It’s a good thing the kids all went back to school today because I was getting very close to poking each one of them with a barbeque fork and yelling, “For God’s sake, get out of the house for an hour; you’re sucking up all my AIR!” Between snow days, sick days, and holidays, I haven’t had an instant alone for over a week, and that makes me twitchy.
It’s been hard enough adjusting to having Spawn around at all the wrong times – home in the morning and gone at night, what with his college and work hours – but having the other two wheezing, sneezing, watching lame TV shows, and drinking up all the orange juice has been a little jarring. It’s a lot easier to feel generously loving when they’re regularly gone for a little while – it puts a dab of healing time over the scratch of annoying quirks, probably on both sides.
I know there are lots of people who need to be with other people, even in crowds or public areas where they don’t know anyone, or they feel lonely or uneasy. I’m not that way. I’ve always liked silence and time alone. Loneliness is not an inevitable result of being without company for me, and sufficient time alone is something I’ve missed since I got married.
When I first got married, it seemed like the universe had increased in volume overnight; like there was some strange white noise machine that was suddenly amplified just beyond my tolerance level, and I couldn’t focus or concentrate as well any more. Part of it was simply due to living with another human being who expected attention and had his own personal noises of existence during my previous quiet hours, and part of it was the effect that sharing a life had on my inner ability to cultivate silence and contemplation.
It took a while for me to consciously zero in on what was causing me to feel fractured and what I should do about it, and it took more time for me to get the point across to my husband that I was not being hostile, I just needed some time to be alone. I don’t think that he really gets it now, as he is one of those people who needs constant company, but he seems to accept that I need privacy occasionally.
Babies, toddlers, and small children don’t get it either. I think it has to do with the whole egocentric universe they inhabit -- if they want company, their company is wanted in their minds, and any other choice is aberrant and hurtful and wrong. It was really hard to give up the enormous load of self-disgust and maternal guilt that I larded onto myself for wanting to get away from my children, and it took longer than it should have for me, but I’m glad I did it. I found that doing so was yet another lesson my kids needed to learn and have made good use of.
Teenagers, though, understand it, possibly because they want to be independent of their families and spending their social time with peers, not parents. So, they understand going into a room and closing the door, and they feel fully justified in sounding resentful and annoyed when someone interrupts their private time. They rarely feel guilty for wanting to be apart from family members, a lesson I understand differently from this side of that teenager’s door.
When I have time alone, I can rest emotionally, drift a little, and begin to listen to the sounds of my own existence. I know that we are never really alone, but we can be without the intrusions of others, or the possibility of intrusion by others, and that’s pretty much the same. As I sit here now, pausing between sentences, I can think about what my own life sounds like.
I hear clocks ticking, and that makes me want to watch dust motes traveling on sunbeams. My parrot is thoughtfully picking through his seed dish and clicking his beak, almost the way someone would sigh or hum or tap a finger on a tabletop. I can hear the computer drive giving an occasional rumble, which is eerily like the sounds of digestion, auditory symbolism; there’s a sound of thermal change, contraction or expansion in some metal work near the windows, pinging. My fingernails chime on my coffee cup when I put it down after taking a sip. I can hear the sighing breath of melting snow, half in relief, half in annoyance, as if the phase change is slightly unwelcome but understood to be fated. This is my flotsam time, when I drift on the tide and don’t ask why or where.
I know that in the next moment, I’ll start driving my life again, in stages. Maybe I’ll start by thinking some soothing philosophical thought which is not necessarily deep or profound, but has a possibility of an answer, and that will change to thinking about my family members and myself, and then to time, and then to chores, and the noise and needs of the business of living will reoccupy my thoughts and cancel out the sounds from merely being in the moment.
Which is OK, too, because I’ve just realized I have TWO barbeque forks, just in case.