A recent conversation reminded me of a moment back in the early days of parenting.
For background, one of the big instructions we had been given by our adoption medicine specialists before Happy came home was that BF and I needed to do everything for Happy for the first several months since he wouldn’t be familiar with a nuclear family structure. With our careful attention and love, Happy would begin to understand that these two new people in his life were his parents and that our job is to meet his needs and help him grow and thrive. It was great advice. It was the right advice. And so we buckled down and took care of every one of baby’s needs in those initial months- every diaper was changed by me or BF, every bottle was given by me or BF, every bite was served by me or BF, every bath was drawn by me or BF, you get the picture. But the dailiness of raising a baby, running a household, and earning a living (on no sleep, as you might recall from our particularly difficult sleep experience with the kid) was hard and, as it turned out, lonely. One morning, I remember waking up and wading through lesson plans, grading, laundry, feedings, and walks outside so that our baby might sleep, all the while thinking, “Where’s my village?”
I thought it. I probably even cried about it. It maybe even was at the root of a full-fledged anxiety attack I had one night in bed where I lay wide-awake waiting for baby’s next wake-up. As my heart thudded in my chest, I remember thinking, “am I dying?” but was too paralyzed from the feeling to wake up BF and tell him to take me to the hospital. I remember thinking, “I can’t wake up BF; he’s finally sleeping because baby’s actually sleeping.” So I just sat there in the dark, terrified, as everything- the laundry, the dishes, the errands, the deadlines, the papers to grade- piled up, trying to suffocate me.
Fastforward to the recent conversation. A friend and I were talking about loneliness, and what struck me was that, really, we all feel alone in some way, don’t we? I have felt lonely so many times in my life, way before the day I asked “where’s my village?”. Loneliness was really a close to most defining (if not the most defining) trait of about 30 years of my life. And what is interesting is that now that I am married and I have a kid, I might feel less lonely but it is not for the reasons you think. It’s not because I have a dog and a husband and a toddler underfoot. It’s not because I am so rarely just alone. It is because I am so much more comfortable and grateful for my loneliness. I am so aware of the gifts it gives me, the sensitivity it invokes, the clarity it provides, the truth of it. It is because I understand that loneliness is a compass and I understand, now, where it is pointing me. Loneliness has really informed my soul, made me the person who I am and I am grateful for it, in debt even to it. It has made me, ironically, a much better community member, a more supportive friend, I think. But I am also not beholden to my loneliness (unless I choose to be).
On that night that I sat paralyzed with anxiety two years ago, I didn’t yet realize that my village was there, just waiting for me to issue the call. If I had gotten on the phone the very next morning (or even email) and said the exhaustion is too much, I need to sleep during baby’s naps which means I need help with laundry, dishes, dusting, the groceries or whatever it was that I needed, every need and more would have been met for weeks. Months even. I didn’t give my village the opportunity to show up when I should have. Had I done so, I probably would have learned that my village both looked the way I might have imagined it looked but that it also housed a few surprises for me. I would have learned that we’re never as lonely as we think we are and that everyone desires the opportunity to be in community with others. Sometimes, all they need- all we need- is an invitation.