Yesterday morning I went out early to buy bread. It was a perfectly ordinary morning - clear, cool and the sun just easing its pale light above the horizon. I strode along the deserted streets, and wondered why I felt so odd.
I felt light, airy, and bouncy. There was something new afoot, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. My thoughts ran free, uninterrupted. I crossed a road unimpeded. I hummed to myself, unheard by others. Suddenly it dawned on me - the reason for this queer high I was experiencing. I was alone! Not even the damn beagle was there to drag on her lead and trip me over.
I'm the first to say how grateful I am for the opportunities I have in my life. I know I am very lucky to be able to spend time at home, to work, to exercise, to see my friends and to go out with my husband every now and then. Really, I have it much better than many of the other mothers I know. And yet, how amazing it was for me to realise that I am hardly ever on my own. All my 'time away' from home and hearth involves being with other people - husband, friends, fellow karate students, gym class pals. I loved my morning walk by myself, just tripping along and admiring the dawn skies. It was heavenly. I told myself I'm going to do the 'bread run' more often!
Then all this merry morning meandering was tempered by a rather sobering thought. I remembered what my grandfather had said to me a day earlier.
Grandpa had been reminding me that I should only visit when I have the time, and that I must never feel guilty when I have to leave. He is horrified by the thought of detaining a visitor through their sense of duty; he never wants to feel like an obligation. Then he'd added quietly, "I never thought it would be like this. I thought I'd always be hale and hearty - driving, working in the yard, and making things." And although he stopped there, and didn't elaborate, I knew what he'd left unspoken. I know that Grandpa is mostly alone, and I know that he gets lonely.
I asked Grandpa how he spends his days at home, and he told me, hour by hour. One hour getting showered and dressed. Half an hour preparing and eating breakfast. An hour of radio news here. A nap for an hour there. Then he lowered his voice, looked me in the eye, and told me huskily, "From two o'clock to four o'clock in the afternoon - that's the time I struggle to fill. They're the hours that seem to drag." It was fairly unemotive statement on one level. On another level, the pathos in those words could fill a room, a house even.
As I recalled this conversation with Grandpa, I imagined myself older and spending more time on my own. I imagined my children grown and gone. I imagined the house quiet and neat. My imaginings filled me with the anticipation of freedom but also with a tinge of sadness. I began to grasp the lingering loss I will feel when I am no longer indispensible to my children; when I am free to walk alone to fetch bread every hour of every day.
In the end, I guess we make the best of whatever life brings. When our children are small - dependant and needy - we love them and care for them day in day out, savouring our rare moments of freedom and solitude. When we are older, we adjust to spending more time alone, and look forward to the company of family and friends.
I'm going to go walking at dawn every now and then. I'm also going to hug my kids and kiss their damp foreheads in gladness when I return.