See me hiding there in the corner behind my mother’s legs, because I’m afraid of all the people?
Actually, I’m with my husband at a company party, holding his hand and staring at all the grown-ups who actually know how to talk to each other. They come into this shiny grown-up fourth-floor office in downtown San Francisco, with their grown-up coffee and their grown-up briefcases, after taking long trips by public transportation all by themselves. All day long, they talk to other grown-ups about solving grown-up problems, and at lunch they eat things like sushi and falafel in grown-up corner restaurants while watching the city chaos through big, stylish, grown-up windows.
I don’t know how to be that anymore.
Standing in this dim, chatter-filled room, crammed with people whose lives bear no resemblance to mine, I realize the extent of my isolation.
The minute I had Bug, my contact with other people started shrinking. First I cut down on my credit hours at school. Suddenly we couldn’t hang out with our friends at all hours. Then I graduated–no more classes, study groups, or-late-night sessions making acrylic vampire teeth and latex horns in the makeup room with the other students. Then DH got a full time job, and I decreased my work hours. Somewhere in there, we stopped seeing our friends for weeks at a time, as our evenings filled with more work and then an hour or two half-asleep in front of the TV, our minds too exhausted to think of anything else. Meanwhile, my work schedule shrank and shrank until, 3 months pregnant with Pixie and too sick to manage even a short shift, I finally gave up.
I hung onto my night classes at the gym as the only scheduled occasions where I interacted with people who I didn’t regularly clean. Conversation rarely happened, but when it did, I relished it. My Zumba classes had nothing to do with little peanut butter-encrusted shirts, and that was good enough for me. After having Pixie, I added in a weekly karate session. But since moving to California six weeks ago, I’ve dropped both. I’m lucky we have friends nearby, otherwise I’d be completely cut off from the world as I used to participate in it.
Most of my daily conversations revolve around poop, snacktime, and the word “no.”
How did I get here? Is this sort of isolation inevitable? How can I fix it, so that walking into a crowded party doesn’t make me feel like I’m fuzzed out of this plane of existence, clinging by a finger or two while the rest of me insists it has no time for such things, because the kitchen floor needs to be swept again? We idealize this as sweet motherhood, holy sacrifice, the place where female souls naturally long to be. But I think of all the mothers, neatly boxed in, wrapped up, and stacked in their houses one on top of each other like pretty presents full of loneliness and frustration on the inside, and I realize that this can’t be natural.
I watch the grown-ups at the party with the feeling of standing behind a plexiglass window with a speaker installed so I can hear what’s going on around me. Occasionally someone walks up and presses a button, so when DH says, “This is my wife, Heidi,” they can hear me say, “Nice to meet you.” But I’m not a part of their grown-up party. I don’t know how to be.
Not that taking care of two small people isn’t a very grown up thing to do. But part of being grown up is knowing how to take care of yourself, and there’s a very big difference between taking care of yourself and taking care of other people. So what if I don’t like being cut off from the rest of the world? That’s not a flaw; it’s part of who I am. If I push my needs aside, or don’t at least acknowledge that I have them and they count, I am not taking care of myself. I am not really an adult. I’m a child with a heck of a lot of chores.