Last night I was reading an excerpt from Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography, The Prime of Life, in which she describes in almost ecstatic tones the wonder of working and living on her own as a writer and philosopher. She was free to do as she pleased- to come and go and eat and sleep and write and abscond for long walks with her main man (Jean Sartre) with really only one person to worry about (herself). She was celebrating her independence, even if that independence seemed a bit artificial.
This afternoon when I drove my husband and children to the Atlanta airport, I could appreciate the sentiment. I quickly begun to bask in my new-found freedom of one precious week sans family with nothing other than what can be described as sheer bliss. It was bliss to return to a quiet house, throw a haphazard meal together, and dial up a girlfriend rather than troubleshoot tired children at their hour of expiration. Tonight it will be unlimited satisfaction to sink into bed with the covers all mine, curling up as I always do with a good book, only this time with no need for even the slightest resignation of a wife and mother who knows her occupation is largely one of being interrupted. By snoring. Or bed wetting. Or a bad dream.
Other mothers of young children will understand here that it’s not just that I need to get out more.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. They give me joy. Often.
They also drive me crazy!
I don’t know if Jesus has any of this in mind when he says that a person must “hate” his or her family in order to be one of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 14:26). Maybe we just catch him in a bad moment here: maybe he just had a spat with his parents; maybe Mom wants Jesus to go into the wine business (John 2) and settle down with a nice girl from Judea or Palestine rather than run all around the country with his pals; maybe Dad agrees. (Who knows? So stay tuned for another installment in my once-complete- but-now-incomplete “Weird Jesus Sayings” series.) Whatever the case, it is reassuring in those frequent moments when this restless soul is feeling more like the gal in the old Calgon commercials (“Calgon, take me away!”) than a paragon of domesticated motherhood, to have the excuse that I’m just keeping my eligibility for Christian discipleship intact.
But, humor aside, as pleasant as my current illusion of independence may seem, “no man is an island,” to quote Ernest Hemingway. Chances are that one week of “being on my own,” or at least pretending to be, will have refreshed me in time to greet my immediate family with the enthusiasm of a wife and mother who genuinely missed her brood. Still, I can’t help relishing the thought that this week’s inspiration (devoted to more writing than usual, I hope) won’t have to come within the crowded margins of days spent cleaning sticky hands or bottoms, reconciling feuding parties, and trudging through daily morning piano practice with a son who when asked to play his “Twinkles” reacts as if I’ve just sent him off to the gulag.
Yes, independence, even if it has its limits, hasn’t tasted so sweet in a very, long time.