September 11, 2013

Alone Not Lonely

I've been taking part in Fat Mum Slim's Photo A Day challenge this month, mainly to feed my iphone photo app addiction, but also because it's a chance to flex a little creative muscle in a life that is currently dominated by procedure, organisation and analytical thinking. And navigating children's meal times ("I don't like chicken anymore!", "I POUR DA MILK!" So much fun.)

The prompt for Day 4 was the word 'Alone' which immediately reminded me of my friend Taylor who posted this on our mother's group page recently:

I want a day off. Alone. Just one. An entire one. At my own house where I am all alone and don't have to do a single thing for anyone else. Alone.

And doesn't that just sum up perfectly how many parents feel? We love our children without a doubt, but oh my giddy aunt, the desire to have a teensy tiny window of time alone can be overwhelming.

I sometimes look back at my single-girl twenties and wonder what on earth I did with ALL. THAT. TIME. And I would still not get around to paying bills. What on earth did I do? I honestly can't remember, but I was obviously extremely, very, enormously busy looking after myself and indulging my own needs. It's a wonder I got around to having a shower some days!

Earlier in the year I wrote about the intense desire I still have to spend time alone, a desire that was indulged by three days at the Golden Door. Alone.

I remember talking to some friends at the time who found my request to spend time alone a little odd. There were comments like "I could never leave my children for three days" or "I wouldn't know what to do with myself" or "My husband would never cope." I can understand those sentiments, I really can, but I can't bring myself to say them because, for me, they are not true. I could, I would and he did. But that's just me.

Although dig a little deeper, widen the circle, and overwhelmingly there are many of us harbouring a secret urge to occasionally run away for a bit. In my case, not so secret. And nor should it be.

Whilst the good ship Mother-Guilt is difficult to disembark, I am firmly of the opinion that it is critical to leave her vegemite-encrusted decks and give yourself time off, to remember what it's like to be you, just you. To be alone with your thoughts, to let them ramble or spin off on random trajectories, not reined in by timetables and shopping lists. To let the horse have her head and gallop wildly. For dreams to come out of hiding and be thrown into the light, imagining what they could become. A novel written, a new baby planned, a trip to Paris that you will start saving your gold coins for.

I've always been good at being alone. Oldest child, only girl, vivid imagination - my childhood laid the foundations for an adult who is comfortable buying a single ticket to the movies or sitting alone in a restaurant. I look forward to the two days a week when I work alone at home. I get the children off to school and daycare, put the kettle on for an uninterrupted cup of tea (which I get to drink while it's still hot! Imagine!!) and happily camp out in my own head for the day, working on our various businesses and periodically engaging with the world via email, social media, sometimes the phone.

Me aged 3. Resemblance to anyone?
When I first met John, he had forgotten how to be alone and for awhile it caused occasional friction between us. He couldn't understand why I needed to sometimes wander off alone and I couldn't understand why he wouldn't want to. Eventually I came to the realisation that he had been an employer, a father, a husband for so long, he had forgotten how to be Just John. Like an atrophied muscle, he had to start flexing it again, teaching it what to do. Nowadays, Saturday mornings see him champing at the bit to get out on his paddle board. He drifts away on the sea, out of sight around the headland, and dwells in the land of Just John for a bit.

I believe in the ability to be alone but not lonely. Contentedly alone. Although the contentedly bit can be hard to achieve, sometimes impossible. I hate that. Alone time and a brain that insists on being a scattered, worried mess. Like shopping for clothes with a wallet full of cash and being unable to find a single garment that suits me.

I want my kids to develop the alone muscle, and not just for the obvious fact that the quality of my alone time is directly proportional to the quantity of their alone time. Invariably they will find themselves on a train from Rome to Paris with only a novel for company, or stood up in a bar, or in the limbo between starting a new school or job and making friends. I want them to be okay with that. To know they are a self-contained entertainment unit, content with an audience of one.

"There is no friend as loyal as a book" Ernest Hemingway (shame old Hemmers didn't take the same view regarding wives!)
Francesca is growing out of her daytime naps, a milestone I've been dreading. Being around a toddler from sunup to sundown without a break is enchanting on so many levels, but utterly exhausting as well. It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to entertain them all day - an endless parade of food, drinks, outings, babycinos, books, songs with actions and swings. Oh God, save me from the swings! The two hour daytime nap was the circuit breaker we both needed.

Thanks to the magic clock, she still has at least an hour's break a day. We call it rest time. She must stay in her room until the 'sun' comes up on her clock (I set it for approx 75 minutes). Sometimes she falls asleep, but most of the time I can hear her pottering about in her room, chatting to her dolls and teddies, drawing on her blackboard or pretending to read her books. In other words, learning how to be alone.

Can you guess what the best part of being alone is? Not being alone at the end of it. Spending time by myself brings my relationships into sharp relief and, dare I say it, makes them better. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." A tired old cliche, sure. But an accurate tired old cliche.

So here's a crazy idea. Why don't we all just agree that there is nothing selfish or strange about wanting to spend time alone. That it's part of being human and doesn't need to be cloaked in an excuse. Let's just agree that it's normal and energising and inspiring. Go on. It's really quite liberating.

As Audrey Hepburn said "I have to be alone very often. I'd be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That's how I refuel." And Audrey Hepburn was a goddess. You want to listen to a goddess, don't you?

It's now 1.29pm. The clock is set for 2.30. I can hear Francesca talking to her baby doll (who is being told to close her eyes!) and I have 61 minutes in which to miss her, forget about her and be a better, rested, happier mum for her when she comes out.

I'm outta here. Ciao!

You can follow my Photo A Day challenge over on Instagram . . . (join me!)

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