Last weekend I traveled without my family for the first time. While James has traveled for work regularly throughout our married life, ever since having kids I have been the one to stay put and hold down the fort. Also, I've had a nursing baby for most of the last seven years, so it has been impractical, if not impossible, for me to leave.
But when we started going over the details of having the whole family travel to Wisconsin for a family event, we realized it was going to be a not insignificant burden to get us all comfortably accommodated in the Midwest for 3-4 days, so James suggested I go alone. I protested at first, not even understanding the concept. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made—and then I booked plane tickets in record time. =)
I had a fantastic weekend. I stayed up too late and drank too much every single night. I had wonderful, far-reaching conversations with dear friends over a couple days in Chicago (I even visited the Art Institute!), and in Wisconsin I laughed, joked, tried to remember what suit was trump when we played Euchre, and made merriment with my extended family.
It felt almost transgressive, going places and enjoying myself without my children around. Having wine with lunch, lingering over dinner, staying at the bar until 2am, wandering aimlessly through the galleries of the museum, poring over tile at the Kohler Design Center. You know, doing the things I used to do, way back when, before kids. When you put other people's needs before your own, all day, every day, for years, it's a mighty strange—almost uncomfortable—feeling to spend a few days thinking only about yourself and what you want.
But it's also necessary. That's what I realized last weekend—how much I need those kinds of moments, trips, relationships that are unencumbered by small children, where deep thought can begin its work, where I can start to hear and remember myself. Even riding the train alone or walking down the street to meet a friend, or sleeping in a bed all by myself, felt so pleasurable and effortless—and let me encounter the world in my own way.
I'm a self-described ambivert: I desperately need alone time to feel settled in myself and present in the world, and I desperately need friends and social events for excitement, laughter, and connection. We have a lot of the latter in our lives but I have very little of the former, and I'm finally realizing how necessary it is to start carving out that kind of time for myself.
We have friends in Sweden who have two small children similar in age to ours. The last time we saw them, they shared that the husband had begun taking Fridays off of work—not to spend an extra day with the children, but to have a day to himself to do as he likes (which for him at that moment meant research and writing on topics of personal interest). Separately, I asked the wife whether she felt any resentment toward him for taking a small pay cut and a day off work so he can be alone (as opposed to with the kids). But she responded that she thinks it is a great idea! She pointed out that if he is happier, everyone is happier, so why wouldn't she support that? His time alone benefitted the whole family.
His decision, and her reaction to it, have stuck with me. It seems so radical and selfish—and wonderful, even life-affirming. There's something wonderful (transformative, even?) about being very clear about what you want or need and asking for it without feeling any guilt or self-consciousness about it.
I am home on Mondays with Leif and Zoë, proud of being a "good mother" for taking time off to be with them, but maybe I need a shot of radical honesty so I can say that I might rather have that time entirely to myself, for myself.
What's the trick? For those of you who are in relationships but also thrive on being alone, how do you navigate the tension between those things? Is a couple hours of alone time a week enough, or do you need more? How do you get it?
Top photo by me, second photo by random guy at La Colombe, third by Sabrina, bottom image from the Art Institute of Chicago.