Phillip Luther’s Frontend Developer Experience Blog

That Thing That "Shouldn't Take More Than Five Minutes"

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"Is he right?" That's the question I'm gonna ask at the end of this little-not-little thought experiment. Given context, how heavy can 5 minutes actually be?

Linda Perez Johannessen via Unsplash

It’s Monday.

It’s raining.

I’m stuck in a work meeting that won’t end.

I’ve gotta pick up my daughter from school. If I’m late, there’s a late pickup penalty.

”Yes,” to your question about a school having late pickup penalties.

My daughter has ballet class after school today. This ballet class is no joke. It starts promptly and equates punctuality with commitment. The class dress code requires a specifically blue leotard over white tights and pink slippers.

That work meeting I’m stuck in? It’s virtual, so I can at least scramble around the house and gather my daughter’s ballet kit while dialed-in on my earbuds as the C-suite fires off question after question.

”Slightly behind, but the team’s syncing up tomorrow morning to talk mitigation plans and amend milestone dates. We’ll loop in stakeholders and post updates in the channel.”

Yup. One of those meetings.

”Let’s circle back,” I say against a backdrop of slamming dresser drawers and a screaming infant.

Oh, I forgot to mention the screaming infant? I’ve got my 7-month-old son in tow. He’s having a nap-schmap day. His mood reflects this.

I grab the pink ballet slippers and toss ‘em into the bag I’ve been throwing together. Sure I’ve forgotten something, I run through my stuff-I-need-before-leaving-the-house checklist while descending 21 slippery wooden steps toward my front door.

Ballet gear?


Diaper bag with spare clothes and bottle for the kid?





… dammit.

I cart everything back up the stairs, grab the keys, and schlep back down.



I secure the door and turn to head down the 12 additional steps to the driveway. Yup! Exterior steps, too! The last time it rained, these steps gave me a nasty fall that resulted in open wounds on my elbow and knee, bruised ribs, and ruinously ripped clothing. I cringe at the memory.

The meeting ends as one of my earbuds pops out on exterior stair 7.

I contemplate retrieving the rapidly soaking piece of aural electronics from the rain-slick steps. I glance at the kid in my arms, feel the weight of the diaper bag and ballet gear mucking up my balance, and recall that nasty fall.

Reason prevails. I let the earbud go for now.

Once the car’s loaded up with kid and kit, I take a deep breath and go back for that rapidly soaking piece of aural electronics.

”How does that piece of aural electronics hold up to rain?” I wonder. Not well, I bet. Next to planned obsolescence, water’s gotta be this particular fruit-branded earbud’s worst enemy. I scoop the thing up, toss it in a pocket to fret about later, and race back to the car.

I’m drenched but ready to roll. With crackerjack timing and luck from the stoplight Gods, I should be able to make it to the school for an on-time pickup.

Let me pause to tell you how much my 7-month-old son hates his car seat. He hates it. It’s the constriction. He’s a wiggler and a crawler and a cruiser and he doesn’t understand the difference between a safety harness and a straight jacket. He screams bloody murder if he’s in his car seat for more than 3 minutes.

We’re in for a 29-minute drive: 15 minutes from home to school, 9 from school to ballet, and another 5 minutes circling the ballet academy’s surrounding blocks, searching for a parking spot.

I brace myself and back out of the driveway. We set off.

Alas, it’s not a “crackerjack timing and luck from the stoplight Gods” kind of day.

I’m hitting every red light between my house and school. I’m hitting lights I don’t remember being there. The city must’ve installed new stoplights over the weekend.

On cue, the clock strikes three minutes later, and my son starts wailing.

It’s raining hard so I tick my windshield wipers up to maximum speed. I suddenly realize windshield wipers on their highest setting cause me great anxiety. I pity the poor little motor responsible for swinging those wipers to and fro with such frenzy.

I encounter another red light and try soothing the screaming baby boy.

”It’s OK, kiddo! We’re almost there,” I lie. I can see his agonized writhing in my rear-view mirror-mirroring setup.

11-ish minutes later, we roll up to school. It’s 3:45 p.m., which is when the pickup window closes. My daughter’s not outside due to the rain. The pickup crew calls for her over their walkie-talkies. She gets into the car at 3:51 p.m.

My head starts spinning on that “late pickup” thing. How does the school define “late?” A late arrival of a parent or guardian? Driving away with a kid after 3:45? If the prior, I was not late; if the latter, I was.

My daughter jumps in and buckles up. I bury the pickup stress and we speed off for ballet.

Baby brother’s still wailing.

The car’s gas light pops on because of course it does. We hit another red light because of course we do.

”What was your favorite thing that happened at school today?” I ask my daughter.

”Dad, did you bring a snack for me?” she responds.

What a weird Q-and-A. Alas, there was nothing about snacks on my stuff-I-need-before-leaving-the-house checklist. Dammit.

”Aw, beans,” comes out of my parental-filtered mouth. “I was running late and forgot to grab a snack. How about we make a quick stop at Whole Foods before ballet?”

There’s a Whole Foods about two blocks from the ballet academy. Something about that makes odd but perfect sense. This Whole Foods has a parking garage, too, and a sinister plan takes shape as I turn into it. What if I park, buy snacks, walk out, make the ballet drop, and get back before anyone’s the wiser? The Whole Foods parking garage is for Whole Foods customer parking only while shopping at Whole Foods, though. What an abuse of free and precious parking.

Suppressing the moral panic, I decide we’re going for it.

I hop out and grab my son from his seat. He instantly stops crying and smiles at me. My daughter pops out the other side in reasonably good spirits. I’m still drenched.

My daughter knows this Whole Foods, bless her, and heads straight for the dried fruit section. She selects a snack and we race for checkout via the beer aisle. Hmm. Beer. I’ll need a beer on the far side of this ordeal. I snag a Belgian bomber. It’s a quad. That’ll do nicely.

There’s a colossal checkout line when we get there. I spy the self-checkout area. There’s no line in self-checkout. You can’t buy alcohol at self-checkout, though.

I look at my bomber, then at my daughter, then back to my bomber.

”I’m sorry. I can only save one of you,” I whisper, putting the bottle down on a random rack of beef jerky. I do not condone the abandonment of grocery items at checkout. I feel the weight of my burdened soul. First, abusing the garage, and now not putting groceries back? I’m a monster.

We complete checkout and head for the front door.

I allow myself another deep breath, feeling a flicker of optimism. My son starts fussing because he’s pressed against my wet shirt, but my daughter has a healthy-ish snack and might make it to ballet class on time.

”Hey, Dad! Where’s my ballet bag?”

I stop short, mid-step.

Diaper bag?






Ballet gear?

… dammit.

We spin on our heels and make for the garage. A few Whole Foods crew members flash us the stinkeye. They must be on to our scam. I give ‘em a thumbs-up with the hand not carrying a wet, now-screaming infant.

We get the bag, return to the street, awkwardly power-walk two blocks, and waltz into ballet (ba-dump, tch!) just as the dancers start filing into the studio. My daughter bolts for the dressing room and emerges in the nick of time, sporting her specifically blue leotard over white tights and pink slippers.

She flicks me a tiny little wave and a tinier little smile. It’s a secret little wave and secreter little smile that melts my heart.

Warmly, I look at the unhappily wet and cold infant in my arms. He stops crying long enough to throw up on me. The kid has a sensitive tummy. I bet the awkward power-walking jostled him too much.

I happy-frown at him and start the journey back to the bowels of Whole Foods, walking more smoothly this time.

I get my son buckled in the car, then flop myself into the driver’s seat. I steal another deep breath and fire up the engine to slowly back out. Immediately, the gas light lights up, and my son starts crying again. He didn’t even make it three minutes.

I exit the garage, head for the nearest gas station, and pull up to a pump. Hopping out, I confirm I’ve got my wallet. It’s been one of those afternoons, after all. I pick my fuel grade, remove the nozzle, and go through the pre-pumping motions on auto-pilot, tapping my credit card on the little tap-to-pay plate to authorize the gas flow.

It errors.

I insert my credit card into the pump’s reader.

It errors.

My son’s crying intensifies.

I frantically fumble through my wallet and insert a different credit card.

It errors.

I turn around and glance towards the gas station attendant. She’s beckoning me from behind one of those classic gas station counters of candy, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.

”The system’s down!” she yells. “You have to pay inside.”

My head droops.

My eyes shut tight.

My shoulders sag.

My son wails.

I let a flurry of expletive frustration fly as I open my son’s car door. He stops crying and looks at me.

”Those are daddy words, bud. Don’t repeat any of that,” I explain as I lift him out of his car seat and start treading towards that classic gas station counter of candy, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.

I stare the kid square in the face. “The system’s down. I have to pay inside,” I tell him.

He smiles at me.

I smile back.

His smile fades, and now he looks puzzled.

He’s looking at me like I’m crazy. He’s looking at me like I’m overreacting, like having to pay inside isn’t the falling sky I’m making it out to be. Payment systems go down all the time. Walking 13 yards to pay the station attendant is, at most, a minor inconvenience.

He’s looking at me and thinking, “Relax! It’ll be fine! Just pay the attendant, and let’s pick up my sister.”

He’s looking at me and thinking, “Come on, Dad. Just go inside to pay. This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”

… …

… … …


Is He Right?

Not all five minutes feel equal. Technically 300 seconds is 300 seconds, but context matters. That’s why we have all these quirky axioms on the passage of time. Having fun? Five minutes fly. Doing something laborious? Five minutes stand still.

Under different circumstances, walking over to pay the gas station attendant wouldn’t bother me. Under the circumstances described above, it broke me.

Come on […]! This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

My Infant Son, Telepathically

Is he right? Technically, yes. Empathetically? Hmm.

Lemme know your thoughts.

He’s existed for 7 months, so I’ll cut him a break. I’ll be careful next time I throw out a presumptuous “five minutes” crack, though.