Alone in a room of people
Posted on April 10th, 2014
Professionally I was accustomed to walking into rooms full of people I didn’t know and doing whatever needed to be done: speak, network, argue, mediate. I’m used to new clients and new cities and new jobs and–hello, imposter syndrome!–faking it. I’m great at faking it. I grew up moving every few years. Being the FNG is something I excel at.
And I’m used to having interests that no one around me shares. No one I know reads the books I do. (That book club problem, I suppose). I can’t even get my husband to read my never-quite-finished-novel, and you would not believe the crap science fiction he reads.
But even married, even as a parent, even as a person with friends, it’s lonely. Often.
It is mostly okay. I’m an introvert, and the number of people for whom I leave the house is very small. I love email and Facebook and Twitter because I can communicate (or not) on my own schedule. (My professional life made me phobic of the sound of a ringing phone.) My philosophy is that one scheduled thing on a weekend is plenty, thanks.
I am isolated by choice, too, in that I–and I still cringe to type this, because of sterotypes–am homeschooling my daughter. My daughter is a bright, sociable-but-naive girl who was acutely miserable in the two school settings we enrolled her in (and which will no doubt fuel maternal guilt for years to come).
For her, most days, I leave the house and we go to museums and concerts and parks and still manage to fill the day with math and science and reading and music. We go to the nearby science museum so often that we are recognized in the paleontology lab, the restaurant, the concession stands, and the museum store. No one asks to see my membership card (for which there are discounts in the restaurant and concession stands and store).
But I am happier at home. I detest the condo we rent, except it is cheap and we are poor, and because it is cheap I have a tiny third bedroom as a dedicated office with my books and antiques. Even now, sharing it with my daughter, it is my favorite place to be.
Homeschooling was never on my radar. Neither was staying at home with a child before she was school age. “I could never do what you do,” everyone says, not knowing how obnoxious the statement is. Sometimes people add, “I’m not patient enough” or “I don’t even like my own child that much.” And I say, “You could if you had to.” (And really, you could. As a parent, you can and would do what you had to do.) If they ask me if I worry about whether my daughter has adequate socialization, though, I don’t tell them they could do it. Because obviously they could not. No one has asked me if I think I’m qualified, although maybe I’ll take to carrying my college and law school transcripts around. (Looking at my college transcripts often cheers me up, so long as I don’t look at the dates.)
It is because my husband has a “good” job that we can do this. This “good” job was his dream job, and in some ways still is, which has made the last four or five years the misery that they have been–if it had not been such a good job, he would not have stayed so long.
He has had the good job for quite a while, and the good job cost us a lot personally, even before we realized it was getting bad.
If you’re doing the math at home, yes, the bad years make up most of our daughter’s life. For most of my daughter’s life, I’ve had to compensate for a very anxious, sometimes depressed, overwhelmed, burned out shell of the guy I married, and hold fast to the hope things will get better someday.
(You could do this, too, if you had to. And it is harder than homeschooling. It’s lonely and exhausting and it’s even harder to talk about than homeschooling. Because who can say, “Excuse me, but my husband is broken and I’m five minutes from losing my shit if the line at the pharmacy takes any longer?” I can’t, not easily. I’ve been trying to write this post for months. I actually can’t even begin to describe what this has been like. It’s all Schade and no Freude.)
When I am in a room full of people who don’t read the same books, who do not understand the demands of trying to write and study while I am homeschooling the bright but willful, independent yet clingy, six-year-old, driving to the lessons and keeping the family together and doing all the chores and buying all the gifts (including my own) and all the holidays, even as minimally as we celebrate them–when I am doing all the laundry and the dishes and wishing just for once the coffee fairy would get the goddamned coffee together the night before instead of me–what then?
When I am looking at job listings–because I really would like a regular job and regular hours and help around the house and someone else to teach my daughter, despite that it would not be the best thing for her; this is my selfish fantasy, thank you very much. Then I realize I would still be both parents and doing all the things at home and I can’t do that now because it would fall apart, there would be no piano and no museums and no concerts, and no, that’s not ego, how I wish it were ego–
What if it never gets better? What if I have to try to be both parents for the rest of my life? What if I’m alone in a room full of people for the rest of my life? Where do I get the strength for that?
Then I go in my office with my books and my antiques and my things and I close the door and say “watch all the TV you want until bedtime” (although even then, that’s after she’s done all her work and practiced the piano because really, even my slacker self has standards)–and I check for openings at the local float/sensory deprivation tank facilities, because if I’m going to be alone? I want to be *really* alone.