Maybe Messy is What I Need Right Now
One way Coronelection Complex is showing up for me is that I often feel like taking to my bed. All I want to do is go to bed early and wallow. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I stare at a blank page with a pen in my hand. Mostly I doom scroll, against all my better judgment. Very little feels like what my restless heart is actually looking for, but my bed and pillows keep calling.
And when I answer that call, all I want to do is shut the rest of the world out.
My family has other ideas.
It’s as if my lying down in a stupor sends a radar signal throughout the house: BUG MOM. IT’S TIME TO BUG MOM. The dog gets the signal too. It doesn’t take long before beating hearts both human and canine descend on my bedroom to create mayhem.
This may sound sweet, as if they are wanting to wrap me in love and care in my time of need. It does not always feel this way. When they descend, they do not leave their own stress and anxieties at the door. They don’t put down their grievances or their needs or their rivalries. They stick all that detritus in their pockets, swarm into the room in droves, and lay it all out on the comforter. Arguments rage. People talk over each other and get louder to make themselves heard. The dog decides to go mental and bark at the mirror. Someone (looking at you, husband) decides it would be fun to wrestle with her and rile her up even more. People dive into bed next to me to “cuddle” precisely when all I want to do is lie there by myself and flip the pillow to the cool side every few minutes.
Like everything else about family life, self-care is messy.
My 14-year-old daughter, especially, hones in immediately. She’s usually the first to the party. She burrows under the covers next to me, demands that I face her (instead of spooning), and commands: “HUG ME.”
I groan internally. OK, sometimes also externally. Because I know that thus commences a good 20+ minutes of this forceful little being thrashing around next to me, talking incessantly, playing games (“squeeze me as hard as you can!” “can I please just tickle you?? PLEASE?” “what am I tracing on your back?”), and asking for hug after hug after hug.
I’m not a monster, I promise, and I do love my children, but when I take to my bed it’s because I’m saturated with interaction. I need the downtime. I can hardly muster the energy for this level of play.
Poor me. All this love is crushing me.
Ten years ago, that same 14-year-old said this to me, in a conversation about whether I would be going to the grocery store after her bedtime:
"Well, if you leave tonight, and you think I'm asleep, and you leave without giving me a hug or a kiss? Well, you can still hug and kiss me, even if I'm asleep, because I really don't ever want you to leave without giving me a hug and a kiss. And sometimes, when I wake up and your car is gone, I think you should have given me a hug and kiss before you left."
I was reminded of this conversation recently because I wrote about it in a blog post that showed up in my Facebook memories. Reading it felt like a sign from God intended to combat my growing resentment over having my “me time” infringed upon.
Message translation: the kid needs hugs. The kid is a teenager and spends most of her time expressing her complete disdain for you, skirting her chores, or otherwise developing her fledgling independence. The kid will not always be under your roof, or under your covers, and will someday fly the coop for good. Right now, she is also suffering from Coronelection. Plus, she told you a decade ago what she needs. Listen to her. Believe her. And hug her while you can.
I got the message. I am now rethinking my attitude at those moments when all I want to do is retreat and all my family wants to do is swarm.
I still need solitude and I still get saturated. But my new 2020 project is to welcome the messiness as best I can and find the me-time another way. Doom scrolling and other forms of wallowing are not better than 20 minutes of thrashing with and hugging my 14-year-old. They aren’t even better than listening to teenagers fight over clothes or whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. We are together in this time of anxiety, and under this roof, that’s better than being alone. We will thrash our way through 2020. And when we get to the other side – of the virus, the election, the divisions that will take a long time to heal – we will remember, along with everything else from this time, the hugs that got us through.