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I have a confession to make: I'm a solitary person. Where others may seek out company, I seek out secluded places of thoughtfulness and self-discovery. My early appreciation for solitude may spring from the fact that as a twin, I began my life sharing the most intimate and private space of all - my mother's womb. I'm also the fifth of eight children and there was barely ever a quiet moment during my childhood. Rare moments of aloneness or uninterrupted private time became somewhat "magical" to me. Furthermore, I'm a writer. And like most writers I'm at my best alone in a room, inside my head, thinking and creating.

About five-and-a-half years ago, I became a mother for the first time. I soon discovered that babies and young children pretty much eradicate any possibility of solitude. As most mothers know, there is a running joke that our idea of aloneness is the ability to go to the bathroom for five minutes without being accompanied by our progeny and without hearing the following words: "Mom, I need you!"

I love my children dearly, but my desire for solitude has become even more pronounced and even necessary since becoming a mother. This past fall I was feeling burned out and overwhelmed from the demands of being a full-time, stay-at-home mother. And the horrific events of September 11 only added a sense of urgency to the heavy, and burdensome feelings I had. On top of that, a recent personal family crisis had left me feeling anxious and depressed. I had turned to yoga and meditation, hoping to find a spiritual release for the pressures building up inside.

Part of me just wanted to find a secluded place to hide. But as a mother, I knew it was an unrealistic fantasy to think that I could flee my problems and family for the extended leave or sabbatical that I secretly desired. So instead, I took my kids with me on a mini-getaway to visit my twin sister, Luci, and her family in Massachusetts. I drove from my New Jersey home with my mom and my five-year-old Olivia and two-year-old Jared. My husband conveniently had to work all weekend in the city and was given his own mini-break.

Once in Massachusetts, we immediately planned an attack on how to keep the kids entertained and occupied. There was a huge farm/petting zoo that provided hours of kiddie fun for almost one entire day. But other than that we didn't have to schedule too many activities. As it turns out, Olivia and Jared were content to enjoy the company (and the toys)of their 21-month-old cousin Lucas. And on another afternoon, we moms even got a special break when Luci's husband Rob, bravely volunteered to stay behind with the kids. My sister, my mom, and I were able to embark on a couple hours of unencumbered antique shopping. It was fantastic to leisurely browse without having to constantly snap, "Don't touch that," or "Put down the depression glass bowl, GENTLY!"

On the last day of our trip we drove to Concord, to visit Walden Pond. I hadn't been to Walden since I was perhaps five-years-old (the age of my daughter) but it had left a lasting impression on me. And with the recent events in my life, it seemed like the perfect time to check out the center of transcendental meditation.

As we peeked through the windows of the replica of Thoreau's cabin, my children were only mildly interested. It was windy and unseasonably cold for early October and Jared was cranky and ready for a nap. Olivia humored me by posing for photos with Thoreau's statue, but she was more interested in chasing Lucas. I didn't expect the children to care about Thoreau's contributions to our modern understanding of natural living and transcendental meditation. But I knew they could appreciate Thoreau's simple love of the woods.

We slowly made our way over to Walden Pond and I was immediately struck by how breathtaking and as awe-inspiring it was. And perhaps my children were merely numb from the bitter cold, but they really did seem to be impressed by the magnificent sight. Either way, I had a moment of peace as I tried to connect to Thoreau's thoughts, as well as those who had visited this spot before me. And in that moment I became jealous of Thoreau's experience. How could he enjoy years of solitude in these majestic woods, when I could not find two minutes of uninterrupted silence in my own home? It didn't seem fair.

I snapped some more photographs of my children playing in the shadow of the magnificent woods at Walden Pond and I had a moment of clarity - There is no greater beauty in this universe than that of my children. Why hadn't I seen it before? I had been so busy complaining about the demands of being a mother that at times I ignored the precious gifts before me. Yes, my young children are loud, demanding, and extremely exhausting. They rob me of even a moment's peace. But, ironically, they are also the source of my comfort. In the wake of a national disaster and personal crisis, my children remind me of my place in the universe and convince me that things will go on. And it is in their needy, but ever-loving hearts and sticky little arms that I find solace from the outside world.

It's just that sometimes I seek solace from my inside world - from my family. And I no longer feel guilty in this admission. And unlike Thoreau, I don't need two years of seclusion in a tiny cabin. In fact, I wouldn't know what to do with myself without my shadows constantly underfoot. No, I have simple needs. I'm ecstatic with the ten hours a week that I've reserved entirely to my writing. While I still choose to stay home as my children's primary, uncompensated caretaker, I also realize that I cannot ignore my personal needs any more than I can ignore my offspring. My writing is a crucial and essential element that sustains me and keeps me from drowning under the more mundane responsibilities that accompany motherhood. And ultimately, I believe that it is this creative outlet that allows me to be a better (or at least more satisfied) mother.

I don't have to look very far from home for my artistic inspiration. My children are my Walden Pond! They are the Muse that inspires me to great heights of creativity and self-expression. I have always written in some shape or form for as long as I can remember. But it is only in the last couple of years, and through the experience of motherhood, that I have finally found my voice. And I have become a much more confident, honest, passionate, and prolific writer than I ever imagined I could be.

My brief sojourn into Thoreau's woods has given me hope that I can indeed steal snippets of solitude while my children are still young. And with this new found knowledge, I encourage all mothers (or primary caretakers) to nourish your mind, body, and soul by identifying those passions (besides your babies) which are essential to your well being. Step back and gain some perspective on what is personally important to the solitary you, not just the mommy you. And every once in awhile, find a quiet space where you can luxuriate in the splendid sound of solitude.

Written by: Lizbeth Finn-Arnold
Web Site: The Philosophical Mother
http://geocities.com/philosophicalmom
 

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Oh my, I can so relate to this one. I love the teachings of Thoreau and would love to spend has much time in solitude as he did, but I've learnt to find solitude in my sewing room. I've learnt to find peace when watching my kids eyes light up when they see nature at its fullest here in the country.

It was wonderful yesterday to watch the kids as they seen countryside they've never seen before, to watch them look up the small rural towns on the map, to see there eyes when they seen the largest donuts we've ever seen and then to watch them devour them in no time flat.

Lizbeth says this so wonderfully in this article.
 

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I'm happy for you that you realize this need in yourself and that you are able to find the time to nurture yourself. Motherhood is really special, but to constantly give without taking care of yourself is a dangerous place to be. It really takes an effort to balance things out.:)
 
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