"When's dinner?"


"When I get back from dropping your sister at dance class."


"Can I eat something now?"

"Have an apple if you must, but otherwise wait until I get back for a real dinner."

Honk. Honk.

"I can't wait, I'm starving!" said the child, but she grabbed an apple and went upstairs. Her mother picked up her keys and went out to the car.

The dancer was sitting in the passenger seat. She had been waiting.

"Darling," the woman said pleasantly. "Don't ever honk the horn at me again."

"I thought you might have forgotten me."

"Have I ever forgotten you?"

"Um ... yes?" She laughed. "I don't know. But you were taking so long! I was waiting and waiting."

Yes, well, to be a young person is to wait. You can't drive, you can't cook, and you are not master of your own schedule. You are at once emperor and serf; others may do the work of meeting your needs, but you are a slave to their timetables.

At the mercy of teachers you must wait until class is dismissed. At the whim of bus drivers or parents you must wait to be retrieved from school, and wait while other people are dropped off first. Sometimes you have to wait several times during the same trip home, as your harried parent drives from your sister's doctor appointment to your other sister's physical therapy session to your brother's sports practice to another sister's dance rehearsal and possibly to the airport to get your eldest sister, if she happens to be coming home from college.

Drive, drive, drive. Why can't there be jetpacks? That's what you'd want for Christmas, if you could: a jetpack. You can't wait until Christmas. You can't wait until your birthday. But under the thumbscrew of the calendar, you must. Wait wait wait. Why can't it be spring vacation now?

"Dinner!" your mother calls, finally, but does she mean it? No, first you have to do a little more waiting.

Even though you are famished, you must wait to start eating until everyone has been served and grace has been said. You must wait your turn to talk at the table, even though your anecdote is way funnier than your brother's endless description of last Sunday's episode of "The Walking Dead," which you can't wait for him to finish because it is so gross. Then you must wait for dessert until everyone is finished, which will be an eternity because one of your siblings keeps trying to hide her mushrooms instead of eating them as she's supposed to do.

The next morning, you are first in the car while everyone else is packing lunches and getting their coats on and there you sit, waiting.

How long does it take to put on a coat? It's as if there is a conspiracy to squander your youth.

"I've been waiting for, like, 10 minutes," you say when your mother and sisters get in the car. They are not sympathetic, but why would they be? They weren't the ones waiting.

"Look," your mother says, "the crocuses are coming up."

A sister says: "I can't wait until spring."

Another sister says: "I can't wait until summer."

"Are you kidding?" you say. "I can't wait until the weekend."

Unfortunately, you know you will.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@ washingtonexaminer.com.