I penciled the dates into my planner with great anticipation: “Abby to Oklahoma” and “Abby to New York.”
Two full weeks, one in June and one in July.
Time with the grandparents for her, and scheduled breaks for me.
An oasis for this introverted mom amidst the constant togetherness of summer.
The Holy Grail of my recent life.
The Realities of Introversion
I’ve written before about being an introvert (here and here, if you’re interested.) I don’t remember when I first learned the term, but there was never any doubt in my mind that it absolutely described me.
Reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking confirmed much of what I already intuitively knew about myself and how I function best in the world, but when it ended on a chapter about parenting introverted kids, without any word on parenting AS an introvert, I felt as if a piece remained missing.
Then earlier this year, I heard about the book Introverted Mom by Jamie C. Martin. It sounded like, and in fact turned out to be, much of what I felt I still needed to hear about this little personality quirk of mine.
In the first chapter she highlights how motherhood strikes right on the nerve of almost all of the typical Introvert Stressors: needing to focus on sensory details, an overload of stimulation or noise, distress within close relationships, and (my own “favorite”) interruptions and disrupted plans, just to name a few.
One quote jumped out: “Quiet is a must for an introverted mom. Our kids cannot flourish in our homes if we constantly live on the edge of our God-given personalities. We are all connected within these walls. That means we must do whatever we can to recharge on a daily basis.”
She goes on to say, “By taking care of ourselves, we can care for others well. This, after all, is what we most long to do.”
Reading her words, I felt a tiny release from the guilt I have often carried as an introverted mom.
Of course my need for time alone is not selfish, as I often convince myself, because it equips me to be a better mom! Just like caring for my health, this is an aspect of stewardship (my 2019 word of the year.)
Recharging and taking care of myself.
Those are worthwhile endeavors.
As the time drew nearer for Abby’s first summer trip, I daydreamed about the uninterrupted podcast listening I could get in during the long drive back from Tennessee, where the hand-off to my mom would take place.
I set a vague intention to do some blog planning and maybe even write a few posts for future busy weeks during the days at home alone.
Of course, three of the days would be spent at an interpreting conference, but even there, my evenings would be my own, to eat where I wanted and enjoy some peace.
An introvert’s dream, right?
As it turns out, driving alone for 7.5 hours through the Smoky Mountains, in an on-again-off-again torrential downpour, while 16 weeks pregnant, is not exactly relaxing, podcasts or no.
Following that up with 3-days of sitting in uncomfortable banquet chairs in freezing cold hotel conference rooms, while trying to absorb copious amounts of professional information, surrounded by people you don’t know, only to end the day exhausted and eating dinner alone is also not as fun as it sounded in theory.
I arrived home from my conference tired and homesick, missing Abby, but dreading the return drive back through the mountains to retrieve her.
Thankfully, a family discussion concluded that no one really wanted to do that again, so it was agreed that Abby could stay with Mimi, Bobo, and Auntie a few extra days, til Daddy could fly out and retrieve her on the weekend.
Just like that, an unexpected full week of quiet days and kid-free nights stretched before me.
Seven full days of doing what I chose, with no 4-year-old alarm clock, no messes and spills to clean up, no negotiations for screen time or coaxing anyone to make the bed. No fights with car seat straps or interruptions as I sat down to write. No conference sessions to attend and no long drives to endure.
I felt a not-so-small twinge of sadness that I wouldn’t see my girl for a few extra days, but I comforted myself that she was having a blast, and now I could actually savor my days alone.
I see a lot of moms in online spaces, be they blogs, podcasts, or Instagram, talking about finding time to do their creative work in the “fringe hours” or “margins” of their days. I understand that, truly, these are the only times such work can be done, unless we all wait until our children are grown and out of the house.
But it does not come easily for me. I am much more comfortable spending hours engrossed in a project until it’s completed, than I am stopping and starting amid a thousand interruptions.
This work preference, coupled with my introversion, means long stretches of time alone sometimes feel sacred.
I have been guilty, even this summer, of chaffing at the loss of the free mornings I have while Abby’s in preschool.
I have grumbled to myself about not getting enough time to write and work on projects which seem to remain perpetually in the brainstorming phase.
I have lashed out in frustration when Abby hasn’t “cooperated” by taking a long nap or willingly participating in quiet time.
I have entertained martyer-y thoughts about how put-upon I am and how much easier life will be at some unclear, unnamed point down the road.
To be fair, I have also tried to implement some of Jamie Martin’s ideas for taking brief moments to recharge when I don’t have long stretches.
And I have stepped away for an hour or two here or there.
But more often than not, when the time I have is shorter than the ideal in my mind, I waste those fringe hours on frivolous piddling, or mindless scrolling.
All while looking longingly forward to “someday” when I’ll have my long, uninterrupted “alone time.”
As if being alone is the key to my joy and peace.
As if solitude is the answer to my grumpy attitude and exhausted mind.
As if all I need isn’t found in Jesus.
I set up “alone time” as the idol in my heart, believing that if I could just get some, all would be right in my heart, mind, and world.
I was wrong.
Tomorrow is the day Dave flies to Oklahoma to bring Abby home.
Not only are there no extra blog posts in the queue for future busy weeks, I’m currently typing this one several hours past the time I usually like to have a post published on Fridays.
Are you ready for a revelation? Abby isn’t the reason I don’t get things done. (Shocking, I know!)
And even though I like to think so, “alone time” is not the cure-all for my fatigue, my bad moods, or my impatience.
Introversion is a real personality characteristic with actual needs. Getting time to myself to think and process IS important.
Rest in pregnancy is a necessity, not a luxury. I must be mindful of the little life I carry and protect.
Recharging and taking care of myself are worthwhile pursuits, but scrolling my phone and avoiding my responsibilities, cutting my time with God short to catch up on podcasts, staying up too late and waking up grumpy…none of those things feed my introverted soul.
Instead they just numb it.
Time alone is NOT the Holy Grail.
Simply finding it won’t magically make me a better mom, wife, writer, or friend.
It won’t fix my attitude.
It won’t make me happy.
Not on it’s own.
Not when the time I carve out (or find myself unexpectedly gifted) is used in self-service instead of God-service.
Not when I spend it numbing out rather than connecting with my Savior.
I thought extended alone time was what I needed.
But like all idols, it requires more than I can reasonably give and promises more than it can actually deliver.
The verse that comes to mind is not about time, I don’t suppose, but I think it still applies.
“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” Proverbs 15:16
At little time with Jesus does more to recharge and replenish me than days and weeks alone.
And this introverted mama is grateful.