Ask Me the Time

“What time is it?”

I looked up at my mother’s question, the book in my left hand lowered. I turned it to glance at my wrist.


Her lips quirked. “Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s not 10:33 or 10:31?”

I looked again. “Nope,” I said. “10:32.”

She shook her head, her smile widening.

“What?” I asked. I could feel my brow wrinkling in confusion.

“That’s awfully specific,” she said.

I raised my left hand, wrist turned toward her. “It’s just what it says,” I answered. “It’s a digital watch.”

My mother shook her head again. “People don’t need that much detail,” she pronounced. “You can just say it’s around 10:30.”

My brow wrinkled further, pondering this.

In retrospect, it was true that my little plastic watch wasn’t so accurate that I could say with certainty that the time was exactly 10:32. And the measuring of time in hours and minutes is an artificial construct in the first place, a human convention on which we have agreed for the sake of convenience. In the grand scheme of things, what did it mean to ask whether it was “really” 10:32?

But that wasn’t what she was getting at, and that’s not what I learned from this exchange, which probably took place when my age was still measured in single digits.

What I learned was that, for whatever reason, “people” did not want precise answers to their questions. This lesson would be taught to me several times over, in many different contexts. And at 44 years old, it still baffles me today.