This morning's spat swirled around Cheerios and Pop Tarts. There's something about buying overpriced cereal and cardboard pastry (likely shipped from America many months ago) that sets savage teenagers on edge. "Where did you put them?" asks Master 13, referring to Miss 15's food hiding tendencies. "Leave and I'll get it," she says, getting up to chase her brother away. "I get two Pop Tarts, then." "Mum- he's SO ANNOYING!"
It's 7.45am and I'm hosting another edition of Juvenile Jousting in my kitchen. So much for special treats - we're back to generic corn flakes and rice bubbles. No one battles for those.
The kids finish squabbling and eating and we get in the car for school drop-off. We're a block from home when I ask my son, "Do you have everything?" No. He doesn't. Back for football boots while I lecture Master 13 for the gazillionth time about getting off the stupid phone so he can get his stuff together. "You sat in the car five minutes while we finished getting ready," I say, exasperated. "How is that possible?" A friend who recently stayed with us observed, "He's a hot mess, isn't he?" Yes.
The daily dilemmas of parenting forgetful, fighting teens are a foil against the poignancy of numbered days. Something snapped when my youngest started college. That's when I could feel an internal clock tick-tocking, "Gone soon. Gone soon."
Mostly I'm grateful for each day with these individuals who share my home, my moods and my DNA. I might sob nightly tears of joy if it weren't for regular reminders playing Sherpa, chef, chauffeur and cash machine to two adolescents can be a day at the beach - complete with biting flies, burning sun and stinging jellyfish.
Tim Urban, in his excellent blog Wait But Why graphically depicted in a grid of little squares how short a human life is, even at an assumed 90 years. On a laptop, you scarcely have to scroll to see how finite our weeks are. There don't seem to be enough tiny boxes sitting 52 across and 90 down. And the days? Pin dots, but discernible nonetheless. The point is, our days are numbered and those of us past age 45 are rocketing towards the tail end.
And so it is with raising children. As a new mum, I blew raspberries on my yummy tykes' tummies, watched them fall asleep, sated on mother's milk and wore them around my midsection in a sling. I sang and danced, delirious and love-drunk inside the baby bubble. It burst during the toddler years, during toilet training, tantrums and sleep strikes. It felt like hard work, because it was. My new parent friends and I imagined these years would linger forever. They didn't.
My escape from 24/7 demands of early mummy hood was full-time, paid work starting when both babies were around 3 months old. I put on grown-up clothes, presented news on TV, attended meetings and later, led a marketing department. It was easier than cleaning barf, changing nappies or negotiating with a 2-year-old tyrant. My late husband was the stay-at-home dad. I missed much of the homework and many of its joys, too - the sweet, small moments when Child #1 laughed so hard, her face turned crimson, or Child #2 learned to ride a battery-powered motorcycle around the house.
Maybe because of time lost those early years or because of what I know will come, I'm savouring the days my tribe of three has left together. Morning spats and forgetfulness aside, I like my teenagers. They have their own opinions, preferences and independence. They also possess empathy, an ocean-sized learning capacity, knack for comedy and skill for sport.
Measuring our lives in activities rather than days further hones the perception of time scarcity. I turn 49 next week, which means I'll finally be older than my late husband, who died at age 48.
If I live until age 90 (which I never assume, but am going with for this exercise), I have 2132 weeks left. If I summit the Mount every fortnight, that's only 1066 more summits.
If I'm lucky enough to take an overseas holiday each year, that's 41 more big trips. And 41 more summers.
If my children continue playing football throughout college, I only have about 114 regular-season games to watch between both of them.
If I read 24 books a year (this is being generous), that's 984 books.
If I vote in each subsequent New Zealand general election, I have 14 more chances to cast a ballot. I have 11 more US presidential elections in which to take part.
I eat pizza about once a week, so that's 2132 more chances to gobble sauce, cheese and pepperoni on a crispy crust.
Urban argues it's not activities which ground us and give life meaning, it's relationships. In this context, if Miss 15 leaves the nest after finishing Year 13, we might have around 122 weeks together before she's living or travelling elsewhere. For Master 13, it's 226 weeks under the same roof. Mornings like today make those numbers seem large. They're not.
If I only see my parents (both aged 72 and living in the US) for two weeks each year, we have just 36 weeks left together, assuming they live until age 90. At only one week per year, it's 18 weeks.
The mathematics of time leave me gobsmacked. Numbers don't lie, but it's easy to shield our eyes and pretend people we love will always be around. It's a coping mechanism, a way to preserve paralysis - if we don't make decisions, decisions are made for us.
I'm not sure what this means for choices two to three years from now. But I can see the numbers for me and my two most important people. The grid looks small. It's nothing compared to the miniature boxes my parents and I inhabit.
Numbers say spend my most precious currency - time - listening and loving my people, because we don't have much longer to live this way.