Thursday, June 27, 2013

On Being Late

RT @CharlieDaniels: Being late is your way of telling somebody their time is not worth as much as your's

My nephew re-tweeted this months ago and it bugs me. (And not just because of that extra apostrophe. What is that?)

Mostly I hate thinking that punctual people are thinking this about me. I try to be on time. I really do. I do not succeed. I can never decide if this failing is:

  1. worth doing something about.
  2. within my power to change.
Here are some reasons for this.  
  • Kids.  I remember going to Anna's first doctor's appointment (late) and thinking "Surely they build in extra time for baby's first appointment.  Could they possibly expect anyone to get to the baby's VERY FIRST APPOINTMENT on time?  I suppose, though, if I had a better handle on time, I would start getting everyone ready sooner, and then maybe we would be on time to things.  It's not all their fault, but they do make it harder.  
  • Orientation in Space and Time.  I don't orient myself well.  I don't know where I am in a town, or in a building, or how much time has passed.  I don't mean for this to be an excuse, it just seems to me to be a part of my brain.  I am good with languages and words.  I am not good with spatial concepts.  I do not know if that spaghetti will fit into that tupperware.  Just because something is harder, doesn't mean I don't need to figure out how to do it, but maybe I just want punctual people to know that it doesn't come naturally, knowing how much time something will take or how much time has passed, and I don't mean it as an insult.
  • Fitting in too much.  I was thinking of this yesterday, as I tried to get to my doctor's appointment on time.  The kiddos were already at the farm, so I had no kid excuse.  I was ready, and I thought "It takes 20 minutes to get to town, so I need to leave at 9:40.  At 9:36 I was in the kitchen, ready.  I thought "I can unload the dishwasher!"  I did that, and it was 9:39.  I thought "I can reload the dishwasher!"  (Only breakfast dishes).  Then it was 9:40 and I left the house feeling all happy and proud.  But then it was 10:03 when I got to the doctor's office and I felt completely confused.  How could this possibly have gone wrong?  Are punctual people just better at leaving a cushion?  I always want to fill the cushion with activity, so that I don't waste any time.  Is the key to being punctual not caring about wasting time? 
  • Time is flexible.  In my mind, "around 3" means "hopefully the clock will still say 3, or at least before 4:30". I think that punctual people have an entirely different idea of time.  For example, I have learned that when my friend Sara says that they will be here around 3, she could actually mean 2:45!  It's stunning.  I am completely in awe of that.  And that's after a long long drive.  It just seems absolutely out of the realm of possibility.  
So how do you do it, punctual people?  And I'm sorry and I promise that I don't think my time is more valuable than your's (Ha!).  My time is just so slippery!


dbilberry said...

Before kids I was always early to everything. After kids I was late to everything that didn't have a consequence for being late. However, if it is really important to be on time I can still make it happen most of the time. The key for me, especially when getting somewhere with kids, is to to plan how much time it takes and then add 15 minutes extra or 30 minutes if you have extra children or children in difficult stages. Don't start something you can't finish or be willing to leave it half done at a moments notice. Being on time usually means you arrive early because of the extra minutes you gave yourself just in case, BUT if just in case actually happens you will be glad you allotted that extra time. Only downside to it all is that there will always be wasted time if you don't use your just in case time. Time that has to be killed when you get to wherever it is that you're going. There is no win win to being on time.

Kelsey Gray said...

In our family, we attribute our punctuality to our German heritage. We Roaches are on time or early for everything! Until.... I had kids. I'm rarely late because I just don't like being late, but getting me and my three kids ready and out the door on time causes a lot of stress. Maybe being on time isn't worth the stress?

Kelsey Gray said...

just one more thing. I think the quote is true sometimes. For instance, we have a single friend, no kids. She is generally 45 minutes late whenever we invite her over. Dinner is ready, getting cold, and we wait. I find that offensive. Now, if we want her here at 6:30, we tell her we are starting at 5:30.

In the Mix said...

So, I've been thinking about this a lot. I come from the punctual camp (pre and post kid) and have often felt (when meeting someone who is late perpetually) that I am not valued because we have set a time to meet and it is not important enough for that person to be there. Now, I know it it not usually the case that I'm unimportant to said person but that is how it feels.
I feel like if I can get myself and often four other people ready and out the door on time it should be something everyone else should be able to do too. This is coming from someone with a rigid sense of time. So, when it comes to those who are more flexible or deal with time differently than myself, I have a hard time relating.
What comes with this rigidity is obsessive mental planning, over and over again to make sure I've run every scenario possible. I usually build in at least 10 minutes cushion. I won't say always but maybe 98% of the time. Often I never need those few minutes. And while they can be viewed as wasted, I view them as an opportunity to breathe, collect myself and make sure I'm not a harried mess running into whatever meeting or appointment I have.
I think punctuality, like flexibility or spontaneity, is a characteristic that can be developed. But having been punctual in the most severe sense for most of my life, I am finding the development of being more relaxed about time is super hard and does not just come easily because I've decided to try. :/

Roach Momma said...

I read your post this morning and have been thinking about it since. I think my punctuality is much like your slippery time (love that term!) - I really don't know how to be otherwise. I agree with all the other comments - the main key is planning/prepping as much as possible. I too add a 5-10 minute buffer (depending on where we're going) to whatever travel time is needed. I agree with ITM - I don't think of it as wasted time, but relaxing time. I'm much more stressed/anxious if I show up somewhere late then having to wait a few minutes. My other big secret is I prep as much as possible the night or few hours before. This means making sure the diaper bag is stocked and ready to go, same for snack/drinks if necessary. I also make sure to get myself ready before the kids as much as possible. The times where I'm trying to get ready and expect them to do the same in another room does not always end well. I also agree with KG - if we are expecting someone to meet us where time constraints are involved (food getting cold, start time for a movie, etc.) I do tend to get frustrated. I have relaxed quite a bit with those people in my life that I've come to know as perpetually late and just plan accordingly ;) And I agree with ITM again - I think punctuality can be developed. I, too, am trying to be more lax about time, but finding it difficult.
That all said, I have been late 3 of the 4 days to VBS this week and we were late getting to dinner last night with Keenan's boss and co-workers when the place was 5 min from our house! I blame the last one on Keenan, though. My one-speed-wonder man :)

Roach Momma said...

Oh and to go along with the prepping - for road trips we load up the car with everything minus toiletries and cold food/drinks the night before. Keenan and I get up 30 min before the kids, get ready, finish loading then get them ready. We also have a family with bladders of steel making for less potty breaks ;)

betsyann said...

I have been pondering all of this and the discussion and another thing just occurred to me-I think sometimes the lateness perpetuates itself because I see it (not consciously) as being *kind* to be late-because surely the other party isn't ready yet! I think that aligns more with a latin sense of time-Kelsey, is your friend from somewhere else?

It feels all uncomfortable and wrong, but I'm going to try telling myself it takes 30 minutes to get to town, and see how that works.

betsyann said...

And it must be genetic! ITM-your babies are all early, and mine are all late! :D

Melanie said...

I SO could've written this post! I was thinking about my response while getting ready this morning, thinking I'd blame my hubby, b/c I thought I was pretty punctual before marriage. Then I started laughing, b/c I was late to your WEDDING, Betsy! And that was before I was married.

My hubby 's fam is definitely more relaxed about time (and they are German! I guess people used to say their motto was: if you're going to be late, you might as well be later!

I think it would help me to just plan in extra time (for example, I never used to allow time for getting the kids buckled, hello!) Also to see being early not as wasted time but time to breathe, like someone else said. I usually do get the bag packed, etc. the night before, but it is usually a last minute diaper change, trip to the bathroom, or lost shoes that make me late. Though I am also guilty of doing 'one last thing' then someone else sees me doing that, so then they do one more thing, then I see that and do one more thing...

I haven't been on time to Sunday school since the baby was born.

I saw a book that intrigued me about this, I will try to find the name and link it in another comment.

Melanie said...

I was too cheap to buy it yet, but sounded interesting!

Jenny said...

Well, you know we are from the flexible-about-time camp.

The thing is, it's cultural. Like you said, in Latin America, it is understood that if something is scheduled for 2, then maybe a few early birds will get there by 2, but most will arrive between 2:10-2:25, and a few will trail in as late as 3. This is the understood, accepted cultural construct for how to set meeting times. The cultural norm reflects the unspoken belief that this is how it works best to get people together for meetings or activities.

Americans who get upset about lack of punctuality do so because their cultural construct says that the proper way to arrange a meeting is to set a specific time before which everyone must arrive. So, it follows that if someone arrives after that time, they are communicating a lack of respect for the activity or for the other person.

But that's not what you mean by it if you're late. That's not what you are trying to communicate at all. You're acting based on your unspoken, maybe even subconscious, understanding of how meetings times are (or should be) handled, but if the other person is someone who values punctuality, they may be evaluating your behavior based on their different understanding. Even though we are all Americans, there is still a lot of diversity in this area of how to approach meeting times.

I think people get riled up because they think we are all working from the same understanding, when we aren't. Perhaps some people who value punctuality think the flexible, typically Latin-American way of handling meeting times is simply lack of discipline, and that Latinos would do it the American way if they could just get their acts together. If everyone realized that it is actually a different perspective on what works best, a different set of beliefs and values about the best way to set up meeting times (even if this perspective is only subconsciously realized), then maybe people would feel offended less often.

I like Kelsey's approach: If you are from the punctual camp and discover your friend must be from the flexible camp, because they continually fail to arrive at or before the set time, then make the "set" time earlier than when the person absolutely must be there. If you are from the flexible camp and you realize you are dealing with a friend from the punctual camp, then you can try to self-adjust by remembering that whatever time your punctual friend gives, they would really like you to aim to be there 15 or 20 minutes before.

We actually chose our church based in large part on the fact that it is comprised of people who view meeting times the same way we do. I honestly think it works better to do it the Latin American way, especially for a large group of young families. No one has to feel like they are getting the stink eye for arriving any time between 5:30 and 6 at our church. You may miss some music if you arrive after 5:40, and you better be prepared to sit or stand around and talk if you arrive at or before 5:30, but you do what you can make work for your family.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard Michael's story about translating for a time conscious North American in Venezuela? He was doing some kind of leadership conference and told people, "if you can't show up on time, don't show up at all." Michael tried to tell the guy, "you don't want to say that." But, he was adamant and Michael translated it. I guess the next day just a handful showed up. I don't remember the stats but it was very significant. Another thing about time is that hours during Bible days were variable compared to today's standard. I read somewhere 40 to 90 minutes long. Our version of punctuality came about because of trains and factories. I try to be on time for stuff, but when I am not I think, What did Jesus do? :) --Mary Ann