whining about missed opportunities and broken promises.  I wondered if they wished they had done life differently, had spent more time pushing their kids in the swing or reading them bedtime stories.  I briefly considered how that would feel, and tucked it away inside that long list of things I would never do as a parent, a list carefully created over years of trying to correct other parents mistakes that ended up in my classroom.
She was probably in her eighties when I started noticing the pain in her voice as she recalled her glory days of pigtails, freshly ironed short pants and dinners around the oval oak dinner table.  Most vestiges of her children were long ago relics of days she cherished, only the occasional tear in her eye as evidence of when she felt truly happy.
Sixteen years ago, I was not thinking of the memories that would be building from the moment she was born; I was thinking of how strong I could be to make it through the labor, and not much else.  I worried about how life would change and could I do all the right mommy moves to make sure she was safe, nourished, and nurtured.  Never did I think this far into the future that she would be walking out of my car and working towards leaving me.
As I sit here, watching car after car pull in, I tense as the clock ticks towards the starting time.  Kids continue to pour in even after they have no hope of admission through the testing door.  I watch them come back, rejected, and notice a mom not willing to take no for an answer.  Her son protests as she resolutely marches him back in, determined to give him another chance.  Minutes later when she returns alone, I see love etched into every fiber of her face; the kind of strength it sometimes takes to be a parent.
Sixteen years ago, I had no idea what it would take to be a parent.  I knew it was something I wanted for my life, not understanding the determination, dedication and sheer will it would take.  I didn’t understand why it would be so hard to watch her ride off on her bike alone, to let go of her hand at the corner of the school building, or let her take over the car steering wheel.  I did not imagine the pain of watching her cry or struggle through friendships that had ended or defeats on the ski hill.  I didn’t comprehend the many, many hours I would lose sleep to hold her tight, rock her gently, or support her through the different phases of growing up.
Sixteen years ago I never imagined the tests my baby would put me through, or how she would help me grow into a better human.  When she walks back to me today I will welcome her with the swirls of my grandmother’s voice running through my head, and realize that what she said really is true:  they do grow up so fast, and the years pass by far too quickly.  I will lock this memory into my mind, knowing all too well that when she finishes this test, another will present itself, challenging me to dig deep and take it on.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Car Is My Quiet Place

Call me weird, but I really like to sit in my car – it’s my quiet place.  Alone.

 It has nothing to do with driving-I like that, too, especially when it’s on the open highway.  What I’m talking about are those rare moments when I’m completely locked in my glass bubble.  The engine isn’t running, the radio is silent, and if I’m lucky, the rain is gently falling on the roof.
When I was a kid, I used to love going in our garage when it was raining just to listen to the soft, rhythmic sound of rain hitting the shake shingles.  It felt safe, quiet, and I guess meditative, although I had no idea what that was at the time.
Today, I spend my days in an endless gurgle of people wanting, needing, and questioning.  My continuous ‘response with a smile’ feels exhausting by 4p.m. and I find myself craving quiet.  That is where the car comes in.
I don’t slip out to the garage and leave my family inside the house wondering what’s up with Mom.  I don’t drive around the block searching for a place to park.  Sometimes I do linger after I’ve arrived home, savoring the last of the NPR story, or taking a few deep breaths to center myself.
My car sitting time is often while I’m waiting for my son or daughter to finish a class, an activity, or some sport that doesn’t require spectating.  It’s best when I park in a quiet neighborhood without many pedestrians peering in the windows.  I prefer daylight quiet in my car, although I do keep a Halloween style skull lantern in my glove box to shed a little light as needed.
What do I do in the car?  I sit.  I write.  I think.  I grade the endless papers that my students provide me every day.  I don’t like to talk on the phone, but I do occasionally check my email, play Words with Friends, or send a text or two.  I write lots of blog posts, I do lesson plans, and once in awhile I’ll read a book or catch up on the newspaper.  I even keep a blanket handy.
Once I did fall asleep – it was dark and after dinner – that felt a bit embarrassing and disorienting.  As my teenage daughter would say, it was ‘sup-awk’ to wake up to the chatter of kids leaving their class knowing I had been snoring with the windows open!
Mostly I find that I breathe, sink into the seat, and just slow it down.  I let my heartbeat match the rain, and concentrate on me. Most of the time people don’t notice me there, and I like that.
Now that I’m an adult, I don’t get to hear the rain on the roof of our house.   The sound of rain hitting skylights just isn’t the same-it’s more of a ping than a satisfying thud.  But when I’m alone inside my car I hear it all-rain, the wind, birds, dogs, and passers-by all create a meditative backdrop to my thoughts.
As a turtle needs to retreat into its shell to protect its soft body, as a chipmunk scurries into its hole, and as a rabbit retreats to its den, I need a place to go and shut out the world.  The demands of a job and a family can, just for a moment, stay outside the bubble.  Safe, dry, and protected, I can breathe in and out, and find my center again.
Call me weird, but I really like to sit in my car.  Alone.  Quietly.  What about you? Where’s your quite place?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Moms at Work

I’ve always been a working mom.  I was one of those women who thought that I could do it all – full time teaching, ever present spouse and greet my kids after school with a tray of freshly baked cookies.
Life didn’t exactly turn out that way.
When my daughter was born, I was sure I could return to my 7thgrade English teaching job.  It only would require a 60-minute round trip commute and leaving her home with her dad all day.  And, I could still breast feed.
Luckily, the sleep deprivation got to me, and I realized not all that was going to happen.
After six months home with her it was time to return to the classroom.  I settled on a 5thgrade position that would allow me to work closer to home and have fewer papers to grade.  I could zip home on my lunch hour to feed the baby, zip back for the afternoon and be home in time to bake cookies for my husband.
Life didn’t exactly turn out that way, either.
Trying to time a feeding for the 10-minute window I had available didn’t sit well with my stubborn daughter.  The tears when I left didn’t sit well with my husband.  Fifth graders were sucking all my patience – they were so clingy.   And the cookies?  That was just a fantasy.
The following school year I tried something else – a 7thgrade position in a town about 10 minutes away.  The plus side was the curriculum-my comfort zone-and my schedule-8-12.  The down side was the commute-15 minutes each way might have well been crossing the state line.  But she was growing up, and didn’t depend on me quite as much.  My husband mastered the art of the long walk to tire her out, and she adjusted.
Then life presented baby #2.
This time I gave in.  Stay at home mom I would be.  The pendulum swung, my husband took a second job, and I spent every waking moment with both kids.  I baked cookies-but he was too tired to eat them when he got home.  Baby #2 didn’t seem to know who this man was that stumbled into the house every night, too exhausted to play, laugh or go to the park.
Going back to work was at least familiar, if not exciting.  Teacherwolfe went into full gear.  I decided that the commute could be a time for myself, and found that by the time I got home mamawolfe had reappeared and was excited to re-enter the home. My husband left his second job, balance slowly reappeared, and so did the cookies.
Life never tasted so sweet.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Even 6th Graders Hug Their Moms

In 2002, when my son was just turning three, all he wanted to be when he grew up was a firefighter.  Well, maybe Bob the Builder, too.  Dreams of saving structures and the people trapped in them was his kind of a dream job.  Cameron had it all-the firefighter suit, the plastic ax, and even a pedal powered metal fire truck that his big sister had outgrown.  I guess firefighter fantasies run in our family.
I’m not sure how much 9/11 influenced this decision-probably not a huge amount at his tender age-although the media was full of heroic images of  brave men and women who fought to save those people trapped in the twin towers.  Out of this tragedy the “Twin Towers Orphan Fund” was born, and author Christine Kole MacLean published
Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms to raise money for the children who lost parents in the World Trade Center.
It was a perfect fit for my family – a picture book about a boy and his little sister who love to pretend play, especially fantasizing about firefighters.  It became an instant favorite for my son, and as he grew it evolved into a catch phrase for us-whenever it seems like I will never get a cuddle again, I remind him of his favorite story.
Yesterday, I reminded him.  Since kindergarten, my husband or I have always ridden bikes with our children to school.  At first it was for safety reasons-tippy training wheels for my daughter while my son gloried in the bumps of the bike trailer, we loved the ½-mile ride to and from school each day.  Often, my daughter would beg me to ‘drop her off at the corner’, but I always managed to make it into the bike racks, grabbing a last kiss and hug before she trotted off to her classroom.  Later, once they were both in school and I went back to teaching my husband joyfully took over the duties. When Lily advanced to 7th grade, she and I biked to and from our school together and enjoyed the time to talk about what was coming up in her life and how she was getting along with friends.  Now I bike alone each day, missing her company.
So when I had the opportunity yesterday morning to ride to school with Cam, I jumped on it.  This is our last year of elementary school, and it feels like a chapter of childhood is closing.  Eager to squeeze out every moment I can, we hop on our bikes and quickly head out on the bike path.  My big red cruiser is no match for his neon pink BMX bike-I have to work to keep up. After a few minutes he slowed and said, “You know, Mom, when Lily was in 4th grade she rode to school by herself.  Why do you still ride with me?”
“Well, it’s not because I don’t think you can do it, Cam. It’s because I want to be with you.” I answer.  “Remember how you like me to tuck you in at night? It’s kind of the same thing.  It’s just  a special time when we’re together.”  Silence greets my comment like the calm before a storm.
“Dad never rides all the way anymore.  He drops me off at the park just before the bike racks.” Clearly he is ready to hold his ground.” And you know, I ride home with my friends now.  You don’t need to pick me up anymore.”
“Really?” I reply, a hint of sarcasm in my voice.  “You mean I can’t take you all the way, help you lock your bike and give you a big hug and kiss?”  His cold, silent stare gives me his answer.   “Even 6th graders hug their moms.”
“Hi, Max!” Cameron yells, ending the conversation as if on cue.  Sure enough, here comes his buddy riding up right  behind us.
I take the hint, and quietly whisper, “Bye, Cam.  See you after school” as I turn and ride towards home.  The pang in my chest carries me, tears welling as I pedal.  I realize that my little firefighter may not be wearing the costume, but I still adore him just the same.
Seven hours later, long after the pain had subsided and he walked in the door after school, I was welcomed with a great big bear hug.  Yep, even 6th graders hug their moms.  Just not in public.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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