The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m a secret introvert. I use the word secret because, from a casual observer’s point of view, I’m anything but. I spend my days bouncing in front of a gaggle of high school students, ranting at the top of my lungs about U.S. History and Government. I have to fight against the little glowing black box that they sit in front of for their attention, and I lose more battles than I win. Then I meet the sunset with my trusty Canon DSLR and act like a monkey clanging symbols so a family with toddlers can be photographed. Finally, I go home where I weave in and out of imaginary characters – Paw Patrol, Buzz Lightyear, and even a human vacuum cleaner – all to the delight of my own children. After the house is quiet, I climb in bed, utterly exhausted. I can feel the phantom Legos — oh God the Legos — underneath my feet for a good while.
It’s not original or extraordinary that, for moms, the night brings a time to recharge. I can almost feel us all release a collective sigh as the theme music to a Real Housewife city plays in the background of our dark bedrooms. But for us introverts, the night is not just a time to relax – it’s also medicinal. I’ve had to make myself substantially uncomfortable at every moment of the day, and on a cellular level, I’m depleted. I’ll wake up in the morning and do it all over again.
Because introverts derive their best energy from being mentally reticent, I treasure the moments when I’m alone. That’s not to say there is no love in the busy moment surrounded by people. If there wasn’t love, I wouldn’t make any of the choices I make. However, there most certainly isn’t a replenishing reenergizing. What I have learned since becoming a mom is that the love I receive from the majority of my day doesn’t mean much if I’m acting like a withered old bat due to exhaustion. In fact, it seems unfair that once I reach the point of far-gone fatigue that I am unable to return that love that my family and students so unconditionally deserve. So, I try to spend time alone, and I’m not ashamed of that … most of the time.
Last summer I had to go to special training to teach a certain class for the upcoming school year. I reveled in the fact I would spend the bookends of the day reading, writing, and editing some overdue images. I even grinned at the prospect of doing homework if it meant ducking into a sleepy coffee shop and trusting my Pandora radio stations. As I was recounting my glorious three days of mental rejuvenation to the wife of an acquaintance, I could feel eyes like daggers glaring at me.
“I could never do that,” she remarked, “I’d miss my baby way too much.”
Other women who were standing around nodded in agreement. I felt my cheeks explode in crimson. It was like having a spotlight shown directly on me, and a menacing grand marshal announcing I was a bad mom to a crowd.
It took a while after that interaction to take my husband up on his offer of a kid-free parcel of the afternoon and a return to my womanly confidence. I can understand that for my mental health I need room to breathe, but it doesn’t chase away the feeling of judgment. I know in my heart there is nothing wrong with spending an hour sipping coffee at a shop alone after spending seven consecutive days potty-training or riding a bus with 40 teenagers. So why is the embarrassment still there when the inevitable negative comments come our way? Usually, my answer is to push myself to my introvert limits in some confounded plot to prove to the world I can do it all.
My plea to other women, particularly moms, is to reserve critical comments about how others spend their free time. We all have so little of it, we all deserve to do what we like. What comes across to one as cold and anti-maternal might be, to another, the prescription to be the best nurturer she can be. The day if full of self-sacrifice; let’s rejoice when we see another mom indulging (even if she’s all alone).