I was trained to believe that being busy means you are important. This wasn’t overt training. It was training I chose to believe from observing the world around me. OK, there was a bit of overt training in school. I see it now when I see what I’m doing to my children at the start of the school year. The school year has started and the pressure to sign my children up for all sorts of extra-curricular activities has begun. And I have bought in. My older child is resisting hard and I think I’d better let him win this one (after I sign him up for a few things – swimming, choir, cross country – hey it’s only a month and I’m only doing it so he gets the bus ride home to the park near where we live). I am in such a quandary over signing him up for dance though.
I put him in dance a couple of years ago because he does not appear to like the team sport thing. Plus, whenever we were at the beach – a place he claims to hate with a passion – he would break out in dance. I decided that dance was the happy place he needed to go to so I figured he would love it as an extra-curricular activity. So I put him in dance and he did well and frankly I loved the year end concerts and hearing that he was a natural from his teacher. But he doesn’t want to do dance. He tells me that it is boring – they repeat the same moves over and over again and it has become a chore for him. Just one more thing to do to please people, including me, the woman who runs the dance studio and the world. Despite knowing this, I still want to sign him up because if I don’t, how is he ever going to figure out what he loves in life if he doesn’t try it and keep practicing it? He is going to get left behind by his peers. He is going to lose the thing he loves!
Yes, this is the argument that is going on in my head that is leading to me badgering my child to sign up for dance again. Sometimes I really hate self-awareness.
Yet self-awareness is hitting me over the head with a hammer this weekend.
I am alone.
Why am I alone?
Well, I was supposed to go on a big hiking trip with some friends but then it turned into a torrential rain weekend (of course it did – it was the start of soccer season) and we decided it is not much fun camping and hiking in a torrential downpour.
So I have no kids – they are with their dad this weekend – and I have no plans.
This is a place I found myself in A LOT when I was freshly separated. It was a place I really could not mentally handle at the time. When I was freshly separated and alone I spent a lot of time crying. A lot. I equated being alone and not busy with being useless and a failure. I had no career to bury myself in, I had no kids to take care of (they were with their dad) and all my friends were extremely busy with their families.
It sucked big time and drove me to depression.
Then my coach helped me understand the importance of alone time (especially for introverts like me and my son). She told me it was OK to sit on the couch and cry. She told me eventually I would get tired of it and move on to something else. She also told me to start figuring out what it was I enjoyed doing and to just start doing it when I had that alone time. She told me to recognize the guilt that would crop up when I was doing something that I enjoyed that I didn’t think was a “valuable use of my time” according to the old rules I had taught myself. She told me to push through that guilt and not let it stop me from doing what I enjoyed.
The great thing about this for me was that she prescribed alone time and fun time for me. I am a rule follower, a lot of us are as we are trained to be in life. So I did what I was told and sat very uncomfortably in my alone time because she told me to. I also started to go out and do things that I had enjoyed in the past. Because at that point in my life I didn’t enjoy anything. I was depressed. I repeated this prescription for a couple of years and in fact sometimes I have to go and get a new prescription for it.
This weekend I got a new prescription for it.
It is amazing because even knowing that being alone is OK now I still can’t quite handle it. I still equate being alone with many bad things and it takes me a lot of (wait for it…ALONE) time to realize how important being alone is.
So on Saturday I woke up and stared alone in the face again and started to get antsy.
I texted my friend that I was supposed to go hiking with to see if she was up for a hike even though it was pouring. Nope. So I sat on the couch and started to see the weekend stretch out before me. I RAN to my closet and put on my exercise gear, hopped in my car and drove myself to the Grouse Grind. I did that, drove home and started to work. I did that for a while until I started to beat myself up again for having no life outside of work and exercise and then I started to text all my friends. My dear friend recognized I was sliding a bit and offered me the opportunity to come over and help her prepare some healthy food.
Um. I hate cooking. I can do it and I can do it well and it has taken me many years to admit that I hate cooking. My family are all fabulous cooks and foodies. My sister reads cookbooks for fun. I should like cooking. Shopping for healthy food at the local markets, cooking and healthy eating are all the rage. OK – this is turning into another post but when my friend asked me if I wanted to come over and help her cook I realized I would rather be alone. Heh. She heard me recognize that and told me to just go make lists of everything I have to do (because I do have work I could be doing) and she knew that would give me something to do so I would’t be obsess about being alone AND I would get something done which I still haven’t let go of as being important.
This is turning into a very long blog post. Is anyone still with me? I work out the analytics of things as I write.
So I started to list all the stuff I have to do and then I realized I was losing my alone time. It was vanishing before my eyes. OMG – I have a lot to do and not much time to do it in. I need more alone time!
I decided I had to go to yoga – it is like alone time. It has meditation built in. I went to yoga.
I came out of yoga and my dear friend had asked me over for pizza (that is how first met in life – she randomly asks strangers if they want pizza as they walk by her house).
Of course I wanted pizza (it had bacon and potato on it!) and of course I wanted to hang out with my friend.
Then I came home and it was still Saturday night and I was alone.
It was then that I finally FINALLY recognized how well and truly I have been trained to think that there is something wrong with being alone with nothing to do because I realized I still subconsciously believe this fallacy.
Then I recognized what my alone time that day had brought me.
I had re-learned what is important to me and I got re-charged doing the things I enjoy. I actually got very excited about life again and I was grateful that I had gotten alone time to get reminded of these things. It really was the best day ever. I felt happy when I woke up this morning. Happy.
To bring this post full circle I now recognize what I am doing to my children when I fill up their schedules with extra-curricular activities. I am teaching them that being alone and being bored is bad. I am also not giving my introvert son enough time to figure out what it is he enjoys. He is being told what to do and he does it because he is a rule follower just like me. I am setting him up for a future mid-life crisis. Someday, he will have to learn that being alone is not bad. He will also have to learn what it is that he loves because he will never have had a chance to figure it out for himself.
I subconsciously knew that I was not letting my son be OK with himself and what he wants. I was trying to convince him he is wrong about stopping his dance class. This is the other awareness I had this weekend in my alone time. I realized that though all I’ve ever wanted for my kids is for them to be happy, I’m still following a set of parenting rules that does the opposite. I am still following the rules that I thought I had unlearned.
So, to be clear and because it seems it takes a lot to unlearn 40 years of training, I am reminding myself that alone time is good – not only is it good, it is awesome.
So this is my reminder and I hope it helps you too.