I came up with this column idea while sitting in my car on Alki, staring at the Seattle skyline and trying not to cry. It was 9:30 p.m. on Monday, and I’d shoved my darling baby at my darling husband, announced I was leaving for a while, and walked out the door. I’d been awake and parenting since 4 a.m., and I was done.
I’ve always treasured my time with myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my friends, family, or spouse, but you know what they say: introverts gonna introvert. Unfortunately, I’ve found that being an introvert (and taking solace in the solitude I love) is just about impossible as a mother. When I handed Gabe off to Josh, the longest I’d been alone (and by this, I mean “all by myself”, not “keeping an ear out on my sleeping baby”) in the past three weeks had been the half-mile drive to the grocery store. Once. I hadn’t had time to do the things I loved without worrying about stopping what I was doing and picking up a baby in three weeks. Every time I eat a meal, I do so with the knowledge that I might not get to eat it when it’s warm, or with two hands, or without goal-tending everything on the table from grabby baby hands. I’ve learned to poop at the drop of a hat, because I never know when my adventurous dude is going to bonk his head on something and need soothing.
Pre-parenting, I luxuriated in my online classes. I’ve always enjoyed being at home, and being able to nest and study at my leisure was delightful. I listened to the music I wanted, as loud as I wanted, when I wanted. If I wanted to sleep until 10, I could. I could go to bed when I was sick, I could take an hour-long bath, I could take the dog to the dog park. I could sit in the silence of my own home, surrounded by my own messes, in control of my environment. I loved it so much.
The birth of my child changed all that. As I said last week, sick days are a thing of the past–Gabe wakes up at 7 a.m. like clockwork, and even if he’s sick, too, he still goes nonstop. While I’m typing, small fingers are grabbing at my laptop, hitting ESCAPE repeatedly. If he can’t reach the keyboard, he swats at the screen, or pulls on my toes, or reaches for the dirty tissue on the couch. I love him, and I love that he’s a happy, healthy, energetic child who isn’t afraid of his world. But DAMN I would love to have a day where I could read dense scholarly pieces before I’ve been up and parenting for 12 to 14 hours. It’s hard to parse theory while someone learns spatial reasoning by banging toys together and hooting next to me.
While I sat in the dark car, I asked the other mothers I know how they found their solitude. The answers varied. Exercise was common (gyms with childcare, yoga, running, or fitness classes), as was depending on the kindness of spouses or family members to spell moms for a few hours, specifically Grandma or aunties. Babysitters were also mentioned, but that’s an option that usually involves leaving the house and thus not really the solitude I crave. A well-loved answer on Facebook was “Pooping. I used to [do] a two-minute in-and-out, now I take my damn time.” Target or grocery shopping was also cited as a mother’s haven. The sweet mindlessness of walking up and down each aisle without a child on you or in front of you really cannot be overstated. Someone said that her mother ended up getting a horse in order to get the solitude she wanted (I envy this woman so much). For many, work and their commute was their only time alone, which sounds like the exact opposite of what I’d hope to get out of solitude.
What I found interesting was something that one woman mentioned–the guilt and almost frantic need to fit as many things into “our” time as possible. We feel bad that we’re not doting on our precious spawn 24/7, as mothers are supposed to do. And when we do overcome that guilt and get away, we’re often consumed with a manic desire to do EVERYTHING. She specifically cited a 3.5 hour date with her husband where she managed to go to two different bars for drinks, saw a movie, got a cupcake, and then split a gelato. There are so many things that having a child with you bars you from doing or makes too tricky, so when you have that freedom, you try to shove everything you’ve missed into it. We spend weeks or months craving that time off, but when we get it, we exhaust ourselves trying to take full advantage of it.
Our challenge is to find this time, to re-establish our relationship with ourselves. It’s hard, sometimes almost impossible, to remind myself of my non-mom side. But I know that I appreciate my time with my family much more when I get the hell away from them.