I was walking by her darkened room when I heard the call.
"Daddy, can you help me?"
My six-year-old daughter was standing in the middle of her room, in the dark, turning off and on her new toy - a watch that has a light.
"Sure, whatcha need?"
"Daddy, I can't figure out this watch. How can I tell what time it is?"
I turned on the room's overhead light and we sat down on her bed. She can tell time on a digital or numerical clock by simply reading the numbers:
"It's one, two, seven... it's one twenty-seven." But she hasn't been taught how to tell time on an analog clock or watch, to determine what indicates time based on the hands of the dial. I envisioned another of those wonderful parent-child moments that last a lifetime - like when I taught her how to spell her name, or ride a bike, or button her shirt, or pick a lock, or hot-wire a car. I would teach her how to tell time - and it would stay with her forever.
"Alright, see the numbers on the face of your watch. There's 12 of them, right?"
"Okay, when the little hand is pointed toward one of those numbers, that indicates the hour. The bigger hand indicates the minutes. And the little thingy that's moving pretty fast indicates the seconds."
"Whoa, whoa, Daddy, I don't see any hands on this watch," she interrupted.
"No, nobody's hands," I chuckled. "That's what you call those little metal thingies pointing toward the numbers - hands."
"They aren't shaped like hands. Why are they called hands?"
"Uh, I don't know. I guess they're called hands because... well, uh, I guess, er... because that's what they're called. Let's move on.
"So, when the little hand is on the five and the big hand is on three, it's 5:15. See," I told her, looking down at her face. Her vacant, open-mouthed gaze was eerily familiar - it was the same look my science teachers saw between grades 5-12, and my wife saw when she tried to explain to me why all of our children's birthday parties must have a theme with matching plates and napkins.
"Whaa? What are you saying? Why is it 15 when the hand is on the three. The time should be... three," she reasoned. "And the little thing, I mean hand, isn't on the five, it's a little past the five."
"No, no, no," I countered sagely. "See, time on this clock is measured in intervals of five. See, one is five; two is 10; three is 15; four is 20; and so on."
Again, the look.
"Whaa? What is an interbill?"
"No, interval," I answered. "An interval is a segment. This clock shows the time in segments of five."
"No, Daddy, you said that the little thingy that goes fast is the seconds. You've got it all wrong," she said.
"No, that's seg-ment, not sec-onds. And, yes, the little thingy that goes fast does measure seconds. The numbers are in seg-ments of five," I said.
"See, one is five; two is 10; three is 15; and it goes on to 11 being 55, and 12 is 60. Then, it starts all over again in terms of the minutes."
I got a whispered "huh?", accompanied by the look.
We both paused, looking at the watch I held in my hand, trying not to contract vertigo.
"Daddy," my daughter said calmly, breaking the silence of confusion.
"Yes," I uneasily answered.
"Why can't one be one, two be two, like that? That would be easier. Who made it that way, God?"
"I don't know," I said. "I just don't know."
I gave it one last try. "Alright, see, right now, the little hand is just a little past the 11, right. That means it's the 11th hour. Then, the big hand is on two. That means 10. So, it's 11:10 a.m.," I said. "Does that make sense?"
"Daddy, I know what a.m. means," she replied.
"Oh, really. What?"
"Am. It's one of our spelling words this week."
"You're right. It spells am," I said, deflatedly, chin on chest.
Someone famous - possibly that Balky guy on "Perfect Strangers" - once said, "time is a great teacher."
Good, because I'm not, and I'm counting on it to teach itself to my children.
Len Robbins is the editor/publisher for The Clinch County News.
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