In college, I was not the type of person with 30 friends. I was a solitary type who fiercely loved those friends that I did have, even if they were connected to other webs of friends. And I needed alone time. That meant that sometimes I closed the door to regain peace in the day. But in a pandemic with Remote Learning, working from home with three little kids and a private childcare person for my toddler (we call her our Pack Leader), that’s not possible.
At the College of Charleston, living off-campus was the norm, so three of my friends and I rented an affordable house in a “crime-watch zone,” which I now recognize is a racist designation that does something weird to the neighborhood. As a solitary person, I lived well with my friends; we all closed our bedroom doors when we needed to, and carried on.
I love doors. However, the following year, after I moved to a beach house on Folly Beach, my roommate across the hall was offended when I would close my door at the dimming of the day.
We worked through the conflict. Closing my door wasn’t intended to offend her. It had nothing to do with her. I just needed peace and quiet to realign.
Later that year, I visited her home in New Orleans. There were no doors! Her bedroom didn’t have a door, nor did her brother’s bedroom. No doors on her parents’ room. No wonder she couldn’t handle the door!
I continue to have trouble setting boundaries for my alone time, which today we would call an ingredient of “self-care.” Working from home with my little ones, I rarely close the door. When the Pack Leader is here and Remote Learning is done, I retreat to my bedroom office or studio shed or attic space. Or I bounce around the house cleaning, mitigating toddler wars or scheduling the kids’ appointments.
During Remote Learning hours, I am tech and emotional support to my two older ones and failed keeper of the calendar for classes that rotate every other week, all while the toddler pandemic pod runs around downstairs with plastic swords.
When our Pack Leader goes home, I don’t close any door. It’s not safe. What if I can’t hear when someone needs me? What if someone climbs onto the counter? What if someone’s hair is being pulled out?
I started to realize that I’m not sure if I’m cut out to live with all these people. I want to live alone! But I’d be lonely if my house weren’t sometimes busier than Grand Central, or if I weren’t there when my toddler pinned me to the couch with his tiny arm and warm hand so that we can watch kid warriors hunt each other with Nerf guns on YouTube.
We had a mom friend hang out this weekend for the first time in forever. She told me: “I don’t have any brain space. We are all here all of the time. They always need something. Why do we need to eat three meals every day?” What a relief. I wasn’t the only one.
So I write this for you — the parent with younger children whom you seem to bump into constantly throughout the day. We need to designate Quiet Time in front of our children so that they, too, can learn to carve their own boundaries.
Mornings used to be my safe zones. I didn’t need to block anyone out — until my 8-year-old began asking that I wake him so he can do his math homework. He uses the time to recount to me all of his dreams, his realizations about the world, everything. Hearing this is important, but…
My 10-year-old daughter used to rise early, too, about three years ago. When I told her about Morning Time and Quiet Time, she didn’t like the concept, but I held fast. And she got to used it. Now, if I ask something of her in the morning, she tells me she is in her Quiet Time. I blow her a kiss and bow out.