Since I was a little girl, the library was my favourite place in the world. I could get lost in a book, and everybody had to be quiet. As I grew older, I continued to prefer standing at the edges of gatherings. Watching Susan Cain’s TED talk helped me see that there wasn’t anything wrong with me - I am an introvert. Once, people like me made up only 25 per cent of the population. Now, it’s an estimated 50-74 per cent. I loathe small talk but love deep conversations, dread large crowds but enjoy one-on-one conversations, and enjoy losing myself in writing, reading and drawing.
When I got married to my husband, a fellow introvert, we enjoyed bike rides, swimming at quieter beaches, and having coffee at quaint cafes, tucked away in a corner. Before children, my favourite morning rituals were always solitary - waking up to pray, meditate, and drink a hot cup of tea. My husband always woke up before I did, so he would often bike ride alone, and come back recharged.
After children, our blissful bubble of solitude exploded. To make things even more interesting, I keep giving birth to extroverts. Tell me this - how do two introverts make two extroverts?
The happier snapshots of our day look like this: We all wave goodbye when my husband leaves for work. My two daughters laugh hysterically as Big Sis makes goofy faces and dances around Little Sis. Little Sis looks up adoringly at Big Sis. Little Sis will be doing tummy time, while shouting, until we all turn to look at her. Then she’ll beam at us, then demonstrate how well she coughs. We laugh and clap, and she coughs again. She’s discovered her shouting voice - and her ability to cough on demand - and there’s no turning back. During playdates, both my daughters either run or turbo crawl into the heat of the action.
On bad days, we melt down when my husband leaves for work. Big Sis takes a swipe at Little Sis and grabs her toys. Little Sis screams, cries in protest, and grabs Big Sis’ hair in retaliation. Guess who has to stay calm and grounded, in the midst of this chaos. I’m peacekeeper, referee and cuddle-supplier to two little girls with developing frontal lobes. As the day drags on, I feel my energy levels deplete. I wish I could just run away to a cafe, not make eye contact with anyone, and lose myself in a novel. On really bad days, I’d be content with the inside of a cupboard. Preferably locked. What I would give for some blissful, restorative solitude.
I thought having one baby while being an introvert mama was draining. And then I had two. Now I need my morning and night-time recharge more than ever. On good nights where both my children sleep well, I sleep well too, so I get to wake up an hour before they do. This gives me the solitary recharge to help me with the rest of my day. On bad nights where my kids keep waking up, it is impossible for me to wake up earlier than them. I get awakened by them, and if I don’t sneak in other pockets of solitude, the rest of my day often goes downhill.
As the day drags on, I feel my energy levels deplete. I wish I could just run away to a cafe, not make eye contact with anyone, and lose myself in a novel.
Every single day is a juggling bonanza. If everyone is well-rested, then the day goes pretty well. Alas, this happens to be the exception to the rule. All of my days and nights revolve around meeting the daily needs of my two little girls, no matter how tired we all are. I am grateful that my second baby sleeps easier than my first. Well, it’s either that, or I’ve just gotten so used to surviving with broken sleep. I wouldn’t recognise a full night’s sleep even if it hit me in the face.
To recharge, most of my nights involve me frantically doing as much decompressing as possible. I write, draw, read, watch Netflix, listen to audiobooks - sometimes, all at once. My husband sometimes peers at my Google Chrome window and asks me why I have a billion tabs open. Oh, right - I try to schedule date night with said husband once a week to nourish my marriage, or what’s left of it, after the exhaustion of two little girls.
I am so relieved my husband is a fellow introvert. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live with two extroverted children and an extroverted husband. After especially bad nights, I totally understand when my husband needs to go downstairs for his breakfast ‘quiet time’. We have an understanding. Before our vibrant girls wake up, I know how much the two of us need solitude to start our days.
Don’t get me wrong - my first and second babies were and still are deeply wanted. My own mother had six children, and I am the oldest. I cherish my relationships with my siblings. It’s not always easy, but I want to stay connected to my brothers and sisters. Meaningful relationships are always a work in progress, especially when I live at least one continent away from each of them. But they’re worth it.
My introvert self is almost always starving for more time to rest, more solitude, and more serenity
I wanted my daughter to have at least one younger sibling. My eldest is strong-willed, spirited, and an extroverted force of nature from the very beginning. She gravitates towards people, enjoys conversation, and draws energy from playing with others. I didn’t know what an introverted child even looked like, until I met my daughter’s introverted playmate. She reminded me of who I might have been, as a child. She hangs around the edges, is cautious, watchful, and takes a long time to warm up. I have to remind my daughter not to force her friend to play with her, and to give her time. Even my baby, at 10 months, enjoys crawling up to others, smiling, babbling, and enjoys playing with both other babies and older children.
In my early postpartum daze, I asked my mother how in the world she went through this six times. She gave me a sheepish smile and said she couldn’t remember. Mumnesia is real. Then I said to her that I couldn’t have another child, not after this. It felt too hard. She smiled at me softly and said that I would forget, and that I’d have another, so my firstborn would have a friend.
She was right.
Right now, my introvert self is almost always starving for more time to rest, more solitude, and more serenity. As I much as I love the open-mouth kisses from my 10 month old and my 3.5 year old’s dramatic flair for story telling - I am literally a human battery pack for them, at this stage of their lives. And this Mama Battery needs daily recharging. And I don’t get enough of that solitary recharge. I can tell the difference within my own self when I haven’t had enough downtime. And this is the heartbreaking truth about being an introvert mama of two little girls - there is never enough downtime. There is never enough time for me. I have never been so hungry for time.
And yet, as my bleary-eyed husband and I look at each other through the haze of deprivation, we know that this exhausting stage will end. One day, there will be no more diapers, Legos and other choking hazard scattered all over the floor. One day, our daughters will grow older, and we can enjoy deep conversations with our daughters about life in quiet cafes….until they get tired, need a recharge, and drag us somewhere a lot louder, brighter, and exciting.
Raidah Shah Idil is a mother of two, poet, writer, and dreamer. You can find Raidah hunting for patches of green in the city, playing puppets with her young daughters, and writing when she really should be sleeping. Follow her on her twitter @raidahshahidil.