My husband took my kids away for the weekend to see the University of Tennessee play Florida in football. Apparently this is a big deal, and the trip was planned six months in advance. So for six months I had this little gem in my pocket: I’m going to have a whole weekend alone in my house. I was fascinated by the idea, so fascinated that I didn’t tell anyone, lest I be tricked into making plans.
It had been 16 years since I was alone for an entire weekend. I was pregnant with my second child, and my husband took our two-year-old to see his parents. I spent the first day nauseous on the couch, watching a 7th Heaven marathon. Jessica Biel’s angst as the teenage daughter of a minister seemed to settle my stomach. On the second day, I perked up and went to Staples and bought a label maker and established a color-coded filing system for every piece of paper in our apartment.
I no longer recognize this person as myself.
So when faced with the opportunity to have a weekend alone in my house again, I jumped at it with more curiosity than anything else. What would this present day person do with a whole weekend? What would I eat if I was cooking for one? Left to my own devices, who am I?
I like to tell myself that I’d write all the time if it weren’t for my family. They’re obviously the only thing standing between me and the New York Times Bestseller List. I mean if they would just stop asking me for food and rides every ten minutes, I could really get stuff done. I wondered if this time alone would be just what I needed to unleash my inner genius, or if freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
So I dropped them at the airport on Friday afternoon and raced back home to see what my house felt like without the ESPN jingle on a loop. It was glorious. I cleaned up and then noticed how it stayed cleaned up. I sat in the silence for a while, listening and waiting to see what I’d do next. I had the whole evening ahead of me to follow my personal bliss. That bliss took the form of a three-hour documentary on the Jonbenét Ramsey murder. When it was over I switched channels and found another, slightly different version of the same documentary. Note to the New York Times bestseller people: It was bedtime and I still had not written a word.
On Saturday I was scheduled to be at a book festival all day. I drove home slowly; no one was waiting for dinner. I entered my empty, clean house and immediately put on the TV to check the score of the game my family had traveled to see. It was the 4th quarter before I realized that was still sitting there watching football, alone, on my own precious time. I started to panic a little. I imagined JK Rowling and Lee Woodruff alone in their homes banging furiously at their keyboards. I imagine they don’t even have TVs, and here I was chained to mine, watching something with neither characters nor a plot. But it really was a great game.
On Sunday I woke up a little humbled. It seems that if you unshackled me and opened the prison door, I’d happily just stay put. I hadn’t done a single thing, hadn’t typed a single word all weekend, and I had only six hours left. I noticed it was this scarcity of time that got me moving. I sat down and wrote for six hours straight. I turns out it’s the structure of my family that helps me get anything done. They are a deadline, the three o’clock pick up or the six o’clock meal. Without them, maybe I’m just a person who watches a lot of Dateline.
So my fantasy of productive solitude wasn’t what I thought. There’s an exchange of energy that happens with my family — I give, but I also take. Yes, I enjoyed having the couch to myself. Yes, I enjoyed eating popcorn and peanut M&Ms for dinner. But you’d better believe I arrived at the airport a whole hour early to pick them up.