One week of solitude! I had dreamed about this ever since the first of my seven children entered my life - a long time ago.
This was going to be solitude at its best. Jogging along the beach and plenty of swimming would get my body into shape; some good books would feed my spirit. I would look after myself for a change. I deserved it! But the telephone brought me out of my reverie.
"How are you, Mom?" Daughter No. 1 was on the line. "Just thought I'd see what you were up to."
Before I knew it, I had given her the fabulous news.
"A cottage for a week!" she screeched, "and not even far from us?"
"It's more than two hours' drive, dear," I tried to discourage her.
"That's nothing, Mom. Adrienne and I haven't spent time with you for ages. I'll bring the food, and you won't have to work. What do you say?" she begged.
"It will have to be another time, dear. I am treating myself to a week of solitude," I said bravely and changed the subject.
All my children are caring. They keep in touch. Soon Ruth, daughter No. 4, called.
"How are you doing, Mom?"
"Not bad, thanks, dear."
"Is the house a little too quiet since Liz's wedding?" she inquired. "I'm coming home to keep you company the weekend of the 16th; that'll liven things up. To tell you the truth, Mom, I need your company."
"Oh, I won't be home that weekend."
"Where are you going?"
"I've rented a cottage." By now I felt terribly guilty uttering this bit of news.
"A cottage, where?" she sounded wistful.
"Right now I'd give my eye teeth for a weekend at the lake, but I'm glad for you, Mom. Have a great time."
Ruth is always so considerate. I felt wickedly selfish, but I said, "Perhaps you can spend that weekend with someone else?"
Before long, No. 2 son also called. After the "how are you's" I heard him say: "I wonder if the kids could visit you for a couple of days the week of the 17th? Linda and I would love to get away, just for a bit."
I understood their need to spend some time alone, but I stood my ground and objected, "The kids are teens now, they don't want to be with me. Besides, I'll be at a cottage that week."
"Fabulous, Mom! The kids would love it!" he enthused. "It would only be for a couple of days. Honestly, Mom, Dave and Julie like to be with you."
That is a compliment, I mused, but aloud I said, "To be honest, dear, I explicitly rented the cottage to have some solitude. And how is everything else with you?" I asked quickly.
After that I was almost glad that the rest of my children lived far away. Saying "no" was exhausting.
I was ready for that whole week at the cottage, all by myself - or is that too selfish? I reflected.
The answer, it turned out, was not what I expected. In that peaceful setting I could almost feel years of tension draining from me. I'd stand at the shore and watch as the sun set and turned the vast expanse of gently rippling waves into a sea of gold, set with millions of glittering diamonds.
On my first night there, I was absorbed by the sight of the last lingering shades of crimson dipping below the horizon. Gently murmuring waves caressed my feet as I walked along the beach. Beside me, Ruth shared the beauty of the enchanting evening as our feet left their mark in the wet sand.
I can honestly say I enjoyed not being alone, especially later that night, when a brilliant flash lit up the sky, and a deafening roar followed. We jumped out of bed. Wind tore at the trees and across the water, whipping up immense waves that crashed onto the beach! Ruth and I stood transfixed and watched the drama of the elements in uproar. Suddenly, the clouds burst, and a sheet of water crashed against the window. A torrent of rain whipped across the lake; the scene was one gigantic display of raw power. All I could think was, "And you had wanted to be alone on a night like this."
Hours later I heard Ruth call, "Breakfast, Mom!" She carried a tray out to the porch, where flowers graced the table and good things to eat beckoned me to sit down.
"What a show last night!" she said. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world!"
I had to confess: "If I'd been on my own, I could have done without it, Ruth. I sure was glad I invited you to join me for the weekend."
"It's hard to believe there was such a storm, though; look at the perfect morning." Ruth looked out at the water where the morning sun lit up millions of ever-changing whitecaps.
"Thanks for letting me come, Mom." She came around the table, gave me a hug, and whispered, "And I didn't have to give my eye teeth to spend a weekend at the lake!"
Wednesday morning I heard the blast of a car horn. Exuberant Karen, always dramatic. There she was, with big cooler and picnic basket; Adrienne trotted behind carrying more things.
Karen plunked everything on the kitchen counter and threw her arms around me. "I meant it, Mom, no work for you! I brought everything, even hot muffins and - voila - croissants!"
Sure enough, in minutes the breakfast table was loaded with more delicious things than we could possibly eat.
I had made a compromise. She and Adrienne could spend half a day with me alone; then in the afternoon Carsten and Linda could drop off the two teenagers. Since Karen's food supplies were inexhaustible, we had the whole day free for fun. In the evening we lit a bonfire by the edge of the water, and at midnight we waved goodbye to Karen and Adrienne.
David and Julie hated to leave the next day, but that was the deal I'd made. Before long I was left alone, book in hand, with the waves for background music.
On Saturday afternoon I was ready to leave, my energies recharged. Exercising my freedom to say "no" had made all the difference. But next year I might simply sneak away.