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The Toddler Time Suck Is Chipping Away At This Little Bit Of Me

Photograph by Twenty20

Like many first babies, I was born two weeks late. It was pretty much the last time I was ever late to anything again. Instead, I've spent my life worrying about making it everywhere on time.

You should know that when I say "late," I mean anything less than early, because "on time" leaves far too much to chance, especially if getting there means possible traffic or catching a train or, of course, when other people are involved (which kind of covers everything). I was drawn to a partner who has a similar relationship to punctuality. Without words, without planning, we get to where we are going early. Always. Sure, we've spent more time than technically necessary in waiting rooms or at the airport, but we've never had an argument about tardiness.

We even had our first baby early: via C-section at 39 weeks and 3 days.

In the beginning, he also rarely needed to be anywhere at any particular time. I woke, slept and ate according to his ever-changing rhythm. As a freelancer, I could adapt my schedule around my baby's routine. And, as time isn't all that relevant to babies, I never attempted to impose the routine all my mother-friends assured me would keep me sane.

My son is 2 now—too young to worry about time or other people's schedules. But he's going to daycare, and I still love a healthy early arrival. Problem is, he's got a mind of his own and the physical abilities to match—he's not even trying to play ball. Actually, in a literal sense he is: After taking off his shoes and socks, spilling water down his front and hiding my keys, he likes to roll and toss a ball, any ball, just one more time.

In any case, he is in no way ready to leave the house on schedule. I put his diaper on at 8:41, and he runs off until 8:43, pulling the diaper down to make a pee fountain somewhere in the house. Naturally, I step in it and there go five minutes because now I have to change my socks. Breakfast ready at 9:02, but he doesn't want toast, at least not to eat. So he smears it, buttered-side down, all over the table. Five more minutes gone, since now? I have to clean it up. His toothbrush is missing, and he's thrown my mascara in the toilet. His nose needs to be wiped, and he rather not put on a long-sleeved shirt, but thanks!

I've spent a lifetime being early and wasn't about to give that up. So I started packing his lunch the night before. I also lay out his clothes and reset the straps of the sling that his father carried him in on our evening walk. That saves minutes (precious, let's get there early minutes!) if I don't have to fiddle with the damn things when I'd rather be walking out the door.

I also make sure I'm up and dressed before he is, with keys already in my pocket. I put my socks in my shoes and put them on last (because pee puddles). Mercifully, none of this means getting up earlier since I figure out that if I focus on one thing at a time, I can get both of us ready much faster. I've also stopped trying to pack in other jobs, like unloading the dishwasher, in those few minutes here and there when he's actually occupied (hopefully not with the non-potty peeing). It doesn't save time when he notices and joins in, though arguably there are fewer dishes to load or unload after he's smashed them.

But even with all those toddlerhacks, I still find it's 9:33, and we're three minutes into the 10-minute buffer I like to factor in. All it takes to actually be late, as opposed to "on-time late," is one filled diaper, one refusal to hold on piggyback style while I fasten the sling or one too many red lights at any of the six intersections we have to cross to get to his daycare.

I've also realized there was one more small change to make the whole thing less stressful: I stopped wearing a watch. At least in the mornings. Daycare doesn't even have a clock, so I have no idea if we get there early or (God forbid!) late.

All those extra minutes with him every day, putting his shoes on for the third time or coaxing him to unclamp his jaws from around his toothbrush, aren't wasted, I'm starting to figure out. I'm sure I'll wish I could have them back soon enough.

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