Finding Self

When my son went off to sleep-away camp, all proper parents asked me if I was lonely, if it felt weird to have him gone. The expected parental response was, “Yes. It’s so odd, so quiet without him.” But the truth is, I’ve found myself these past ten days. And the truth is that it feels as if he’s only been gone three.

In these days, I’ve stayed up later and slept in longer. I’ve worked without interruption and then slid off into a nap. I’ve answered to no one except my own impulses, and I haven’t felt this freedom and calm since becoming a parent.

And I’m scared to give it up because in this looseness, I don’t anticipate. I don’t plan ahead or slide into preventative sleeping. I’ve found the moment, found in me what I most like, and I want to cling to this sensation.

But I’m scared it will vanish when my son gets off that camp bus. I’m scared that I’ll slide right back into being a parent and that I’ll forget how to be me.

I envy those who can be both.

Tonight I think of staying out really late because I can, getting drunk, coming home and leaving the lights blazing, turning on the TV and watching a movie, maybe all night, and not caring about tomorrow. Thinking like a parent means always caring about tomorrow, means going to bed at a reasonable hour.

The fine print of parenting.

Everyone talks about the love and the sacrifice, but where are the memos on keeping hold of ‘self’?

Yes, parenting has introduced me to a different version of self, but parents always talk about that. We know about that. We never deny that. This is something different. This is what parents are shamed into not saying.

When I don’t think like a parent, I imagine I can always sell my home, pack a few changes of clothes, a camera, and my laptop and fly to Europe. I won’t need much. I’ll work in a store. Or teach English. I’ll earn just enough money for shelter and food. Hand to mouth.

I feel no anxiety when I live in this picture. I’m always afloat. I’m never homeless or unable to pay for healthcare in my old age.

But when I think like a parent, I get anchored in a lust for stability. I must own this home forever, for it is my son’s home, his link to all he’s known, the home of his memories. And I can imagine myself old and feeble and unable to find the way to care for myself.

When I don’t think like a parent, I’m ageless, and when I do, I’m grounded in reality. It’s quite a dramatic shift.

This tug-o-war of thought startles me. Until this week, when the noise settled, when I slowed the pace and sat with myself, I didn’t know how far parenting had taken me from me, a ‘me’ perhaps I never really knew.

Though foggy memories won’t confirm or deny, I sense I’m feeling my true link to self for the first time, for when younger, before becoming a parent or a partner, I was in a constant state of becoming, a different state of becoming, looking to what lay ahead with huge expectation and desire. In that state, life is anticipation. You’re never fully relaxed.

But these two weeks, peeling away responsibility to others leaves me able to just be. I’d imagined wanting to fill the time with random meetings with new men, with searching for all things frivolous. I anticipated time filled with documentary films and excursions to clubs. But instead, I’m spending time with the quiet. I’m finding me and I’m finding strength and peace and purpose.

When my son climbs off the bus, I’ll give him the biggest of hugs. I’ll ask him for all the gory details of camp, and I’ll really want to know. I’ll disappear in his smiles and his anecdotes. I’ll punctuate with ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahs’ at all the right places.

And in a moment of exchange, I’ll tell him what I learned about me. I’ll admit to relishing the freedom I felt with him off having a blast. I’ll confess to watching TV in the afternoon, to driving across town to eat in someplace different for no reason other than the difference, to waking up really early one day, still tired but inspired by the pre-dawn light, and getting a jump at work knowing that in the afternoon I could replenish the hours of sleep whenever I wanted, not having to ask for his tolerance, not having to worry about the example I was setting.

I wish I could tell him that sometimes parents want their kids – or their partners – to go away, and not just for a day or two but long enough to find self, to cement that relationship so that it can be called up at will. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids or spouse or lover or friends, but sometimes it’s hard to find yourself in all the noise.

I shouldn't feel guilty to say that to my son, but because I think like a parent and I want to protect his feelings, I do. But I will share the sentiment in disguise and ask him to help me stay connected to self and to not think like a parent, while at the same time striving to be a damn good one.


stephoto said...

Oh my - this post couldn't have come at a better time. You decribe these complex feelings of being a parent so eloquently here. I have two sons 11 and 13, and I love them dearly, but sometimes I just crave aloneness and time to be with myself. I love the line, "...sometimes it's hard to find yourself in all the noise."

The creative juices can be flowing and you can be working, and one interruption will shut it all down in an instant, like a door slamming. Then in the next available free moment, you have to search and search for the thread to get that juice back. That precious self, the ageless vagabond - she's always still in there - somewhere.

Yeah, I'm right there with you, and you express it all quite beautifully and honestly.

Thank you.


Willie Baronet said...

If only all parents were as in touch with themselves. :-)

Emily said...

As someone who is not a parent, this is what makes me wonder...part of your post reminded me of a great book I read called Tales of a Female Nomad. It's about a woman who after her divorce sells everything she owns and travels the world. It was a really great memoir

kristen said...

What a wonderful post. I have felt this loss of self from the moment my daughter was born. Maybe it's because I'd always identified myself as something and suddenly, just being a mama wasn't enough. But when she's gone, when I'm alone I feel disconnected and not sure of who I am; missing and wanting, needing. It's a state of flux ~ wanting to be selfish and desperate for the alone, me time and yet when I have it, I crave her. No easy answers here.