by Kristina Wright
On Tuesday night, I spent my first night away from baby #2. I had not been away from baby #1 since last August, when I was hugely pregnant with #2, so this night away was a long time coming. Last August, husband and I went away for one night, followed by one night on my own. It was relaxing and peaceful, but since I had the constant reminder of baby #2 kicking me in the ribs or dancing on my bladder, it was also exhausting. I hardly slept, never able to get comfortable or stay asleep for long. I still enjoyed it, just as I had enjoyed other nights away, but I have been longing for a good night's sleep and a day/night to myself for months. Finally, on Tuesday, it happened.
It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't understand how important it is for me to get my alone time. Prior to the arrival of baby #1 in December 2009, I had an abundance of alone time. With a military spouse who was deployed several times and whose schedule when home often involved long hours and duty days (overnights on the ship), I was often alone. And I loved it-- most of the time. Then my best friend came to stay with me in November prior to baby #1 and then baby #1 arrived and then... I was never alone. Ever. Even with my husband deployed, I still had an infant in the house.
It was August of 2010 before I went off for a night alone. It was a deliberate and conscious effort to separate the "me" from the "mama"-- a night in a hotel just twenty minutes from my house. A night for my husband to be alone with the baby, a night for me to relax. It didn't go well. I didn't sleep, I was out of sorts, I felt strange and guilty. The second time I went away, I went far, far away-- to Portland, Oregon-- for five days. That was semi-work related, I had readings and events scheduled and hung out with writer friends, which I could justify as work-related. But, really, it was another attempt at getting myself back, getting the alone time I needed. Four nights in the beautiful Heathman Hotel, my body rested, my brain fed with new sights and wonderful conversations, I came home refreshed and rejuvenated. Baby #1 was ten months old and I felt like I could conquer the world as a writer, partner, mother. I was determined to go away a few times a year, to refill the well, so to speak. To feed my soul...
And then, two months after I got back from Portland, I got pregnant again. My goal to get away regularly evaporated as I faced another pregnancy and all the fun stuff that goes along with it. I did go away a couple of times for more work-related stuff-- readings in Richmond (two hours away), Baltimore (four hours away) and the Williamsburg weekend with my husband-- all with mixed results. Being pregnant and hormonal, I was physically and mentally exhausted most of the time and any time away involved dealing with other people's needs, as well. With the exception of that last night in Williamsburg, I didn't ever feel like I was truly getting what I needed for myself. Then baby #2 arrived September 1, 2011 and once again any thoughts of getting away disappeared into the fog as infant care (and toddler care) took precedence over my needs.
This time after the baby was born, even though I was making promises to go to this conference or that event, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to get away again. Two kids are more work than one kid, especially when they're less than two years apart in age, and I didn't want to put that on my husband even if he was willing to do it. But the nature of my job means doing at least some very basic promotion and event attendance and so I've had to commit to a few things, including an event at a bookstore in Richmond on Tuesday night. And so, while I was sort of reluctant to go because it involved my husband taking off work and a rather dull two-hour drive, once I was there... I felt like myself again. Checking into a hotel alone, spreading my belongings around a hotel room and bathroom, having nowhere to be until 6:30 PM and the ability to wander the neighborhood unencumbered by babies and strollers and diaper bags. Oh, it was lovely. So lovely. That was me-- that was my life-- for so very long and oh, how I've missed it.
I had 29 hours alone, from 11:30 AM when I left my house Tuesday morning until 4:30 PM when I arrived home Wednesday afternoon. Of those 29 hours, I spent 11 of them in bed, 5 of them in the company of other people (which was lovely, too) and 13 blessed hours completely and utterly alone. You cannot imagine what that is like. I know I couldn't have imagined, pre-kids, how much of a gift it would feel like to be given a day or night to myself. I wasn't in denial about parenthood-- if anything, it's turned out to be easier than I expected (I expected the Apocalypse-- anything less would be easier). But I underestimated my need for solitude. I thought it would be enough to have twenty hours a week in the coffee shop to do my work and the hours after the babies went to bed. But while those times are nice-- and necessary, if I'm going to do my job at all-- my mind is always on the clock. What time I have to be home, what time I need to go to bed in order to get any kind of sleep to prepare me for the rigors of two energetic boys. Being able to go away and not even look at the time, to wander into a coffee shop and sit there for two hours reading and daydreaming, to wake up in the morning, roll over and go back to sleep, to take the scenic road home even though I'm not familiar with it and might get lost... these are things I took for granted before I had children. And they were the things that fed my creative soul.
We make do with what we have. We find ways to create without the things we crave. We do. We have to. At least, I have to. And so I do. But that doesn't mean my soul craves it any less. And so I have to carve out those times, even if it is a hassle to plan around the childcare, even if there is maternal guilt over leaving my children and spousal guilt for putting the parenting duties fully on my husband for a time. I'm lucky that I have not only a flexible job but one that gives me opportunities to go away, as much or as little as I want or can. I will probably never go away alone more than a few nights a year, for both financial and emotional reasons, but knowing that I can again-- knowing that I have a trip coming up, that I will get a few days here and there to recharge and plan and plot and create and connect with other writers... that's my idea of heaven. That's what feeds my writer's soul.
Coming home to my family after just one night away, I felt like I'd found my center once again. I felt refreshed, more like myself. I missed my babies, even for one day, and I came home earlier than I needed to just to be there when they went to bed and to spend a couple of quiet hours with my husband. I might run away, but I'll never run far or for long. I'm a free spirit with wanderlust in my soul, caught between the family life I adore and the solitude I crave, always searching for that elusive balance between the two that will keep my domestic and creative selves happy. This week, I found it.