Dear Atticus, on emotional space


Dear Atticus,

Virginia Woolf famously said that a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction. I don’t know anything about writing fiction, but I believe that men and women need those things in order to be people. And my own experience is that resources and physical and emotional space are crucial to motherhood.

Your dad and Grammy have been great about helping to schedule our time so that I got physical space away from you regularly. That might sound cold and uncaring, but you have needed me pretty much every three hours since January, and before that, you were living in my body. We have a lot of resources, and we have had plenty of support. We had meals and extra hands, and we have good jobs that provide enough money for us. And still, with all that help, I felt lost. Diminished as a person. Physical space away from you has helped me to reclaim a sense of who I am. It has also helped me to love you better, to get a better perspective on who you are without feeling quite so needed. Grammy has taken you for a night here and there since we would let her. This fall, your dad made it possible for me to go away for two separate weekends. He has not had any weekends away from you this year, just one short overnight field trip in the spring. But he made sure that I got the time I needed. I got to meet a writer I enjoy, spend time with friends, eat good food, and stay up much too late. It was healing to be with people I love.

[Aside: I feel compelled to tell you that there were also adventures in pumping on these trips. Because, of course there were. There was a TSA employee who said I couldn’t fly with my pumped milk even though the policy says I can. But, don’t worry, I had five copies of the policy printed out with me, so it all worked out. Also, I have now pumped several times in a moving car on the highway. (Someone else was driving.)]

Your dad and I spend more time together than the average couple, but, from time to time, we need vacations from each other. I think that time apart makes me a better wife to your dad. It makes me appreciate him more and miss him when we are apart. Your dad and I will need vacations from you, too, to help us be better parents. When I was gone from you, I missed knowing what you were doing, missed your sweet smile. But I did not regret being away.

I think space away from us has been good for you, and I think it will be even better for you as you get older and continue to develop your independence, your personhood. I watch my middle school students negotiate their changing family relationships all the time, and I will try to remember the things I have seen when things shift for us as well: knowing when to let the reins out, when to let things slide, when to let you make mistakes. You don’t have money yet, but you do have a room of your own, my favorite in the house. We had such a good time making your space special for you. Now we are starting to learn about how to give each other emotional space as well.


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