Love makes time elastic.
We may know it from the experience of love we have with for our parents, our siblings, our friends, and sometimes, if we're lucky, in our romantic relationships.
When we think back, there may have been a moment... an hour? a night? a week?... which seemed to stretch to infinity, as if we had slipped somehow between two strokes of the second hand and lived there, forever, in that heavenly suspended state.
We all know such times.
But when we have children, this elastic nature of time takes over. The clock melts.
And though for a year or two after we have our first child we may think it will pull itself together, click back, resume its old hard clock-like form, it never does.
Parents have to adjust to living in elastic time, all the time.
For a couple of years after becoming a parent, when people who don't have kids asked me what it's like, I used to play this change down, out of concern for their feelings.
But then I realized that I need to share my experience as truthfully as I can. So now here's what I say to my single friends when they ask me what it's like, this whole being-a-parent thing:
ME: "Do you know how you feel when you've just had a truly great date with someone? When a fantasy of True Love has you in its grip, and your brain has released the appropriate neurotransmitters and hormones to support this feeling, and you can hardly sleep for thinking about that person?
FRIEND: "Uh... yeah. Yeah, sure. I know that feeling."
ME: "And then it's the next day, and the doorbell rings, and you walk down the hall to open the door, the blood rushing in your ears, your heart beating faster, and you open the door, and a crisp triangle of sunshine hits your feet, and cool air sweeps into the room, and you look up to see that person's face, and you realize that he or she really does exist in all his or her particularity? And you feel like you're in heaven."
ME: "Well that's about how you feel when you have children. Only constantly."
I mean, yes, we get irritated. And yes we read the newspaper instead of building another "really weird" vehicle with that Tinker-Toy set, despite their protests. And yes you have to tell them that you won't go back in the house one more time to get the yellow rainboots when they are already wearing the red ladybug ones which will do perfectly fine.
But underneath it all, there is that constant rush of love which melts time.
Virginia Woolf describes this strange effect of love on time well in her novel Orlando:
"But Time... though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second. This extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind is less known than it should be and deserves fuller investigation..."
She goes on to say that when her protagonist, Orlando, thinks of love, "his whole past, which seemed to him of extreme length and variety, rushed into the falling second, swelled it a dozen times its natural size, coloured it a thousand tints, and filled it with all the odds and ends in the universe."
For those parents reading this, isn't this an accurate description of the feeling that comes over you when you think of your child?
It's a disorienting experience. Its infinite nature dwarfs the minutia of everyday. And yet we still have to deal with the minutia. There are still calls to answer, deadlines to meet, sippy cups leaking milk on the stairs, broken hot water heaters in the basement which need repairing.
So how do we reconcile the person we are now, our experiences flooded with the elasticity of time, with the person that we used to be?
I say we don't. Maybe we need to get used to the elasticity. Quantum physics suggests that "time" may only be our perception of one linear path through something that already is. Schrodinger's Cat is neither alive or dead until we open the bag to see.
So in one sense the entire universe may be contained in one split second. We may be on to something, and the love we have for our children allows us to sense it, even with the feeble perceptive capability of an earth-bound mammaliam biped.
I say, let's stop thinking about this perception of the elasticity of time as surreal. When we see Dali's melting clocks we should say, "Ah, they have returned to their natural state at last!" And give our kids more hugs because we know secretly that it won't last forever.