Girl hugging mother

Taking Off the Ticking Clock

by Rachel Macy Stafford

It was while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone on a summer trip to the beach that I experienced a life-changing epiphany.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (Believe me, these were not your average sno-cones.) On this particular visit, Avery got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted when my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t hurry her.

Because I said, “Take your time, baby. We don’t have to rush.”

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those painful truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like: “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

In the days following my story’s publication on The Huffington Post, something quite amazing happened. The story was read and “liked” on Facebook 1.6 million times. Suddenly, I found my inbox filled with messages from The Clock Wearers of the World.

They wrote me to tell me how reading my story helped them see something they couldn’t see before. And on the very day they read the post, they saw the value and the necessity in slowing down as it pertained to their own life. But here’s the best part—they told me they took off their debilitating clocks for their stop-and-smell-the-roses child … for their laid-back spouse … for their elderly parent who moved at a snail’s pace … for their very own Noticer deep down inside that was continually trampled in their frantic wake. And they vowed to keep taking off the clock more and more.

Those messages filled me with such hope.

But then there were the other messages I received. They were from Clock Wearers too, but their stories were heartbreaking. With nodding heads and tear-stained shirts, they whole-heartedly agreed with my notion of slowing down. But they had learned the hard way—their second chance was nonexistent. The ones they loved so dearly were gone.

I promised the people that wrote those messages that somehow, someway, I would use their stories of regret to help others. And honestly, I couldn’t forget their stories if I tried. In fact, I find myself referring to one of those painful messages every single day. I find they give me the fuel I need to spend at least some portion of each day grasping what really matters in life.

I may be a Reformed Rusher whose got several years of Hands Free living under her belt, but I will never be “cured.” The pressure to hurry through life and check another task off the list is great, as it is constant.

As long as I am living in a world where shiny screens with endless streams of information are merely a click away …

As long as our family has places we need to go and obligations we need to fulfill …

As long as there are bills to pay and deadlines to meet …

As long as there are daily responsibilities that cannot be left undone, I will always be striving to free myself from the suffocating clock around my neck.

And there is one particular story that helps me do it every single time. Joann has given me permission to share it with you. Joann wrote:

Twenty-four years ago, I was a mother of two beautiful daughters, Jordan (7) and Jillian (6), and pregnant with my son Kellen, when I suddenly found myself single because their father wanted me to choose between him and the baby I was carrying. After my son was born, and for the years that followed, I was always “busy” with work, school activities, etc. On top of that, I was a tad obsessive compulsive about cleaning which always seemed to be my main priority—making sure the house was clean, the kids were clean, etc. I was always rushing and/or yelling at my kids.

Fast-forward nine years to March 23, 1997. I was up early, rushing around as usual, cleaning and doing laundry, getting ready to go to the mall, when my daughter Jillian came out of her bedroom and said, “Mom, you should go look at Jordan sleeping, she looks like an angel.” 

Of course, I was too busy to do that.

I told Jill to wake up her sister to see if she wanted to go to the mall with us. She didn’t want to, instead, she wanted me to drop her off at her friends house. I remember how irritated I was because dropping her off was going to take me out of my way, and I had a schedule I wanted to stick to. 

I rushed the girls to get dressed, rushed them to the car and grumbled at Jordan the entire way over to her friends. When we arrived, I handed her a twenty-dollar bill and told her I loved her. 

She said, “Love you too, Mom.”

Those were the last words we ever said to each other. Later that day she and one of her friends were killed when the car in which they were back seat passengers crashed into a tree at a high rate of speed. 

I’m am so very sad to say that it took the death of my child for me to realize what was truly important in life. While I am not the most religious person in the world, I truly believe that people come into your life for a reason. When Jordan was little she once told her uncle she came down to earth on a star—that God had sent her to me. When her uncle asked her why God had sent her, she said, “Because she needs me.”

Looking back at those words, I now believe that she was sent to me, even for that short sixteen years, to teach me how you live life is important.

It’s been many months since I read Joann’s story, but I find myself drawing strength and patience from it every day. Gratefully, I find myself taking off the ticking clock.

I take off the clock to sit on floor of my daughter’s bedroom as she holds up every single shirt she owns, contemplating which one to wear to school the next day.

I take off the clock to say yes when she asks me to come listen to the chords she learned on her guitar–despite the excruciating long pauses between each note.

I take off the clock to stand aside while she makes her own sandwich—even though it will take three times as long and make twice the mess.

I take off the clock when she shows me how she can do her own hair for school—a style that takes no less than seven minutes and resembles a bird’s nest in the back when complete.

I am not going to lie—these offerings of my time, presence, and patience often require deep breaths from me, a Reformed Rusher. But with every triumph over my former rushing ways, I heal a little more.

I once worried about the scars of a hurried life on my child, but now I know the scars of a hurried life may be deepest on me. Yet, there is something incredibly healing about letting go of the need to control everything—including time and schedule—and feel at peace knowing I am exactly where I need to be.

It is healing to feel the carpet imprints on my legs as I sit and watching her small fingers navigate the strings of the guitar.

It is healing to watch her confidence soar when she walks out of the bathroom having styled her own hair.

It is healing to hear her sigh contently as I gently rub her back when she can’t sleep.

It is healing because in those moments, time as I know it falls away. In those moments of surrender, there is nowhere else I truly need to be. There is no ticking clock weighing heavy on my soul.

I know every minute of life cannot be lived like this.

I know.

There are situations when we need to pick up the pace.

There are appointments, tardy bells, deadlines, and

common courtesies.

There is balance needed to live intentionally, but also responsibly.

I know.

But in my life right now, there is something more pressing at hand.

There must be time to wave the elderly gentleman across the parking lot.

There must be time to ask the cashier how her day is going.

There must be time to kiss the man I love before we go our separate ways.

There must be time to watch my children sleep.

There must be time to marvel at everyday miracles that cross our path.

Because when I find myself thinking there isn’t time to wait as worn out shoes shuffle across an intersection, to look into the eyes of sadness and offer a smile, or kiss the lips of the ones who saved me from my distractions, I might as well strap that ticking clock back around my neck and struggle for my next breath.

But I refuse to live my life by the sound of a ticking of a clock.

Because I’ve been educated by some very precious souls. And they’ve informed me that the sound of my own steady breath and the heartbeats of the people I love are the most precious sounds to live by.

Such sacred sounds of life can only be heard when we choose to take pause – even as the rest of the world goes whizzing by.


Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today,,, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.