Do you know what this is?

THIS is an empty house. My husband has taken all the children to New Jersey and left me alone. Those of you without multiple children are feeling sorry for me and wishing you could have me over for dinner. Those of you WITH children are gritting your teeth with envy.

When I get right to the end of a project (which is where I am with this academic-press book I’m trying to finish off), I generally need three or four days of uninterrupted work time. As in, I work from the minute I get up until after 9 PM and then stagger up to my room and watch mindless TV until I pass out. After nine books, this is a well-established pattern and my husband is (reasonably) used to it It only happens once every couple of years. We call it the Writing Week. (I don’t know what he calls it in private.)

So for this particular Writing Week, Pete decided to take the children away to visit old friends.

See the difference? Living room with children,

Living room without children.

I don’t actually need an empty house for Writing Week, but if you’re the mother of four and generally have seven or eight people total in your house at any given time, there’s something peculiarly refreshing about being not only alone, but alone IN YOUR HOUSE, with your kitchen and your bed and your books. It’s like being single again without the worry that you’re going to go through the rest of your life unloved.

I lived alone before I got married, and liked it; and one of the reasons I like to travel is that I need periods of solitude to survive. Writers have to like being alone; otherwise we wouldn’t be able to spend countless hours with no company but our computers. I find solitary hotel rooms and solitary restaurant meals absolutely delightful.

Unfortunately, eating by yourself in most American states causes people to cast pitying glances at you. Eating alone in France doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Eating alone in England is much like eating alone here; it seems to make people nervous (unless you’re in Oxford or Cambridge, which are overstuffed with solitary types having tea alone and muttering to themselves). The last time I was in London I took myself to dinner at the Ivy–because every American has to eat at the Ivy at least once–and the manager kept coming over to ask whether he could get me a newspaper or something to read.

But being at home alone is far preferable to travelling. When your children are all away, it’s almost like playing house again. Remember being little and making imaginary meals and setting all the dishes out and then doing imaginary housework? It was fun in part because it was so entirely under your control. No one ate the imaginary meal; no one dirtied up again after your imaginary cleaning. That’s what being home alone is like, when you’ve had a diaper pail for almost sixteen years.

And yes, I’ll be glad to see them home.

(Incidentally, if I can speak heresy, I didn’t think the Ivy was all that. The meal I had at Maggie Jones was much better, and no one offered me a newspaper. Just food.)

Showing 18 comments
  • Lizzy

    Yes. Gritting my teeth as I type. Have… fun…!

  • Staci

    My children are at Grandma’s this week, so I got a taste of that today while my husband was at work. It’s nice to have a break – but I will be happy to see them tomorrow.

  • Melissa

    your house looks just like my house, bookshelves on all walls!

  • Barb

    3 out of 4 kids and husband are away this week. I am left home alone with one. It’s not a writing week but a reading week. I am reading all 7 Harry Potter books for the first time.
    It is sooo nice! I’ve only dumped the trash once, the toilets stay clean, meals and dishes are a snap, the floors only need to be mopped-never…but it is so comforting to know come Saturday evening I will bombarded with hugs and stories of their adventures.

  • Susan in TX

    “Why, I’m just pea-greeeeen with envy!” she said. 🙂
    Enjoy it! With 4 of my own, I know exactly how you feel. Every year, my husband offers to send me away by myself before we start back to school. He doesn’t quite get how wonderful being home alone could be…he’s getting there though.
    Susan in TX

  • sonja

    yep … gritting my teeth to a nub with envy.

    On the other hand, perhaps I’ll send a link to your post to my husband as a hint 😉

  • Trish

    Enjoy the quiet! I am with you on quiet. We writers just have to think sometimes. I hope this writing week does the trick.

    Thanks for the recs on restaurants in London. I’m headed there in the fall (the first of many trips because of my job) and we may have to check out Maggie Jones.

  • Carole in DE

    While in London, and early in my trip there, I went to tea one afternoon. The waiter was most upset that I was alone and seated me with another woman so we could share in some conversation. ugh, she conversed, I listened, but really all I wanted was some quiet time to think,,,,,, just what I need right now since DH is away on one of his many business trips. Ahhh, to have the house to myself for a week. Now that would be a vacation.

  • sleep-deprived

    Park me in the Envy group…in spite of the fact that I’m a complete extrovert. Oh, to hear the quiet at your house…

  • Sandy

    The kids are in Indiana this week and my husband and I have an entire week to ourselves! We could have used this opportunity to travel to exotic places or at the very least, head to a nearby B&B… but no! With five kids, the thing that I most often dream about is staying in my very own house with absolute, blessed silence! So that’s where we are this week too… staying out at the movie theater until late at night, sleeping in (which means until about 8:30 ) and leaving all the doors open Just wonderful!

  • dangermom

    Oh my golly. I am so gritting my teeth.

  • e

    Yes, those of us without childern are wishing we could have you over for dinner! Ok, so no envy about the quite time to yourself on this side of the Atlantic, but I can understand the need for a few days of quite to finish a project off.


  • Sharon

    Dear Susan, I was first introduced to your books in February, and will be starting to homeschool this year. I’m excited to begin using Story of the World, Vol. 1, with my older 2 boys (I have 4 sons, ages 9, 7, 4 and 1). I had the blessing of being at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention in March to hear you for 5 of the 6 sessions. It was a super introduction to homeschooling.

    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed “meeting” you (although we didn’t speak in person). I was born in the same year as you, and was also a National Merit Finalist. My life has taken a markedly different path than yours (I’ve only graduated with a B.A. so far, and spent the rest of the time doing “menial” things like raising children) but I think it will be intellectually fulfilling to explore and teach all the subjects my children need. I’m thankful God has led me this way. Thanks for your blog – I just discovered it, and will read again in the future. Best wishes to you and your family!

  • Lori

    Ahhhh! Enjoy it for the rest of us!

  • Christina

    We were in your neck of the woods today, we could’ve easily put some noise back in your house 🙂 Enjoy your time and get done what you need to get done!

  • Heather in Virginia

    Craving solitude… a strange concept to me, although Josh tells me he has often felt that same way. When my family goes, I enjoy the quiet for about an hour and then I find I am bored out of my mind!

  • Sarah

    As a homeschooling Mom to three and a husband who telecommutes (sometimes a blessing and a curse), I rarely ever get the house all to myself. I also lived alone before getting married, and being the youngest of five children, I think the thing I loved most about it was my having my very own bathroom.

    Starting back to school tomorrow, and we will be beginning SotW Vol. 2. Can’t wait. Thanks for your books. They have been really helpful to someone homeschooling for reasons other than religious ones. My daughter Lydia spoke with you at the Cincinnati homeschool convention and your workshops were very helpful. Not sure how you manage a career and mothering 4 children. I am still trying to hold on to mine as much as I can ( as a violist), it is becoming increasingly difficult. Maybe you could write a book about managing your time and keeping your sanity; homeschooling and having a career!!

    Have fun with your solitude.

  • Amy in MD

    My, what shiny floors you have! 🙂

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