In early November, I stepped out of the shower to find that I was home alone. I stood there in a towel, trying to make sense of the silence, something I hadn’t experienced since … well … probably March. Or at least I believe it was March. That’s when the world shut down, and my job was moved to remote, and my wife’s job was moved to remote, and my three kids started learning online.
It’s funny, as a father of three kids, I will say that time alone is something that I’ve been craving since 2007, shortly after my son was born. And yes, I know, most fathers get far more alone time than mothers; I want to acknowledge that right now. When my wife was a stay at home mother, before she began teaching at our children’s school, it seemed like she spent all day, every day with our young children crawling on her. Most of the time, she just wanted to be in a bubble.
But making a comparison between who gets more alone time, mom or dad, is not what this post is about. I don’t want this to be a competition. What I’m getting at here is that right now, in 2020, with our whole family working and learning from home, time alone isn’t just something we would really enjoy — it’s a rare commodity that seems to be as hard to find as dry land in the movie Waterworld. It is as slippery as a Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster. It is the 40-pound diamond, the Holy Grail, the lost city of Atlantis.
Right now, with the threat of COVID still very real, there is no taking the kids to a playdate. There’s no taking them to a birthday party, or to the community pool, or to the bounce house. And with winter in full swing here in Oregon, there’s no taking them on hikes or to visit the river, or any of that, unless we want to wander around in the rain. My house is a living, breathing, sticky mess of toys, boogers, snacks, used cereal bowls, and open laptops.
Once a week, I send my wife Mel into our bedroom. She locks the door, and has a few hours of alone time. She does the same for me, and I’ll be honest, those few hours are straight up magical. But it’s not the same as having the house to yourself. It’s not the same as sitting and listening to the profound silence of no running, or arguing, or slamming of doors. No one asking for snacks from downstairs, or banging on the bedroom door arguing for more screen time.
So when I stepped out of that shower, and realized that I was home alone, I honestly didn’t know what to do with all that silence. I didn’t know what to make of it. It felt like something I hadn’t experienced in so long. I didn’t know where my family had gone. Part of me wondered if they’d slipped into a magical passage, probably in a wardrobe, and gotten lost in Narnia. To be honest, part of me didn’t care where they were. I just wanted to feel the silence, the still of our house without my family in it.
I dried off, and put on some underwear. I thought about putting on more clothing, but I didn’t know how long they would be gone, and I didn’t want to waste this moment. I wondered what I’d do with this new sudden alone time. I tried to come up with something; maybe watch a show on my phone, or perhaps call a friend and chat without interruption. Instead, I did what seemed like the most rational, adult thing possible in a situation like this.
I got some popsicles out of the freezer, and sat at the kitchen table in my underwear, and listened to the silence. I know, it’s not all that wonderful to think of a middle aged, short, stocky father of three sitting silently in his undies, huffing down popsicles. To be honest, it’s best that you don’t imagine it. Just realize that it happened, and it was straight up amazing.
Altogether, I was home alone for about 30 minutes. My wife and three kids came home, and it turns out they’d decided to walk around the neighborhood because it had stopped raining for a little bit, and they didn’t want to wait for me because here in Oregon, during this time of year, this doesn’t happen all that often.
But honestly, I was grateful that they didn’t. Because the reality is, that time alone was — hands down — my 2020 highlight of the year.
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