I can feel them. The babies. They’re not crawling all over me. They’re not vomiting in my hair or shrieking. They’re doing perfectly normal baby things, and I’m keeping them alive. But I resent them. Their constancy, their intrusion on my relationship and my free time and my naps and my imagination and my heart. They’ve come too soon, and I can’t do any of what I had planned. All I can do is survive. -Lena Dunham
I’ve been reading blogs and books (ok, a book) on the dirty side of parenting: the exhaustion, the depression, the irritation, the desire to be able even to pee alone. With everything I read, I think, Right on, that’s where it’s at. It makes me happy to know that I’m not the only one who feels like life with a toddler is more similar to a war zone than to a Johnson & Johnson commercial. Every post lets me know that I’m not alone in this struggle, that I’m not the only one who jumps into bed during nap time instead of cleaning because my only chance of rest is when the kids are sleeping. Yet while the aim of these posts is to unite women and build solidarity, there is still a lingering sense of isolation.
The hardest thing, by far, about parenting alone has been the loneliness. My sister— whom I get to see once a week— is probably sick of hearing about it, and I say it to people as if they’ll take pity and say, ‘Lonely, you say? Be my friend! Let’s text and hang out and fall in love!’ But that hasn’t happened yet. These people probably take pity, just in a different way than I fantasize. At the end of my six or so hours off every Wednesday, I go back to the house where the two darlings are awaiting me, and I am no more connected to the outside world than when I left. It can be depressing to think about.
Unlike Lena Dunham, I didn’t follow the thought-trail to its end, to the point where I am currently. I realized that kids would maybe be a hindrance to my social life and that I might have to get up earlier than my body would prefer and that it’s possible I wouldn’t have as much time to read or do the other top-priority things in life. But, oh, how meaningful it will be! And how much the quality time with the children will make up for the lack of quality time with myself and others!
I was a little mistaken.
Kids are hard. Parenting them is hard. Not having anyone to share the load is hard. I have to think really hard to remember how meaningful this is supposed to feel, and even then, I struggle sometimes to feel it. Mostly, I stay on the fringes of survival mode— not fully there but just close enough to maintain a tiny ball of anxiety.
Yesterday, I read a blog post about decision fatigue and the fact that making so many minor, unimportant decisions hinders a person’s productivity— and makes that person tired. When I first became a single parent, I suffered from this. What to make for breakfast? For lunch? For dinner? What will we (each of the three of us) wear? How will I respond to this behavior? And this one? And this one? After reading the article, I realized that I have unconsciously cut out some of those minor decisions in the day over the past few months to make life just a tad easier on myself. Breakfast and lunch are always the same. My own routine could be written down from the moment I wake up to the minute I go to bed. I’ve always been a creature of habit, but this parenting gig has taken my obsession with routines to a religious level. And now I know why: to keep a tired mind from being even more tired.
So I cope. I cope like I had to cope in Mongolia, a place that stressed me out and exhausted me and was my life for two years. But one of the best things that happened to me while I was there, the thing that kept me connected and grounded and not isolated in my struggles, was a relationship that lasted the whole of the second year, a relationship that went deep and, even though it ended, taught me that the greatest thing in the world was love, no matter how trite it is to say. And I don’t have that here.
Not to sound whiny or wistful. I recognize there are seasons in life, and for this season, it would be really difficult to be with someone. Still, Lena Dunham captured the essence of what I’m going through: these kids do perfectly normal kid things; I am keeping them alive. But instead of intruding on my relationship, they prevent one from even starting. If I ever choose to parent again after this (and this still has seven months to go, at least!), I want it to be after I’ve been with someone and gotten to know them and do some stuff with them.
I’m not a stranger to loneliness or simply to being alone. I just didn’t expect it to hit so hard when I became a parent. And as my first year comes to its end, this is what comes to mind.