Ever since our last kiddo left the nest three years ago, Brian and I have lived a pretty chill existence.
Six days a week, he runs his gunsmithing shop, a one-man operation that’s been our bread and butter for the last several years. Most days he has a lot of time to himself in between customers.
Right now I am fortunate enough to have the luxury of spending my days at home alone, except for the Greyhounds. In between doing their bidding and whatever household business I can’t put off, I work on websites and write.
While my work setup still needs some ergonomic tweaks, when it comes to personal space and creativity this is as good as it’s ever been. For either of us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’ll cope in our RV’s much smaller space, with an abundance of together time. For it to go well, this introvert will have to get out of her head and communicate more. Brian will undoubtedly make adjustments as well. Overall, though, I’m looking forward to the day when we can team up on projects instead of going our separate ways.
Even though I have some figuring out to do, I know a lot about what my optimum work environment looks like. As I look ahead to how I can create that in our RV, I can’t help but look back to the time when things were drastically different.
Solo parenting: When you’re alone…but not alone alone
Knock knock knock…
I sigh. Only mentally. Physically, I hold my breath hoping he’ll think I’m asleep and go away.
More insistent. Come. On. David. Can I not have more than five minutes alone?
I know his pattern. The “MOMing” will only escalate. This time, I’m determined to wait him out.
He knocks again, then tries the door knob. It’s locked, of course. An unlocked door would be even more useless than the locked door that barely separates us now.
“MOM. MOM! MOMMYYYYYYY!!!”
Back and forth this goes. It’s obvious I’m not asleep. No one could sleep through the racket.
As a single parent of two, 24/7/365 (less summer visitation) I seldom get a break. By god I’m taking one now, or there’ll be a mental break.
The flimsy, hollow-core door rattles again, followed by louder, more forceful knocking. For about the seven-hundredth time this year, a 10-year-old is testing my sanity. Quickly and quietly I move from the bed and lock myself in the master bedroom’s tiny half bath.
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
Two flimsy doors aren’t any better than one.
The battle of wills continues perhaps ten minutes before I can’t take any more. I throw open the bathroom door, then the bedroom door, and shout as loudly and forcefully as I can.
“WHY…CAN’T…YOU…LEAVE ME…THE HELL ALOOOOONE???!!!???!!!” I shout, with all the rage I can muster.
A cat-ate-the-canary grin spreads across his face. He’s won again, and knows it.
Somehow, I resisted the impulse to strangle the kid. Five years later, he was a teenager and more often than not he was the one alone behind a closed door.
Raising kids can be stressful for anyone, although it is beautiful (and sometimes comical) how quickly the tables can turn in a situation.
With 15+ years of solo parenting experience behind me, though, I can confirm that it 100% does not mix well with a need to be alone.
Alone time keeps me sane…ish
Growing up in a large family in not all that big a house, being by myself was nearly impossible. If I couldn’t leave, I’d climb a tree. My younger sisters – five of the reasons I sought escape – all eventually found my hiding spot.
With nowhere left to run, I turned to hiding in plain site. I’d grab a set of earphones, crank up the stereo until it obliterated all other sound, and lay face down on the couch so I didn’t have to see or hear anyone.
My sisters knew not to bother me, else I’d beat the ever-living snot out of them. This quasi-alone zone worked well for me, as long as I didn’t mistime it and get busted by my dad for being “lazy.”
Craving alone time wasn’t enough to make me realize it back then, but I know now I’m an introvert.
For the longest time I never cut myself any slack for feeling mentally exhausted (and sometimes bitchy, if I’m being honest) when I didn’t get time to myself. I just figured it was another character flaw.
It took me a long time (and a really good book) to realize that unlike introverts, extroverts are by design conspicuous. That makes it easy to assume that their personality is the norm, and is more desirable than introversion. It did for me, at least, until I realized each personality type has its strengths and weaknesses.
In college, a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test I took provided me with the first clue that introversion was simply another way humans function. When I moved into professional life, I saw the MBTI again when I worked at a firm that was big on team-building exercises.
During and after nearly every one of our team-building days, facilitators emphasized how important it was that a team welcomed and understood various personality types. Most everybody nodded in agreement – including company leadership.
The following day, we all went back to doing what we always did, albeit with new and improved wisecracks borne of an entire day devoted to touchy-feely crap.
Hey – did you know there’s no ‘I’ in TEAM?
It was ironic, though, that despite what must have been tens of thousands of dollars in team building expenses, there was no allowance for introversion. Every one of us who wasn’t in a leadership position had to share an open work environment.
From 9 – 6 every weekday, I was “on.” I liked my coworkers, but often went to lunch by myself. That hour alone gave me time to breathe, and decompress a little.
Sometimes I was able to work in an empty conference room or office, which helped productivity and creativity quite a bit. Occupying an empty office too often was a no-no, though, since I didn’t have a leadership position in the firm.
I have no idea how my design department coworkers didn’t fall apart more often given our work environment. Most if not all were introverts. How the hell could they be creative when they were under constant pressure to interact?
I’ve been out of the office environment since 2009, but I still see job listings boasting of large, open workspaces. Designed and led by extroverts, I’m guessing.
Because introversion alone doesn’t make a special enough little snowflake
In the ever-so-trendy open office environment, every damn thing distracted me. I realized pretty quickly that I could tune out some of it with my childhood “I’m ignoring you” headphones trick.
Headphones were great for blocking noise, but didn’t do a damn thing for visual distraction. Or coworkers dropping by my desk to get in my production queue or check with me about something or another.
Turns out I was not invisible enough. And unlike with my younger sisters, I couldn’t threaten a coworker with physical violence.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” I wondered. Just the sight of people walking near my desk was enough to distract me and throw me off track. Maybe a vestige of a childhood survival tactic? Looking out for the ol’ backhand?
I went to some doctor or another who said yeah, you have ADD – here’s some pills. Boy was that the wrong thing. Although during the month or so I tried that drug (can’t recall which drug it was) I was super productive. An unstoppable beast. Sat in front of my computer for hours at a time, without as much as a bathroom break.
That stupidity netted me a couple of painful UTIs and the realization that I was probably just a normal(ish) person on speed.
I quit the drugs, because I’m not a big fan of taking potentially dangerous medication without a compelling reason.
I suppose we can find labels for anything we like. However, in my quest to figure out my quirky brain I did find one that was genuinely helpful: “Highly Sensitive Person,” or HSP.
A.S.S. (Attention Surplus Syndrome) is how I jokingly refer to it. Unless I take measures to counteract it, I see and hear everything. Even when it’s inconsequential. Squirrel!
I’m not going to tell you the book I read that helped me figure this out, because after the part where I realized “Yeah, that’s definitely me,” there was a whole lot of whiny crap about self-care, and nurturing, and not doing anything outside your comfort zone. That might be OK if all I wanted was a label that excused me from real life.
I do want to understand what makes me tick, but then I want to get on with living life to the fullest.
At the office, I coped with being highly sensitive by coming in early or staying late, when usually no one was around. This was a very bad thing. Pretty sure that helped me into painful shoulder/neck/arm RSIs.
Now that I think about it, this is probably how my designer colleagues coped as well. If they weren’t in the office late during our busy season, they often took work home. One had neck, shoulder and arm pain so bad she’d work with a heating pad on, and had frequent massage therapy appointments.
At my home office, no one is around to distract me. Well, except the dogs. I suppose it’s good they force me to take work breaks.
But when we move to the RV? Brian and I will be together almost all. the. time.
We’re setting up our RV work environment as intentionally as possible given the space and our budget. But I have my concerns.
Brian’s a confirmed extrovert according to every test he’s taken that measures such things. Yet by the end of a Saturday (his shop’s busiest day), he is absolutely done with people. Still, he says he’s not worried about having enough time to himself when we’re in the RV. I’m not so sure he’ll be completely unaffected, but I am thankful he’s not as fussy about it as I am.
How’m I gonna cope (assuming being a bitch is an unacceptable option)?
It’s my smartphone, letting me know I’ve got a new e-mail message. We’ve just finished dinner and Brian and I are cleaning up the dishes.
Normally I ignore business after hours, or at least do nothing more than read the message to see what’s up. But I’ve been waiting on the details in the e-mail. It’s a somewhat urgent situation, but should be a relatively quick fix. As soon as the kitchen’s in order I sit down at my computer.
Just as I’m digging in to the e-mail I feel Brian’s palms on my shoulders.
“Whatcha doing?” he asks, hands absentmindedly stroking my shoulders as he leans forward to inspect my laptop screen.
His questioning irks me, as does the tapping on my shoulder while I attempt to focus. I’m certain I mentioned the request over dinner, but I reiterate it in a voice I’m sure has at least a hint of “Leave me the fuck alone” in it.
To be fair, Brian’s hovering behavior usually only occurs in the evening. I have a past history of sitting down with the intention of taking only a quick look at a problem, but winding up working for hours.
It’s been well over a year – perhaps two or three, even – since I’ve done that. Maybe he fears I’ve reverted to my old, unhealthy ways. Could be he’s just worried I’m wasting my limited keyboard hours on something he thinks is dumb.
I’m feeling too bitchy to have a conversation about why he’s all up in my space; I just want him to leave me to it. It doesn’t take long.
As he walks away I wonder if living together in 320 square feet will make him feel better or worse about how I spend my time.
Here’s an idea: Try talking about it
A week or so after the hovering incident, I ask Brian why he does it.
“I want to know what you’re writing, since I’m the asshole on the blog,” he says.
Oh, dear god. Because of that one post it’s like he’s married to the paparazzi. I wasn’t even blogging – I was about to help a client.
“How are we going to cope when we’re living in live 5% of the space we have now?” I ask.
“I’m not going to be all up in your junk, if that’s what you mean,” he replies. “If you remember our Little Tallapoosa trip, I was outside a lot – mosquitos be damned.”
Oh, good, I think. Because for me going outside around here doesn’t seem to be a viable option. Thanks, evil little blood suckers.
“We’ll manage,” he assures me. “You’ll tell me what you need, and I’ll do it.” And then he adds, “Like I always do.”
Which makes me feel guilty…yet relieved.
Despite being “of a certain age,” Brian and I have been married less than 10 years. Before that, I wasn’t sure I could ever tolerate sharing a house with a partner.
Yet here we are.
I even sort of adjusted to being a mom again after a 5-year break. Not a super-awesome mom, but then I’m not sure that was possible given all our personalities. Still, everyone graduated high school, no one got pregnant and there was only one incident involving the presence of a law enforcement officer.
It may be a low bar, but I’m gonna go ahead and call that success.
Note to self
Our RV is so well thought out that it offers all the physical space we need. But when it comes to mental space – space to quietly think, be creative, or just BE (period) – if I’m not both careful and communicative about it I’ll be trying to figure out how to maneuver a broom in super-tight quarters.
…crazy laughter in another
room and she drove herself to madness
with a silver spoon…