ach, ten minutes here or there…

If I have to leave my child one more time in the care of an ill-tempered parent, I am going to move to our secret desert island.

That’s what I thought this morning as my daughter drove away on the next leg of the car pool. It was pitch dark, as it is here in the morning in winter. The mother had been waiting five minutes for us in her car in front of her house, and we had already been late picking up at the first stop. Oh oh, I had thought, my stomach churning. And now my daughter has to be in the car with a frosty atmosphere all the way to school. It feels as if I’m leaving her to fend for herself with the wolves, for I don’t know what the other parent says to her, how she makes her feel.

On the way home, stopping for a walk with our big dog, I weighed my guilt feelings, trying to look honestly at the situation. Yes, we had been late this morning. That was our fault. Occasionally it happens. If others are late, I don’t get upset. Yesterday, I had waited 15 minutes at the after-school drop-off, not really bothered, content to sit in warmth and listen to my audio book. I don’t really care, a few minutes here or there. When they arrived at the appointed village parking lot, my daughter asked if I had been waiting, explained the delay occurred because S. (10th grade) had said she might come back with that carpool. They had waited for her, and when she hadn’t shown up, my daughter had gone looking for her. I can imagine, since she’s always socially aware, that she was the one who reminded the carpool to wait. She found S. in the cafeteria. Asked: Aren’t you coming with us? “No of course not, then I would have been by the street,” she said, in a pedantic tone. My much younger daughter felt stupid for having been considerate.

And now this morning, she would probably be getting subtly punished for the 5 minute wait, especially ironic because it was S.’s mother who had been glowering at me from the car.

My current favorite read is Queen Bees and Wannabes (Rosalind Wiseman, 2002), about girls’ cliques and girl politics age 12 and up. The author’s original advice tool is SEAL: Stop, Explain, Admit and Lock in, meaning the girl who has been hurt should stop just going along with everything, should explain her feelings, should admit to whatever she may have done to contribute, and should lock in whether the friendship will continue or take a break for awhile (depending on whether genuine understanding and communication occurs through this SEAL confrontation or not).

I thought about SEAL as I walked the dog. Yes, I had admittedly been late, thus giving the mother cause to be upset. But, does that mean we have to bow our heads and be ashamed and let the aggression invade us, damaging our day?

Punctuality is one of the cardinal virtues of German life. Not one second late are you allowed to be. Birthday parties at 3pm mean there is a line of children and parents waiting outside your house at 3pm on the dot, not before and not after. This is true for all sectors of society. Here is a bit of pithy advice for Americans working for a German company (in Atlanta):

Germans are punctual people, so punctual in fact that they expect you never to be late, ever. If there is traffic, you should have accounted for it and still make it to work on time – no excuses people of Atlanta! If there is bad weather, you should have thought ahead and left the house extra early to avoid any delays. If you’re 1 minute late, your name will be talked about as being the ‘late shift!’ Like I said, Germans are punctual and like to be on time! (Goethe does Atlanta)

So, knowing this, perhaps I am being aggressive myself by not making sure that my children are always on time, or better yet early. Germany falls at the far end of the linear vs. flexible time cultural map (Business Insider). According to this theory, Germany was one of the first countries in the world to become heavily industrialized, which affected its culture.

Imagine being a factory worker in the German automotive industry. If you arrive at work four minutes late, the machine for which you are responsible gets started late, which exacts a real, measurable financial cost. To this day, the perception of time in Germany is partially rooted in the early impact of the industrial revolution, where factory work required the labor force to be on hand and in place at a precisely appointed moment.

In other societies, life centers around the fact of constant change —  political systems shift and financial systems alter, traffic surges and wanes, monsoons or water shortages raise unforeseeable challenges. Here, the successful managers are those who have developed the ability to ride out the changes with ease and flexibility (Business Insider).

I guess there is a reason I always loved the Middle East and India. Flexible time is inconvenient (tickets for trains took days to find sometimes), but it fits with my wish for a more relaxed lifestyle, less stress, more enjoyment of social encounters.

Too many times I have had the feeling I was sending my children in Germany off to a mine field, whether with teachers or other parents. But, maybe it was my fault after all, my wish for something else. Instead of feeling sorry for myself,  I shall become extremely punctual.



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