By Melanie Dale
“I am alone. I am utterly alone.” I was 11 years old and felt seen watching Winona Ryder write these words as Lydia in Beetlejuice. Dark and brooding, befriending ghosts, feeling lost and misunderstood but longing for joy.
The longer I parent, the more I’m re-learning isolation. I am once again the lost girl feeling like I don’t fit in anywhere. It seems like everyone else is living in a different reality, and I’m over here at IEP meetings and sitting in the therapist’s office. Other people are probably getting parenting awards, and are there cookies over there? I can’t tell. It looks like trophies and cookies and everybody smiling and winning. I’m over here clutching a bunch of prescriptions to my chest like Kevlar.
A patronizing person on social media commented on one of my posts about wishing she could go back to the easy times of playdates and whining, but her kids are grown now and have real problems. There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, if I ever become that out of touch and condescending to the moms raising kids behind me, please, while you’re back there, stick a “kick me” sign on my back and let me have it. And second, she assumed I was in the playdate stage but I am not anymore and I miss it. I don’t miss the small children – so hard! Those of you in this stage are working your asses off and I see you, the hours elbow-deep in diapers, the constant assistance and attention, from teaching your littles to share toys to avoiding death from every unsliced grape or hotdog. The vigilance! The nonstop watching! I remember.
I don’t miss that. But what I do miss is the community. I know all of us miss that now, because of the pandemic, but even before Big Virus hit us in the ladynuts, I missed playdates and built-in time with other moms, from waiting rooms to sidelines to living room floors.
When my kids were little, I parented out in the open. We hung in groups and sat kids in time outs and shared parenting hacks and never worried about telling stories of tantrums and tattling. We were shameless and unafraid.
As the kids turn to tweens then teens, our parenting moves inside, behind locked doors, out of the light, away from prying eyes and wagging tongues. Our grown kids need privacy for their problems. We must keep their secrets. But our secrecy comes at a cost.
I miss the camaraderie of motherhood. Years ago, I wrote a whole book about mom friends, and I have wonderful ones, the best ones, the most fabulous people in my life, but the daily onslaught of parenting older kids and keeping their secrets and partnering in problem-solving is wearing me down, so in spite of being surrounded by people who care, I feel desperate for people who know.
Social media is harder to scroll. I want to be happy for others but sometimes I’m so damn sad for myself. I wonder if other parents feel lonely, or if they’re all off somewhere hanging out without me. I feel stabby, like the internalized rage will eventually consume me and I’ll go up in flames in the middle of the produce aisle.
The more time I spend finagling the kids’ schedules, Tetris-ing their carpools into an intricate grid of arrivals and departures, the less time I have for casual hangouts. We sit in parking lots texting and Marco Polo-ing, waiting on kids in their appointments and practices. I’m waiting on time with friends and wondering if I’ll ever see them again. Maybe three Tuesdays from now after the teacher meeting but before school lets out. Let’s pencil it in. And if we do ever manage that magical time together, what do I say? How do I explain all that’s pressing on me? I’m supposed to be fun, but I feel a thousand pounds.
A year into the pandemic has laid bare truths that were always there. It’s revealed the loneliness that’s been festering inside me. I’m doing the work, I’m engaging and reaching out and working hard on relationships. But the stress and hopelessness are weighing me down. I know I’m not alone in my aloneness. So many of us are struggling right now, no matter the ages and stages of our kids.
Whether we’re isolated because our kids are old and everything is private and we’re putting out fires behind closed doors, or we’re isolated because we’re a year into a pandemic and stuck inside, trying to smile with our eyes behind masks, squirting hand sanitizer and shouting from six feet away, we’re lonely. I have no answers. More of a plea to not give up. I don’t want to sit at home with my inner demons dragging me into the darkness alone. I want my demons to drag you into the darkness with me. Wait, no, I mean, I want to walk outside into the light and wave at you across the lawn. That sounds better. Let’s go with that.
I want to move from alone, utterly alone Lydia to dancing in the air Lydia at the end of Beetlejuice. She conquered her loneliness and made friends—okay dead ones, but still—and came out on the other side happy. (Hey wait. I think in this analogy Covid is Beetlejuice, so has anyone tried saying Covid’s name three times to get it to leave?)
I will keep fighting for companionship, no matter what motherhood or viruses can throw at us. When we’re keeping confidences that aren’t ours to break, we can’t share everything, but we can still find comfort in sharing ourselves if not our secrets. Bring your secrets. Keep your secrets. Everyone is fighting an inner battle over something. Sometimes we can sit in silence, and being quietly together is better than being alone. And occasionally, we find a rare friend or two who keep our secrets with us.
I pick up the phone and text one of mine. “Rage walk tomorrow morning?”
We meet outside and set out on opposite sides of the path. We walk and rage and walk faster and rage louder. An hour and a half later we return, sweatier and less alone.