I Want to Be Alone -- Maybe
Please give me some time to myself! I want it badly. So badly, in fact, that if I don't get privacy soon, I will lock myself in the bathroom. Again. While I'm in there, unable to enjoy the solitude because the kids are banging on the door asking for juice pouches, triple-A batteries, and Scooby-Doo fruit snacks, I will ask myself the following questions:
1. Why did I have children?
2. Now that I have children, how can I get rid of them -- for an hour or (we can all dream) the weekend?
3. If I can't get rid of them, will privacy deprivation lead to a peculiar brain ailment that will render me unable to hear myself think, permanently?
Certainly, I never thought my children would be a source of undiluted joy every second of every day. I knew having kids required work. I knew it involved self-sacrifice. But no one ever tells you that after you give birth, you won't have a single, solitary minute to yourself for the next 18 years. That scraping together a few paltry minutes of solitude every now and then is, in its difficulty, akin to cleaning up baby food with a rake. I regularly exhaust my limited organizational faculties setting up playdates for both of my kids, at the same time, at other people's houses. Working out the logistics of getting the girls out of the house for an hour takes two hours on the phone.
In other cultures (just as it was for previous generations here in America), when parents want a break, they shoo the kids out the door and instruct them to come home by dark. My mother would send my sister, my brother, and me out of our suburban New Jersey house every afternoon when we got home from school, if the weather was nice, and on summer evenings after dinner. We'd find the other kids on the block (they'd been kicked out of their houses, too) and play running bases until twilight. I'm not exactly sure what my mother did during those evening hours alone, but whatever it was, she didn't do it with us.
But we live in a different era. All of my kids' activities are supervised. An adult -- a teacher, parent, coach, babysitter, grandparent -- watches every second of their day. Has since birth.
Compounding that, my daughters and I live in New York City, where sending your kid out to play after dinner without elaborate supervision would result in a visit from a nice person from social services.
So at ages 9 and 6, my girls have never known the wonders of real solitude, nor do they have the desire or instinct to seek it out. My privacy deprivation is a by-product of their ignorance. Whenever I try to kick them out of my room, saying (begging), "Just give me five minutes to rest," they don't see why I can't chill out with them in the bed, too.
This week looks bad. But next weekend, the kids have a sleepover at Grandma's. On Saturday evening, I'll drive an hour and a half to drop them off. On Sunday morning, I'll make the same three-hour round trip to pick them up. For their 18-hour sleepover, I'll spend six hours on the road. Adding up sleeping, driving, and parking time, I will wind up with a grand total of four solid hours of conscious privacy.
What to do? I could make plans with friends, but the whole point is to be alone. So I'll take a hot soak with the bathroom door wide open. I'll eat food the kids hate. I'll lie down on my bed and stare at the ceiling for an uninterrupted period of aimless, thoughtless spacing out. Ideally, I'll achieve a state of relaxation that will carry me through the rest of the week, or month, until I can carve out another small helping of seclusion.
When I'm finally by myself, calm may come.
But it will be a fitful peace. Despite the satisfaction of being alone, when the kids are away and the house is quiet, I miss them. I'm surprised by this reaction every time. Missing them is the downside of downtime. Yet another among many maddening (and confusing) paradoxes of parenting: Once they're gone and I've realized my dream of aloneness, I can't wait to get them back.
Naturally, as soon as I pick them up and they start fighting about who gets to choose which tape we'll listen to and asking how long it'll be before we're home and if we can stop for french fries, I count the minutes until I can ditch them again.
Contributing editor Valerie Frankel's most recent novel, The Girlfriend Curse, was published in March.