On being late

The Kid and I were talking about our school-day mornings recently.

On that particular day, I had woken up half an hour before the alarm. The alarm is half an hour before I need to wake The Kid, and I wake him half an hour before we need to leave. I got up and took advantage of the quiet time: wrote in my journal and did some other writing, used the foam roll and stretched.

It was a beautiful morning, even if it was early. (As my ability to sleep in eludes me, I have taken to enjoying some quiet time to myself in the mornings when I have it.)

On a typical morning, after I wake him up and make sure he’s moving (if he’s not moving, he’s definitely back to sleep), I go to the kitchen, put on water for tea, and pack his breakfast and lunch.

Because of COVID precautions, there is no recess before school this year, and they eat breakfast in their classroom. He doesn’t like to eat soon after waking (neither do I), so I pack his breakfast. Mornings at home are smoother (he’s not a fast eater even when he’s ready to eat), and he can eat later. It’s a good setup. I will be glad when COVID is behind us, and I will miss this perk of the current era.

Also related to COVID, school lunches are free for all public school kids this year. He usually takes lunch anyway. As a vegetarian, his options don’t usually include hot lunch. We can pack a sandwich as easily as he can get one at school, and it has better sides.

On that particular day, they were serving grilled cheese, and he was excited to get school lunch. (Novel! Exciting!)

When it was time to wake The Kid, I was in the middle of something. Because I didn’t have a lunch to make, I went back to what I was working on after waking him.

It wasn’t long before I’d worked on my stuff too long. I got breakfast together, and we left as late as we usually leave.

Usually we leave ten minutes later than the “time to leave” time. But the “time to leave” time is calculated to account for that likelihood. Rarely are we late to school.

In this context, we had a conversation, and this was our conclusion:

  • If Mama wakes up early, we’re late leaving.
  • If Mama wakes up late, we’re late leaving.
  • If Mama wakes up on time, we’re on time leaving, unless we’re too efficient getting ready, in which case we’re late leaving.

He didn’t immediately understand the last one. But if we’re ready to go ten minutes before we need to leave, instead of leaving and waiting at the school gate for ten minutes (because he can’t go in before the gate opens), we’ll find something else to do at home. Rarely does a task take the few minutes we have; lost in the task, we forget about the clock.

“Oh yeah, Mom! We totally do that!”

Yes. Yes, we do.

Feeling a need to finish what I’m working on is probably the most common reason I’m late. If I’m in a flow state—whether it’s for creative work or for housecleaning—I will most likely not find it again when I return to the partially-completed task. If I’m doing a “head down and get it done” task, I really don’t want to have to pick it back up. I come and go, being better about this.

For occasions that aren’t recurring, I will sometimes have seared into my head the time it starts which is not ever the time I need to leave or get ready (for online meetings), and I realize, too late, that I’m thinking about leaving at 11:30 instead of about arriving at 11:30.

Sometimes I remember things I need to take with me as I’m ready to walk out the door. I don’t know how to reset that.

Sometimes, I just underestimate the amount of time needed for the task before an event. For example, “I have 45 minutes. I could run to the grocery store and get that done before I need to be on that Zoom call.”

Either it’ll take more than 45 minutes to drive, shop, check out, and drive, or I’ll be back in 45 minutes … with groceries to put away and a computer to log onto and a Zoom to log into. Those things don’t take a long time, but they take longer than zero minutes. Or I’m taking my Zoom call on a treadmill and don’t have socks on. (The Vibrams aren’t great on the treadmill.) Again, doesn’t take a long time, but it takes more than no time.

Right now, I have 23 minutes to save, put the laptop away, put shoes on, go do a porch pickup, and get to The Tall Daddy’s house to pick up The Kid. Will I make it?

It took me almost ten minutes to get out the door. I was three minutes late.