I wrote the date at the top of the page and paused to think of how to begin... but then, two women burst into the garden. They stood ridiculously near me, nearly hovering over me, the only other person in the sheltered space, and proceeded to SHOUT out a conversation on gardening. THE ANNUALS ARE NOT DOING TOO WELL RIGHT NOW. SOME-PLANT-NAME-IN-LATIN MAY NOT STILL BE ALIVE WHEN WE GET HOME. HAVE YOU TRIED THIS BRAND PLANT FOOD?!? OH, YOU SHOULD! YOU REALLY SHOULD!
I folded up my notebook, put all my things back in my bag, and left. The spell was broken, the golden silence smashed. Is it the universe that is against me or is it just humanity?
The two women ended up following me (haplessly, let's graciously assume) from building to building. Every time I'd escape to find quiet and solitude in another random exhibit, here they'd come like homing pigeons, cracking open my bubble of peace with their SHOUTED CONVERSATION.
DID YOU SEE THIS DOORWAY? IT IS SO SHORT! THEY WERE SO SHORT BACK THEN! DID YOU KNOW PEOPLE WERE SO SHORT BACK THEN?! AND THEIR CLOTHES ARE SO SMALL! THESE RAFTERS ARE AH-MAAAAY-ZING! ISN'T THIS AMAZING?!?!
They reminded me of the birds in our neighborhood that chirp manically every morning just before dawn. Without central a/c, we often sleep with the windows open and have front row tickets to the 5 AM bird cacophony. I was frantic about it when the girls were infants. At sunrise I was usually collapsing back into bed after finally settling them down to sleep after hours of crying, only to have the bird freak-out wake us both up again. My anger and desperation and self-pity were extreme in the away that only the exhausted mother of a colicky newborn can muster. I remember reading an online forum in which some other beaten-down new mother complained bitterly about the birds, and was then immediately devastated by someone else's response that, "It's just birds for god's sake. How can you be so angry about birds? That's just normal life, after all."
I felt so alone, undone by the everyday frustrations that others barely acknowledge.
And here I found myself again, so desperate for stillness and solitude that I was entirely driven out of a museum by the squawking of two old birds. Henpecked by the everyday drama of life. Hounded by enthusiastic conversation. Devastated by insignificant slights.
How did I become so fragile?
I know it's only weariness. Just like the me of four or six years ago cursing the sunrise bird brigade for stealing what little sleep I might have had, the me of today is shaking my fist at intrusive people for cheating me out of my quiet time. Back then, I was sleep deprived by my little babies, and today I'm noise polluted by my youngsters. They bicker, shriek, squeal, tattle, shout-sing, holler down the stairs, stomp across the landing, bang on the kitchen table, wail at the top of their lungs about nothing. They tell winding, endless tales about real or imaginary incidents and then quiz me to make sure I was really listening. They demand that I tell them stories about every conceivable stage of my life. They recap cartoons we just watched together, episodes we've probably already even seen several times before, just to make sure I caught every line of dialog, I guess. They say, "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!" and "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"
For an introvert like me, it's just as exhausting as the nights when I only got three non-consecutive hours of sleep. It messes with my brain. I feel like it's impossible to string whole thoughts together or read critically. I forget to return calls or schedule appointments. I never finish anything. I cringe when my phone pings or there's a knock at the door. I feel like I turn further and further inward as the noise level rises until I'm peeking at the world out of my eyeball holes, like a ghost in an attic window.
And now you all think I'm losing my mind - "dropping my basket," as my mother would say. Oh well, it may be that I have a little less solid of a grip on my basket than other people do. I'm usually pretty reasonable, though, so I think it's at least a temporary situation. Time is marching on, and once I get a little bit of a break, I'm usually more philosophical and less hysterical.
After the Squawking Sisters ended my afternoon at the museum, I returned to our hotel room to hide out for a while. I lay on the crisp, white sheets under the air conditioner, rested my achy feet, and closed my eyes. Instead of napping, as I would have done gluttonously five years ago, I now just listened to glorious silence. No TV, no music, no phone calls. Peace and frickin' Quiet.
By the time Mike returned to our room I was feeling sane, so we set out on an adventure to find dinner and drinks. We sat at a table eating sushi, watching the Piscataqua River rush by outside the restaurant windows, taking inventory of life and checking in with each other as we do whenever we have a chance to go out alone.
We're feeling like things are going pretty well, all things considered. We have enough of everything we need. The girls seem normal and happy, generally speaking. Our relationship has never been better. And, we agreed, we are definitely both starting to feel like regular people again as the girls leave the Age of Infant Dependency. They are kids now with long legs and big vocabularies, settling into school, making their own friends, pouring their own cereal. No more naps, no more strollers, no more cups with lids. We're graduating from survival mode where two insane, small people are trying to kill two wrinkly, tired old people into - what? - I'm not sure yet, but hopefully a family of four whole, increasingly independent individuals.
For me especially, this means joining the land of the living once more. I've been in a fog, a cocoon of baby mothering and self-sacrifice. I very much feel that the next phase of my life is just beyond the horizon and moving towards me at a rapid clip. Kate has one more year of Pre-K and then both my chicks will fly away to full-time public school. Here comes Life 2.0 (or, I don't know, what are we on now, 4.0? 5.0? Life XP? Amanda LSE - Luxury Sport Edition? Actually, that last one seems doubtful.) Time to reinvent myself again. Time for my mid-life
I have no idea what this will entail. I'm not sure at all where I'm headed or who I'll become. Given a couple of days to actually sit still and have thoughts, I didn't find any definite answers. All I know is that I'm looking forward to it. Who know what tomorrow may bring? I just hope whatever it is, it's much, much quieter.