I wake up Sunday morning to a bed boiling over with children. Abby is curled up beside me, Isaac down by my feet, and Susanna up by my head. Tim’s spot, vacated over an hour ago in order to allow quiet prep time at church, has been triply filled.
If I draw a bath, children try to climb in with me.
If I get myself a glass of water, children ask to drink from it.
If I find a moment to read quietly, children have things to tell me.
If I have planning time at school, students find me.
If make myself a pot of coffee, students ask to have some.
If I grade every essay in my stack, a student sends me a short story he or she wrote on their own time, and could I please look at it?
And I love it, I really do. These relationships define me. But two things are possible at once: you can love something, and it’s still hard.
Sometimes I feel like the stump at the end of The Giving Tree. Only I am the one who needs a quiet place to rest. Often I crave alone-time because after all the giving, I need to be alone with myself to see what’s left, scrape it together, and knit it into a warm place to live again.
The daily life is such an inner push-push-push, hurry-hurry-hurry that when I am alone, I have to remind myself to let my feelings out, such as they are, shy animals used to much prodding.
I really try to be genuine in all aspects of my life, to be a whole person, all parts integrated and complete. That’s the goal. But I have yet to be fully secure in my need for alone time. The slinking shadows of shame and guilt always follow me if I carve out that sacred space.
Mary Oliver wrote, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Claiming what we love is claiming ourselves. And that is beautiful indeed.
I love all the people in my life. And I love alone-time.