This weekend consisted of a road trip for one. For two entire days I was by myself. There were no dinners for me to prepare, no dishes to wash, no nap times to rush home for or little teeth to brush.
There were also no bedtime cuddles or tickle fights or laughs shared over the supper table.
But I needed this time away. I was craving it. Sometimes we need to be pulled apart from the people we love to remind us of their value in our lives. Sometimes we need to spend time alone to see the value in ourselves.
And sometimes we just need to eat a couple of meals in peace and quiet.
After I headed out on the road it didn’t take long before I started feeling that little ache of loneliness that strikes every now and again. Knowing I would be without my family or friends for the next 48 hours was a tiny bit scary. I wouldn’t have these people to distract me if I started feeling bored, empty, restless. It was just me. And the silence that steadily grows in solitude can be deafening sometimes, especially when you’re on your own longer than what you’re used to.
But this silence is something I like to explore once in a while. Things rise to the surface. They percolate. You get undone a little, though you don’t always realize this until later.
When I arrived at the Bed and Breakfast where I would be spending the night my heart skipped a beat. I loved it. The window from my bedroom overlooked the front yard where two large red oak trees stood, and across the road was a perfect view of the Annapolis River that flowed between me and the quaint town of Annapolis Royal. The room had beautiful, original hardwood floors and a king size bed with a folded quilt on one end and plenty of fluffy pillows on the other.
I made myself a mug of peppermint tea, broke off a piece of the chocolate bar I had brought from home, and opened my laptop. The homesickness was there, still. Cozying up right next to me on that bed. Even in this picturesque, tranquil environment that I had been dreaming about for, honestly, almost 2 years now. This is what I wanted, to be alone. But sometimes what we find in our solitude isn’t the strength or determination we thought existed.
Sometimes it’s just our weak, fragile selves looking to be loved.
I knew that the minute I stepped back into my house the next night, after hugging my boys and my husband, I’d see the crumbs under the table that needed sweeping, the fights that needed resolving, the refrigerator that needed replenishing. I knew that home wasn’t perfect, and neither was being away. There is no perfect place, no perfect state.
All we have is right here, wherever we are. With whatever emotions are running through us at the time.
So this weekend was about enjoying the freedom of having no responsibilities, but also sitting with the discomfort of being alone for an extended period of time. It was about noticing, and accepting the tug of war always occurring in the background of my life. The pull to be away, the pull to be home. The pull to be with, the pull to be apart.
I don’t think this tension will ever go away. It is the forever state of a mother’s heart. Or maybe just mine. How can I find a way to live at peace with this tug of war? As my husband put it at the dinner table last night, in-between bites of fried chicken and taters, “You know, it’s not that fun to be away from the kids,” (he was saying this in response to a comment I had just made about how I envied his responsibilities that enabled him to leave the house fairly often), “But it’s not that fun to be with them either,” he finished.
My husband is a hardworking realtor, he works long hours that often run into evenings and over weekends. And yet he is just as purposeful with his role as dad. He remembers to ask about preschool and fix the train that got broken, and rarely turns down an opportunity to wrestle on the living room carpet.
But I understand what he means. This parenting thing is hard. And so is being apart from your kids when you know they’re learning and growing and changing constantly.
I experience this back and forth pull of my heart almost every evening. When the children go to bed it is a great exhale. To finally have them asleep in their rooms and the whole house is suddenly a whisper, and my time is completely and entirely mine. I can feel my heart beat a little bit louder. But then, I long to peak into their rooms and smile at the odd shapes their bodies have made across their mattresses, and watch their backs rising and falling with each breath. That makes my heart swell, too.
Tug of war. And I’m beginning to see that there’s no quick win. All I have is the choice to either be bitter and resentful, or present and grateful, always looking for the light on whatever side I find myself.
If I am at home, I read my kids another book because that brings comfort, always. I spend one more minute in the rocking chair because that brings peace, always. I go in for one more tickle because that brings joy, always. And if I am away I read the books that inspire me. I write in my journal so that I listen to me. I practice self-compassion because that makes me stronger.
These small actions are the stars that guide me onward. They provide the light that I need to keep going. To keep finding my way through this life as mother, as woman, as human. They help me put one foot in front of the other along this very much unmarked journey. Even if everything else is falling apart, I can take these little steps. I can practicing sitting in the discomfort instead of running from it. Because wherever I run will have discomforts of it’s very own. There is no perfect state. No perfect place. But I can practice looking for the light.
Tug of war.
My dear friend who experienced the unthinkable this past year, says that one thing she has learned through her grief is that sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive — you can feel both at the same time. And if someone like her, who has lived through more pain in one year than many of us will know in a lifetime, can find joy, then I am certain that all of us can. No matter our circumstances. No matter the less than ideal situations we find ourselves in. No matter the unmet longings within us, the dreams that continue as dreams instead of realities.
Look around. What we see is our lives, for better or worse. This is what we have. This is all we have. The tug of war of our hearts, to be on our own and to be home. To be free, and to be bound to those we love.
I’m learning to be okay with that.