Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Adventures with frogs. Chapter three. Sci-fi astronauts and weird time warps

I spent a lot of time sitting with the boys looking at the frogspawn. As the
The boys!
weeks passed the little black spots inside the eggs grew into minute tightly clenched shapes, like sci-fi astronauts curled in cocoons as they hurtled across the universe. When we returned from a visit to England we discovered that the mini adventurers had left their safety pods and were out exploring the vast expanse of the baby bath tub.

They were no bigger than the nib of a pencil, yet the boys were mesmerised by them and were bursting with questions about the new arrivals, including the big one, ‘what do they eat dad?’ I had no idea, but the boys were already off through the garden foraging. All possible food sources were tried out; grass, leaves, flowers, stones and a dead slug. This last part of the menu was contributed by my youngest son, and I still have suspicions about how that slug died…

It was hard not to become fascinated by the little creatures, even though I was trying to stay focused on getting as much of my work done before the school and crèche finished and the summer holidays began. My writing, research, rehearsals and shows are how I pay for food and clothes and the roof over our heads. To me distraction is the enemy of a balanced budget. I needed to get things done and done now. At all costs I had to avoid distractions 

Yet my children and the tadpoles demanded attention. My older son was reading through his nature books and giving the family regular insights into the life of frogs. Admittedly the information was filtered through a six year olds understanding of the world, but it was still great to get the latest info updates: ‘Hopefully there are females in the bath because when they are bigger they will become pregnant and have more spawn.’

I spent more time with the boys and the tadpoles. How could I not? The more I played the more emotionally involved I became. So I wrote and I researched and spent most of my free time in the garden hanging out with my boys and our tadpoles. Though my older child, in one of his regular updates, pulled me up on my use of possessive language. ‘The tadpoles are not ours. They do not belong to us. They are part of nature.’ That was me told.

As I played I relaxed; as I relaxed part of my brain quietly mulled over the other big things in my life; not least my work and my feelings about my youngest boy leaving crèche. When my son left crèche that would be the end of my four and a half years involvement with that little house of happiness. It was an upsetting thought. My youngest child was clearly ready to leave crèche but I most certainly was not. So we played and I accepted the little moments of melancholy as well as all the moments of exploration, laughter, tantrums and quite fascinated absorption of the world of tadpoles.

But here’s the curious thing, the more I hung out with the boys and the tadpoles, the more time I seemed to have to get my other work done, the emotional as well as the intellectual. It was as if the lads, the tadpoles and I were actually warping time, changing its subjective shape and making each second more open to vast potentials of endless possibilities. 

Douglas Adams wrote about the whole weird world of subjective time, not least in how it the sheer freakiness of it could be used to power spaceships like the StarshipBistromath "a small upended Italian bistro". But his are not the only thoughts on time out there.

Professor Cassie Mogilner of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania researched how we use time and came to a very intriguing conclusion. As she explained to Harvard Business Review ,people who give time feel more capable, confident, and useful. They feel they’ve accomplished something and, therefore, that they can accomplish more in the future. And this self-efficacy makes them feel that time is more expansive.’ Moreover research by Professor Molinger and Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School’s also suggested that, to quote the APS headline Money May Corrupt, but Thinking About Time Can Strengthen Morality.’


Distraction is hopping between tasks, rushing back and forth and never fully engaging with any. Distraction is focusing on the bills that need to be paid instead of the life waiting and wanting to be lived. My time with the boys and the tadpoles was not a distraction from anything. It was an engagement with something that had worth and meaning and a magic all of its own. I was not losing time. I was giving time to my children, to nature and to myself.  

It was an adventure. But before the big happy ending, there would be, as there is in all great adventures, dark and terrible moments too, as I was soon to discover.

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