Wisdom from an Old Father: “Mind Time”

I wish I could take credit for what follows.  This was written by father, grandfather, and education activist, Denis Ian. Enjoy.

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt. I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs. Someone mentioned that my grandfather had a birthday in a few days … and that little-bitty mention sprung my father’s mind. 

“So, young Denis” said my father, “ how long would you like to live? What is a good, long life?”

Right off the bat I’m thinking this is a trick question … because my father was never familiar with the obvious. So, there I sat … and my brothers had caught wind of my dinner-table distress … and they were loving every minute of it.

Meanwhile, my father was sipping his usual cocktail and pushing some food around his plate … which means he’s kinda waiting for an answer … to the trick question. And I don’t have much in the way of trick answers … because … I’m nine. Gimme a break. 

After several long minutes he leaned over and asked, “And?” 

I went full-out bravado … more for my brothers than for any other reason. I gotta live in this family after all, right? Strong is the key. Trust me.

“Seventy. Seventy years old is a good, long life.” 

I was so pleased with my answer, I smirked at every guy at the table … until I noticed that my father was completely unimpressed … still sitting there … at the head of the table … playing fork-hockey with his peas. 

And me? I’m waitin’ for a sign … any sign! … that my skinny answer is sufficiently smart. I’m dreaming of the big back-slap … or even the dreaded hair-muss. 

There was none. 

In fact, it seemed I was completely off his radar for a long moment.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. My father didn’t do that sort of stuff. I must’ve had him confused with my best friend’s father … who was really normal.

After a few long minutes, he clasped his hands and leaned over toward me. And then the verdict.

“You’re a silly boy.” 

Mind you … he said it softly. No mocking at all. Just a soft, blunt statement … designed to make me think all over again. To spin my brain-gears a bit more. And I did. Even my brothers were cranking their brains. I think that was part of my father’s strategy … to make the moment belong to everyone. To glue everyone into the lesson.

Then he leaned over once again … and in a loud whisper … so all could hear … he said …“If you live to be seventy … you will have lived just 840 months. Does that seem long enough for you?”

And, of course, it didn’t then … and it doesn’t now. And I learned the lesson he intended me to learn … to be careful with numbers and to respect time. And to not waste time … or let others waste my time.

So, from this old father … to you young fathers and young mothers … mind the time. 

Mind those sweet moments with your children and seldom say “Hurry up!”. Don’t wish for anything except this moment. Leave tomorrow alone. Tend to today.

Don’t let anyone hurry your child. 

Don’t let anyone sandpaper their softest years with grit or rigor … because there’s plenty of that stuff in the eight hundred months ahead. 

Don’t let anyone run innocence out of your child’s life. It has its own cadence and rhythm … and it’s plenty fast enough. 

Don’t let others spin those clock hands faster than they already spin. 

Mind the numbers in your life as never before. Pay as much attention to the little moments as you do the big moments.

Remind yourself that a five year old is sixty months on this planet. Less than 2,000 days old. They’re still brand new people! No one has the right to whisper anything about college or careers to a child determined to conquer the monkey bars. All adults should respect the Law of the Chair … if a child’s legs do not reach the floor … well … they are reality-exempt.

That eight year old … the one who sleeps in his Little League uniform? He’s a third grader. Not yet 100 months old. Let that sink in. Why is he rip-roaring mad at himself over some junk-test? That’s not the worry of an 8 year old. He should be anxious about base hits … not base line scores. His only career thought is what professional team to sign with … and that’s heavy enough. 

That music-blasting “tween” is maybe 150 months old. At that age their job is to not walk into door jambs … and to try to put a lid on some hormone havoc. They’re still closer to babyhood than adulthood. Why do we let schools bum-rush them into anxiety-hell over tests? Mother Nature has already over-supplied them with all the anxiety they can barely handle. Why don’t we just lay off ‘em … and let ‘em outgrow this messy moment? It’s bad enough as it is … leave it be. 

I’m glad my father cured me from becoming number-numb. 

My hot-seat moment has served me well for … for lots of months. Maybe this will shake up your consciousness … and slow you down some. And maybe … maybe you won’t say “Hurry up!” quite so often. And perhaps you’ll remind that school to slow down … that there are children on board … and they are entitled to every last drop of innocence. 

Don’t let them tug your child into their warped world. If they think education is all about numbers, well, they’ve already forfeited their privilege to enjoy your child. They’re just as silly as I was … but I was only about a hundred months old. What’s their excuse?

Mind time.



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

136 thoughts on “Wisdom from an Old Father: “Mind Time””

  1. Ugh! I’m totally on board with letting a kid be a kid and letting my kid learn what a potty is before he’s forced to sit on it but WHY must so many other people try to get involved? Why is it so important to my mom and my mother-in-law and my aunts and the other moms at activities and all the moms on the internet that my kid poop in a way I can control and eat in a way that I can control and sleep in a way that I can control. I don’t want that kind of control. Over anyone. Ever. Why can’t my baby just be a baby and all of the other parties just BACK OFF!

    I love this post. I love it because it’s a great reminder that I’m not a bad mom for not rushing my kid into adulthood in order to convenience myself or others. Thank you!

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Reblogged this on commuterslife and commented:
    My stop n go rush rush commuting mindset often spills over into my personal life but this powerful message reminded me to slow down for my kids’ sake. Enjoy.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I am so happy I got to find this today! Such an important lesson for us all. My sons are grown now and very successful in their careers but not if they were judged by the numbers. .such as salary. Both work for non profits and i couldn’t be more proud.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’m constantly challenging myself to not be so hard on myself about being 26 and not having everything figured out yet; not being where I expected to be by this age. This is so refreshing because it puts life and time into perspective; don’t rush. Enjoy it. Enjoy every moment. Thanks for this reminder

    Liked by 4 people

  5. This story triggered my heart and mind to slow down in this world of speed, to appreciate and value every second that passes, treasure every moment and memory I make with the world and my family.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Eighty-five years ago when I was five years old I scared hell out of myself when I realized that eventually I was going to die. It took a few years to get used to the idea and quite a few more to accept it. I spent most of my life searching for some way to make sense out of my life and rather oddly I watched all the people around me succumb to the basic motivations necessary to survive and participate in the realities while I remained puzzled over why people did what they did. I look at the world today which marvelously still offers the possibility for all of mankind to be fascinated at its wonders and give each and every one of us enough to eat and all the great opportunities to love and respect each other and the appreciation of all the other fellow creatures on the planet and all I can make of my species is huge anger and frustration and eagerness to destroy the gift of this unique place. The concept of wasting time escapes me totally. Whatever all those months might have clarified to me about the proper use of this tiny peek at the universe has evaded me but I keep on trying. As the wise saying goes, thanks for the fish.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. Thank you for this post. It got to me so fast, you won’t know it was a post on minding time 🙂 we all need to learn to slow down, and realise that slowing down doesn’t always mean lack of progress, but progress in itself, the ability to pause Ehen you should hurry, or enjoy the view when there is a delay.
    Thank you again.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Wow! Wow! Wow! I just became a mother not too long ago. I came across this post as I was contemplating about my life. How it changed it changed in matter of seconds! I have to keep in mind that I SHOULD mind my time, mind my time for my baby girl, for my family now. Love love love this post! Thanks sooo much

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on littlegreenraven and commented:
    The new school year just started and there is already too much on my mind. I am busy all the time, doing important things and at the end of the day, I have the feeling that I didn’t achieve anything. Maybe some of you know this feeling…
    This article reminded me of how easy life was when I was younger, where there weren’t so many things to worry about… Sometimes I think being a child is really good.
    I hope you guys enjoy reading this post as much as I did. 😉
    See you soon! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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