“Mama, are you working? Can you read to me?” my four year old bounds over with a princess book in hand as I sit with my laptop perched precariously on my legs. The sound of her voice, followed by her sister’s giggle, followed by her subsequent whine when she won’t relinquish her Elsa doll, pierce my carefully constructed concentration. If I can just finish this one thing, I think to myself, then I can give all of my attention to them. I stare helplessly at the clock on my laptop screen, the minutes ticking swiftly down to bedtime. The moment for asking about their day and reveling in cuddles is fast becoming irretrievable.
Not Enough Time
In the context of the pandemic, educators have been debating how to address lost learning, make up for the missed experiences, and help students gain new understanding of ways to interact with each other in the same physical space. In meetings, learning spaces, and faculty lounges, discussions continually return to the sense that we don’t have time. This leads me to wonder, where has our time gone, and what would we really be able to accomplish with more time? Do we value and inhabit the time we have available to us, or do we squander it? Are we fully present in the moments we have or does our push to be productive close off opportunities for the creative use of time?
When my first child was a baby, I documented every second of her existence. Every expression, new habit, or word was carefully catalogued. I reveled in the pure joy of watching her grow. In March of 2020, when the world closed down, I sat inside, doom scrolling through news articles, searching endlessly for connection and reassurance. I rested my hand lightly on the side of my stomach, feeling my second child kick me forcefully in the ribs as if reminding me that soon I would be bringing her into this uncertain world. And yet, when she was born, I felt the keen absence of time. Time was both incredibly slow and sped up. In those months, I was the loneliest I have ever felt without being physically alone. When the world began to open up, I wondered about how my students weathered this time. Did they feel the same loneliness and constriction of time that I had felt? What about my fellow educators? Did they feel, like I did, the vise of time tightening around them?
Upon returning to school, it felt as if each well-intentioned Covid safety update, new schedule, or significant and timely initiative evoked an emotional response, elicited memories of those uncertain, exhausting days, worries about whether we were doing enough, serving our students well, meeting our own needs and those of our families. We talked at length about the importance of self-care, but didn’t practice it with any regularity.
Finding Time in Joy
Through it all, the most real and alive I felt were those moments spent outside with my daughters, watching them run, skip, jump, fall, and revel in this imperfect world. In those moments, time became more than the wave that I raged against as it battered me or beat down my hopes for the future. I rejected the narrative that schools needed to recover the time that was supposedly lost. Instead, I hoped that we could acknowledge the lived experiences that students had acquired through this period of suspended animation and uncertainty.
As educators, we have an opportunity to help guide and empower students to find what matters to them, which may not be the content that we feel beholden to teach to fill the gaps that we believe the past two years have left. If the past two years have given us anything, it has been a sense of the value of time, relationships, and living each moment to the fullest. It is natural to wonder what our students lost in the past two years and to dwell on the missed or altered milestones. But, we can’t go back; we can move forward with a sense of urgency in service of our students. We can teach them that their voices, choices, and actions matter. We can help them learn that their actions will shape the world of the future. We can ensure that they revel in the everyday moments of joy and discovery.
Feeling the tug of time and the importance of being where my feet are planted, when I hear my daughter’s request, I close my laptop. I place it on top of the laundry that I will tend to tomorrow, take a deep breath to clear my mind, and step outside into the late afternoon sunshine.
“Watch me, mama, I can do a cartwheel!” she shouts upon seeing me appear on the front step.
“Yes, you can, my love. Show me,” I say and smile.