The kid-time vortex deserves its own branch of physics

To think I once considered maternity leave the ideal time to learn Italian

'Leave Louis for longer than 20 seconds and he will have rolled across the room to triumphantly find ‘treasure’ in a tiny piece of his brother’s chokeworthy Lego.'

Sightseeing abroad with the two kids in tow recently, I realised that smartphone maps have not been calibrated for parents. After several attempts to go places that were only a five-minute walk away left us cranky, sweaty and took us half an hour, I came to two conclusions.

Firstly, there needs to be a “parent” option added to map apps. That would be measured as walking speed plus: one minute per kilometre for snacks, another for costume changes (sunglasses on/off, jumper on/off), two minutes /km of hill for “please carry me . . . no you’re too big . . . okay, I’ll carry you”. If the route passes low walls, time must be added for walking on top of them. And if you are in a hurry, there should be an option to avoid routes that pass by water features, ice cream shops and playgrounds.

Secondly, I realised the “walking time” in online maps marks the difference for parents between time of all kinds before and after having children. Things that once took five minutes will consistently take 30 with children, from going to the shop for milk and bread, to watering the garden. More fun? Possibly. But efficient? Definitely not.

Having children bends and twists and slows and quickens time in such a chaotic whirl that it deserves its own branch of physics to study the kid-time vortex.

Genevieve, Louis and Arthur on a ferry in Copenhagen.

The scientists would ask three basic questions:

What did I do with my time before I had small kids?

Where do my days disappear to now that I have small kids?

How is it that, despite having all the time in the world when on maternity leave, I don’t have a minute?

These days, I’m repeatedly being asked the inevitable question of a mother with a toothy, sitting-up baby. “So when are you back to work?”

That post-maternity leave, Neverland, is now weeks and not months away. And I wonder to where this mountain of time has trickled.

Before becoming a mother, I didn’t understand the kid-time vortex. I remember wondering what a friend was complaining about when she bemoaned “only” having six weeks of maternity leave left. Imagine having six weeks “off”, I innocently thought. When pregnant with my first child, I was puzzled to find there were no serious courses designed for women on maternity leave to do something “useful” with all the free time, such as learn Italian. For this maternity leave, my bucket list was shorter, involving lots of socialising and projects around the house.

The list remains almost intact.

The workings of the kid-time vortex means that these days I achieve something if things stay the same. If by 9pm my house is in the same state it was at 6am, this will have taken all of my efforts.

The line from TS Elliot's Prufrock poem comes to mind: I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

Need for coffee

There’s been plenty of need for coffee during maternity leave but little opportunity for anything as grand as coffee spoons. I have measured out my leave days with hundreds of hours of baby feeds, with three daily naps and 3am shushings and 6am morning wakings. But I have also measured out my maternity leave with buggy walks by the sea, with playing peekaboo and shake the rattle, with tummy time and with watching my two sons make each other giggle (and cry).

Louis and Genevieve walking around Siena.

My rate of progress may be slow but Louis’s is lightning fast. Louis’s latest time-bending trick has meant the two minutes I used to get to run upstairs and grab something, when I would lay him on his baby gym, has become 20 seconds. Now, leave him for longer and he will have rolled across the room to triumphantly find “treasure” in a tiny piece of his brother’s chokeworthy Lego.

He is also sprouting teeth faster than watercress seeds, with four in the past 10 days. This has transformed his gummy baby smile into a cheeky grin. And yes I know, he is what I’ve been “doing” all this time, but wouldn’t it have been nice to learn Italian too?

Somehow in the coming weeks I will magically bend and manipulate time and tasks into a shape that leaves a big space for returning to my wonderful job. But, in the meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the last few weeks of days that are crammed with cuddles.

Read: Forget the puréed carrots, the BLW (baby-led weaning) approach is the way to go