I recently read Sarah E. Stevens’ essay “Care Time” in Disability Studies Quarterly, in which she reflects on how her experiences as a care partner affect her relationship to time. She builds off the idea of crip time, a term which refers to how people with disabilities experience life at a different pace than abled people. Stevens’ essay got me thinking about the two years I spent as a live-in assistant at L’Arche Heartland. Stevens’ description of care time strongly resonated with my experiences as a L’Arche assistant, but I also noticed some interesting points of divergence between care time and “L’Arche time.”
First, what exactly is crip time? The way I (an abled person) understand it, crip time highlights how our dis/ability status affects our perceptions and experiences of time, and the term is used to refer to how people with disabilities experience time differently than abled people do. For example, Anne McDonald writes, “I live by a different time to you. […] I live life in slow motion. The world I live in is one where my thoughts are as quick as anyone’s, my movements are weak and erratic, and my talk is slower than a snail in quicksand. […] I need to speed up, or you need to slow down.” In “Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time,” Ellen Samuels’ reflects on how her relationship to time as a disabled person is both liberating and challenging.
Crip time also asks abled people to reevaluate how our expectations of time are shaped by our privilege. Alison Kafer writes that crip time “requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies…Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds” (quoted by Sami Schalk here).
Stevens describes care time as “a liminal place that shifts location between crip time and abled time in a complex, unpredictable dance.” In her professional life, Stevens experiences abled time, but she may need to shift into care time at any moment. She often recognizes ableism around her, and she also notices other people who live in crip time or care time. She writes, “As a care partner, I feel simultaneously part of the disability community and an outsider. At times, I am wholly aware of my abled otherness. I don’t live fully within crip time. Yet, I no longer live in abled time, either. I live in care time, located betwixt and between.”
Stevens writes that her husband Gary has Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, one effect of which is that it’s difficult for Gary to remember to take his medications. Consequently, four time per day, she texts, calls, or reminds him in person to take his meds. For Stevens, care time means that “The need to be his med alarm marks the rhythm of my day.”
And often, “Care time means no time. I work a full-time job in academic administration and I’m also an author of speculative fiction and middle-grade nonfiction. On good days, Gary engages in his own creative work, writing and designing board games. Our three children need time and attention and rides to activities. We have a house that does sometimes need to be cleaned. We have meals to make and dishes to do. There’s never enough time.”
Consequently, living in care time is often a challenge when it comes to self-care. Stevens writes, “Care time means I need to spend time taking care of myself. I struggle to get the balance right. […] I see the needs of Gary and the kids better than my own. Also? I’m frankly able to survive and stay healthy with fewer of my needs met, so there are many times my needs should be the ones pushed to the back burner.”
Stevens also notes that living in care time is a choice, unlike living in crip time. She writes, “I want neither pity nor admiration for my choice—both of those responses make me angry, frankly, because I feel lucky to share this path with Gary. He’s the best partner I can imagine having.” Although care time has its challenges, it also brings blessings. Insightfully and beautifully, Stevens concludes, “Love is an active, daily choice. I choose love. I choose to live in care time.”
I see many similarities between care time and “L’Arche time.” As a L’Arche assistant, it was certainly my experience that passing medications marked the rhythms of the day. Self-care could also be a challenge. At L’Arche Heartland, our leadership team often reminded us that it was important to spend our time away in ways that were restful and rejuvenating, as there was a real danger of burnout with the job. (“Time away” is L’Arche-speak for “days off.”) Like care time, L’Arche time also occupies a liminal space between people with disabilities and the abled world. As a L’Arche assistant, I was surrounded daily by persons with disabilities, both L’Arche Heartland core members and adults with disabilities who lived elsewhere, whereas before I joined L’Arche, there had been whole years of my life in which I didn’t even interact with persons with developmental disabilities. When I accompanied core members out in public, I was keenly aware of how fast abled people moved. Sometimes I felt like a bicycle rider being passed by a car. I would think about how on the weekend I would be able to move that fast as well, but while living in L’Arche time, my pace of life was slower and at any moment could become even slower if a core member suddenly needed additional support.
In some ways, however, my experiences of L’Arche diverge significantly from how Stevens describes care time. For example, Stevens writes that in care time there is never enough time. But in L’Arche, I found that there was nearly always enough time, at least for the tasks and activities that were built into our daily routines. As an assistant, I was spoiled: unlike Stevens, I didn’t need to work a full-time job and then come home and also worry about caregiving, cooking, cleaning, etc. Sometimes, when we were short staffed for instance, time felt tight, but typically in my experience, L’Arche time felt expansive. Rather than making me feel hurried, living in L’Arche time continually asked me to slow down.
Here’s another significant difference between care time and L’Arche time: in L’Arche time, we can easily opt out. Although Stevens writes that she chooses to live in care time—that care time is an active choice—I think she’s a little too modest. To some degree, being a partner to her husband with disabilities necessitates living in care time. Sure, she does not have to be a partner to her husband, but that’s hard! She’s in love, and she’s married with children! Even if its possible to walk away from her husband—to walk away from care time—doing so would carry enormous emotional and social costs to her. It’s certainly true that care time is optional in a way that crip time is not, but that doesn’t mean care time is easy to opt out of. By contrast, L’Arche time is. Many assistants stay for only one or two years. I lived and worked at L’Arche Heartland for two years, and I left a little under a year ago now. I do miss sharing life with the community, but it was relatively easy for me to leave.
L’Arche is weird. On one hand, it’s a residential service provider for adults with developmental disabilities. It’s a professional workplace. On the other hand, it’s a community of people with and without disabilities living alongside each other, sharing daily life together, and forming mutual relationships. That balance made for a strange and confusing experience at times. That’s why I loved Stevens’ essay. Her description of care time has helped me to better understand and appreciate how L’Arche affected my own perceptions and experiences of time, community, and life. That said, there are real discontinuities between Stevens’ experiences and my own. I have not lived in care time, not in the way Stevens has. I think, however, that I’ve experienced something similar: L’Arche time, yet another unique way of relating to and experiencing time.
Photo by Cameron N. Coulter
“Crip Time, Care Time, & L’Arche Time” by Cameron N. Coulter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.