Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Midlife Spices: Mother was right: Time flies as we age

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When I was in my early 50s and watching my mother grow old, I thought she told me a lie.

‘‘When you get older,” she said with a sigh, ‘‘time goes by much more quickly.”

‘‘Wrong!” I believed. I was feeling fractured by the responsibilities of a job that was helping to put three children through college while also trying to help my parents. My days were chaotic, and I looked forward to the serenity of being retired, being able to select what I want to do and when. I dreamed of a time in my life when I would also own the clock. Meanwhile, I raced from one responsibility to another with barely enough time to catch my breath.

And now, a decade-and-a-half later, it’s my turn. I’m retired and the clock finally belongs to me. Mom, I owe you an apology. You were absolutely right. Time does go by faster for many reasons.

Doing things can take much longer. I don’t scrub, cook or clean as quickly as I used to. I still do it all, just not as fast.

And as I slow down, time speeds up and 24 hours seems to shrink. I guess twenty-something batteries carry a much more powerful charge than sixty-something ones. A five-minute shower has expanded exponentially. It’s the simple things that seem to eat extra time.

But there is more to it than that. We retired, downsized and moved almost six years ago, and it feels as if it happened yesterday. The life my husband and I have chosen in retirement offers myriad temptations, and in the beginning, we found ourselves saying ‘‘yes” to almost all of them.

That sweet, golden time of initial emptiness became chock-full of choices. Weekends disappeared — because here every day can be a weekend — and time slipped by in often frenetic fun and community activities. New hobbies emerged and deadlines re-asserted themselves as we volunteered the skills we had honed in our work lives and developed new ones.

And we are not alone. As we grow into our new community of retired friends, we find that many of us are in the same boat. Like kids set free in a candy store, we want to taste everything. And instead of the nickels and dimes we remember plunking down for candy when we were in grade school, we are now spending the minutes, hours and days that have become the coin of the realm. Initially everyone felt wealthy, but not now. There’s a puzzle in here somewhere.

I keep thinking that there must be an equation to explain this phenomenon — like Einstein’s theory of relativity: Age equals minutes times activities squared. Perhaps it’s more easily explained by understanding that life eats time, and the more of life we are engaged with, the more quickly the moments pass. Not a bad trade, I’d say.

Judy Kramer can be reached by e-mail at