ON TIME

The clock rings 7:00 and the usual soul penetrating noise filled my nerves. I go to the kids room where 2 human bagpipes snore like a two-stroke engine. Two adorable “mini-me” aged 5 and 2. But today ruthless adversaries. They are determined to blocking my quest to show my wife I am perfectly capable of getting them ready in 55 minutes and drive them to school. How hard can it be?

Today is the 3rd day in a row my wife is out on a business trip and I have to take both kids to school at the right time. Usually her job doesn’t require her to travel but this is the time of the year she must attend the biggest conference of her field. Just one week away. One week where I have to do what she usually does: get up, give breakfast to the kids, get them dressed, and have them in front of the house at 7h55 at which moment I have to take them to school.

Timing is crucial. At exactly 7h55 they must be in front of the house. At 7h56 we must be inside the car starting the engine. That will allow me to drop off Joshua at exactly 8h00 in his daycare. At 8h03 I’m leaving to drop off Juliet at her new school. The school is 4 miles from home. If we leave the daycare at 8h03 we pass the big (and slow) traffic light at 8h09, at 8h13 we are in the last intersection, and we park in the street of her school between 8h15 and 8h25 – the holy time window of dropping off the kids at school. A minute failed at start is 5 minutes wasted at the end. The wings of a butterfly in our street can cause a massive tornado of wasted time on school arrival. Especially if it rains. Rain brings fright. Human are afraid of getting into accidents and they drive slowly (unthoughtful to the parents that must deliver their kids on time).

I turn on the light and announce to the world: “RISE AND SHINE SLEEPY HEADS”. The bagpipes remain undisturbed. They seem determined to make me fail. But I shall not crumble. I shall triumph (unlike what happened in the previous two days).

You see, I have learned my mistakes from the past two days. When the oldest arrives after 8h25 she gets a “late slip” – a humiliating form of parent warning. It basically tells the world her parents are unorganised awful shadows of the people they once were. I will not tolerate this. And most importantly I will send a triumphal message to my wife saying: “everything OK. Both kids arrived on time”.

I wake the oldest. This one is the hardest because she has the top of the bunkbed and I have to lift her with my arms and wake her up. I give her a little kiss. A small token of my love for her. But mostly an assurance she’s actually awake. I repeat the procedure with the youngest. One and a half minutes of telling him how wonderful his day might just be and he seems awake.

Where did the oldest go to? She was just here. This is impossible. I look around the room and nothing. I pass by my room and see she managed to spend all her awaken energy into running to my bed where she is fast asleep. This can’t be happening. “Juliet!!!” I yell. Nothing. I shake her to see if she responds. She laughs. One of those hysterical laughters that are released only when tiredness has appropriated her soul. I explain how important it is she wakes up and goes to school. I talk about the birds singing. Her best friend’s birthday later today. The teacher she loves so much. I try everything to convince her to have energy. It’s a slow and painful process but she eventually listens. I turn around and Joshua hasn’t run away. There is some justice in the Universe. We go downstairs for breakfast.

I arrive downstairs and verify there is some delay in our schedule. The clock strikes a lordly and arrogant 7h15 – five minutes later than I had predicted. But not all is lost. I have prepared breakfast the day before to speed up the process. I still feel confident we’ll hit the first deadline of 7h55 by the door. If we hit that deadline, all is well in the best of worlds. I pour their cereal and yogurt. They consume their food at the speed of a paraplegic slough that had one of its limbs blow off by a land mine. Why do all children have a built-in disdain for time commitments?

“Juliet, eat your breakfast!!” I yell every 45 seconds. “Joshua, eat your food!” I repeat at least 15 times. This constant ping pong between siblings does come at a benefit: I can mentally prepare for all the different scenarios I must play in my mind: if the eating compromises “the deadline” I can accelerate the “combing process” (by making sure it doesn’t happen). I’ll tell myself (and everyone that has the misfortune of looking at their hair) how posh and stylist is to have a “free hair” that is an external manifestation of the “free spirit” I’m raising on them – although “Abominable Snowman accidentally lets hair inside running food processor” might also be a good description.

Joshua isn’t eating. His tantrum experiences the phase “I’ll never eat for as long as I live”. This can’t last more than 30 seconds. Like a diplomat pressured by the arrival of an incoming enemy army onto the battlefield I attempt a compromise – a desperate one:

– Joshua, do you want to eat chocolate?
– NO!
– Milk?
– NO!
– Berries? Apples? Sugar bombs covered in chocolate? Anything?
– I want that!

He points to the dirty T-shirt he somehow hid from my sight just the day before. The one with the unicorns on it – his favourite one. OH! MY! GOD! This isn’t happening. I can’t be dressing him in that dirty thing. To avoid time delays I had prepared his clothes the day before. Another lovely T-shirt with whatever is hot on the ever changing kids fashion world – looks like a drawing of a pony. I successfully settle on a compromise: he can have the (now established) much better pony T-shirt instead of a unicorn one. There is one catch: he must first get dressed and then he’ll eat. That’s fine.

Meanwhile Juliet is still wasting time on her food. 7h35 on the dreadful clock. That’s OK. I can still manage it. I was a boy scout growing up. I’m always prepared (although “patience” and “kindness” have long been taken away from me).

Time to get Juliet dressed while Joshua is still finishing breakfast. This involves some fighting (but no compromise on time). I now have two dressed children minus a messy hair and unbrushed teeth. Plus I still need to dress and comb myself. And brush my teeth. If I use the force I can make it.

I run upstairs to get their brushes and toothpaste. I’m back in less than 15 seconds only to be shocked by an incoming catastrophe: I watch in slow motion as Joshua is feeding an overfilled spoon of yogurt onto his mouth. It will spill. It will hit his clothes. I should have never compromised.

I run to Joshua. His spoon is getting closer to the mouth. Drop of yogurt are already forming on the outskirts of the spoon. I leap another step. He is immune to the catastrophe. My heart stops. I leap another step. I extend my arm as much as I can and put my hand just beneath the spoon. The first drop of yogurt had left the spoon on its downwards gravital acceleration to his shirt. His newly crowned favourite shirt. Convincing him another shirt would be the best one would be a lifetime of denial followed by anger followed by bargaining followed by depression and finally acceptance. All of which would last five minutes and it might involve me forcing his clothes onto him. But for reasons passing understanding the forces of the Universe were kind to me. I caught all the yogurt in my hand. Not a single drop onto the clothes. There is a God!

Joshua says he is full. That’s fine. I put the breakfast food away from their hands like a pair of shape knifes and get ready to tackle the rest of the todo list:
1 – brushing their teeth
2 – dressing myself
3 – combing my hair
4 – combing their hair (optional)
5 – brushing my teeth (optional – worst comes to the worst I can buy mints and it will smell just the same)
6 – put on shoes
7 – be ready at door

It’s 7h50 now. All must be done in 5 minutes. I can manage. God was with me for the yogurt. God will be with me always.

I tackle 1 and 2 simultaneously. I prepare their toothbrushes and I go upstairs to get dressed. My clothes were also prepared the day before – shirt, suit and tie. Perks of being a man – no need to waste time thinking about what to wear.

It takes me only two minutes. I run back down. Joshua is playing (why dear God? Why?) and Juliet just finished brushing. What’s that white spot on her hair? OH! MY! GOD! She has toothpaste on her hair!!! Three minutes to deadline and I have still five things on this last todo list. AND SHE HAS TOOTHPASTE ON HER HAIR. This can’t be happening. Why do you hate me so much God?

In a rapid movement I pass some water on her hair. It removes most of the toothpaste. At least no one will see it anymore. My heart begins racing in anxiety. I can’t miss the deadline of 7h55. Numbers 4 and 5 are definitely discarded. Juliet is ready (sort of). I request her (“beg” might be more precise. Or “demand”. Or “yell”. Any of these will do) to put her shoes on while I brush Joshua’s teeth. I run to the living room where he’s playing. I grab him by both his arms and raise him from the ground. Tantrumnic spasms are released from his little legs. He hits me twice. That’s fine. I can handle it. I can handle anything for that 7h55 deadline. I yell “JULIET NOT THOSE SHOES. IT’S RAINING OUTSIDE. YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR WELLYBOOTS” as I run with Joshua in my arms to the toilet to brush his teeth.

Wait. Oh my God. It’s raining outside. There will be more traffic jams. If somehow by the grace of God we manage to be inside the car at 7h56 we will still be aiming at 7h25 as the arrival time – the dreadful “late slip” deadline.

I “brush” Joshua’s teeth in less than 20 seconds against his will. That’s fine. I can make it. I look at the clock: 7h54. The deadline is coming. We must hurry and rely on the fortunes of the Universe to be on time.

I run for the door. I force the shoes onto a screaming little child and I put mine on quickly. The clock dictates 7h56. One minute past the deadline. That’s 5 long minutes down the road. Plus it’s raining. I don’t get it how my wife can handle the stress. The anxiety has pushed me 10 years closer to my death and we haven’t even left the house.

“Daddy, where is my lunch box?” Juliet sweetly asks me. My heart stops. I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT LUNCH. This can’t be happening. “I’ll be right back” I reply in a soft calm voice trying (unsuccessfully) to hide the stress in my voice.

I grab the box, two loaves of bread, the peanut butter jar, and a knife simultaneously with (what seems to be) my four hands. I quickly craft the lunch box, put it in her bag and run to the door. They are both still there. That’s a relieve. No more wasted time. We run to the car. The clock strikes 7h59. Only an act of God will help me now.

We drive to Joshua’s school. We cross a red light and almost run over a mother with her kid on a stroller in a crosswalk. I don’t care. Anything in the name of being on time.

Time pressure forces you to judge what’s important in life. Juliet has a late slip system. Joshua doesn’t. No one will ever know. I can drive Juliet to school and drop off Joshua later. This will save me 3 to 4 minutes. And I left 4 minutes behind schedule. And I almost committed infanticide on a crosswalk. Anything in the name of being on time.

I drive well above the speed limit. Usually I cross the big (and slow) traffic light at 8h09. If somehow I manage to cross it by 8h13 I might be able to make it. If the Universe is kind with me those 4 minutes delay at the start will only mean a 4 minute delay at the traffic light. The reason that one is slow is it only opens for 20 seconds every 2 minutes. Usually there isn’t a lot of cars so all cars at the light cross when green is on. The key is to be there at 8h09 (or 08h11 or 08h13).

I fly to that milestone. It’s now 8h12 on the clock. I see the traffic light at a distance. It’s red at the moment. If God is with me I’ll be there at 8h13 when it hits green. I drive as fast as my heart races when I suddenly see an old lady with a walker on a crosswalk. I brake suddenly and avoid a crash. She stops to yell at me. Please don’t stop. Anything but that. Yell all you want but no stopping! She resumes her crossing after 15 seconds of complaint to me. I don’t care. Please move. She seems determined to waste the little time she has left in her life.

She crosses. The clock strikes 8h13 and I race to the traffic light. The light is now green. If it’s orange by the time I’m close-ish I’ll still pass even if it means I’ll cross a red. I go faster. 200 meters. 150 meters. The light turns orange. 100 meters. 50 meters. The light turns red. It’s too late. I have to wait for the next one.

A sense of powerlessness fuels my anxiety. I’m stuck in a slow traffic light that leads to the main road. I feel hopeless as time slowly rots away my dream of being on time. 3 days in a row. This can’t be happening. I revisit every single delay of the day and think what I could have done to make it faster.

The clock hits 8h15 and the light becomes green. At this exact moment a multitude of students are entering the school and we are still 12 minutes from the school. And the doors close in 10 minutes. My heart races. The anxiety shortens my life by another 2 years.

My last hope is the last crossing. The one that should be cross at 8h13. With any luck it’s only 2 minutes from there to school. With any luck there will be a parking space right in front of school left by a parent who is just leaving. With any luck God is with me.

But there is traffic due to the rain. The entire flow is slow. Painfully slow. I can never reach the next crossing. I can’t believe my eyes. I woke up at 7h00. My wife does this every day. How hard can it be?

Reaching the cross is a never ending story. I’m at the crossing with a red light on. There are 12 cars in front of me and the clock strikes 8h23. “Good God above” – I beg in my thoughts – “please please please make sure the guy in front of me passes. I don’t care if it’s red by then. That guy passes, I pass”. The light is green cars start going. One, two, three, four cars pass. Light is still green. I can still dream. Five, six, seven, eight, nine. And the light turns orange. Please dear God. Please. Ten, eleven. The light turns red. Number 12 – it’s all on you. Please pass. Please be kind to this soul. I’ll do anything. You are my final hope.

Number 12 passes. I can’t believe my luck. I cross with him very close to him. The traffic on my right advances and they stop because I, and number 12, crossed the red light. We get a couple of loud fury-fuelled honks. I don’t care. Me and 12 are the Thelma and Louise of petty traffic offences. But at least there is still a small chance I might just make it before the late slip. Just a small one.

Usually the arrival at school is beyond human compression. Over 250 students arrive at the school at the same time. There are about 20 parking spaces available. And sometimes they are taken by mothers who, in a manner unknown to human comprehension, are able to arrive on time, nice, and happy and then stay chatting with complete strangers while they should be getting their bloody car out of the way so another parent can park.

There is no more traffic to school. The road is clear. The clock strikes 8h24 as I fly to the street of the school. If I have faith I’ll make it. I am 300 meters from the school. I don’t see major traffic or a lot of students getting in (all of them are in by now). I might just make it. The stress in unbearable. I advance decisively to the school.

Do I see a parking space?!? Oh dear God above. All is well. Now I just have to pray the school clock marks the same time as my clock. I park fast and with a movement release my seatbelt and jump out of the car. I open Juliet’s door. I tell Joshua I’ll be right back. The feel of parental abandonment fill his soul but I’ll comfort him later. Plus he’s only 2. He won’t remember this moment forever. Meanwhile I drag Juliet out with one hand as the other grabs her backpack. We run to the school door. She struggles behind me with her little legs. Every steps is a wasted second. But we can make it.

But the door is closed. This can’t be happening. Did we just miss the deadline by a few seconds?!? That can’t be it. The school door doesn’t close. It remains open so students can walk in after getting their late slip. I am confused. It takes me a few seconds to realise there is no one else there.

– Daddy, isn’t today Saturday?

 

THE END

 

I read “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga

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