I naturally have a touch of melancholy, but since I left the year-round brightness of Austin, the darkness and coldness of winter worsens it and I end up worn out, slothful, and withdrawn. The way that I have learned to cope with this is that every year around the end of Christmastime, I write out a list entitled ‘Things to get me through winter’. This year has about 20 goals, which include going to bed early, drinking lots of water, getting a membership to the Frist Center, buying warm socks, and to “See a movie that I want to see in the theater by myself on a weekday.”
Until this year, I would have never wanted to go to the movies alone. I’ve only gone to a theater alone once before, over a decade ago when I was briefly in a city where I had not yet made friends. I was always a strong extrovert. But since college, every year, I have increasingly enjoyed being by myself. In the recent psychological exam that I took, I still tested as an E on the Myers-Brigg test, but just barely–an E with a need for a whole lot of alone time.
Ten years ago, as a single, childless early twenty-something, I had margins of alone time in each day that I never really noticed until they were gone–time in the car running errands, afternoons when all my roommates were out, or laying in bed at night. When I got married, the little crevices of aloneness in the day got filled up by sharing a life, a car, and a bed with Jonathan. But even then, I still had some time alone, and when either of us needed to, we could tell the other one to disappear for the evening and we’d fill up on solitude.
Then came the baby. She’s a total joy, but (besides the exhaustion and relentless anxiety) the hardest part of adjustment to motherhood is the loss of time alone. Generally, for the last two years, I’ve been with my daughter, or when I’m not, I’ve been working. I can’t tell her that she needs to feed and clothe herself today because Mama needs to sit in a room and stare out the window. After I put her down at night, we have 2 hours to do everything that we haven’t done all day or we collapse into in an exhausted haze of hulu or facebook. It is a full life–full of beauty and giggles and love, but also very full of people. As a scholar, Jonathan gets alone time while he’s researching, but as a minister, my work provides more time with people. So I’ve begun craving alone time palpably. I hunger for time where there is no need to attend and no task to accomplish.
Today, unexpectedly, Jonathan rearranged his day to give me my winter’s list movie alone. Leaving the house, I felt anxious. It was like I had first date jitters, but the date was with myself. I slipped into a dark theater and was riveted by ‘The Artist’, an incandescently lovely black and white silent film. I left anonymously, no one there to ask what I thought of the movie. I am sure too much of this would get lonely, but today, it was blissful.
Normally, when I get time alone now, I use it for some spiritual practice like prayer or silence or for something ‘good for me’ like doing yoga or getting a haircut. Today, I did something by myself that was merely for fun, which felt lavishly free.
It is so easy as a new mom to lose yourself. Some of this is probably good. There is a self-forgetfulness that makes one more able to love and bless. But there is another sort of self-losing that is tragic. It is the kind of hollowing that leaves you busy, shallow, and boring.
I am grateful for this season of my life and for the new life in our home. Even the starving pangs my inner-introvert feels leave room for grace to grow in me. But I’m also grateful for the times when I have space to remember that before I was a minister, a wife, or a mom, I was a self. I don’t believe in a sort of blunt individualism that would separate my singular inner self as more important or even more ‘me’ than my identity as a mother, a wife, or member of my community. But nevertheless, I am also an individual. A Tish. A daughter of God. A woman who loves words, beauty, ideas, and earthiness. I bought myself some popcorn today and settled in, grateful for a gift that I would have never appreciated ten years ago.