I have been thinking lately about the relationship between independence and loneliness. Both qualities are related to solitude, but one is desirable and the other is not. We aspire to independence but no one craves loneliness. Solitude may be desirable, but only in small doses (for me at least). And loneliness can strike even if other people around. I was pretty lonely when Owen was first born, though I had a small person attached to me most of the day (and night)

Owen is growing more and more independent, able to play for longer periods without intervention. The other day I was making dinner (for at least 30 minutes) and he was playing away – with trains, lego, a puzzle. I’d check on him every now and again and sometimes he’d come to me, but it was quite lovely to see him becoming so self-sufficient. Of course, I was right there, and he showed me what he was doing, but he was so focused and so content in his own person. This quality was something I wondered about at the beginning of his life, when he didn’t want to be put down and I had to hold him lest he wailed.

On the other hand, I have pulled him away from other kids on the playground, enforcing a kind of solitude, if only because of his age. Though Owen wants to join the crowd, he is really too small to play with rough three or six-year-olds. So Owen mostly plays with me (or by himself), but wants to hang out with the other kids, share the ball, share the slide. I am eager for him to be able to join in.

There was a video going around the internet recently about the pleasures of being alone. And I remember the days (the long days and weeks and months) when I was alone. Perfectly alone. And I would take myself to the movies alone (and quite enjoy not having to compromise) and off to cafés and restaurants alone. And I liked being able to be independent and willing to spend time alone and not mind it. Not that I never minded it, but I sometimes liked it. Doing a PhD is full of solitude (and a little too empty of life and love). I was fortunate to find Duncan near the end of that process, and I actually wrote most of the actual words of my thesis with him around. I think it’s crucial to have someone to share ideas with. You need to be alone to think those ideas sometimes, but if you can’t share them, you miss so much of their depth and potential. And I think the ideas stop coming, too, after a while.

When I was little, I think my Mum craved alone time, sometimes. Four children and a husband meant that she didn’t have that much time for herself. And she cooked marvellous meals and made lots of our clothes and worked full time… so she was certainly accomplishing a lot. But I have a memory of one time that my mother was flooded in the house and we were flooded out (our driveway had a river running through it, with a bridge that flooded sometimes in spring). I think Mum was in the house for 24 hours or something (I hope I am remembering this right) – and she was happy to have the time off from us, so she could read and do crossword puzzles (and probably, knowing her, accomplish a bunch of items on her ever-present list). I remember finding it surprising at the time, that my Mum would want to be apart from us, but I completely understand now. My mother had many fewer alone years than I ever did, since she married and had children so much younger.

Independence seems to be a quality we need – but not too much lest we isolate ourselves. I hope Owen grows into a strong, independent person who is able to thrive on his own. But I hope he is never crippled with loneliness. At the end of a long day of solitude, I hope he always has someone to talk over his day with.

Grey Street

I’ve been feeling grey lately. Not blue exactly, though I’ve cried more this week than I have in the past 6 months, maybe a year. I’m not exactly sure why, but I can trace parts of my feeling to a general sense of being overwhelmed. My work is wonderful, my students are for the most part lovely, but I haven’t quite managed to get back to the resilient teacher that I have been for the past couple of years.

I feel like I am trying so hard that it’s too hard and that somehow all the cracks are obvious.

I’ve been missing Owen, too, in the now full-time daycare schedule we have him in. I was craving his cheeks the other night and almost wanted to wake him up just to feel them. I was at a meeting that night and got home when he was already asleep.

I am worried (this week) that I am trying to do too much at once. That I can’t slow down to enjoy the little moments of colour that pop into life. I am worried that, to quote Dave Matthews’ Grey Street, “all the colours mix together to grey.” And when it’s grey like that, it’s foggy and dreary (inside my head).

I was berating myself at dinner the other night because I haven’t read enough Greek literature. I should read the Odyssey. I really should. But I probably don’t need to read it this week. I should probably read Dante’s Inferno. Also a good idea. Also a big hole in the education of someone who teaches literature. And then I should probably reread Paradise Lost and some Shakespeare and all those Victorian novels whose plots are growing hazy. And Ulysses. And when I get like this I feel frantic and I start reading bits and pieces of things, trying to squeeze it all into the 5 minutes before I fall asleep. It’s like trying to catch up on e-mail or marking when I am also playing Lego with Owen. Why can’t I just play Lego? Why do I have to try to do something else also? Why can’t I just relax? That’s what I always tell Owen. Chill Chill Chill, Relax Relax.

When I am like this I grow insecure, fragile. And I know, intellectually, that I’m probably not perceived as a fool by most people, but I feel exposed, like everyone can see everything I am trying to hide.

All this is probably too much to say here, but that’s how I have been feeling this week. I do feel better today. I am glad that tomorrow is Saturday and there is nowhere to rush to. I am going to try to stop and breathe a little, try to focus on the small flashes of colour that, after all, make up our lives.

Little Hands

I was staring at Owen’s little hands the other night as he was drinking his nighttime bottle. Perfect little hands with perfect little nails. Unbitten. And an idea crystallized that I’ve been pondering a lot lately – that the anxieties I have for him are about all the things I can’t control. None of us can predict our lives. I can’t prevent him from becoming a nail biter – at least, I can’t prevent the troubles that might cause him to start biting his nails (as I did in grade three). This is not about aesthetics nor does it project a denial that he will grow up.  It isn’t the same as knowing that my smooth-skinned baby will one day be a hairy (or not so hairy) man, will need to wear deodorant, or will have bad breath. Those vague awarenesses of his adolescent and adult future don’t reflect his state of mind the way nail biting might.

But of course, I don’t want him to stay a child. I want him to grow up and become someone whose life I can’t control or protect. I want him to learn from his mistakes, fall down, get up, fall down, get up again. I want him to fear responsibility but take it on anyway and learn that it’s not that bad. I want him to discover what he likes by figuring out what he doesn’t like. We don’t all bite our nails, but we must all experience some anxiety, surely. I just hope it doesn’t paralyze him. I hope he can acknowledge it and move on.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, we took a family vacation. At one intersection, my mother instinctively took my hand to cross the street. I reacted violently: I shook my hand away from hers, with a teenage horror of being perceived as a child. I don’t remember the whole exchange. I think my mother and I both ended up apologizing – she for taking my hand, I for my visceral overreaction. I sure hope I apologised. I’ve thought about this moment a lot over the years, maybe because it was one of the first times I could see both sides of the parent-child relationship. Now that I’m a parent, I am all the sorrier for my reaction.

Owen and I walked to the park together yesterday afternoon. He walked most of the way by himself. He’d hold my hand to steady himself, then let go, taking as many shaky steps as he could. I tried to keep my hand close to him in case he wanted to grab onto it. Sometimes he did hold on to steady himself. Most of the time he didn’t. Often he fell. And then I’d pick him up and put him back on his feet, giving him my hand again, to steady him.

And I just realised that it’s a pretty good metaphor for parenting in general: my hand will be hovering over him for a long time, there if he wants to hold onto it, but also his to release.

A Whole Lot of Good Enough

I saw a little girl the other day wearing a “Little Miss Perfect” T-shirt. And I thought: I wouldn’t let my child wear that T-shirt unless it were worn with irony.  Children don’t really inspire irony, though, or do they? So I started to think of other potential t-shirts I could live with:

  • Little Miss Good Enough
  • Little Miss Trying Really Hard But Not Quite Making It
  • Little Miss Almost There, Maybe?
  • Little Miss Imperfect
  • Little Miss Only Human

Because I guess I’ve always had issues with the idea of telling a child that he or she is perfect, or “the best.” Owen is my favourite boy, but he’s going to have to grow up with the knowledge that he’s fallible.

And I guess I have some doubts about this philosophy, but for now, at least, I’m sticking with it. I’ve encountered too many students with an irritating sense of entitlement, who don’t believe they can do wrong. I don’t know whether their parents held them accountable for their actions or whether they were told they were perfect – maybe it’s just a personality trait – but it is not a personality trait I want to foster in my child.

Owen is slowly learning to make intelligible sounds, and it’s a joy to watch him differentiate between them, but one of the things I didn’t expect was to have to correct him. He gets “Dada” right most of the time now, but his “Mama” is a cross between “Baba” and “Rararara” – so he gets a lot of “No” and a (very smiley) correction. But Owen doesn’t like to be wrong. Occasionally, after he’s been corrected, he makes a bizarre sound like a cross between a laugh and a cough, as if to cover up the fact that he made a mistake. And I certainly understand the impulse to tell him he’s done really well, even though the sound coming out of his mouth is completely wrong.

And I feel silly even bringing this up, but it’s been preoccupying me lately: how to teach him (over the long run) his strengths and his limitations.

If anyone has any ideas to share, I’d love to hear them.

Little Miss Trying Really Hard But Not Quite There Yet