Thoughts on Being Alone
Recently, for the first time in a very, very long time, I spent an entire week alone in our home.
I wasn't completely without company. (The dogs were here.) But for the most part, it was just me, my thoughts, my work, my to-do list, some audiobooks, and hours of bingeworthy commentary on season 2 of Westworld.
Jason and Isaac were in Indiana to see family and go to the Indy 500. (Jason's dad has season tickets. Attendance is a huge tradition, and Jason has probably only missed two races in the past 15 years.) I've been several times, and it's an absolute blast.
But this year, mostly for work and financial reasons, we decided it would be best for me to stay back and hold down the fort.
Going into the week, I mostly had visions of blissful, peaceful rest and relaxation. I'd walk the dogs when I wanted. I'd work out more. I'd meditate and enjoy the quiet. I'd linger longer over my coffee and journal. Surely I'd crank out at least five blog posts and for breaks, maybe cook a scratch meal or two. I'd watch movies and TV Jason isn't into. The house would be so enviably tidy.
Some of those things really did happen: The dogs enjoyed more walks, I managed three yoga classes in one week and one blog post (this one). The house stayed super clean and quiet. I still didn't cook anything, though I did manage to assemble a nice little cheese plate (for three different meals). I also saw some good friends, went to a 3-D movie by myself on a Friday night and had buttered popcorn and a margarita for dinner. I finished all my errands early and planned for every June event we have on the calendar. (Bring on the graduations, births, christenings, birthday parties, and school vacations: I have a closetful gift bags, and I'm not afraid to use them.)
To be honest, when faced with an unstructured day, I'm pretty good at filling my time. I also enjoy being by myself for long stretches (I'm talking hours here, or even a few days). So for the most part, this unicorn week alone turned out ok.
But now that I'm a parent, it also managed to bring up some new and complex thoughts. Here are a few things that happened:
Relaxed, but Not Settled
I am used to being woken up by a tiny human crawling into bed next to me at 6 a.m. Most days, if the sun is up, he's already ready to party. There is no gentle ramp-up to the day's events. Instead, each morning brings unpredictability: There could be soft, gentle, sleepy snuggles. Or, more often, there are demands for TV, piggy back rides or a game of chase; playful kicks that unintentionally knock the wind out, some inadvertent hair pulling (ok, lots of inadvertent hair yanking) and that eyelid-prying thing kids do that I'm convinced has been blueprinted into every small child's muscle memory since the dawn of civilization. In short, my maternal body becomes an object to be manipulated in ways I'm not entirely ready for in my first five minutes of consciousness.
Yet, by day three of waking up on my own time and alone in my bed this week, I realized how much I missed the basic and unmistakable feel of my son: His warm little morning breath, the sweet little kiss he always bestows upon my cheek before wilder shenanigans ensue, how he tucks his feet bare feet between my pajama-clad knees to warm them up, and how he gazes straight into my heart when he lays his head next to mine on the pillow. It's a quiet sense of absence that's both predictable and unpredictable: A parent's realization, not that someone you love is away, but that an actual part of you is currently missing in action. Like a phantom pain, I feel him here, almost as an extension of me, yet I know he is not. That dissonance makes, not for sadness, but for a slight sense of natural imbalance: a constant knowledge of what isn't, yet should be.
With all this extra time to myself, I thought I'd do more. Instead, I did the things I normally do without a sense of urgency and used the extra time to relax. Take journaling, for instance: I thought I'd retire early and have enough head space before bed to reflect and write down all the thoughts and feelings I'd accumulated over the day. Instead, though, I used that time to catch up on some shows and listen to some books — letting someone else's voice reading aloud to me through my phone eventually lull me to sleep.
Before this time away from my family, I was hard on myself for not having a more structured and relaxing nighttime routine. There's so much dialogue these days about needing to turn off the TV, minimize distraction and have quiet before bed. And although I don't mean to contradict that healthy advice, when given every possible choice (as I was this week) I still went with the impulse to go on intake mode.
I used to blame this tendency on being a parent: I thought I was choosing to forego jotting down the day's thoughts because I just didn't have the emotional energy for it after work and family tasks were completed. But left to my own devices, I've discovered it's not that at all: I simply love indulging in story — being transported to new worlds and hearing about other people's lives, fictional or non-fictional. For me, it's a welcome escape — an adult version (or maybe an English major's version) of a lullaby.
Also, I have this blog. So, journaling? Check already.
Ready for Re-Entry
It occurred to me that the last time I spent an entire week or more living alone was in 2009 when Jason deployed to Afghanistan for nine months. It goes without saying that I feared for his safety every day during that time. Yet, I believe our human nature makes it possible to tuck such fear of the unknown into a box for safekeeping so we can move forward with everyday life. That said, there were things I liked about being alone then, and I still appreciate them now: quiet, unstructured days I can fill however I want, said clean house, small meals, my favorite shows on the big screen.
Jason and I have always missed each other when we're apart. but it wasn't necessarily sadness we felt back then, or that we feel now. Instead, we've talked about how absence from one another results in a sense of general unbalance for both of us: the idea that, although everything is fine, something's not quite right. Although I'm adept at filling my time when Jason is away, his presence in my routine helps me feel more grounded — more anchored to my spot in the world. And now with Isaac in our lives, that sense of balance has shifted. With so much of my time weighted towards him, it's only natural to feel both a sense of everyday lightness and instability when that weight is lifted so dramatically. So I've appreciated this rare time away, but I'm also 100% ready for us to all be together again, weighty and wonderful as that will be.