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"Hurry up, Juje, we're going to be late!"
"But, Mama, today's Saturday—I don't go to school on Saturdays."
"No, Juje—today's Monday, it's a school day today."
"But Mama, Saturday comes after Sunday. Now you pretend my hand is a bee and it's trying to sting you."
I duck Julia's hand and fumble with the buttons on her dress, trying to get her ready for school.
"No, Mama, I can do it myself!" Julia brushes my hand away and painstakingly starts in on the first button.
I'm tapping my foot. Heaving a sigh. Looking up at the ceiling, then down to the floor.
"C'mon, Juje. You need to get dressed. We're late. I mean it, Juje."
"Now you say: 'Shoo bee!'" Julia has forgotten about the buttons. She's running around her room pretending to sting things. When I reach over to finish buttoning her up, she jumps back and screams as if I've poked her with a hot cattle prod. Which is actually what I would like to do right about now, because getting Julia ready for school is like trying to herd a hundred cats into a nice warm bath. I might as well just make a recording of myself droning: "Hurry up, Juje. Get your shoes on, Juje. C'mon Julia. Stop monkeying around. You need to speed it up a little. We're really late now, Juje, I mean it!"
It's no use. I run into the other room, collecting the diaper bag, the car keys, shoes and sweaters. And as I'm rushing around, Julia sidles up to me quietly, holding the clock from our bedside table, and asks: "Mama, do you want me to press this button on the clock, so we'll have more time?"
Her sweet upturned face is so proud and hopeful in its presentation of this obvious solution that it's hard to say:
"Juje, I wish you could." Sigh. "I really do. But, it doesn't exactly work that way, sweetie."
"Why not, Mama?" she asks, proceeding to click all the buttons on the clock anyway.
"Well, time keeps moving forward, Juje. You can't stop it. Even though, I really wish we could slow it down a little."
"But, we can, Mama, see?" Julia holds up the clock, which is now displaying military time. "Do you want to play Go Fish?"
Later, when I'm finally driving her to school, commenting on the colorful leaves, Julia asks: "Mama, is it spring?"
"No, Juje, it's fall."
"Because fall comes after summer. That's when the leaves change colors and fall off the trees."
"But why isn't it spring, Mama?"
Julia's been trying to wrap her mind around the passing of time for a while now. She has a steel-trap memory, and can recall the tiniest details of things that happened eons ago, but she still can't seem to get her mind around the meaning of "yesterday," or "tomorrow," or even the hours in a day. She gets it to some extent: "Mama, remember the last, last, last, last, last, last, last, last, laaaaaaaast day when we went to Mimi's house?" (six months ago). But, when I tell her that Wendy will be at our house after lunch, she asks: "But, Mama, how does Wendy know when we're done with our lunch?"
It reminds me of when my mom would get us ready for school. She'd be upstairs braiding my sister's hair, and would call downstairs frantically: "What time is it?" And, I'd look at the clock in the kitchen and yell back: "The big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 8"—which held no real meaning for me, but would send my mother into a tizzy.
Julia's days aren't measured by the ticking of a clock, the way mine are. Sometimes, it's like time stands still for her. She can fall asleep in mid-sentence, wake up 10 hours later, and complete her sentence without missing a beat. She'll fall asleep in the car and wake up in her bed the next morning crying, because we're not where we said we'd be ("But Mama, I wanted to press the buttons on the money machine!") She's like someone who's been in a coma for 10 years who wakes up and gets dressed in her bellbottoms and platform shoes, only to find that the rest of the world is wearing polo shirts and Miami Vice jackets.
I wish I could take a page from Julia's book. Julia, who marks time by the height of her sunflowers; by whether the tomatoes are green or the leaves are red. Whether the sun is shining or the moon is bright. Whether she can make a snowman in the yard or run barefoot through the grass.
I think that, for now, maybe I'll refrain from teaching Julia how to really tell time. Instead, maybe she could teach me a thing or two, before this time passes me by.
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