C and the boys left Monday morning for a nine-day hiking adventure along the Appalachian Trail through the 100-Mile Wilderness and to the top of Mount Katahdin. They left at just the right time--I was in danger of smothering my children, both literally (with a pillow) and figuratively (with excessive mothering).
I have written before, and I'm sure I'll write it again, that when my kids were tiny babies, my rapture for them was matched only by my desire to escape them. I'm beset by similar equal and opposite feelings for them again now that they're 16 and 20. Like most families, we've been blessed and cursed with an excess of togetherness over the past year and a half, thanks to the closures and constraints placed on schools and workplaces. While in many ways that's been wonderful and a true gift, I also find myself somethings thinking, Please grow up and go away to college, soon.
At the same time I'm afflicted with a maudlin nostalgia for their childhood years and a near-panic that we didn't do all the things we should have done when they were young, before they were grumpy and resistant to everything, and the things we did do, we might not have done just right. So it was time--for us all to get some space from each other, for them to go off and climb mountains and do some male bonding, and for me to revel in a little peace and quiet at home, alone, for the first time in as long as I can remember.
And, oh, have I been reveling. Nothing remarkable has taken place, nothing out of the ordinary, but the number of times I need to clean the kitchen daily has been cut down by a factor of ten, and it's been so blissfully quiet that I can actually hear myself think. Despite the quiet, I haven't accomplished quite as much writing as I imagined I would. It's funny how my job could take me away from home for ten to eighteen hours a day, but now I can't seem to wring more than three or four hours of writing out of a single day. Part of it is distraction, both of the electronic variety and the analog--the world outside is so dreamily magical right now: fledgling broad-winged hawks, clearwing hummingbird moths, painted lady butterflies, mushrooms of every color and shape. I need to get out there and check on things on a regular basis. Part of it is stamina--I'm not used to focusing for such a long time and my brain gets tired. And part of it is some combination of anxiety that I'm working on the wrong project and that I don't deserve to have this time, and doubt that whatever I work on will amount to anything.
To avoid burrowing too deeply into my own head and to quell those doubts and anxious feelings, I take myself to water every day--swimming the length of a pond three times a week with a friend, paddling solo on another pond followed by Indian takeout, a small poolside gathering with friends. I'm conscious of not wanting to give away too much of my time while also avoiding making myself crazy with my own company. The fleeting nature of this period of solitude also bears on my mind--they'll all be home on Tuesday, and then I'll have to recalibrate again, find ways to work amid the chaos.
In the meantime, I'm being gentle with myself. I won't write a novel before the week is out, but I did write a couple of scenes and figured out some character stuff (important things, like the narrator's name!). I also finished reviewing a manuscript I put on hold back in November and rewrote one final essay for it. I'm balancing butt-in-chair time with play-outside time (and lie-on-the-bed-reading-a-book time). The one thing I haven't made time for so far is doze-in-hammock time, which I plan to rectify this weekend!
This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.