Almost Time

I’ve been wait­ing for Eliz­a­beth Stick­ney and Gary D. Schmidt’s Almost Time for quite awhile. Seems appro­pri­ate — it’s a book about wait­ing, after all. I read very ear­ly drafts of it years ago, so long ago that I can hard­ly recall details — only that it’s about the mak­ing of maple syrup. What I dis­cov­ered upon read­ing it in pub­lished form is that in addi­tion to being about the mak­ing of maple syrup, this book is also about the solace found in wait­ing and work­ing together.

The book opens with Ethan sit­ting at the kitchen table look­ing some­what dis­ap­point­ed in a stack of pan­cakes that his father has placed before him. There is apple­sauce on top. Not maple syrup. Which means, Ethan knows, that the syrup has run out and it is almost time for sug­ar­ing again.

Almost Time is a neb­u­lous time — espe­cial­ly for a child. It seems like it is right around the cor­ner, yet it’s some­how always out of reach. The wait­ing is extra hard when you don’t know how long it will last. And when you’re wait­ing for some­thing sweet like maple syrup, you can prac­ti­cal­ly taste it…and yet you also won­der if you’ve for­got­ten what it tastes like.

I recent­ly read this book to some kids new to maple syrup. They’re new to our coun­try and our pan­cake and waf­fle ways. They’ve now had maple syrup, but they had no idea it came from trees.

Which trees?!” they asked, incred­u­lous. “Maple trees,” I said. “Like the big one in my backyard.”

That huge one by your gar­den?” they asked. 

We tap that tree some springs. Con­di­tions have to be right — the tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions need to go below freez­ing at night and above freez­ing dur­ing the day before the sap starts run­ning and we can har­vest it. But the years in which the con­di­tions are right are near­ly over­whelm­ing in terms of the amount of sug­ary sap there is to process. We are well stocked with maple syrup at our house.

Not so at Ethan’s house at the end of the win­ter, which is when this book opens.  As the pages turn, we watch the days grow longer and the tem­per­a­tures grow warmer…but things change slow­ly. So slow­ly. Ethan eats his corn­bread the next Sun­day with no syrup, and his oat­meal with raisins and wal­nuts (but no syrup) the next, and eggs and toast the next — no syrup in sight.

The wal­nuts in the oat­meal give Ethan some­thing else to wait for. He bites down on a wal­nut and dis­cov­ers his tooth is loose. His father inspects the tooth and declares it will fall out before long.

How long?” asked Ethan.

About as long as it takes the sap to start run­ning,” Dad said.

The kids I read this book to know all about loose teeth. We had to take a slight inter­mis­sion in our read­ing so I could hear the sto­ries about their lost teeth. And how long they had to wait for those wig­gly teeth to come out. These are kids who know vis­cer­al­ly what it is to wait. They are inti­mate­ly famil­iar with Almost Time, which some­times stretch­es inter­minably long, so long that you won­der if the wait­ed for thing will actu­al­ly occur.

Kids every­where are doing the hard kind of wait­ing these days — the kind where there’s not a defin­i­tive end in sight. We’d like to say its Almost Time to see grand­par­ents, friends, and teach­ers again. We’d love to tell them it’s Almost Time to stop and play at the park again, to go to school again, to leave the house again. But not yet for most of us.

Not Yet Time and Almost Time stand side-by-side. We are still in Not Yet Time on so many of the things we are yearn­ing to return to.

Ethan even­tu­al­ly los­es his tooth, and the sap final­ly runs. Ethan and his father are busy boil­ing the sticky stuff down to maple syrup for Ethan’s break­fast plea­sure. The boil­ing process takes a long time — they’re back to wait­ing — but they do it togeth­er, which makes it sweeter.

This is what I hope and wish and pray for fam­i­lies with lit­tle ones in this extra­or­di­nary time in which we are liv­ing. That the wait­ing to get back to all the very impor­tant things like extend­ed fam­i­ly, school, friends, activ­i­ties, etc., is some­how made sweet­er because we’re doing it togeth­er. It’s hard work, all this wait­ing and social dis­tanc­ing and stay­ing home and stay­ing safe. Impor­tant work, too. The mes­sage of Almost Time is that it’s good to work and wait togeth­er — a time­ly theme for our life just now.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments