Our little island

Author: Kim Tracy Prince '93

Last night the power was out in our neighborhood. Not across the street. Not around the corner. Just a few random blocks, while crews were working on . . . what? I learned the power would go back on at 4 a.m.

After the kids were tucked in and I blew out their candles, I settled into my bed with a magazine and a candle of my own. It was harder to see than usual but the tall taper cast enough light on the page for me to read until I got sleepy. It was an article about how Birkenstocks are made. It didn’t matter what I read, really. I just needed a distraction to quiet the voice in my mind.

I’m lonely, it keeps saying.

illustration: Cap Pannell

It might be hard to believe that I could feel lonely. I have a million lovely friends, a very busy schedule and a family who orbits noisily around me all the time.

But lately I’ve been feeling the lack of roots. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost 20 years, in this community for almost five, and still, even though I know so many wonderful people, I watch women and families in groups around me with longing.

I feel it as we go about our activities, as I spend time with one group after another, just visiting, not staying. Not the one they call first. Mine are not the kids invited to everything, not the kids whose house everyone comes to, not the ones who juggle playdate invitations because they get so many. I hate that this bothers me, but I notice when I don’t get invited to parties. I blow it off, I’m too busy anyway. But it sits on my heart behind my smile.

On baseball opening day I sat alone on the field while dozens of moms I know camped out together in their clusters, calling out to other friends, “Come sit with us!” and making places on the grass for each other. I can tell when I see other families out that they have made plans to arrive together, to vacation together, that they regularly have meals and activities together.

I sometimes wonder what it is about me, about my family, that gets us left out of these kinds of relationships. I wonder what I do wrong, or if it’s my noisy children or my quiet husband, or if we just haven’t lived here long enough.

Someone asked me recently to write about the loneliness of motherhood. I supposed he meant the loneliness of new motherhood, when you are trapped by your baby’s needs, when you are unsure of yourself, when everything you experience is foreign and terrifying. I haven’t felt that in so long, I’m out of touch with that loneliness.

I didn’t even know that what I have been feeling had the name loneliness. I thought it was Fear of Missing Out, or jealousy, or homesickness. After all, back “home” in Connecticut lives the rest of my family, and some of my best friends in the world. Others are scattered about the country and might even feel the way I feel.

I saw the name for it in a blog post, where busy writer and parent Carla Birnberg confessed to feeling lonely herself. Like I do, she writes her way through uncomfortable feelings. “Admitting to being lonely seems like a pretty easy way to ensure I stay that way,” she shared.

Just the opposite. She received scores of comments. See, you’re not alone, I thought after I read it. But I understand that you can be lonely even in a room full of people who love you.

I do my best to create a sense of belonging in my newest home. I have my tried and true Internet tribe from 10 years of blogging. I have a regular hiking buddy, a supportive writers’ group, and many, many generous and loving local friends. I adore them all. I just wish we weren’t all so busy. I wish I were braver about inviting myself along, about making friends, creating deeper connections.

My family used last night’s power outage as an excuse to go out to dinner. We headed to a local restaurant that was donating money back to the kids’ school. It was fun — families we know were all around us, lots of friendly faces.

And then we spotted my younger son’s best friend from preschool. We never see him anymore because every time I invited him over for a playdate or to birthday parties, his mother had other plans. She never returned the invitation. I eventually gave up.

We’re a little much, my family. We’re not for everyone. But the people who love us, well, they lift us up.

We arrived home from dinner in darkness. Luckily I keep a flashlight in the glove box, for emergencies. We picked our way through the house, sleuthing, like Nancy Drew. We lit candles, put new batteries in the lantern. It was an adventure.

To the 10-year-old, the blackout meant it was time for star-watching. He wrapped himself in blankets and lay in the backyard staring at the sky. “Whenever a plane flies over, I think it’s going to fall on me,” he said.

To the little brother, the candlelit evening meant no TV or video games, so, obviously, cards. “Let’s play Egyptian Rat!” he cried.

So we did. One round of it, then three of Go Fish. Then it was time for pajamas and bed. It was almost 10 p.m. already. But who knew? Even the battery-powered clocks are never set at the right time around here, and it was too dim to see my watch.

With the power out, there was no connection to the outside world. Just our little family of four, after a long day of work or school, baseball and dinner out. We come home to this quiet place every day, to each other. We are all each other’s Number 1.

As I tucked my younger boy in to bed I kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear.

“I love our little family,” I said.

He closed his eyes and smiled. I think he fell asleep that way.

Is that enough? Is what I am feeling the loss of connection for myself as I channel that energy into making my kids feel connected to me, to their father, to each other? It is some consolation that the boys love coming back to our house. They don’t seem to notice the gatherings they miss. They have a built-in playdate every day.

It certainly helps, now, to picture that smile on my son’s sleepy face. He was safe. He was loved. He was happy.

He was home.

Kim Tracy Prince is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Her website is kimtracyprince.com.