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Seeking Solitude in the Midst of Motherhood

It was my third year in college, and I willingly walked through the doors of Student Health not because I was sick, but because I wanted a shot at participating in the university’s lucrative “cold study.” Researchers injected participants with either a live strand of the common cold virus or a placebo and put them up in a hotel room for several days, where they were to remain alone, only interrupted for occasional observation by the researchers. Ultimately, participants would be compensated $750 for their time, which included blood work, the hotel stay, and follow-up visits. After having a preliminary blood draw, however, I learned my body was immune to the particular strand in the study, and I was deemed ineligible.

I shake my head at this younger version of myself, so eager and willing to become infected with the common cold just for some quick cash. Before I know it, though, I’m Googling “cold study” and learn they still accept participants for this research. I pause and genuinely consider it. It’s not the money that entices me this time; it’s the solitude. I wonder if the hotel offer is still part of the deal, and while my three little boys sleep soundly upstairs, I contact the Principal Investigator, nonchalantly asking if he is still accepting candidates for the cold study. He is.

I can’t believe I’m even considering this. Who have I become?

I am a mom who is tired, and desperate for time by myself. I have been pregnant, miscarrying, and/or nursing babies for seven straight years without a break. Some days, I find myself in tears, just craving space. Between teaching full-time at an elementary school and my house full of little boys, I am never alone. As an introvert, I simply want an opportunity to get lost in my own head, to have a chance to process my thoughts.

I dream about my perfect self-care weekend. It would include hours of prayer, journaling, reading the Bible, reading for pleasure, and writing. I think of how much I could grow and learn if I just had one weekend to myself. I miss having uninterrupted thoughts or enjoying a deep conversation with a friend over coffee. I’m homesick for my younger self, who could easily have done any of these things at any time.

“Is it too much to ask for one weekend alone in eight years?” I cry out to my husband.

“Name the weekend,” he offers.

I shake my head. I know that it’s not that simple, that there are little people involved and I cannot just take off while I’m still nursing a baby. Instead, I grow anxious each day, wondering if I’ll find a chance for quiet time.

Out of necessity, I have found options for incorporating intellectual self-care into my everyday life. In the mornings as I get ready for work, I listen to podcasts or an audiobook on my library Hoopla account. While I eat breakfast, I read my Bible. Driving to school, my son is quiet, so I use that time to continue the morning’s podcast.

After school, we usually head home for a while before picking up his brothers. This was my six-year-old’s request. He recognized that he needed quiet time to do homework and practice piano and asked for it. I seize this tiny window to do some writing. After we pick up the babies, it’s a whirlwind of getting them all fed, bathed, and tucked in and it’s usually well past a healthy bedtime if I get another chance to write.

Taking my own advice from a unit I teach on growth mindset, I challenged myself to learn something new while I rock my babies to sleep. I taught myself the “Fifty Nifty United States” song, now able to sing all 50 states in alphabetical order. While on road trips, I taught myself to hand-letter and am now working on solving a Rubik’s cube. I was inspired to see one mother on Instagram capping her day with a book of brain puzzles, explaining that with the specific hardships she now faces, it feels good to close each day with problems she can actually solve.

I know this season will fade into the next. Eventually, my boys’ demands will become less physically draining and may become more emotionally draining, so I am gentle with myself in this season. I’m flexible with where I find quiet time, and how long it might last. Mom guilt might drive me to set down my Bible to go outside to sled with my kids, only to end up in urgent care getting my arm x-rayed for broken bones. It might mean accepting that today, there won’t be time to write, but there might be time to listen to a podcast or declutter my desk for the next time I am able to write. It might look like jotting down three things I’m grateful for in my planner instead of writing a blog post. It might look like making a note on my phone of all the creative projects I want to complete another day. It might mean stopping here, giving myself permission to go to sleep for now, that I’ll be able to continue where I left off another day, even if I don’t know exactly when.

It’s grace for myself that, while I was a planner in college, now I work in small pockets whenever they arise. I’ll savor these last few precious months of nursing my baby, however long he wants to continue, and I’ll grieve this season when it’s gone. And then just maybe, I’ll dust off my suitcase, hop a plane to Ireland, and spend two weeks writing to my heart’s content—as long as I don’t catch a cold.

Featured image courtesy of Lindsey Cornett

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 Ashley Bartley is a wife, mom to three small boys, and an elementary school counselor in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She writes on Instagram and her blog, where she encourages women to create a habit of pause in every small, great, and wild moment. She is eagerly planning a trip to Ireland for early June.


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