By Paula Diaz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
I’ve always found it sad that so many athletic competitions are measured in hundredths of a second—you can get fourth place (which is the same as millionth place at the Olympics) by an over-clipped fingernail or an unshaven hair in swimming. You can miss the team by virtue of a misaligned shoe tread or a loose piece of fabric in running. We don’t look at the beauty of the stroke or the style of the gait; we only care about how long it took to put the thing behind us. These meager measures of time seem to find their ways into our non-Olympic lives—especially when it comes to dealing with our kids. Or at least my kids.
I do a lot of Bikram yoga. The shortest pose in Bikram is held for 10 seconds. I can suffer a lot in 10 seconds of Bikram and walk away. I can suffer a lot in 10 seconds of Bikram and then do it again. I’ve decided that 10 seconds is the shortest period of time that I will recognize. Bikram teachers have been trained to internalize counts and seconds—you don’t see them looking at a watch or counting off repetitions; they just know it. I’ve decided to naturally understand 10 seconds and use it to define a “moment.”
- I will give my kids at a moment or two to start getting dressed before I ask them again. And again.
- Adding a few moments to my breakfast routine to let my daughter put the bread in the toaster is OK.
- If another parent has to wait a moment while my son swipes the key card at daycare, I won’t feel anxious.
There is that scene in”Pulp Fiction” where Butch and Marcellus have just escaped the dungeon (don’t think too much about it or it will ruin this essay) and Butch is heading back to the hotel to get his girlfriend, Fabienne. She is upset because they fought earlier in the day (about the watch, but don’t think about it) and he is rather undone by the “single weirdest day of [his] entire life.” But, rather than frantically rushing her to get on the bike so they can get away—which she needs to do—he takes, what?, 10 seconds?, to ask her about her pancake breakfast. He gives her a moment of attention and the difficulty between them that wanted to take hold is gone.
I am heading into a long summer home with my kids. He will want to stop every day as we are on our way out and look at the dead wasps on the front steps and tell me that they are dead (as he has done every day for the past week since we sprayed their hive). She will need to pack a bag of crucial supplies each morning—today’s selection: newspaper sale flyer, notebook, flashlight, locked padlock, and 2 carat zircon ring. Every night he will require a kiss but no hug. And then a hug with no kiss. And finally a kiss and a hug together. Honoring these moments will add, what?, two or three minutes of being with them to each day that I have with them.
There are no records in parenting (which is way different than birthing). No medals. So why measure, in fractions of seconds, how long it takes each day to raise them? In Bikram, before that 10 second pose, the instructor will remind us to make a decision to be in the pose; to commit all our energy to that moment. I want to be committed to their moment; to their drawn-out and repetitive collection of moments for as many 10 seconds repetitions as I can.