I know I am absolutely not alone in what I am about to talk about, and no doubt there are other stories out there more complex and well put together than mine, but this week has been a tough one. And because of that I want to say this and put it out there.
I am lonely.
I brought a lot of this on myself. I moved cross country with a 3 month old, leaving my family and support network behind, started a new job a few months later and then a worldwide pandemic hit. Which, in my defense, I couldn’t have predicted.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not alone. I am in this lockdown world with my partner and our now toddler. But there is something unique about family ties, and celebrating the little man’s birthday this last week without the help of that family really brought the loneliness to a head.
The nephews who live closest are both teenagers, and I have spent many of their birthdays – and the day and night and sometimes week before – helping bake, decorate, facepaint. Just generally doing whatever needed to be done. And it has always been a team effort. And last week I realised how much I miss that team.
The night before his birthday I stayed up way past my usual bedtime decorating, blowing up balloons, putting confetti on the table and just generally making the place different. Making it special. He can’t see his family, he has no one to make a fuss over him but us, so I made a fuss.
When he woke the next morning – later than normal, thanks for that present buddy – we went into his room with balloons and he played in his cot, the biggest grin on his face as he giggled, bouncing the balloons around the room. Then we came downstairs to find more balloons in the hall, and birthday banners and even more balloons in the kitchen and sitting room. The kid didn’t know where to look. He was grinning and laughing from the moment he woke up. And that’s how it should be.
He had the best day. There were diggers and new books. Cards and parcels came through the letter box. A new sand pit to play in with his diggers which kept him entertained for most of the afternoon. A chocolate cake covered in diggers and chocolate gravel. Zoom calls with all the grandparents and aunts and uncles. He was the centre of attention. Exactly as it should be.
And then, when he finally went to bed, I was left with the aftermath. Chocolate cake crumbs mixed with confetti across the table and floor. More sand on the ground and in the house than in the sandpit. New toys and books strewn across every surface. A sink and countertops overflowing from ignoring the normal daily chores. And in that moment, looking at the mess left from a day of celebration, I felt completely alone and sadder than I have felt in a long time. The Dad has a regular standing Friday night online game session, and there had been a conversation the day before about him missing it but I told him no, play, once the kid was in bed the day was done. And even if he hadn’t played that night, I think the loneliness still would have hit. Because it’s a different kind of alone. I realised just how much having my sisters close by means to me.
So once the birthday boy had gone to bed and I had made a half hearted attempt at tidying up, I sent a message to one sister, and they happened to be together. So we video called and had a drink and a chat, just as we would have done if it weren’t for the lockdown and living in different counties. And it was lovely to see their faces and laugh and chat and just generally hang out, as much as we can, given the circumstances. And it was what I needed. I find even when I do call people to talk, no one has anything to actually talk about. So that night, having put the Birthday Boy to bed, for a change we had some topics – mostly digger and cake related – to talk about. But it felt close to normal.
Right now, I am doing my bit. I am wearing my mask and even though the restrictions have eased slightly I am staying home aside from essential travel. Because I don’t want to be the reason I can’t go see my family this summer. I don’t want to know that I could have done something differently. I need my kid to start mixing with people other than me and Dad. He needs to be around people who love him and not just once in a while through a screen. I need to sit and talk and laugh with a gin in my hand over normal things with the people I miss while he runs around with his cousins. I need to breathe. To relax, to let someone else take responsibility for him for a few hours. I need to taste the salt on my lips after a few hours at the beach. I want him to see that the sand goes on for miles, and to have him lose himself in the joy of digging holes on the shoreline.
I need my shoulders to come down from around my ears. I am lonely. I can’t wait not to be.