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A toddler’s separate sense of time

Sunshine’s birthday is in two months. And for at least four months she has been declaring excitedly, “My birthday party is tomorrow!” As much as I try to explain – showing her a calendar, explaining weeks and months – she doesn’t get it. She is absolutely convinced her birthday is happening at any moment, that it is “almost here.” It’s palpable to her.

I envy her freedom from the constraints of real time. Even though she is looking forward to and waits for a specific event, her birthday, she lives her life wholly in the moment. What is happening right now is all that really matters. This hug, this kiss, this hurt, this anger – this lollipop, this apple, this cup of milk. And her birthday, by her vision and sense, should be right now.


When I am feeling strapped for time, Sunshine’s separate sense of time is alternately endearing and frustrating. When I need to get out the door quickly, she meanders. When I feel like we have plenty of time, she runs for the door, rushing me, “C’mon, Mommy! Let’s go!” It’s baffling. She’s really in her own little world.


I know this is going to change. Very soon she will realize what a day really means, how long an hour is. She already has a sense of routine and a general “what comes next” idea, but it is still only events, not time. She asked this weekend if it was still Valentine’s Day and was thoroughly perplexed when I said it wasn’t for another year. When I said that we’d have to have Easter, Alfs’ birthday, her birthday, summer, Daddy’s birthday, Mommy’s birthday, Woody’s birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas first, she kind of got it. Then asked if it was almost Christmas.


So many adults spend so much time trying to relearn how to live in the moment. There are books and motivational media to teach us what we lost in that one developmental leap in early childhood. Perhaps we should just spend more time with toddlers.

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