Lately I’ve been remembering when my children were little. It was frustrating and exhausting. Just a few days ago their mother and I were laughing about how the funny thing about having little kids is how you could be pushing a stroller through a park on a sunny day, your children occupied or otherwise quiet, the birds chirping, hydrangeas and marigolds swaying joyfully in the afternoon breeze, and internally you’d be living in a personal and private hell of anxieties and exhaustions. When will they wake up, what will I make for dinner, will they sleep through the night, does that one need changing, when will I sleep again, WILL I sleep again, why am I so tired that I want to die, what’s going on with my career, will I ever own a shirt without spit up stains on it, what is happening with my life?
In a sense the private hell has become a defining feature of the moment. We are all struggling mentally, spiraling, staring into the void, still a piece of garbage. I recently saw a tutorial on how to answer the question “how are you?” It sounds absurd but actually I need that. Someone texted me “how are you” a week ago I just left them on read. Private hell is relatable content. Which makes me wonder, if everyone relates, is it still private?
Maybe one of the reasons we like the internet is because it helps transform our personal suffering into collective suffering — if not materially at least theoretically. We may still collapse into the fetal position alone when no one is looking, falling into a depressive hole, and watching the days blow away like so much sand, but at least we know others somewhere out there are doing the same. There may be some comfort in that, if not outright healing.
The thing about those early days of parenting is that they end. My daughter is driving around now, taking road trips and working in restaurants. My son is looking for apartments in a city 3,000 miles away with more money in his savings account than I have at the moment, and I am here, alone in my apartment, experiencing an onset of empty nest syndrome that surprises me.
I’ve always thought I was especially good at accepting changes in relationships. I moved around a lot growing up. I got used to people coming and going in my life. But this one hits…