A couple of weeks ago, I tried to steal away to do a 10 minute guided meditation in my bedroom when my nine year old barged in and settled on my bed.
“Sweetie, I just wanted to meditate for a few minutes,” I said, already seated on my floor cushion. “What do you need?”
“I wanted you to read to me, but you can meditate,” she said. “I’ll just watch.”
“But there’s nothing to watch,” I said, adjusting my AirPods. “You’ll just be watching me sit here quietly with my eyes closed.”
“That’s OK,” she cheerfully shrugged, pulling my comforter up over her legs and opening her book. “I can just read.”
Cue some very un-mindful interior screaming.
Which is pretty fitting for this moment, eight months into the pandemic. According to recent reports, the U.S. is seeing over 180,000 new coronavirus cases every day – a single data point on a sharply-climbing trajectory that augurs the worst wave yet.
So even though my hyper-social, meditation-interrupting nine-year-old was originally scheduled to start face to face half-days a few weeks ago, the date has been pushed back twice, so that it will now be at least January.
This is the right call, given the growing number of cases, and I expected it. But at the same time: is it any wonder that this introverted (and perimenopausal, God help me) mom of two has reclaimed her old night owl status?
I used to stay up to the earliest hours of morning because of my job as a newspaper’s cultural critic. Once or twice a week – after a theater production’s opening night, or a concert, or a big-name stand-up comedy show – I’d park myself in front of my glowing laptop while the world slept, and I’d articulate my response to what I’d just watched.
It’s harder than you’d think, given the fast turnaround time. But I loved it. And I loved the quiet solitude the work afforded me, particularly when my two daughters were little, and their overwhelming needs and demands caused me to feel like I’d lost track of myself.
Then, as now, our house would grow so quiet late at night that it seemed to become an extension of my body. And in the midst of this mentally grueling time, when all four of us are packed together 24/7, midnight’s consistent promise of liberation has proven utterly irresistible to me.
It’s the only time I can possibly achieve a state of flow with my writing, or read a book, or sneak episodes of The Good Place or Schitt’s Creek or The Crown (shows only I want to watch).
Little escapes weren’t nearly so hard to come by before the pandemic. When the kids were at school, and my husband billed hours at his law firm office, I could hear myself think, and pore over research, and conduct phone interviews without interruption. It was a near-perfect setup that offered a balance between time alone and time with my family.
But that balance is long gone. While my partner works grueling, daily 10-11 hour shifts – doing the work that pays our monthly mortgage and bills – I scramble to keep the handful of deadlines that remain on my calendar; make sure the kids get breakfast and lunch; fill, run, and empty the dishwasher; clean the bathrooms; answer math questions; do laundry; get groceries; and chauffeur the girls to physically distanced outdoor playdates.
On most days, I can’t even write a to-do list, let alone an essay draft or story pitch. Even when virtual school is in session, I can only scrape about twenty minutes between interruptions.
So I’ve returned to my old friend, the night, several times a week.
My night owl-ry comes at a cost, of course. My husband, who starts work each day at 6 a.m., looks resigned and says, “I miss you,” when he kisses me goodnight and heads up to our room by himself. And my nine-year-old wonders why I’m not sprinting out to play on the trampoline when her virtual school day ends.
But these small tears in my family’s fabric are the only thing keeping me connected to my sense of self these days.
Because strangely, while staying up alone these days often makes me feel like a ghost, it’s also one of the only rituals that palpably reminds me that I’m still real.
There’s only so many hours in a day, and if I’m going to make it through this, one or two of them need to be mine.