Photograph by Liza Ezhevskaya of Juniper Spring Photography

Someone wise once told me that you have to live alone for a while before getting married: not with roommates, not in the garage of your parents’ house, but alone, independent. Pretty common-sense stuff and great advice that I still managed not to take. In college I lived at home with my parents and the rest of the fam, after college I lived with my husband and two children. The only time I lived mostly alone was the year studying abroad in Paris. And even there, the time that I was really, truly alone and independent amounted to no more than a couple of months. Perhaps the happiest in my life.

The turns in my life which led to this situation start looking ridiculous if you think about how much I relish solitude.

Indeed I enjoy to be alone, all the more so, perhaps, because I get to be alone so rarely.

There’s a great definition of what it means to be an introvert and an extrovert: an extrovert gets energized by communicating and interacting with others, whereas an introvert gets drained, deriving his or her energy from time spent alone. For me, it is both exciting and draining to share myself with others, and both fascinating and draining to “feel” others as they share themselves with me. (Seeing as the common denominator is “draining”, I would safely categorize myself as introvert.)

My job as an interpreter calls for a heightened level of “atune-ness” on a continuous basis, thinking and feeling my way into someone else’s mind and heart in order to understand what it is they’re saying, to feel what they want to say, what they mean to say. As I work, my mind becomes a sieve through which their thoughts percolate to come, as formed sentences in a foreign language, out of my mouth.

My role as spouse and parents is no less demanding. Imagine, if you will, emotion-sensing tentacles coming out of you towards each person you are interacting with, either directly or indirectly. Plus you also have sensors that perceive the interactions between the other people in the space you occupy. (This is a complex metaphor of how I feel at home.) So you have me, all nice and coiled up onto myself, and then a child comes home, you start interacting with them, then another, then the husband, then they start interacting with each other, and suddenly you have six sensors blasting information at you (three times two times one) and overloading you, and you can’t just run away but have to interact with everyone and somehow simulate a peaceful, comfortable living environment.

With my children, the emotion sensor tentacles are out even if the kids are in a different room, playing by themselves, or even not interacting with each other but watching a movie, or even when they’re asleep. In fact, as I sit here at work (gasp!) part of my mind is occupied with them. I think this is permanent: the umbilical that binds child to mother at birth is never cut, only replaced by an unseen chord which remains for the rest of one’s life*.

Bottom line: this is exhausting.

When I am alone, I feel as if all of these emotional tentacles (or probes – maybe tentacles isn’t the ideal comparison for the visually minded) are drawn in. I feel more complete and grounded.

But I find this at work as well: there is an immense strength in making yourself vulnerable. My strength arises out of my willingness to share my weakness. I wonder then, how to be open oneself and available to receive others, while not losing your grounding in your own emotional identity.

*I think this is the reason why some mothers may have such a hard time when their children move out: they’ve been attached for so long, anticipating their child’s wants, fears and needs, pouring themselves into the child and having the child pour into them, that when they leave, it really does feel like a part of the mother’s being leaves with them.