Today, it’s raining. The lone desk lamp throws warm light on the yellow wall. A half-eaten bowl of Rice Chex sits to my right. I can hear the faint sound of clothes turning in the dryer downstairs, the commuter train in the distance, the slick rush of cars on the damp main road just beyond the front window.
I collapse into the black folding chair across from my laptop. I exhale.
It’s like I’ve stolen these hours. These sweet, empty hours. A quiet slice of carved out space and time. Rare, fleeting, mine. The older boys are at school, the baby may be there, too—for the few hours a week he goes—or maybe he’s napping. Husband is at work. I’m alone. Or at least it feels that way.
Suddenly my shoulders tense. My mind involuntarily ticks off the other things I could be doing. Something for my husband or children. Or someone else.
There are always more dishes to wash, a load of laundry piled high enough to demand attention, stray toys littering the house. Errands—the bank, school forms, dry cleaning…Texts and tweets and e-mails that linger in my inbox until I just want to ‘mark as read’ so the bold font will stop staring at me accusatorily. On any given day, we need something from the store. Bananas. We always need bananas.
I stand in line at the market, growing increasingly agitated at the small talk between the customer ahead of me and the clerk. The clerk upon whom my schedule, my freedom now hinges. A desperate helplessness sets in—that feeling of losing control over your time. Inevitably my irritation turns inward, and I silently chastise myself for not being more patient.
This is a familiar scene.
Early one morning, I tap at the keys when a familiar name flashes at the bottom right hand corner of my screen. A dear friend from our old town was sending me a message. It read, just wanted to say it’s always nice to see your name online early, comforting, I might add. you can keep writing, just wanted to send love to you and your boys.
Tears welled, blurring the tiny black letters until they appeared to be dancing on the screen. You can keep writing…I don’t often hear that. What it sounded like was, You can keep doing this thing that’s all yours, this thing that’s just for you.
Oh I am lucky. My days are filled with sons and sweatpants, milk mustaches and mac ‘n cheese. Battles are now waged out of the courtroom over broccoli and deadlines refer to Angry Birds limits, not motion filings.
But the hours that I can spend as I wish, where my mind can complete a thought from beginning to end, are too, too few. They are punctuated by naptimes, lunch preparation, preschool pickups…they are intruded upon, interrupted, cut short.
And here’s what I fear: that one day, I will look back only to see, in the uncharitable light of retrospect, a mother distracted. Because this writing thing is a double-edged sword. Simultaneously helping me live within the moment, my senses piqued, noticing more—but also removing me from it, stealing me away, transforming me into an outsider looking in. Greedy with my time, unrelenting, always leaving me wanting more.
So I wake before first light, stealing these hours from the night. When I can sit with the quiet loneliness in the empty space of unscheduled time.
Sometimes I need to get out to clear the cobwebs of our chaotic little life from my cluttered mind.
Sometimes the road will call me to it, and I will spend some time there as the sun sets and dinner is served. Remembering that I am a whole person separate from the pieces that seem so inextricably a part of me now.
I will allow myself to travel, if only in my mind…away from my present, away from my people. Knowing full well my feet will always carry me back, my arms open wide, my ears filled with the songs of the road.