As I write this, I am in day two of a four day run where Steph and the kids are away and with their cousins. Having been a parent now for eight-plus years, these pockets of time are rare. It’s certainly odd to come home to complete silence, though any parent will tell you that these breaks are also quite liberating. It’s a strange combination of exhaling and enjoying the quiet and also feeling guilty for being able to exhale and enjoy the quiet while my wife has the kids. I joked with someone at work how weird it is to come home and just be able to put your phone and keys anywhere and KNOW it will be there, right in that spot, the next morning!
It got me thinking about solitude. My childhood was relatively normal. I was into sports, I ran around outside with neighbors, explored the woods behind my house, swam in the summer and rode my bike anywhere I was allowed to. It was also not normal in the sense that my sister was a pretty competitive figure skater, so much so that she went to school part-time for a while. This led to some odd work hours for my parents, who had to a) support her and b) make sure she got from point A to point B every day.
For a while there and if my memory serves me correctly, from the age of about 10 to 13, my mother was working midnight-to-8am shifts at some plastics company in Clinton for a while. Often times my sister would skate before school and my dad had to take her, then head to work himself. Since my mother wouldn’t get home until 8:15 or so, I’d have to get up by myself, get food and get myself to the bus stop for 7:30. Not normal, but I guess I didn’t know any different. As I think about it and talk about it with others, this is/was very uncommon.
I have some specific memories of this time. Once in a while, my dad wouldn’t go right to work. He’d come home for some reason, I am not sure what. Maybe to see that I’d get off to school ok. And he would bring donuts. Ahhh donuts. It was always great to have those on school mornings, but the truth was it was better to have my dad there because I felt safer. As a 10-13 year old, your mind goes all kinds of places when you’re alone, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t show itself until around 7am.
Another specific memory is hearing a loud crash and bang at the house while I was still in bed and it was dark. I was so freaked out and scared that I didn’t leave my bed until the sun came up and I literally had get up, get dressed and run like hellfire to the bus stop. Upon returning home from school, I found that the screen door to the backyard had come off it’s track and banged to the ground. That was the noise. But a little kid’s mind wanders, you know?
I think the oddest part of this was when I actually had to babysit a smaller kid. Her sister was a figure skater, too, and both of her parents worked, so it was decided between our family and hers that I was the best possible option for babysitting her. Are you kidding me? I didn’t think it was a good option. So a few days a week, I’d be on the bus with this meek, skinny little kid (maybe 8?) and the two of us would be at my house until her parents came and got her after work. I can’t remember for the life of me how we filled the time, but I was glad on the days when it wasn’t happening.
It all goes back to the solitude thing. As I grew into an adult, I found that I really loved being by myself. Of course I still do. I remember promising some high school friends that I would be the last one to get married. I was right. I even had two friends from school who were married and divorced before I even got married for the first time! There was a time when I told them I would never get married, in fact. And I probably believed it.
But times change. I guess I could have gone two ways. I could have really been the hermit who moved to Vermont or Western Mass. with all my CD’s and vinyl and stuck it out by myself in a small log cabin (believe me, the thought crossed my mind more than once) or I could do the “normal” thing and get married, have children, etc.
Meeting my wife changed everything, of course. The emotional pull of having a wife and child, as it does with most people, won out. There is tremendous satisfaction in the whole thing, of course. Knowing that you have someone who loves you and is a teammate in everything you do and try – that’s powerful. I got a good one, too. And kids…..oh kids. Nothing in life is so maddening and yet so lovely and satisfying.
So I am enjoying the rare bit of silence right now. I am enjoying it because the solitude defines, to an extent, how I grew up. I found ways to occupy myself. I found ways to be happy. I spent a lot of time in my room, inventing stuff to play or build. It’s where I developed my love for music, which I still have today. It’s where I found my love of books. A kid who was alone as much as I was at home during this time could’ve really gone sideways. And trust me, I almost did go sideways for a while there. I can’t speak to whatever prevented me from doing so. I’d like to think it was a good head on my shoulders, but I don’t think that’s what it was. I think it ended up being a few good teachers in high school who cared about me and just…..maturing. But boy, it was close to going sideways.
We all deserve solitude. But 4 days is probably going to be plenty to get the need for solitude out of my system. By the time everyone gets home, I will revel in the noise, the commotion and the crisis of an 8 year old whose Legos fall apart. The reveling will not last long and then we’ll snap back into our normal routine of parenting….. and living. And my wife, my support system, my teammate, my friend, she will be back and we will continue along our path, still relatively early in our chapters, but writing our book together.