ever-stretching time

Preface: I know I’m starting off this post talking about pregnancy and babies, but NO that does not mean I’m pregnant. …Because I’m not, nor am I trying to be.  So now that we’ve established that…

Ever notice how we measure pregnancies in weeks? “She’s 60 weeks along” (see, clearly, I know nothing about pregnancy). Then when the baby arrives, we measure its age in months. “Aw, what a cute kid. He must be, what, 6 months?” Then once the kid is old enough, we start using years. Younger kids are particularly attuned to years in fractions. “I’m not just 4! I’m 4 and a half!” Eventually, whole years do the trick, and a simple “I’m 24″ suffices.

This post started with me being annoyed at how we tell a young child’s age in months. Months mean nothing to me. I have to convert it to years before I understand what you’re saying to me. (15 months? Oh, you mean, just over a year. I get it.) But then I realized that we do this kind of grouping in a lot of areas of our lives. It’s not just doctors and mothers trying to annoy the childless people of the world. And what’s more, it may actually be useful.

In a new relationship, each month is a milestone. “We’ve been dating for 4 months,” stated in a giddy voice. And each passing month seems worthy of celebration, until many more months pass. The month milestones eventually fade away and are replaced with year markers instead.

Even in marriage, we started with the small markers. “A week ago today, we got married.” And I always used to notice when the 27th of each month passed. With each new month, we’d go out to eat or even give each other gifts. At our 9-month marker, we celebrated big time. (Woo hoo! No honeymoon babies!) But now that it’s been over a year, I lose track of how many months it’s been.

My parents will have been married for 38 years in March. That’s awesome, right? But when I looked at the calendar this morning I thought to myself, “We should do something big for them in 2 years; 40 years is an amazing milestone.” Not that 38 years isn’t equally wonderful. It’s just that we have this tendency to mark things off in larger increments as more time passes.

I do this with all sorts of things…

  • How long I’ve lived in a place.
  • How old a person is. (It’s hard for me to keep track of a person’s exact age once she’s old enough, but I definitely keep track of what decade she’s in. Being in your 80s seems much different from being in your 90s, even if being 86 doesn’t seem much different from being 89.)
  • My progress in a long book. (It’s fantastic when I’m 20 or 50 pages in, or when I hit one third of the way. But once I’m there it’s like nothing counts until I finish the book… which, admittedly, tends to take a while.)
  • My workout at the gym. (I think to myself, “Wow, it’s been 5 minutes already.” Or, “Sweet, it’s been 15 minutes—that’s a quarter of the way.” But once I’ve been at it for more than 30 minutes, I don’t notice each additional minute stacking up. Just tell me when I hit an hour, ok?)

Why do we do this?

I guess new things are measured in tiny increments because that’s all we’ve got of them so far. And maybe it’s also because they can change so much in such a short period of time. But older things have a lot of time packed in; we don’t need to measure them in small units. They’ve become steady and less likely to change in an instant.

So I like it. I’m no longer annoyed at “15-month-old babies” or “24-week pregnancies,” because it’s cool that they’re growing so fast. And I won’t feel bad when no one remembers my 49th wedding anniversary, because it just means that we’ve sure lasted a long time. And anyway, I’m sure we’ll have a doozy of a party for our 50th.

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