The Ruark Kids

Siena’s Grand Theory of Time

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It is axiomatic that as a three-year old, Siena’s perception of time and measure of time intervals will be different from ours (around 12 times her age at present). Two hours for her is as much of her life as a day for us. I suspect this is why I look back on my summers in middle and high school as comprising endless, lazy days. It was either that or due to never having any jobs and being a general layabout.

There’s another aspect of time perception that a coworker with a slightly older daughter told me about that we have now seen in full bloom in Siena, and that is the perception of the relationship in time between two events as having direction but without magnitude. By that I mean, Siena distinguishes between things that happened in the past versus things happening now or things that will or are expected to happen in the future, but almost universally things in the past are all equally in the past. Something that happened yesterday is as much in the past as something that happened last week or last year. At times, there is evident confusion about exactly when events occurred.

This manifests in Siena’s language through her uniform use of the words yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If something was in the past, it was yesterday. To her, yesterday means it happened. Tomorrow means it will happen.

Here are some examples of what she’ll say:

  • Yesterday when we went to visit Izzie… (actually Siena that was three weeks ago)
  • Do you remember yesterday when we we were at home and Mama was at work… (that was last Saturday)
  • We went to the aquarium yesterday (almost a year ago)
  • Tomorrow is a school day (yes, technically tomorrow is)
  • Are we going to see Mo tomorrow (in the future, yes, but not tomorrow)

Trying to answer questions about whether something happened yesterday or not always results in a dual answer: yes it did happen, but that wasn’t yesterday. Sometimes she gets upset, “but it was yesterday!”

There’s something precious about this understanding of time. Like today and tomorrow, it too is fleeting, and within a year she should have a better understanding of the relative closeness of events to the present. Goodness knows we’ve been working on it long enough. Since yesterday, in fact!

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