Coronavirus: the days are blurring into one, but parents know all about this feeling

Some days I want to hit the pause button, but that sounds close to tempting fate

I recently read an interesting article in Discover magazine about how coronavirus is warping our sense of time. How slow or fast the passage of time feels is entirely subjective. When we’re bored, time moves slowly. When we’re having fun, time seems to pass far more quickly. This is something we are all inherently aware of. A watched pot never boils and so on.

But recent events are exacerbating our concept of time. In relation to the pandemic, psychologist and neuroscientist Kevin LaBar says: “As this drags on, and as your day becomes very constrained by your limited environment, the days kind of blend together.”

Stay-at-home parents know the feeling well.

I never gave much thought to the concept of time before becoming a parent. Now I can’t escape it. Our lives are defined by the ever-looming spectre of time. This is felt both in the real, tangible effects of time, and the more abstract thoughts of past, present and future.


Manageable time slots

On a daily basis we become distracted by our accepted allotment of time. Did the baby get enough sleep? No. Did we get enough sleep? Good one.

Hurry the hell up, we’ve got only two hours before the baby’s nap!

We’ll start putting them down at 7pm, hopefully they’ll be asleep by eight. So, order the takeaway at quarter-past?

When did they last go to the toilet? Because it’s an hour’s drive and I can’t pull over on the M50.

Ten minutes of television and that’s it. Fine, 20!

Minutes, hours, days, weeks.

When it comes to kids, everything is organised and arranged into manageable slots of time. How could we understand life otherwise? Time creates imaginary structure we all feel comfortable with. And I’m on board with that. What I’m having trouble with is a more ethereal concept of time passing. The passage of time. Time slipping through my fingers. An obsession with the past. A fear of the future.

During the final episode of the US version of The Office, the character Andy Bernard says with painful regret: "I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them." It's a good joke because it reflects a sad reality – we often fail to appreciate the present, instead focusing with rose-tinted glasses on the past.

Life before kids

Am I losing my mind?

I know I lived a good life before we had kids, but I can barely remember it. The time before I became a dad has been condensed; the time after has been stretched to eternity. It’s all I know now. Our son is now four and our daughter is two, and yet it seems like they have been with us forever. So why does it feel like time is moving so quickly?

In a way, I blame Google.

We have a good life, and we’re thankful for it. We appreciate all the time we get to spend with our children. We are mindful. We take it all in. Then out of nowhere – bam! Google hits us with one of those “On this day one year ago” updates. Here is a bunch of photographs, at no extra charge, to remind you just how brutally fast time passes.

I look at these photos and think: “There’s no way that was one year ago. Look how big they’ve become! How the hell did this happen? Were we not paying attention? I thought we were paying attention!”

Some days I want to hit the pause button, but that sounds dangerously close to tempting fate. If there really was a magic button that could pause time, would I press it? No. So often throughout our son’s life we have thought: this is it. This is the most adorable he’s ever going to be. But time proves us wrong again and again. Every new thing he learns, every new way he sees the world brings us heart-bursting joy. A first step, a mispronounced word, a morning hug. And with his baby sister we get to experience it all over again.

You can’t fight time. We all know that, yet we do it every day. We pine over old photos. We count down the hours until bedtime, the weekend, the next holiday. Time isn’t the enemy.

It’s our own stupid brains that are the problem.