April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The year I learned about being late, I was in second grade. I remember being dropped off at school and heading down the long corridor to my classroom weighed down by my heavy book bag. At the end of the hall, a tall silhouette lurked in the shadows of my classroom door. It was my teacher, Mrs. Skwersky, and without looking at me, without uttering a word, she tapped the face of her watch, shook her head, then spun me around to head downstairs to the principal’s office. I was late, again.

It really wasn’t my fault. I was one of six children, and it must have been a gargantuan task getting us all ready and out the door in the morning. We lived a block away, but were usually too rushed to actually walk to school in the morning, and so, my mother would drive us, neglecting to even spend any time on herself, hungry, and still in pajamas.

And yet, we were a few minutes late most of the time. My teacher had a low tolerance for this, though, comparatively, the teachers of my siblings were more flexible. I struggled to wake up earlier, pick out my clothing the night before, eat less breakfast, but I couldn’t shave off enough time from our collective morning routine—and I still came late. I think eventually the principal just told the teacher to quit making a big deal out of this, after all, I couldn’t drive myself to school, and at some point, the haunting figure of my teacher in the hallway, during my early morning sprints, ceased to be. That could also be because she took a leave of absence mid-year, and never returned. But regardless, I was freely able to slip into class a few minutes late, unnoticed.

I always thought when I grew up, I would be very “on-time.” It seemed like the perfect way to undo the stressful mornings of my youth, the cereal-in-a-bag, hair unbrushed, coat-unzipped running into the car. I think I was pretty punctual for several years, and relished my ability to fight my late genes, but then I had kids and lost all control, and sometimes, no matter how hard I try, there is always one last thing before we go: the afterthought tantrum, the elusive mitten, a spontaneous, soiled diaper.

I have divided up all types of parents into two neat categories: those that are early, and those that are not, and, in my newfound wisdom, I am here to defend those of us who are “not.” Let me explain a few benefits from the dark side.

An adrenaline boost. There is nothing quite like the thrill of being stuck behind a car who is obeying the speed limit on Sussex, while you are effectively several minutes late for your carpool—the slow, lolling road enables your brain to swiftly move at a faster pace, coming up with a list of excuses why you are late. “I’m sorry, too many people here drive within the speed limit,” I once said to the nursery teachers. They nodded in sympathetic agreement.

Less time wasted by waiting. A doctor that I see is always running late, and I routinely call his office to find out his schedule before I leave the house, and receive an adjusted appointment time. It is more comfortable to take a nap at a home than to have one on a waiting room chair. Waiting, elsewhere, seems difficult to me, when I can accomplish so much more by aiming to be there exactly on time, which I guess means I will be late.

Instill the valuable lesson of patience to children. When your kids are always the last ones to go, watching as each other child is picked up, they learn to wait their turns. They might even become smarter because of this, due to the extra minutes spent with their teachers, giving them an advantage over their earlier-dismissed peers. And when you finally do arrive, they will demonstrate excessive love and relief, thrilled to not be spending the night at school. Everyone benefits from that bonus burst of affection.

If you ever do come early, it is an amazing treat. Usually, on January 2nd, after my annual New Year’s resolution to be an “early person,” I am the first mom to arrive at a birthday party or for pick up. The look of sheer joy on my child’s face at not having to wait with herds of antsy children can only be compared to being told you are serving cake for dinner. But I guess if I did this every day, it wouldn’t be so special anymore. So then I revert back to my late-self, and try to only come on time every Rosh Chodesh.

It’s not always ideal. I am sometimes reprimanded by my children for being the last one to arrive. I have come five minutes late to gymnastics to discover my daughter in tears. I have been compared to other, more prompt mothers, by my envious kids. And I suppose that they will fight back by being early themselves, at least until they grow up, become parents, have their own kids, and discover that sometimes, it’s just about being flexible.

I’m sure there are amazing benefits to being the consistently early-parent too, but I was actually late on submitting this article, so I can’t go into depth about that now. I can interview someone else for a rebuttal, maybe the next time I arrive at a sports class that has not yet been dismissed, and I am caught waiting with nothing to do.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be read at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com.

By Sarah Abenaim

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