Double time

The carer of a small child lives doubled time. For the periods for which you are my responsibility, I am at every point concerned not only with what I am doing but with what you are doing, not only with what I am experiencing but with what you are experiencing. The time in which I am talking to a colleague is also the time in which you are playing with a table-napkin. You need not care what I am doing, but I need to care what you are doing (as a piece of the napkin disappears into your mouth and I retrieve it). My attention is always and necessarily divided. Presumably this is what it means to be responsible, adult. I live every day twice, once as “me”, once as “us”. (I report on the day: I did this, we did this, he did this…)

So I “think from the point of view of another” (Hannah Arendt – I don’t have the source for the exact quote); but the other from whose point of view I think has little or no capacity for critical reflection. The other from whose point of view I think does not question me, but merely presents me with his needs moment by moment. Critical reflection is precisely the form of “doubled time” I find hard while I spend time with you. No accident and no joke that we need to buy in childcare in order to be able to write our books and articles about looking after children. (You’re with the childminder now). Writing about life is the alternative doubling that your presence will not allow. You double my time by pulling me closer to the immediate and the particular. The capacity for doubling that would otherwise have been used to step back and ask more generally “how can I explain what is going on here?” is used instead to step forward and catch you – “what needs to be done here?”.

The other side of this is that all your time needs to be doubled; for every minute you live, if I am not attending to you, somebody else needs to be. You must be physically and mentally accompanied, always. Much of the time, you must be carried. This is what it will take to get you to the point where you can accompany someone else, be responsible, think from another’s standpoint. And it will not stop; I am also, in many ways, being carried.

And curiously this doubling of my time, although it is not what I am used to, although it is not a stepping back, does appear to broaden my vision and teach me. This in part because you are not just yourself; you have a world, you have relationships. In attending to you I attend to your world and your relationships (including, your relationship to me). I watch your path, I reach for hazards and try to grab them before you do, try to clear the way or soften the landings. Seeing the world from your point of view is seeing it as a range of proffered futures, trying to adjust it towards a range of safe and liveable futures, doing this on multiple levels, in very tiny ways, all the time. Making instant decisions, stepping forward, getting things wrong, working out how big a problem they are, adjusting, being good enough. And then, seeing you learn from me, respond to my moods and actions, watch me, occasionally copy me; realising that you do need, and force, me to think about what I’m doing. Even though you yourself have no framework from within which to criticise my actions, you interrupt me simply by taking me so seriously, simply by trusting me. (I remember the first time I saw a student writing down something I’d said, and the feeling of fear: “But what if I was talking rubbish just then?” The challenge came not from the fact that the student might catch me out, but precisely from the fact that the student was in no position to catch me out. With you it’s like that all the time).