On Sundays when I was growing up, our family went to my grandmother’s house for dinner.
She lived half a mile away, and we were always half an hour late.
It didn’t matter what time the meal was served. If we were to be there at noon, we’d roll in at 12:30. A five o’clock meal was pushed to 5:30.
A couple of us would get in the car around the prescribed time, usually some time after. We’d honk the horn to speed up the guilty party still tying shoes or finding a sweater or pulling on a coat. Sometimes my dad would be missing – working in the yard or tinkering in the garage – and my mom would get annoyed and we’d leave without him.
One of us was always lagging further behind the others.
This pattern has continued in my adult life. My own family is not always on time. It usually depends on where we’re going and how motivated we are to get there rather than something or someone interfering in the on-time plan. We all agree when to leave, but it’s regarded as a guideline. This fluidity can be frustrating, and one person is usually steaming by the time we are on our way.
I have a running joke with a friend that I am always five minutes late. I underestimate the drive time, I have a hard time leaving the house, someone always calls when I’m running out the door.
Whatever the delay, I’m five minutes late every time. My friends accept it; in fact, most of the people in my circle are typically minutes (hours!!) late themselves, and they don’t care about my chronic tardiness… much.
I’m in awe of people who don’t claim lateness, who show up ten minutes early, who manage punctuality. Are they gifted at knowing how long it takes to get somewhere? Do they research routes, traffic conditions, keep a close eye on the amount of gas in their tanks? Do they try on outfits the night before so there are no surprises with ill-fitting clothing, a stain on a sleeve, choosing the wrong shoes? Do they leave dishes in the sink and a mess on the floor if they’re running behind? Do they skip teeth brushing if they’ve overslept? Do they just let the phone ring if it starts after they’ve just stepped outside the door? Do they leave in the middle of a writing tear, able to pick up the flow of ideas when they get home?
My admiration runs deep; they are more disciplined than I am. Their lives are easier – they don’t rush, they don’t play catch up, they never miss anything, and their friends are never annoyed with them.
I’m better at being on time when it comes to our children. Our daughter has some anxiety about being late for class or practice or parties, so I try to keep her on time to alleviate her angst. It's extremely difficult for me. I like to think she is inherently respectful of time, but more likely she learned how to be punctual because she learned that being late is stressful. Our son has no such qualms about lateness, but he is a teenager.
Why are we late? Some people cite disrespect and insensitivity of other people’s time. Others claim cultural differences – people from different parts of the world are less punctual than others. Poor time management, a laid-back attitude, being unfamiliar with surroundings – these are all good excuses. Ones that I have used.
I think I’m unruffled by lateness because most things in my life are not time-sensitive. No danger results from my being perpetually five minutes behind. I’m a mom, not an air traffic controller. What’s more, I can choose where lateness is acceptable and I exercise my choices freely. I can be late to a friend’s barbeque because I had to pick up a bag of ice; I shouldn’t be late picking my kid up from basketball practice at 9 pm because of safety issues. I have no time card to punch and I don’t get paid by the hour. There are no coworkers to report me for shaving fifteen minutes off my work day each morning. I’m grateful for that.
Oh, no – I’ve got to end this here. I just remembered that I have to be somewhere in five minutes.