Time is a feeling – part 2, it turns out

A few weeks before we embarked on this journey, the twins made a poster and taped it across our front door: “Dtektiv Agintse. if ther is a crim, tell us.” In case you don’t read phonetic spelling – a necessary skill in our family right now – that say “Detective Agency. If there is a crime, tell us.”

After no calls came in, no one knocked at the door with any cases to solve, Cyrus took it upon himself to go one step further. He made fliers that stated, “Detectives for hire! No case to big or small! Call our mama and ask for us.” (We helped with the spelling on that one. And yes, I listed my actual mobile number too. I’m committed.) Then he distributed them to the neighbors, walking around our cul-de-sac and stuffing them into mailboxes or handing them to folks directly. Two people responded – God bless them – and the boys worked on each “case” in the most no-nonsense, utterly professional way any two 6-yr-olds could. For the record, both cases were quite small, solved promptly, and the boys did not charge for their services. If there was a Yelp for kid detectives, I think they’d have gotten great reviews.

Their confidence boosted, the detective duo began introducing themselves as boy detectives to everyone they met, or re-introducing themselves this way to people they’ve known for a long time, pre-empting the new intro’s with “So you may have thought all this time that we were ordinary kids but guess what, we’re actually boy detectives.” Also, we made official detective kits together, which included the requisite magnifying glass but also lots of other odds and ends: notebooks and pens to interview suspects; play doh to set booby traps; lots of tape; hand mirrors to spy around corners; string to make tripwires or handcuffs; old make-up brushes to dust for fingerprints; talcum powder to sprinkle on the floor at night in front of their doors so they could see footprints if anyone snuck in while they slept (creepy but sort of ingenious, right?).

Soon they requested official detective outfits because the ones we’d cobbled tougher at home weren’t really doing the trick. No one could tell just by looking at them that they were detectives, they claimed. (They were right. Our detective outfits were random old button-down shirts and two sideways baseball caps, one with the brim to the left and one stacked on top, brim to the right.) I find this entire boy detective quest pretty wonderful so I emphatically agreed, YES they needed better outfits, and promptly ordered some Sherlock Holmes-y gear on Amazon. 48hrs later, all three kiddos – by then, Asa had been officially inducted into the “agintse” as a detective-in-training – were nonstop wearing those little deerstalker caps (<- yep, that’s what they’re called, looked it up) and, chewing on fake pipes (which came w the caps).

The only thing missing, they said, were pocket watches. They needed real, working pocket watches to be official detectives. This is where I drew the line, half-heartedly, mostly because I couldn’t find cheap ones quickly and I got busy planning this trip. But I thought it was a reasonable request, and I appreciated their attention to detail.

Well guess what. Today, we basically found the greatest tiny pocket watches ever. We had just done The Book of Kells Exhibition and Old Library tour at Trinity College, and of course the tour spits you out smack into the middle of a gift shop. We were originally looking for tiny gospels to carry around; no one wanted to actually proselytize but because the audio tour we’d just done had a lot to say about monks, and while head-shaving and fasting didn’t sound that attractive to the boys, they liked the idea of secretly carrying around tiny books like the monks had done. It sounded sneaky and powerful and fun. But weirdly, there are no tiny Book of Kells-like gospels, or scriptures of any kind, or even tiny books of any kind, in the gift shop. There are expensive coloring books with maybe eight pictures in them, and large heavy books with extensive histories, and a ton of key chains, and t-shirts, but no tiny books. But then we found the pocket watches, and that was that. Anything else would have become irrelevant at that point anyway. Each pocket watch has a nice long chain and a different special Irish symbol on its front case, and they’re just really quite magnificent for gift shop pocket watches (and importantly, not expensive). As I type this, each boy is sleeping with his new pocket watch clutched in his hand.

The boys’ excitement at getting to choose their own pocket watch was a spectacle. There was squealing, jumping, giggling, and seriously adorable peacocking as they held and practiced opening and closing the watches, looking around with these big grins, making sure other people in the store were watching them. Jaspar said while we waited in the line to check out, “I’VE BEEN WAITING MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE FOR THIS!” Cyrus took a more serious tone and said, “Mom. I’m serious. This is all I have ever wanted. You don’t even know. This is like totally my dream.” Other tourists smiled and watched. The clerks behind the desk fawned over them too, and wanted to participate, so made sure to help the boys get the watches out of their little boxes, and snip off tags, and set them up properly, and show them how they worked.

When we walked outside into the sunshine, the boys ran up to Reza, who was reclining on a bench with Asa sleeping on his chest. They began to tell him joyously about their brand new special souvenirs, which would now make them official real detectives once and for all. Reza beamed and returned their enthusiasm, and then said, “Wow guys! These are great! Well then, tell me, what time is it?” It was the most reasonable and appropriate possible question.

Only then did we all realize, all at once: the boys can’t tell time on an analog clock.

I learned in the subsequent five minutes or so that the time-telling topic isn’t something to be explained quickly. The boys tried hard to understand but their eagerness to be able to use their watches to tell time properly right this very second overpowered their patience to star to learn, and nothing stuck. We paused the lesson and wandered around campus for a while, then made our way back toward our hotel.

Fast-forward a few hours. Believe it or not, we were able to teach them how to tell time, all while wandering around Trinity, then a museum, then a park throughout the afternoon. We gave them little bits of information at a time, and it actually worked. They definitely had the hour-hand stuff down cold by dinnertime. The minute-hand stuff, they mostly grasped, but it took some figuring to count by 5s of course, and anything beyond half past the hour was iffy. But still, they were on the cusp of really understanding, and can tell the time when, well, given the time to think it through.

(I’m tempted right now to just write and write about how much I marvel at these kids, learning at lightning-speed, when their will and the opportunity and the inspiration all align. I am so proud of them. But, I felt something else too watching them pick up this new skill, something that stressed me out a bit. Once the pressure was off, it really took very little time for them to grasp the concepts of minutes, hours, and using a clock to map it all out. And as they did, all of a sudden, I began to wonder: wait, is being able to tell time like this going to propel them into a new phase of feeling time pass? Is this a good thing? As adults, yes of course, there are benefits to knowing the feeling of the passage of 15 minutes vs. an hour, but then again, don’t we hunger to go back and not know? I’ve read a lot about flow, and being in the zone… As we grow up, and know time better, we obsess about losing ourselves in it. We glorify the state of play and finding moments of timelessness, of being so immersed and so present that any thoughts about the past or the future are far from our minds. So then, what additional psychological weight have I just thrust upon my boys, being able to watch hands on a clock actually move, and associate that with time passing? I felt thrilled but a bit heartbroken, watching my boys’ eyes light up as they looked at the faces of their watches and announced the hours and minutes correctly. But, of course, I only felt this right after it all clicked for them, and I realized what had unfolded throughout the afternoon. It was already too late to rewind.)

Back to dinnertime. We were all seated a traditional Irish supper here in Dublin, our boys wearing the only nice shirts I packed, pocket watches displayed proudly around their necks. Jaspar especially was so proud fo have not only his new treasure but also this new skill, so he began to approach people in the restaurant to ask them if they wanted to know the time. He wanted to practice, and of course, wanted to show off a little!

He grabbed our waiter (patient soul!) and asked if he’d like to know the time. The waiter responded, “Oh yes of course, I’d love to know the time” and then Jaspar stared at that watch, counting and counting until he came up with the right answer, and told him. The waiter thanked him, walked away, and then Jaspar immediately flagged down another person walking by, and having just memorized the time, look at his watch but only for show, and announced the hour and minutes seamlessly. Then, our food arrived and the time-telling paused.

After he ate, Jaspar wanted to try again. He asked someone walking by if they’d like to know the time. They did, and he opened his watch to check, and saw, to his shock, that the time had changed, much more than he’d expected. He was flustered, because he’d expected to just fake-check the time and say the answer he’d figured out earlier. But it hadn’t felt to Jaspar like much time had passed, even though it had been more than 20 minutes before. So we watched and held back as Jas stared at that watch, and started from scratch, figured it out, and told the time again. He breathed a sigh of relief when the person walked away.

Another 20 or 30 minutes later, after dessert, Jaspar felt inspired to try again, intending to tell yet another new person (or a few) what time it was. But before he did, he opened the watch, just to check and get his bearings. His last experience had made him a bit wary of this whole time-telling endeavor. And, yep, you could just see the disappointment on his face when he checked the watch, and his suspicions were confirmed: the time had changed on him again. He lost it.

J: “AAAAAhhhhhh I can’t believe this, I just figured out the time and now it’s already moved so much!!!” (Snaps the pocket watch closed, drops it to his chest. Flops his forehead and arms down on his arms dramatically. He’s near tears.)

Reza, rubbing his back, and winking at me: “Well of course honey, that’s what time does. It moves forward.”

J: “I know. But. Aaaarrrrrgghhhhhh. It’s just that I just had it figured out, and now I have to figure it out again.”

Reza: “Yeah. That’s how it works love.”

J: (silent)

Reza: “Frustrating, huh?”

J: “Yeah. I mean I knew time changed, but, I guess I just didn’t know that it moved so fast.”

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jessicajackley View All →

author of #claywaterbrick. cofounder of @kiva. instructor at @USC. investor at @collabfund. in love w @rezaaslan + our three boys.

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