Each morning I wake up to someone staring me squarely in the face or climbing on top of me. That someone is not Channing Tatum. It’s a smiling 5-year-old in her underwear with raging morning breath.
After being squeezed into a million pieces for several minutes, the littlest one wakes, and I go into his room hoping and praying his diaper stayed on through the night. I’m snuggled tightly, sometimes groped a good bit, and it’s all before the sun comes up.
These moments are good, and they are fleeting. Sometimes I want to revel in them so fully that I let the day’s obligations melt away — school, work, making lunches, being on time, whatever. Sometimes I watch old videos of my daughter, from when she was first putting together sentences, and I can’t believe how much she’s grown or that she used to be that person who stared at me with wide open eyes and wobbled everywhere she went. I want to slow it all down, let it melt around me, and breathe it all in, it’s ooey-gooey goodness. Sometimes I don’t mind the intensity of motherhood, not a single ounce of it, and I can be content draped in body parts that aren’t my own.
But there are other times, when I am so constantly covered in piles of people, that it makes me feel suffocated. And although I’m hardly ever alone, I’m still lonely. Because there are two kinds of loneliness. The kind that comes from being alone and alone often, and the kind that comes from rarely being present with yourself. Mothers know this kind of loneliness, and I am not an exception. Sometimes I find it’s my independence, myself, that I’m missing.
Though I’m allowed a bit more personal space now than a few short months ago, when life was a constant game of nursing and leaking breasts and no sleep, being truly alone is something I haven’t felt in a very long time. My daughter is now in kindergarten, the baby takes a long afternoon nap, and he goes to a home daycare one or two days a week.
But as a mother, I’m still never really alone. I don’t mean for an hour or a day. I mean having the sense that I control my destiny, that the day could take me wherever I want it to go. I mean having freedom. Personal, emotional, wide-open freedom and knowing who I am, rather than having other people make up all the pieces of me instead. I haven’t been alone like that in a long, long time.
Feeling that profound independence used to be the thing that made me tick. I could lose myself in it, and I loved that feeling. But it doesn’t really exist now. There is always a spouse lurking, a baby smiling or fussing or throwing food, and a kid asking a hundred questions a minute. I haven’t worked without being exceedingly aware of the time and making sure my phone was a few inches away in case the babysitter or the school nurse or my husband calls because he couldn’t find his keys. I haven’t had drinks with a friend without worrying about the consequences, because even a minor hangover will inevitably ruin my life the next day. I have seldom thought about what I actually want to do today, tomorrow, or the next day amid the other wants and needs and lessons and priorities of my family. I haven’t lost myself in anything in a long time because I’m the centerpiece that holds my family together, and I simply can’t veer too far off track.
The truth is, sometimes the thought of being on my own entices me, probably a bit too much. And I know it shouldn’t. I know that’s wrong and probably makes me a shitty parent. I also know that “the grass is always greener.” But sometimes I think about what it would be like if I had my own apartment to go to whenever I pleased. And in this fantasy, I think about the colors of the walls, the office, the kitchen, the bathroom, and how I would decorate them. I think about earthy paint colors, and shopping at Target and Home Goods for little birdcages and door stops, and a nice hardwood floor without blocks that impale my feet, and an endless timeline of planning and doing. I think about what it would be like to make all my own choices, no arguments, no expectations.
When I chose to embrace motherhood with all that I had, I decided to be this version of myself that was not just one independent person, but a part of something much bigger — a piece of a puzzle. It is the evolution of all evolutions because it doesn’t happen at once. It is constantly shifting and molding and doing your best so that the puzzle pieces still fit together. And at times, it can feel like they don’t. This puzzle piece version of myself is good in many ways. She is more responsible than she once was. She’s even sometimes on time. She only drinks to excess in times of stress (and tequila at weddings only). She might be a much better person than the person who was alone and living only for herself. Actually, she probably is. But the person she is, is made up of so many different things, and most of them are only half-truths because they aren’t always what she is. They’re what she has to be so that the puzzle doesn’t fall apart.
She also wants to remember how to be fiercely alone, how to serve her soul and how to get lost now and then. She wants to create, she wants free time, she wants spontaneity, love, sex, friendship, and staying up late. She wants to sit in coffee shops for hours until they are closing, take long baths, write for hours, and stare at the ocean. She also wants to be a mother. And even though she already is, the other pieces of her still mean something. Feeding the deep cavernous places of her soul still matter. Maybe not all the time, but they do.
It’s a luxury to have this family always by my side, to go through life with them. This much is true. But sometimes I think, I just don’t know what it’s like to be alone anymore. I wonder who I would be if my every move wasn’t already mapped out for me. And while I love my family dearly, sometimes I want to remember how to be by myself, or remember who that even is.