Monkey loves to pretend to be talking on the phone. He lifts it up to his ear, tilting it back to listen to the screen rather than the ear piece. He grins and looks for approval from the nearest adult. But only if he hears, “Hello? Hello, Monkey! Hello? Is anyone there?”
I have a sound bite on my phone of me saying that. It’s fourteen seconds long. When it plays, he looks at my face because he recognizes my voice. He’s so confused and delighted when my voice comes from in the phone itself.
Yes, he loves talking on the phone, but only when someone talks back.
We are all like that. We love to post on social media, we love to have conversations, we love to interact with the world, as long as we are interacted with in turn. Being a stay-at-home parent is difficult because we don’t get a lot of that meaningful communication without at least double the amount of effort it used to take to get it.
Someone rang my doorbell this morning. I was upstairs in our living room with the two boys. Eggs was screaming because he seems to know when I’m thinking about leaving the room and it seems to be his worst nightmare. Monkey was screaming because we are transitioning to one nap and it is going so poorly. The dog was barking because someone was at the door. And I was angry. Angry that someone was at my door without sending me a message first to let me know they were coming. Angry that Eggs is still up through the night and I’m so tired and he won’t stop crying if any person leaves the room. Angry that Monkey is always miserable and always getting into things and always wanting to explore and I just want to sit. Angry that we never trained my dog to be quiet when people come to the door. Angry that Brian doesn’t have to be here every day.
I ran to put some clothes on because, I’m going to be honest, even getting dressed is hard for me these days. I bolted down the stairs to see if whoever rang my doorbell was still there. Leaving the boys upstairs provoked a new round of high-pitched wails that put my teeth on edge. I snuck out the door so that my dog wouldn’t follow me to find our landscaper had forgotten to charge us for something and here was another $1300 we needed to pay. He looked at me and said, “Rough morning?”
That was the first adult conversation I had today. If I didn’t have coffee planned this afternoon, it would have been the only conversation I had today unless Brian and I force ourselves to take time with each other.
Brian and I are often ships passing in the night. When he’s home, we each take a kid and do whatever it takes to keep them from injuring themselves or breaking things or screaming constantly. Conversations are limited to “Can you grab that for me?” or “Where’s the ____?” until the boys are gone. To be honest, we are mostly guessing what the other person is saying since we can’t hear each other over the jingling toys, the yelling children, or the dog. And, sometimes, the TV. If we get a conversation, it’s usually about the kids. During the week, we are bailing to keep afloat.
Sometimes I think that if 20-year-old me saw a day like today, she’d decide that maybe children weren’t for her. I wouldn’t blame her.
I long for communication, but I dread the amount of work it takes to get it. I have to start getting the kids ready to leave 45 minutes before we actually go anywhere. They need clean diapers, recent feedings, acceptable clothing, shoes on, bottles full and in the bag, sunscreen, bug spray, hats (that will be pulled off their heads and put back on about thirty times), and then I take the boys out to the car one at a time. Eggs screams because he’s been left alone.
When I get to where ever I’m going, I have to figure out how I’m going to get inside. Monkey wanders so there is no way that I can put him on the ground. He’d disappear in a minute. But Eggs can’t walk so I carry one kid in each arm and my bag slung around my shoulder. I’m often out of breath by the time I get to the building. Then we have to unpack where ever we are.
So I satisfy my desire for communication through texting and social media. Now I’m not criticizing those platforms for communication, but they are as satisfying as replacing a meal with candy. It fixes things temporarily, but it isn’t healthy. We all know how easy it is to present only the nice sides of ourselves on social media. Texting is good for small talk or making plans, but not much else. Tone is lost, non-verbal communication is lost, intimacy is lost.
I end up feeling profoundly lonely. It’s a loneliness that isn’t swept away as soon as I’m in the presence of another person. It’s a loneliness that has seeped into my soul because it knows that I may have someone to talk to today, but I know that tomorrow will be different. It knows that I had the energy to meet up with someone today, but I won’t have it tomorrow and there will be no time to rest because children do not leave time for rest. It’s a loneliness that tells you that no one else feels the same way you do because look at their pictures on Facebook. Look at how happy they seem with their lives. Look at them glow.
Jenny Lawson says that depression lies but I think that loneliness does too. Sometimes you pick up that phone and loneliness is on the other side whispering, “You can’t do this. There is something very wrong with you. And no one can relate to that because everyone else was made factory perfect. The machine malfunctioned while you were on the line. And you just sound like a whiner to everyone else who has it right. Why do you keep trying when you’re missing the piece that makes a someone a good mother?”
I’m helping start a moms’ group at my church because I hope that I can help someone who feels the same. I kind of hope that there is someone who feels the same way, that my loneliness has lied to me about that. But then I feel like a bad person because feeling like this totally sucks. I’m not excited about this group, not because it’s not going to be great, but because the loneliness has called me again. “It’s going to be a lot of work to go. And no one is probably going to like you. You’re not like them. And your kids? The other moms will see your flaws in them from day one and they’ll wonder why you don’t have it together. You don’t discipline them enough. Your mom always told you that you weren’t disciplined. You’ll be that one person that everyone kind of hopes doesn’t show up. It’d be better if you stayed home.”
But if I go, if I spend time with others, if Brian and I spend time with friends, I know that it’s like I’ve hung up the phone. Loneliness doesn’t do face-to-face conversations. Loneliness loses some of its potency when its lies come to light. So if you are feeling the way I do sometimes, if you feel like the only person who has your number is that loneliness, I encourage you to reach out to others. Send me a message. Come to our moms’ group. Call a friend to go for coffee. Find a way to have a communication meal. And remember that it’s all just lies.