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.