An Island of My Own
Seven years ago, my husband and I went to Costa Rica with his family and left our then three children (ages 5, 3, and 1), with my parents. This was the first time we'd been on a trip without our kids, and it felt luxurious and strange to get on the plane without them. (I actually read a book!) When we arrived at our vacation rental, we could see the ocean from the pool patio. Monkeys were just hanging out in the tropical trees and iguanas lazily crossed the lawn. It was gorgeous. And I was a crazy person.
Instead of relaxing and enjoying the view, or heading to explore the beach, I was running around to all the bedrooms, taking it upon myself to help figure out where everyone should sleep, especially the family that had brought their young son. I had this nagging worry that no one had starting to cook the dry beans that we had bought for dinner, and you know how long beans take to cook!! I ran to start simmering the beans, and then set about unpacking and settling into my room. I was in full-on-mom mode, even though no one there needed to be mothered—especially not by me. And then I burned the beans.
Appalled and embarrassed that I had burned dinner, I retreated to my bedroom for a little naval gazing. When had I become this person? Was I even capable of enjoying this amazing vacation? Had motherhood turned me into a micro-managing freak?
Happily, a good night's sleep and a little time at the beach transformed me from Mom with a capital M into a real person. In a few more days, I was not only a person, I was Whitney. I laughed out loud at my book ("Good Omens" by Terri Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), quoting annoyingly from it to anyone in the vicinity. I woke up early to read my scriptures and write in my journal by the pool. I hiked, explored, and frolicked in the waves.
And then came the most astonishing moment of the trip. Everyone else walked down to the beach and I stayed behind to grab my beach gear. Soon I looked around me and realized I was alone. Alone! I felt so weird and wonderful, and that feeling made me realize how long it had been since I was completely alone, with no obligation to anyone else. My family at the beach was going to have fun whether I was there or not. So I decided not to go. I grabbed my book and hopped on a pool float. I read until I got hot, jumped into the pool, and even practiced my diving because no one was there to judge. I sang out loud. I read and wrote some more. It was one of the best moments of my life, a moment in which I felt completely myself. It was like I was on my own little island—alone.
Since that time I have searched for little opportunities to steal a bit of solitude. Some days that means a shower without my two-year-old in the room. Some days it means staying in the car for a few minutes after all the kids go inside. Sometimes it means bolting out the door as soon as my husband walks through it, to run out my pent-up aggression from a particularly rough evening. Sometimes it means staying up too late with a book (or writing this blog). When I had a lawn that was bigger than a postage stamp, I used to love mowing it because I couldn't hear anything but the mower, and I could just mow and think. Last year I discovered cycling, which allows me to be alone with just my thoughts for miles and miles.
Whatever your own life looks like, find those little islands of time, even if you have to schedule them on your calendar, so you can practice being yourself. There's nothing like motherhood to teach you how beautiful solitude can be.