The Time Trap


After church was over, it seemed like everybody in the ward wanted to hang around and talk. The adults, in particular, kept coming up and congratulating Kitty. But all she wanted was to get away as fast as she could.

Without waiting for her mother, she slipped out the back door of the chapel and took the long way home so she wouldn’t run into any members walking in her direction.

She tried to get upstairs to her room without having her father hear, but just as she put her foot on the first step, he came out of the little room with the Sunday newspaper in his hand. Kitty and her father called the room his “hideaway,” pretending he would hide out from home teachers and the bishopric and other Church members. Actually, Kitty had thought more than once that he was pretty good about all the people who came and went on Church business, and he was very good to the missionaries. All the more reason she had to get away from him now before she exploded.

“Hello, dear!” he called. “How did things go? Your mother told me you were made Queen Bee or something today.”

“Oh, daddy! It was Beehive class president, not ‘Queen Bee’! Can’t you ever get anything right! Besides, I don’t want to hear any more about it!”

In her room, she flounced on her bed and let the hot tears come. But not more than a dozen had fallen when she heard a familiar voice on the front porch.

“Kitty? Hi, Kitty! Kitty!”

She went to her window, and sure enough, there was Tami, pushing herself in the porch swing and yelling for her.

“Tami, I can’t play now. Do you understand? Not now.” But her cousin continued to swing and smile and call, her large hands holding firmly to the swing, her stocky legs driving the swing back and forth. Exasperated, Kitty stamped downstairs and flung open the front door.

“Tami, I can’t play now. Go home. Go on home, and leave me alone, won’t you? Won’t anybody leave me alone?” The tears coming fast now, Kitty ran down the porch steps and into the yard. Turning, through the blur she saw Tami’s puzzled face. She ought to go back, but all she wanted was to get away. Then she saw her father come out onto the porch and put his arm around Tami, talking softly to her and patting her on the shoulder as he led her down the front walk and headed her home. Kitty turned and ran for the barn.

It was a barn in looks, at least from the outside. From the inside, it was clearly not a barn, and never had been. Her mother had a large studio on one end, with wonderful skylights, and along the west wall was a little gallery of paintings she was not ready to part with yet. Her dad had a neat workshop, smelling of cedar shavings and varnish. And best of all, Kitty had the loft. Her loft. Nobody ever had a better private place, a place to play house when she was little or to read marvelous books. A place to write in her journal and share secrets with her best friend. A place to be far away from everybody else and at the same time, at home.

Today, though, her loft didn’t seem to welcome her. She looked over at the old desk her dad had refinished for her. There was her journal, neglected for who knew how long. And there was that old copy of Don Quixote that she had made a solemn vow she would one day read. She walked up to one wall and squinted at a framed photograph. Four very skinny, little girls, wet hair straggling down their necks, stood beside a swimming pool, all four holding a small trophy. Under the photo, written in ink were the words The Tadpoles’ First Victory.

Somebody had come into the barn making a lot of noise by way of announcing his presence. Then Kitty heard the noise of a broom handle knocking politely on the door of the loft. Her father wouldn’t even put a foot on the Loft ladder without an invitation.

“Kitty, can I come up?”

“But I can’t talk to you about this. I’m … I’m sorry. Wish I could.” And she did, too. She had always been able to explain things to him, just as Jenny was able to talk about anything to their mother. But this was something she couldn’t—

His voice interrupted her thought.

“Listen, Kitty? You listening up there?” He waited for an answer.

“Well, of course!”

“Well, now, I don’t want to butt in or anything, but can we talk about it? May I please come up?”

“We can’t talk about it. You don’t understand!0”

“So make me understand. May I please come up?”

She knew he would stand there politely asking until the moon rose if she didn’t respond, so she jerked the loft door open and said, “All right! But I don’t know what good it will do.” She went over to a small sofa and sat down.

“Neither do I.” He sat down in the old rickety rocking chair, folded his hands over his stomach, and sighed.

Nobody said anything for a while. One of the best things about Kitty and her father was their silences. She figured they had the best silences any two people ever had, and she’d made up her mind years ago that she’d only marry a man with whom she could have those special silences.

Finally he spoke.

“It’s about church, isn’t it?”

She hesitated. “Well, not exact—

“It’s about church, isn’t it?”

“YES!”

And you don’t want to tell me because you don’t want to say anything bad about your church to your heretical old man, right?”

“Daddy, nobody thinks you’re a heretic, I’ve told—”

“Right?” He looked straight at her.

“Yes.” He rocked some more and smiled a little.

“Kitty, I’ve been married to your mother for 16 years. I’ve been your father for 13 and Jenny’s for 11. Your Uncle Ken and I have been as close as brothers, and he’s been a bishop twice. Don’t you think I know what fine things your church does for people? And don’t you think I also know that since people aren’t perfect, there will always be problems?”

There was another silence, not such a comfortable one this time, because Kitty knew it was up to her to break it.

“I just can’t do it all!” Her voice was louder than she meant it to be. “Listen to this. I’m 13, and I’m supposed to get good grades in school, and practice my cello so I can be in the school orchestra, and stay on the swim team, and spend time with Tami and help her get ready for the Special Olympics for the handicapped plus work in the garden, ‘cause we’re all supposed to have gardens, and keep writing my journal, ‘cause we’re all supposed to have journals—and I love all of it, don’t get me wrong—and we’ve been told to learn foreign languages so I’ve started Spanish this year, and I’m supposed to go to all my meetings and help needy people and support all the ward activities and stay close to my family and now they make me Beehive class president which will mean more meetings—

“Oh, daddy I want to do it all! I really do. It all makes sense and I know it’s right. But 13’s too young to have all my time taken up. And because it’s just going to get worse. High school will just mean more work. Then there’s college and work and marriage and a family—father, I don’t see any end to it till I’m an old, old woman sitting in that rocking chair between temple sessions!” Kitty flopped onto a pillow.

“The better job you do, the bigger job they give you the next time, hum?” said her father.

Kitty muffled something through the pillow.

“And the more you hurry the further behind you get?”

The pillow grunted again.

“And even though you want to do everything just right, you never seem to do anything quite the way you want it?”

Kitty turned her head and stared at her father.

Kitty’s father had said more than once that he was like Henry David Thoreau: he needed a “wide margin” to his life. He worked very hard at his job and at taking care of their house and yard. But beyond that he was not, as he said, a “joiner.” He was not involved in the hundred and one things she and her mother and Jenny were. So how did he know?

They sat for a long time, saying nothing. Finally, Kitty said, “Mom?”

“Of course. That’s why you really ought to ask her how to solve this problem. She could—”

“Oh but dad, that’s just IT! She does everything! Everybody’s always telling me what a marvel she is. ‘How does your mother do it? How does your mother do it?’” Kitty’s voice mimicked her questioners. “I can never begin to be as organized and as capable as she is. I don’t even want to try! They ask me all the time, but I don’t know. I don’t know how she does it!”

“Have you ever asked her?”

“Oh, she’d just say, ‘Do your best,’ or ‘Make a schedule’ or something. It’s easy for her.”

“If it’s easy for her, how do you think I know about all the thoughts that are in your mind, all those things I told you just a minute ago?”

“Well, tell me, then. Tell me how to do it.” Kitty sat up on the bed and folded her arms across her chest. “Mom does it all. Tell me how to do it all.”

“She does it all, hum? She does, hum?” Suddenly her dad jumped out of the rocker, clattered down the ladder from the Loft, and was heard rummaging around in the storage room between his workshop and the studio.

“Daddy? Daddy, what are you doing? What’s going on?”

“Just a minute. Know it’s here someplace …” came the muffled answer. More rummaging and opening and closing of trunk lids. Then he was bounding up the ladder again, with something in his hand.

“Come here, over by the light.” Kitty joined him by the window. “Do you remember this?”

He held out to her a piece of white cloth. When she took it in her hand, she saw it was a dress, a tiny frothy dress, all white, with many tucks and flounces; and across the yoke in front were red and blue marching figures. It was beautiful, and somehow, she knew it had been hers.

“You looked like an angel,” her father said softly. “Your hair was blonde then, and you were all dolled up in this dress and little white shoes and white socks with—I’m almost certain—red and blue stripes matching the whatsit on the dress. It was a Primary thing, Easter, I think, and you stood right in the front row and sang every song without missing a word—three years old and you didn’t miss a word—and me sitting on the back row blubbering when you sang that one about “I Am a Child of God.” l was embarrassed like the dickens until I noticed that both of the men beside me were sniffing and honking too. Oh, your mother was so proud of you, and that dress! I guess she took a whole roll of film of you in that dress. Still has ’em someplace.”

Kitty looked more closely at the dress. Tiny stitches, many of them handmade.

“Mother made this?” Her father nodded. “But she doesn’t sew.”

“She doesn’t now. Obviously, she couldn’t do it all. She loved sewing for you, Kitten. And for herself, and Jenny, and the house. But finally she said it took too much time from other things.” He took the dress from her and began folding it very carefully.

“But she didn’t give up painting.”

“Of course not. Didn’t give up breathing, either. Your mom’s like—well—like a well that people come to, to be refreshed. But she has to be filled herself, or she’ll have nothing to give. Her painting is one place she gets renewed. Those scriptures of yours are another place too. And have you ever heard your mother make an appointment for Saturday night?”

Kitty thought a long minute, then shook her head.

“Nope, because that’s our time, hers and mine. We go out, to a movie, or to dinner, or for a drive, or a walk, or sometimes she drags me to an art gallery and sometimes I drag her to a hockey game. But it’s strictly our time.”

“You think it’s okay for me to have some ‘me’ time, even though I’m not married?”

“Absolutely. You ought to be able to take off, oh, say after noon on Saturday and not answer to anybody. Lie up here and watch the dust motes dance in the sunlight. Take your bike out in the rain. Spend the whole long afternoon getting acquainted with just what it feels like to be 13, so’s you’ll never forget. To kind of help you along with that, I hereby relieve you of your Saturday garden chores.”

“I guess mom gave up a lot of stuff besides sewing, didn’t she? I just never thought about it before.” Kitty looked again at the red and blue figures marching across the white dress.

“Sure. But she kept a lot, too. That’s what I’ve been saying. She never considered giving up painting, and you mustn’t ever consider giving up your music.”

How did he know, Kitty wondered. How did he know that of swimming and chorus and reading and all the other things, her cello was the one set apart, different, in its own special world?

“Look, Kitten, all your life you’ll be called on to do things because you have the brains and the talents and the unselfishness to do them. But you’ll have to use some of those brains to figure out how to give to others and still have something left for yourself. Now take Tami, for instance. You’ve been great with her. You’ve done things for her that her own parents didn’t seem able to do. But she takes a lot of your time. Still, she is your cousin and she does need someone to love her and work with her, so she can be every bit as much as she possibly can be, whatever that is. Now what does that brain say about a solution to that?”

Kitty got up and walked over to the window. Down the street, she could see Tami’s house. She imagined Tami helping her mother set the table, and remembered how proud she’d been when, after hours of Kitty’s help, she’d managed to do it perfectly by herself. She didn’t want to desert Tami.

“Jenny!” she suddenly said “Jenny’s old enough now, and she’s good with Tami. In fact, it would be good for her to get her nose out of that TV and start working with Tami. I could coach her in the things she’d need to know—”

“Sure you could,” her dad said. “She’s ready for that job now, just like you’re ready to take on a different leadership job.”

“The Beehive class?”

“Yep. That’s a totally different challenge—a whole bunch of girls your own age, instead of one retarded cousin. But you’ll handle it. Kitty, I really think you ought to talk with your mom. She can tell you a dozen hints about juggling these things. But never think it’s easy. It’s not, not for her, not for you. Some things you give up, some you keep, some you compromise. And sometimes you move from one thing to another because you’ve learned what you needed to learn, or given what was most important for you to give, like with Tami.”

Suddenly, from the house, Kitty heard her mom’s voice.

“Carlyle? Kitty? Where are you two? Dinner’s ready!”

“Come on, Kitten. Let’s not keep her waiting.”

“Sure thing, dad. And then after dinner, I’ve got to have a long talk with that woman. Oh, but wait—” She ran over to the window seat and picked up the neatly folded little white dress.

“I think I’ll just hang on to this for a while,” and she clambered down the stairs after her father, whistling softly “I Am a Child of God.”

[photo] Photography by Grant Heaton, Tom Pratt, and George Gruber