I forget, sometimes, that I live with a Zen Master. He's five.
Finn has no concept of time. Several times a day we have a conversation that goes something like this:
"Momma, can I have some juice?"
"Yes, in a minute."
"How long is a minute?"
"It's not long; just let me finish typing this email and I'll get you some juice."
Pause. "Sixty is a big numbah, though. Sixty is a long time."
"No, a second is short, and sixty seconds doesn't take long."
Pause. "It feels like it's taking a long time."
"Every time you interrupt me, it takes longer. Now just be patient, I'm almost done."
Slightly longer pause. "Is it a minute now?"
I ignore him and type.
"How about now? Is it a minute now?"
"Just WAIT, Finn."
Very slightly longer pause. "I told you sixty seconds is a long time. It's taking forevah."
The only time Finn understands is NOW. It's not just that he's impatient, although that's part of it. Mostly, he simply doesn't grasp the concept of more than a few seconds into the future.
The other day, as I was putting his coat on, he said, "Momma, I don't want to go to school."
"It's Wednesday, Finn," I replied. "You don't have school today."
His face lit up. "Oh GOOD! I like Wednesday, then. Wednesday is stay-with-Mom day."
I realized he gets up every morning not knowing what he'll do that day. He just wakes up and exists. If he's hungry, he'll ask for food. If he's bored, he'll ask to play a game. He waits for a thought, desire or need to arise before addressing it. He's not thinking: I hope I'm not bored today.
When he's looking forward to something, like his birthday party, he'll struggle with the concept of time.
"How long until my pahty, Momma?"
"Five days, Finn. On Saturday."
He furrows his brow. "I just counted to five. Is my pahty now?"
"No, five days means you go to sleep four times, and on the fifth morning it will be Saturday."
"Can I take five naps and then have my pahty today?"
If Finn has a thought, or a need, he wants it addressed immediately, because RIGHT NOW is all he understands.
It was starting to drive me crazy.
I tried looking at the world through Finn's eyes. When he's coloring or playing a game he's totally lost to the moment; he isn't painting a picture while worrying about the Next Thing. In his world, there is only Now.
Greta, who is eight, has understood time for over a year now. She's a clock and calender watcher; she lives in anticipation or fear of future events, like the arrival of the bus in the morning, bedtime or a doctor's appointment in two weeks.
As I tucked the kids into bed last night, Greta said, "Mom, tomorrow I have Girl Scouts, so don't forget. And Thursday is the school book fair, so you have to come visit my classroom. Friday I have a doctor's appointment. Did you write all that down in the calendar?"
Finn got his story and his back scratch and settled down to sleep. He doesn't know if the next day is a stay-with-Mom day or a school day, but he's not thinking about it. He'll deal with that when it comes.
It's sad, really, how one of the first grown-up lessons kids learn is to be a slave to time, schedules and obligations.
So this weekend I surrendered to time. I did my best not to think about the next minute or the next hour. When the kids asked what we were going to do, I replied, "I don't know ... what do you want to do?"
They wanted to go to the playground. It was an unseasonably warm November day in New England; the perfect day to be outside. I didn't want to go to the playground and sit uselessly while they played. I had a list of things to do a mile long. So I pretended I was Finn. I told myself the only thing that mattered was now - the playground - and didn't let myself think about what came next.
When the kids - apple cheeked and beaming - tapped me on the arm and announced they were ready to go home, I surfaced from a deep reverie; my head was full of silence.
I had no concept of how long we had been at the playground. The clock in the car informed me more than two hours had passed. Two hours of simply existing, instead of wringing my hands, glancing at the time, and hurrying the kids along so I could get to the Next Thing.
I understood why Finn smiles a lot.
Now is the perfect slice of time, absent of obligation and worry, because you can't be anywhere but right where you are.
What is a moment? It's a heartbeat, a single breath. We do these things hundreds of times a day, and don't give them a second thought, but they are the building blocks of all life. Without them we cease to exist.
Neglecting moments is like spending life in the waiting room, living in anticipation of Next, waiting - always waiting - and never experiencing.
We are all born hard wired to live in the moment, to experience life exactly as it is, not as we want it to be. As we grow up, we get further and further away from our natural state of wonder and acceptance.
The other day Finn and I were running out the door, late for something - school, or an appointment - and I was rushing around, begging him to hurry up. On the way to the car, a bright yellow leaf on the ground caught his eye, and he stopped to admire its beauty.
"Look, Momma," he said, holding it up for me to see. "Isn't it amazing?"
Yes. Yes, it is.