The problem with having three kids is that for eight or nine years you get absolutely no time to yourself. Every moment is spent attending to somebody else's needs and, unless you are disciplined and supported, you will never be alone.
Thanks to my supportive and disciplined partner, we did make time every week for me to read, write, think, study – or just potter round an op shop in the hopes of finding equilibrium, or at least a pretty plate. Time alone was immeasurably precious, and absolutely necessary for me to keep my sanity.
This year, my youngest is in kinder for fifteen hours a week, my partner is still doing some school pickups, and I have more time than I can shake a stick at. Meanwhile, my kids have passed some threshold of childhood and, rather than spend all their time with me in the kitchen, now play together outside or at the other end of the house; and so even when there are kids around I often find myself alone.
You'd think this would be fantastic; and don't get me wrong, I'm not ungrateful. And yet, after almost a decade of feeling mobbed, I suddenly feel quite isolated. I spent so many years seeking out and cherishing those precious minutes of solitude that I assumed I am an extreme introvert – but now I finally have the time I thought I longed for, my own company is driving me crazy. I am going round in circles in my head and am assailed by doubt and when I see friends I feel socially awkward – how anyone can do a higher degree without going right out of their mind, I don't know!
Today I was affected to the point that I struggled to concentrate, and I had to wonder if studying is for me; instead of reading and living in my head for five hours a day – something I'm not sure I'm terribly good at – perhaps I should get a job and interact with people. And yet, I didn't come back to academia lightly; it took six months of conversations and discernment with family and friends to decide that, while it may not be the easy thing, it is the right thing for me to do, for now.
So rather inchoately and desperately I prayed something along these lines: 'God, you are asking me to do this and I have no idea why – but I have agreed and will do it. But how will I cope with the loneliness?'
Five minutes later, my phone beeped. It was an invitation to dinner on Friday night. Half an hour later, it beeped again: do I want to go to a concert on Thursday? I finished reading a chapter and opened my computer, expecting no more than the usual slew of subscriber and advertising emails, but an old friend I haven't seen forever had read my blog, and sent a message; another long lost acquaintance had emailed out of the blue; and a close friend was touching base about our Skype date on Sunday. A bit later, my phone beeped yet again: still another friend, reminding me of a gathering tonight that, while not social per se, promises some dynamic conversation with a group of interesting and thoughtful women. And then I received an invitation to a relevant seminar from a lovely woman I knew last year, who thought I might be interested in going along with her, 'given research is a lonely job'. I haven't seen her for six months, but here she was reading my mind.
From total isolation to feeling ever-so-slightly mobbed: I think God was having a little joke.