Columns

All alone, but not lonely at all

I heard them before I saw them. A small group of kids on the playground, laughing, shouting, jostling as they let off steam in the afternoon chill.

As I walked past the schoolyard, a solitary figure on the swings caught my eye. The boy scuffed at the gravel with his shoes and the swing barely moved.

Slowing my stride, I took in the scene and I wondered at the social dynamics at work. Was the boy on the lower rungs of the grade school popularity ladder? Had he been deemed to have “cooties” by the others? Or was he just grabbing a quiet spot – overwhelmed by the sheer volume a small amount of kids can make during a brief recess?

When I was his age, I could relate to both scenarios.

Because we moved frequently due to my dad’s career, I was always the new kid. The daunting task of finding a spot at the lunch table and navigating new social networks and established hierarchies meant loneliness was a constant companion until we settled in Spokane when I was a teen. I didn’t even have the built-in companionship of siblings because my brothers and sister were much older, and all out of the house by the time I was 12.

That upbringing created a resiliency that has served me well in adulthood. I learned how to adapt, how to forge new connections and how to turn strangers into friends. I also learned self-sufficiency and how to be content with my own company.

There’s a profound difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a state of being, while loneliness describes a pain, a sadness, a feeling that something is missing.

I learned to love being alone and have developed a profound need for solitude. That’s something that’s proven hard to come by when married to an extrovert and raising four sons.

As my writing career grew, solitude became even more imperative. I’ve become adept at creating it, whether by renting an office or borrowing a friend’s house.

The writing I do from my friends’ home while they travel south for the winter is different than the writing I do at my desk in the family room at home.

I hammer out columns and news stories at home while family members come and go, the landline rings, the doorbell peals, the cats clamor to be fed. But in my friend’s empty, silent house, books are born, short stories submitted and my craving for solitude is satiated.

My weekly walks are another way of creating quiet for my mind and soul. I was contemplating this when two days later; I again encountered the solitary child.

It was the same time, same place and same scene. A group of kids shouting, laughing and tossing a basketball back and forth. The boy alone on a swing.

And I wondered if instead of listless and lonely, he was enjoying a moment of respite from the noise and crush of elementary school. As he toed at the gravel, perhaps the slight movement of the swing soothed him and allowed him time to think – to dream. Maybe this child, like me, wasn’t lonesome, he was simply alone and relishing it.

This time I paused at the fence and lifted my hand to wave. Just in case he did feel isolated and invisible, I wanted him to know I’d seen him. I’d noticed his existence.

I waited mid-wave until he looked up and saw me. He slowly lifted his hand in acknowledgment, a small smile tilting at the corners of his mouth.

Then I continued my walk while he sat in the gently swaying swing. Two solitary souls – alone, but maybe not lonely.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.


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Columns

Guilt-Free Mothers and Other Mythical Creatures

Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed. You know the drill.

If you’re a lucky mom, Mother’s Day comes with a fairly predictable playlist. But often, an unwelcome condiment comes along with the coffee lovingly poured into the World’s Best Mom mug – a heaping side of guilt.

Don’t believe me? Google the words mother and guilt and you’ll get more than 10 million hits. That’s not a side dish, that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of remorseful regret.

No matter how many articles, books and blogs advocate guilt-free mothering, I don’t know any moms who don’t struggle with feeling bad about some aspect of their parenting. Much like unicorns with rainbow wings, guilt-free moms are mythical creatures.

The things we feel guilty about are myriad. We feel bad that we worked outside the home or bad that we stayed at home. We regret not having more children or terrible that we had too many. We agonize over every time we lost our tempers and shouted things that shame us, and worry over all the times we were too lax, too soft, too permissive.

Most of us have a mental checklist of our perceived failures, and all the sweet Mother’s Day cards in the world can’t make us untick even one of those boxes.

No matter how we came to motherhood, whether by birthing, adopting or step-parenting, each of us has an ideal mother in mind – that’s the goal we struggle to achieve. Sometimes the ideal is our own mothers and sometimes it’s anyone but them.

None of us really dreams of being June Cleaver. Once, I actually tried vacuuming while wearing a dress, apron, heels and pearls. It was every bit as silly as I imagined.

But the home June created? Now, that still seems magical. Spotless, warm, love-filled – a place where every childhood problem was happily resolved by the end of each episode. Who wouldn’t want that?

Even worse than trying to live up to mythical ideals is the way we constantly compare ourselves with each other. Oh, we swear we won’t. Vow we don’t. But we do, we certainly do.

We look at the Facebook photos of our friends’ brilliant, talented, successful offspring, and we weigh and measure our mothering skills against theirs. As if being a perfect mother would guarantee perfect children. As if any kind of perfection among humankind is attainable.

For some, the Mother’s Day tally of gifts and sentiments either verifies our value or proves our unworthiness – either temporarily assuages our guilt or fans the flames of self-recrimination.

And this year, what I most wanted for Mother’s Day created a week’s worth of angst for me. You see, I wanted something different. Something I was sure other moms would judge me for. Something I felt guilty even mentioning.

Ala Greta Garbo, I wanted to be alone.

I felt incredibly selfish even mentioning it to Derek. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to spend the day surrounded by her children? Plus, we usually have both of our moms over for dinner. What kind of daughter messes with tradition?

A tired one, perhaps?

It’s been an especially busy season in our household. Kids coming and going, juggling jobs and community commitments, maintaining friendships and important connections. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude to recharge, I was drowning in a sea of obligations of my own making.

Thankfully, I married a man who knows me well. When I dithered and dallied over Mother’s Day plans, he encouraged me to give myself a break. So I did.

We took our moms out to brunch on Saturday. And on Mother’s Day I didn’t leave the house. I relished a solitary breakfast in bed, while reading the newspaper. Then I enjoyed long phone conversations with two of my sons and briefer conversations with the other two. Then I turned my phone off.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon. Stayed in my sweats sans makeup all day and binge-watched the new “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix.

It was heavenly.

The flowers, cards and gifts from Derek and the boys were sweet, but the best gift was the one I gave myself – a feast of solitude minus the side of guilt.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval