Relationships can be complicated, which is probably what makes them so interesting. And it’s not just our relationships with people, think about the relationships we have with exercise, alcohol, politics, religion, and money too. I’ve recently put my relationship with time into the ‘it’s complicated’ category because, in the spirit of vulnerability, I’m struggling with it – not in a grim reaper sort of way but more like it’s an overprotective parent hovering over me and constantly checking in.
And this is all relatively new. Growing up, I thought I had all the time in the world. In fact, it wasn’t until my late 30s when I had to start calculating my ovulation cycle to get pregnant that I realized time mattered. But since settling into my 40s and now 50s, it’s as if I’ve had this newfound awakening that time is finite.
My truth (that’s what I call going inside myself and fessing up) is that I feel like I’m running out of time.
From watching my own mother grow older and the increasing number of health issues that she’s facing, to witnessing one of my closest + dearest friends wither away from cancer, to navigating my own health, be it cholesterol or a cranky back, it feels like time is ticking faster + faster. And it’s not just my own health or the health of those around me. As a mother, I feel like time is running out with my children as well. Everyday they continue to morph into these seemingly self-assured, independent, young adults that don’t need me in the same way anymore. There’s no more tucking them into bed at night (at this point, they’re practically tucking me into bed.) And when I’m not yelling at them for leaving their nasty socks on the couch or nagging them to get to practice or finish their homework, I’m secretly mourning the fact that my days with them living in our house are literally numbered. And the cruel irony to all this is that while all I want to do is hold them tighter, I know that I need to start letting go.
My deeper truth is that I’m petrified of running out of time with my kids. I can already sense that sledgehammer to the heart pain that I’ll feel when they’re no longer under my roof. I know because I’ve seen my sister and other close friends go through it; it’s not pretty. I’ve also had my own appetizer sized portion of it last summer, an episode which took me weeks to recover.
It was July but instead of being together on a family vacation, I was smack dab in the middle of Indianapolis with my just turned 16-year-old son at his first big national swim meet. And while you’d think just qualifying would’ve been enough, as most parents know – whether it’s soccer, lacrosse or hockey – when they don’t perform the way they’d envisioned, it can be painful. And that’s when time slammed its door in my face.
Consumed by frustration, self-doubt, and a cocktail of teenage hormones, my son – the one who the school psychologist had to peel out of my arms on the first day of Kindergarten, the same one who later tapped his fingers to his heart, our secret code for saying goodbye – officially declared that he didn’t want me anywhere near him. Lying in his bed, eyes barely visible under his gray hoodie, staring blankly out the window of our JW Marriott, he wouldn’t say a word. He’d been completely silent for what felt like hours, uninterested in my help, my Ted Lasso advice, or any food I could UberEats. With his granola bar wrappers, empty water bottles and last night’s pizza carton spread out around him, my half man, half boy, finally yelled, “Just leave me the fuck alone!”
I cried. More like wept uncontrollably. To be fair, I had a few glasses of wine at the hotel bar first, then wept uncontrollably.
I was completely wrung out: (4) days in an 85 degree pool hall navigating food runs and race times, and now I had a gaping hole in my heart. Time had run out. The door had shut; he wasn’t listening to me anymore. I couldn’t remind him again that hard work pays off in the end or, more importantly, that I loved him no matter how fast he swam. Nothing I said or did mattered. He was going this one alone.
It’s moments like this one and others, too when time suddenly feels fleeting. Like sitting in the hospital room next to your mother or father beating yourself up for not having visited them more often, or that inner tug when you’re longing to go back to work, bookended by the thought that you’ve probably timed-out. And while yes, it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, even resentful at the notion that time is finite, remember, it’s layered, it’s complicated; there’s more to the story.
First, as cliché as it may sound, time does help us heal. It’s a gift that allows us the opportunity to pause, process and heal when we’re going through a difficult situation. How often have you heard someone say ‘just give it time’ when you’re struggling or hurting? Even a few months after Indianapolis, I knew that my son shutting me out of that hotel room was exactly what he needed in order to work through his own disappointment, to build resiliency. I just couldn’t see it at that moment.
There’s another silver lining too. When we truly make the connection that time is finite, we become more protective of it. We become more intentional about how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. We even begin to appreciate newfound opportunities + mundane moments along the way. The banter with your daughter on the ride back from school, knowing she’s about to get his driver’s license and won’t need you for that either. Taking that long awaited trip to Europe with your mom, the one you talked about all through COVID.
Even pausing in the middle of a run and being grateful that your body is working, because you know that will not always be the case.
And while being intentional about how we spend our time is an important piece of the puzzle, the other piece is how we show up. Are we truly present or are we distracted? Are we thinking about last night or what’s happening next week? Being present is hard; it takes practice, but it is so much more gratifying. Being present in the conversation you’re having, be it with your best friend, son, or father. Being present at the work meeting, the lacrosse game or at the dinner table. BE THERE.
When it comes to time, the ‘SO WHAT?” is that while we have to accept the truth that yes, tick tock on the clock, time is finite: it becomes more scarce + valuable as we age, coming to terms with this helps us become more intentional about not only how we spend our time but also how we show up. Choosing to be present. Living for today, not yesterday or tomorrow. (yes, carpe diem people!) And recognizing that this is a choice also helps us feel like have more control. And well control, that’s a whole other essay…
Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this post. These ‘truths’ are part of a much larger conversation about how we as women feel, but don’t openly share. By putting these thoughts + reflections out there, my hope is that others feel less alone and instead more supported + inspired. If this essay resonated with you, let’s keep the conversation going. Forward to others: friends, neighbors, sisters, colleagues. We all need to feel a bit more connected. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (see footer below) so that I know where to send the next edition. best… julie
Julie Flakstad is a coach | advisor, speaker | writer and small group facilitator with a passion for helping support women + entrepreneurs through transitions and life stages. Follow her @jtflakstad and learn more at julieflakstad.com