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Home Alone

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.)