Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Tea and Cake and The Art of Being Alone
I spent a lot of time on my own when I was young and single. Totally unaware of how lucky I was to have that kind of freedom, I spent many nights on the sofa with my cat, pining for a hand to hold. I lived alone for quite a few years and there were weekends when I could go a whole day without having a single conversation (with someone who actually talked back, as opposed to the cat...). I was far too young to be so alone, but rather than actually do anything about it I frittered away my early twenties, in a granny flat, cat on my lap, Bridget Jones style, lamenting over where I went wrong with Mr Oh-so-wrong. I was self-sufficient and independent and the whole lot of it was character building and I'm grateful for it, but deep down, until I met my husband, I was seriously quite lonely.
Since moving to HK I've had to get used to my own company again. Being married to a pilot you don't really have much of a choice! My husband can be away for long stretches of time and before J was born I had a lot more time on my hands that I had to try and fill. It sucked when we first moved here, especially in those very early days before we had TV or internet connected, but after a few nights of sleeping smack bang in the middle of the bed, I learned to adapt and capitalise on that time on my own. I still sit on the sofa, dog in my lap, but now I take the opportunity to watch trashy TV shows that my husband wouldn't approve of, or eat more than my share of chocolate ice cream when he's away. I've also been known to take advantage of his absence and rearrange the furniture on a solo night at home (sad, but true). It took me a while, but after all those years of buying meals for one, I learned to really like being alone. Then I buggered it up by having a baby and ensuring I would not be alone again (not often anyway) for a very long time.
Out of necessity, J and I were constant companions for most of the first year of his life, which was lovely at times, but quite a struggle at others. I longed for a bit of space and on the toughest days I took to spending a really long time in the shower, just to have a moment to myself. Of course, the whole parenting thing has been a lot easier for a while now, and our little man is at an age where he is genuinely great company. We can hang out, play, and have something resembling a conversation, and I miss him when I have to leave him behind for any length of time. I've chosen to forego time to myself, and my skills in the art of being alone have been all but forgotten due to lack of practice. On Sunday afternoon I found myself in Elements mall, sitting down with a cup of tea and cake all by myself, and for a moment I returned to that awkwardness I used to avoid so desperately. I used to hate eating alone, or even being anywhere in public alone, engaging in something that should be shared, like eating in a restaurant, movie watching or shopping for homewares. I sat there for a while, unsure of what to do with myself, wishing I had a book, or at least a magazine to hide behind so I'd look less alone, like I did once upon a time. But times have changed and as soon as I took that first bite of cake and realised no one was trying to climb into my lap, there was no Thomas the Tank Engine DVD blaring in the background, and best of all, no one to share the cake with, I was ecstatic! It was a short-lived, but blissful return to the days when I could be by myself and be ok with it.
Don't get me wrong, I never regret a minute spent with my son (and for the record, I do miss my husband when he's away!), but these days the only time I get to myself is very brief, and is usually spent doing something practical and boringly necessary, like having a shower or going to the doctor. On Sunday I had a moment, and I embraced it with open arms, relishing the opportunity to just sit and be still and eat cake, all by myself for a change.
Then about halfway through my afternoon tea I felt the pitter patter of baby feet from the inside, reminding me that I'm never truly alone anymore, and I won't be for quite some time. And that was even sweeter.