(with a nod to the ever-inspirational Jay Griffiths…)
I don’t wear a watch.
But I can tell the time… at least the time I need to know about: The slow time of suckling, the hurried, harried in-between time of laundry, cooking, cleaning… the overtime of sleep-averse children, borrowed time for labours of love, inessential ironing, domestic overkill… the stolen time for anything besides mothering.
I am rarely ‘on time’.
My family are implicit, complicit in my timekeeping. We are a clock that runs on touch, reciprocal hydraulics – eccentric and irregular but failsafe, foolproof, time-tested. My fluctuating breasts are the most exquisite, explicit measuring equipment in our combined kit of parts. They are highly-evolved – ‘front-end, front-line, instant response’ – operating on the whim of two digestive systems, triggered by tears, responsive to a whole family of emotions… twin totems of the basic needs of mankind: food, warmth, comfort, sleep. Generous by design, these mammaries attend to, embody, our combined needs in the simple, timeless shape of an embrace. They measure and communicate their time in irregular intervals of touch – ‘touch, touch’ not tick-tock. Collectively, our skin circulates this touch-time, registers it like the slow-fading warmth of a slept-in bed. We act like multiple stopwatches on countdown, tingling, as if with sudden goosepimples, on the need for fresh contact… but we are touchy, touching, touched-out, untouchable in turns. As we cycle our overlapping family patterns of waking, sleeping and eating, we resonate, amplify each other’s desires, fall out of synch, press each other’s buttons, set each other off. Driven by sleep, food, sex, our family pendulum swings wildly between extremes of emotion and efficiency, stretches days, our patience, to interminable lengths, makes moments exquisitely brief. Our syncopated rhythm is endlessly interrupted, fast-forwarded, slowed like a rallentando according to sudden, unforeseen practical/emotional urgency, calls of nature from out of the blue… I feel acutely the tension between this ever-evolving, unpredictable family tempo and ‘the time’ of the outside world, the one in which I am unreliable, rarely on time. I tend to be late precisely because I take my time – our family time – I keep it, run with it, surrender to it, embody it. Urgent biology, the vicissitudes of mother-child time constantly, unquestionably override ‘the time’ but yet it keeps ticking like a metronome in the background, checking our time against the one that has been ‘set’ by cultural expectation, just a little too fast for us to keep up. We are all caught like this, ‘between times’. We are both masters and slaves of the linear time we set ourselves, unable to deny the living time that beats within us and among us, unwilling, it seems, to fully surrender to this ancient mother-time, which is familiar yet foreign to us all, untamed, undomesticated, yet utterly domestic.
I have no time.
However creative, joyful a mother is in her role, she fills her time with repetition, cyclical activities that have no end product, yield no direct renumeration. In our culture, time has become a measure of productivity, material goods, financial gain – is it any wonder a mother never feels she has any?