Back to school – farewell Kairos, hello Chronos

“The clock, for all its precision in measurement, is a blunt instrument for the psyche and for society” Jay Griffiths

My two went back to school this week.

It’s always a week that I greet with mixed emotions.

I feel glee that I get some peace & quiet, time to read, write, swim, or simply shop without harassment or interference. No longer having to answer ‘yes’ to my son’s “Mummy” 40 times a day is a welcome relief, or to act as referee to increasing sibling spats as they get progressively fed up with each other.

Yet these feelings are almost always equalised with a sense of deep sadness that something very rare and precious in their lives has ended, at least for a season: the season of what is best termed ‘Kairos’.

Kairos was one of the many gods of Time that the Greeks worshipped.  A female God, she was the god of reverie (what we might call ‘day dreaming’) and the god of the ‘right moment’. The opposite is her brother Chronos, the god of linear, clock-based time. Notice the telling gender distinction.

The clock is what governs our Western lives most of the year, except holidays which come along like a long awaited gasp of fresh air before we go back down to the hard work of ‘real life’. It is a very adult instrument for running society.  It certainly isn’t something that my children are born with.

My kids are a nightmare at responding to any time-driven agenda, as I’m sure yours are. My eldest, who has my Aussie husband’s laissez-faire attitude to the clock, is the hardest nut to crack when it comes to time-keeping. Her ability to be distracted by a book or by her brother’s silly antics are second to none. It wreaks havoc on our relationship during term time unless I find a creative, positive way to ensure she gets dressed/undressed/down for meals on time.

But the reason is because my eight year old creative daughter desperately needs time to day-dream, to just be.  I read recently that researchers at UCLA have confirmed this.  They have found that day dreaming, or ‘reverie’ to give it a formal term, is an essential part of brain development and of creativity.  It’s also essential for problem-solving.

I was fascinated when I read this, as it confirmed my instinct that nagging the kids to be here, do that, hurry up, come along, was against their nature and bad for them – and us.  Apparently, the Sami people in Norway are amongst surprisingly many cultures that let their children be in control of their own time. Rudolph Steiner schools are guided by this philosophy too.

It also articulated why I feel so sad at the beginning of term, despite the fact that I love my free time and space. It is because it has brought to an end what my kids (and I believe all of our kids) so desperately need – no agenda, down time, space to be, muck about, create.

Creative chaos with cardboard

The fruit of ‘Kairos’ time can be seen in this photo. In case you were wondering if I’ve uploaded a picture of junk on our garden table by mistake, I was in my right mind.  It is as close a visual representation of what happened this holiday when my daughter was given the gift of kairos time.

Here’s how it goes: husband’s new BBQ arrives along with half a tonne of cardboard; daughter decides to make a ferris wheel for her Sylvanian family (never one to attempt anything simple!).  Our five year old son, on the other hand, decides to turn it into a giant track for his cars in the garden (sadly I didn’t take a photo of it, but it was immense).

We’ve had over 6 weeks of kairos time where the clock has been put in a metaphorical cupboard and told not to show its face unless absolutely necessary (like getting up at 6.30am to get to the Paralympics Athletics last Sunday – ouch!). So it’s no wonder that it’s hard to go back to being governed by grown-up, linear Mr Clock and the tyranny of the urgent.

All we can do is try and ensure that at least one day in the weekend are without agenda, for the sake of us all.

And should a teacher complain at parents evening that my child is day dreaming too much, I’ll know what to buy for her end of term present….

With thanks to Jay Griffiths author of ‘Pip, Pip: A Sideways look at Time’ for the inspiration for this post. 

16 thoughts on “Back to school – farewell Kairos, hello Chronos

  1. Visiting via Oldies but Goodies and really pleased to discover your blog. What an eloquent and thoughtful post – looking forward to a bit of ‘kairos untime’

  2. This is probably the one and ONLY thing I enjoy about the school holidays! I’m a control freak and therefore have a tendency to get very stressed when people (my children) aren’t working to my timescales. It’s so nice for us all to breathe at the end of term and enjoy time to relax together. A lovely post Siobhan and thanks for sharing on #oldiesbutgoodies 🙂

    • Thanks S. Your Oldies but Goodies linky is such a brilliant idea. This is one of my fav old posts, and its great to dig it out again. I feel more strongly about this issue every year, esp when we hit the summer term and everything in me wants to pull my kids out of school and go tearing off to the beach!

  3. That’s a great post. Like you, I love to forget about time in the school holidays – let the kids get up and get ready when they want. Usually our lives are ruled not only by school and work, but by clubs too – football, rugby, swimming, dancing (currently in FOUR different forms), Cubs and Scouts. We ALWAYS have to be somewhere and for most of the year that includes Saturdays and Sundays too. Holidays away and school holidays are essential recovery from this.

    • Thanks Sarah. I feel passionately about this Kairos/Chronos thing, esp as I’m naturally a do-er and struggle with it myself. Our lives are so driven by the clock that is not natural for kids, and damages our relationship with them, i feel, as I’m often nagging or getting annoyed that they’re not getting ready etc. That’s the benefit of home schooling, i imagine. Something I’m wondering if we should’ve done….

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  5. so true – in this house, two of us are struggling to fit in with chronos, and the other two hop out of bed, ready for the day. I love the fact the children are doing so many interesting things at school, but am equally looking forward to a VERY quiet weekend 🙂

  6. Hi Siobhan, I stumbled across your blog from a link on facebook and have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and can empathise with much of what you have said. You definitely have a future in journalism! Glad to know that you and the family are well,Greg

  7. I so loved this Siobhan, it is fab. Very moving and has stirred up that natural desire I have to day dream but give myself a hard time about because I’m not ‘with it’ enough! I used to be likened to Mr daydream from the Mr Men but can honestly say I only do that now when i’m out walking on my own and I certainly will be more cautious in pushing the children on when they are enjoying those moments of their own too. Thanks Siobhan.

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