You’re in my heart, now get outta my face

8:14 PM


(As appears in October 09 issue of You)

If you look into the not too distant future and squint a little you will definitely make out Christmas on the horizon. (If you really want to scare yourself, there is an online counter that tells you exactly how much time is left.)

Christmas means a lot of things to different people and for many, the holiday factor means it involves living temporarily in close confines with relatives. Families together; getting in each other’s hair, on each other’s nerves, under each other’s skin and pretty soon, just over each other.

You’d think as parents, we’d be used to a crowded house. More than a crowded house in fact, we’re pretty akin to a crowded room, a crowded car and a crowded loo. Hands up those who regularly get little people visiting them in the powder room? *raises hand*

Last week, during my much relished morning shower (alone), I was urgently summonsed by my son to my daughter who had apparently fallen over and hit her head. I flew out of the shower with water dripping on the carpet and shampoo dripping in my eye and a towel half draped around me, half streaming behind me like I was some sort of naked, home-based super hero.

Now, it’s not that I wish any harm on my children ever, but when I saw my second born happily playing with toy cars and not a bother on her, I couldn’t help lament that if the few fleeting minutes I have to myself had to be interrupted, it had better be for a good reason.

There is a scene in the classic movie, The Big Chill when Karen is talking to Sarah:

Karen: I feel like I have never been alone in my own house. Either Richard is there, or the boys or the housekeeper. Remember those laboratory rats that went crazy when they were deprived of their privacy?

Sarah: They’re living with you too?

Another show of hands: who can relate?

And it’s not only the lack of privacy that gets me; it’s the encroachment on personal space. I keep showing my kids the part in Dirty Dancing when Patrick Swayze warns Baby not to get too close to him when dancing, “This is my dance space. This is your dance space.” So far, they are yet to get the hint.

I can’t sit or stand anywhere in my home without a little body – or more likely two little bodies in competition with one another climbing all over my lap. Not to mention, a big morning nappied-backside plonked straight on my head; the world’s most unsavoury alarm clock.

It turns out there is a reason why we start feeling antsy when people – little or otherwise – get too close to us. A team of scientists from Caltech in the States recently conducted an experiment that revealed there is a part of the brain associated with personal space that wires us to repel close human contact — except, of course, when sex is a possibility (which, let’s face it; is what got us into this overload of close contact in the first place).

So, what’s the alternative to frustrating cling-on madness?

First of all, it’s not like you can just say to young children, “Get off me. I’ve had enough. I’m going to Fiji on my own for a week for some me-time.”

... Although, it would be nice ... Hell, there are times when finding myself stranded Tom Hanks-style on a deserted island without so much as a swimming pool or a cocktail in sight sounds just as lovely.

Then again, even Tom had his trusty basketball, Wilson for company.

Last week I got a dose of reality, after reading that some other clever scientists have revealed that too much social isolation can cause anxiety and aggression. Maybe, I needed to rethink my ultimate dreams of living alone with only partial contact with my family a-la Tim Burton-Helena Bonham Carter, who are married but live in interconnected, but separate houses. (That always sounded great to me).

Thinking back ten years or so however, do believe I met a man in Austria who seemed to have worked out a little thing called balance.

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I was backpacking around Western Europe one summer and found myself in the Tyrolean region and went for a hike one day up a mountain (as you do). Along the way, I stumbled upon a farmhouse that was inhabited by an elderly man. And his cows. Yep, in his house. Cows living in his house with him.

The man didn’t speak any English but over a lemonade I sort of pieced together that he lived there on the mountain on his own but had opened the side of his house up to allow his beloved cows in when he – or they – felt like company. He was also a treasure often discovered by hikers which was why he had a few tables and chairs outside his home for anyone passing by that needed a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade on the way through.

He had made peace with his life of isolation but had taken steps to ensure he wasn’t totally alone.

My mission is the opposite: to make peace with my crowded life but take steps to avoid being driven batty in the process.

So, to start with, I am instituting a closed loo door policy. Second, exercise on my own is now a non-negotiable part of the weekly schedule. A non-negotiable part of the monthly schedule is a few hours out on my own, shopping, coffee or a movie. Just enough to honour the part of my brain that needs space, and not forsaking the part of me that, realistically, needs lots of social interaction – especially with my children.

Now, here’s hoping these strategies work just as effectively during the annual family stacks-on at Christmas.


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