Time.

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Photo by Barbara Thompson

What is the number one thing that everyone wants more of? Is it money? Love? Another chance? More friends? A different house? A better job? 

It turns out, nearly everything can be distilled into one thing: Time. We want more of it. We want more time to find love. More time to foster friendships. We want more time with our children and loved ones. We want more time to exercise, eat well, develop our hobbies and hopes. We want more time to sleep. We want more time to research, and further our careers, perfect our dreams, reach our goals.

We want more time to live.

We want to go back in time to tell our distraught friend to make a different choice. We want to go back in time to tell our loved ones that we love them, one more time. We want to go back in time and advocate in a different way at the doctor’s office. We want to tell our parents or our kids, our brother or sister, that we’re here, we’ll help.

We want to go back in time and say the words differently, this time.

We want time to be collapsible and stretchable, a space that we can reach into and flip through–we want to go back in time, to do it over again, to do it better, to manipulate the future by redoing the past. We want time to stand still in moments of happiness and elation, and we want it to speed up through the time it takes to heal from trauma and disgrace, pain and trial, and most of all, loss.

I went on vacation with my family this past week. We did all sorts of lovely things. We traveled together by plane, and visited Brian’s parents, and went to Disneyland for the first time, and watched hawks play in the bright blue San Diego sky, and we ran on sandy beaches, and hugged Brian’s parents, and watched the Winter Olympics display the insanely talented strength of insanely talented world athletes.

And we took a break from the work of our day-to-day life–the one that says to Brian: Go to your job. Take the car, bike, and ferry, and lead your team. Put your time in there. The one that says to me: Build the farm, clean the house, plant the seeds, pick up the kids. The one that says to the kids: Get up and get dressed. Learn your math tables. Read the book. Be a good friend. Be a good kid. The one that says to us all: It’s time to work. 

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We surprised our kids with this trip to Disneyland. At ages 10 and 7, it felt like a great time to head out and brave the crowds for a memory we hope they won’t forget. And it was. They had the patience to wait in the long lines, and the fearlessness to go on big rides and shout and be delighted. And it was everything I’ve heard it is supposed to be–a haven of adventure for children. An entire park dedicated to dreams. A whole lot of fun, flights, and fantasy.

More than anything, for Brian and me, it was the time to all be together, to shrug off the despair of last year, to take a break from the work, and to laugh and shout and scream when the Space Tours ride tipped us just a little too far or the Radiator Springs Racers car zipped way too fast or we just managed to dodge a massive rolling ball about to smash us on the Indiana Jones ride. We left our stomachs in the Guardians of the Galaxy and agreed that we would see all the sights in the real world after completing the Soarin’ Around the World ride at the California Adventure Park.

We were a fantastic and fearless foursome. A team of all teams. A well-oiled machine.

We had a fabulous time–a time of our lives.

You know those silly snapshots that capture people during one of the more exciting moments in a ride? This is us at Radiator Springs as the car sailed over the crest of a hill and careened down. We were laughing and screaming and we all thought we might pee our pants. (Forgive how blurry it is; I guess it must have been hard for those cameras to catch us as we flashed by in all our superpower Fearsome Four glory.)

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And I know how cliche it sounds, but I swear to you that we watched our kids grow an inch last week. Seriously. They elongated in this weird, stretchy way and suddenly they are just taller. I can suddenly really see that our daughter only has 8 years more with us before she heads off to college. And our son is almost 8 and that means we have 10 more with him.

This odd inverse of time.

Time.

It is marching. In it is a hit list of happiness and horror. There are the scripted moments–the day in and day out–and the wild ones with hearts hammering.

Brooks, our youngest, likes to tell us that he has a photographic memory and remembers everything. I have felt that same way for as long as I can remember–as if I am a camera recording the events around me–the truth and the injustice and the joy and all the little bits in between. I remember it all. It is a heavy weight. It is also a great gift to be able to fill myself with the moments of the past like one might eat dumplings and fancy meals and buckets of grit. I wonder if this is his fate.

After the high-energy chase of Disneyland and California Adventure, our time in San Diego was a welcome and quiet respite from everything.

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Photo series by photographer Barbara Thompson.

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We sat still. We rested. And we raced on the beach like four free fierce and silly souls.

And when we got back home to our farmhouse on the island, and to our to-do lists and our work, we had a day with a sick girl and a healthy boy. And the healthy boy clung to his dad like a sea star does to its stone. He wanted to play Legos, and work in the yard, and go biking, and read to his dad, and help build the evening fire, and make the dinner.

At the end of the day he said, “This was the best day ever. It was my favorite day.”

Which just goes to show you that you can give kids the snazziest gift in the world and they will happily tear of the wrapping paper and squeal with excitement, and then spend the rest of the day playing with the cardboard box.

But it’s also a measure of the highs and the lows: A day with Legos and a fire might not have been as treasured if it wasn’t on a day returning from the busyness of vacation.

We are all simple, after all. We are creatures of comfort. The thing we want the most, the thing we crave the most, is time with the people we love, and for them to love us back. Kids crave undivided attention and connection, praise, and knowledge. They, like us, cling to those moments with all their might, because they feel it, too: The stripping away of the moments as time marches on.

So that’s it. Vacation is over. It’s time to get back to work, but with some of the big lingering points in mind, and this one mainly: Make it all worth the time.

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