~ I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind~Albert Einstein
~ I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. ~Henry David Thoreau
People pay good money for a writing retreat; I reminded myself as I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and took a swig of cold coffee. I would have given my right arm for this kind of peaceful quiet when my children were little.
When I arrived at my mother’s house yesterday for a much-needed respite from hearth and home and the sometimes thankless task of mothering, I plugged in the heater we used to have in our bedroom when we lived in the barely-heated house in the country. I lit a candle, set up my laptop with a Kenny G CD softly playing, and then went into the kitchen to start the coffee. I poured water through the coffee maker and turned it on. Nothing happened. I decided I could make do with some microwave-heated tea. I filled my mug with water and put it in the microwave, turning the switch. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Momentarily confused, I wondered at the odds of both a coffee-maker and a microwave going out of whack since my last visit. When I returned to the dining-room, the lights on the space heater were off, and I realized what had happened. I must have blown a fuse. Great, I thought, now I broke my mother’s house. I break everything.
I grew up in this house, holed out in dank and dingy cellar when storms approached, and went down alone to gather potatoes and carrots for my mother. Yet without a flashlight and not much sunshine to speak of, I didn’t relish the idea of looking for the fuse box I assumed must be situated below.
I briefly considered going home, or at least to the local library, but I’d already pulled out all my file folders, books, and manuscript, and went to the trouble of lugging the heavy oil heater into the house. Instead, I moved the heater and plugged it into the far corner of the dining-room. I set it on the lowest wattage, grabbed my keys, and headed to the local gas station, where I filled a large to-go cup with the questionable dark liquid they called coffee. When I came back a few minutes later, I was raring to go. I got through two chapters of revision and editing before I practiced my speech for next Monday.
At 4:30 p.m., three hours after I left home, despite the numbness seeping into my very bones and the empty coffee cup, I was still reluctant to head home. The thermometer on the wall told me it was a balmy 50-degrees, the same temperature in our old farmhouse bedroom that forced my post-cancer husband to move downstairs for the winter.
But the Kenny G CD was still playing, and the quiet of the house enveloped me with a sort of warmth that only an overwhelmed mother could sense. After weeks of garage sale preparations at both my mother’s and my own home, and days of hauling and selling, I needed this.
The cruelest thing a mother whose children are in school for hours every day can say to a mother whose children are home all day must be, “Having time alone is highly over-rated. I get bored.”
Perhaps that is true if one experiences alone time in abundance, but to a mother at home with little ones, or a homeschooling mother whose children are still young, it is unfathomable. I will be the first to say that as a mother of young children I was literally starving for some alone time. There were many days that began with me sneaking down the stairway in pitch blackness just to savor a moment alone, only to hear small footsteps on the steps just a few minutes later. I played the sneaky game of “just one more minute” behind a locked bathroom door, sitting on the closed toilet seat with a magazine, in an attempt to get in some reading time. Can I please have some privacy? Just one bath without a toddler in it? I pleaded at day’s end behind the same door. I clearly recall the sense of desperation I experienced when vainly attempting to leave the house for a lone walk. I cannot count how many times I took one with a baby perched in a backpack on my back or a toddler in a stroller, instead.
Time alone is highly over-rated? I think not. It is crucial to a mother’s sanity, and oh, so elusive when we need it.
Even now, with my youngest almost eight years old and a husband available during the day, I crave the time alone. After some particularly hectic days, my heart beats faster and I lick my lips in hungry anticipation of the solace of solitude. Each weekday morning I must choose between a walk with my sister or that extra hour of peace and quiet while the children sleep. I dole out the walks in selfish increments, despite the fact that I need them just as much as I do the solitary hour. I envy those who don’t have to make the choice, even while acknowledging the working mother’s same quandary between extra sleep and a morning jog. I remember, too, those days when I envied any woman what I have now; regular breaks.
I left my mother’s house at 5:00 in the afternoon, fingers and toes numb with the cold, but with my spirit renewed and refreshed. Do you think that the unseasonably cold weather will prevent me from going to my mother’s again this week? Hardly. I am already planning my escape. Only this time I’ll bring fuzzy slippers to wear over thick socks and a soft, warm bathrobe to wear over my sweatshirt. Gloves with missing fingertips. A steaming hot fat-free vanilla latte from Kwik-Star. And a hat. I can’t forget the hat.
After all, people pay good money to experience their own writing retreat. And mine is free, just a few miles away.
~ In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us. ~ Virginia Woolf