It sounds cliché to say that time is money. I mean, time is time and money is money and people with a lot of one don’t seem to have a lot of the other. At least that’s how it has always been for me.
When I was a kid and summer days used to stretch out in front of me, empty, like a blank page, I would have given anything for a few extra dollars to buy more candy at the movies. Now summer days, like most days, seem to pass in a blur of work, errands, and cleaning up and I would give anything for a few extra minutes to watch a movie.
Last year when my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I could think of only one thing: a twenty-fifth hour. In fact, with a twenty-fifth hour, I might exercise. To write that novel that keeps rattling around in my head, I would need a twenty-sixth hour. In order to get more sleep, read, or catch up with long lost friends, we’re talking twenty-seven, twenty-eight hours.
Earnestly, Mom asked what she could do to get me some more time. She offered to pay for a year of sending my husband’s shirts to the cleaners. It was a generous offer, if a little retro. I laughed. I hadn’t ironed his dress shirts since, well, ever. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the idea coming from my mom. I remember her standing in front of the TV, a bottle of spray starch at her side, carefully making my father presentable. That was before she starting charging $200 an hour for her legal services.
“Do you know how much people pay me for my time?” she shouted at me once when I insisted she re-hem the blue satin dress she designed, cut, and sewed for me to wear to the prom.
By then, Mom had passed the tipping point at which time became her most valuable commodity. It is a point of luxury, I suppose, when you have everything you really need—food, clothes, shelter—and the rest becomes a balancing act between all the extra things you want.
I don’t know if it is a function of age, motherhood, or both, but I too have reached the tipping point. I want nothing more than a few more minutes to hear my daughter laugh, to savor a glass of wine, to read a good book. And for those minutes I pay dearly.
I live close to work—where rents are high—to keep my commute short. I eat out too much, refusing to spend the few moments I have before the baby’s bedtime cooking. And most importantly, I’ve turned down promotions and exciting assignments to keep my short work hours.
Recently I was recruited by another company. I asked if he could promise me the five weeks vacation and short workweek I’ve earned over the years.
“Five weeks?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“Hmmmm,” was the answer.
He also couldn’t offer me the thirty-five hour workweek I now enjoy, and even a raise couldn’t make me consider working those extra ten hours. All I could think was that ten hours is almost an entire waking day for the baby. No amount of money would make me give that up right now.
So I guess I’ve reached that point—for me it came when wrinkles worried me more than pimples—when time doesn’t seem like the bottomless well it once did; when I realized that the one thing I can’t buy is another day.
No, for me, time isn’t money. It costs too much.