“‘Tis better to be alone, than in bad company.” -George Washington
When this life, strewn with dirty laundry, piled with dishes, and with three children and a partner hanging off of it, gets to be too much, I pine. I wistfully long for those years of my life spent single, alone, the matriarch of my time and energy. I wish I had held on to those mornings more carefully; you know the ones where you got up, read a few chapters, maybe write a few words, roll over and nap, enjoy a cup of tea in the sun, eat a bit, think about how to fill the hours between then and when you have dinner plans with friends.
Lately there has been a lot of ‘too much’ and a lot of ‘pining’ for those years that feel so lost to me now. Once upon a time, I didn’t even know why I was so surly. I didn’t know that I needed to be alone. I didn’t know it was okay to need that. I felt guilty, like I should be grateful, like motherhood was supposed to fill me up, oozing into all the cracks and crevices of who I was until I ‘became’ and didn’t need anymore than motherhood would bring me. If I resisted, if I tried to dam off the flow to protect parts of myself I knew I couldn’t give up, I felt the resistance, I felt like I was lying or cheating or not living up to something. But who even knows what that something is.
I swam against the currents inside myself, the tide that kept pulling at me to be alone, to create, to write. The more I did, the more frustrated I became, the harder it became to feel happiness. I pointed and yelled and blamed. Still I never stopped to listen to that whisper that I heard so often trying to coax me to just do that little bit to take care of myself. I was miserable yet I plodded along my daily checklist of should/would/could, my head in a constant fog of low level depression.
When my 10 year relationship with my ex ended I stressed over the time I would be without my children and my heart ached. Then I found myself having gobs and gobs of alone time I could fill up however I chose! I didn’t have to answer to anyone, or ask permission, or negotiate (that is, of course, after the children were in bed or when they were with her). Oh, how I sat lavishly in my apartment, or wherever I wanted, and soaked it up. At first I felt slightly guilty that I really liked my time alone and that I didn’t always miss them when they were with her. But when I started to feel like myself again, when I started to recover those parts of myself that had sat wilted and shriveled for so many years, I realized the guilt was pointless.
It felt so amazing to not have to ask permission for anything – to not even feel that pause. I made a couple big decisions, I took care of myself, I managed my (MY!) home, I fixed things, I felt like a grown up! Finally, after believing for so long that I was ‘content’, I truly felt what happiness is.
Yet, things seem to have circled around again. I’m the mother of a young child who, while happy and joyous, requires a lot of hands-on parenting and is with me 24/7. I have a partner who isn’t as intuitive as I want him to be; who even when I state a clear need, can’t always be counted on to put any effort in to help me meet it.
I find myself feeling frantic and surly, daydreaming of islands and cabins in the woods and places without phones or, dare I say it, the internet. This time though, the guilt that once caused me to push my daydreams aside, is quieter and has been put in it’s place by reality. I know what’s at stake. I know what I’m feeling this time is anxiety. I know that in order to fix it, to heal, I need to be alone, to write, to take that time.
Except, I don’t know how to be this person. I don’t know how to be selfish in this context. I don’t know how to be alone and to get what I need without worrying that I’m shirking some relationship or parenting responsibility in the process. There is a quiet voice saying “quit making excuses already!” and I want to listen do it, dear god, I want so badly to listen to it. I wonder, what will it take?