Before I became a mom, I thought I was busy. So busy, in fact, that I used to sit around with my friends after work on a week night drinking wine and eating artisanal cheese, talking about how busy I was. Everything I was doing seemed so important at the time, like keeping up with my magazine subscriptions, rebalancing my 401(k), and regular skin care. These days, I don’t bother to describe myself as busy, because, duh, I’m a mom. That would be redundant, like saying “added bonus” or “unsolved mystery”. (Think about that last one; I promise it will now drive you crazy forever.)
I also don’t bother to tell people that I’m tired. (See: duh, I’m a mom.) But, I’m tired. All the time. I get to the end of each day, and for the last thirty minutes I’m awake I wonder how I can possibly go on. Or how I can ever do it all over the next day. Then I get some sleep (not to be confused with “enough sleep”) and I wake up able to start the whole process again.
I’d like to say that I spent the first months of my son’s life staring at his tiny, beautiful face thinking about how much I loved him. I did, sometimes. More often, though, I stared at him desperately wondering when I would be able to sleep again. Fantasies about sleep consumed me. Other than keeping my baby alive, my only other goal was to not be tired. To someday wake up feeling completely refreshed and to be able to spend the day without yawning.
I have made peace with the hard truth that this will never happen. I have mourned the idea of being well-rested. I have sent it off into the universe to instead find a home with a twenty-two-year-old who has time to blow dry her hair and pick up a latte every morning before work, and who sleeps until noon on the weekends.
Instead, I’m embracing my exhaustion. I’m wearing my fatigue like a freaking medal of honor. I am tired because I am doing important things. I’m showing up for the people I love. I’m cooking dinners, locating lost stuffed animals, hosting a houseful of weekend guests, and generally making sure my people feel safe and cared for. Even more important, I’m showing up for myself. I am working hard at job a love, getting my butt out of bed at 5 a.m. to write, and taking care of myself mentally and physically.
You, my friend, are also tired because you are doing important things. Whether it’s a successful project at work or making sure everyone is picked up and dropped off at the right times for music/sports/basket weaving club, these are big accomplishments. The problem with motherhood is that it doesn’t often feel this way. Whether you’re a working or a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to feel like the million little things we do for our kids and our families don’t add up to anything big. We don’t often get to the end of a day spent doing laundry, helping with long division, or keeping the kids from killing each other in the car and think “Damn, I killed it today!” But we should! It’s time to start celebrating the minutia that we manage. I’d argue that every night when we walk down the stairs after wrangling everyone into the bath and bed should be like the Oscars, with the orchestra playing and Bradley Cooper there to hand us our award for “Best in the Category of Keeping Everyone’s Shit Together Today”.
I also want to point out that there is an important distinction between being tired because you’re doing important things and being tired because you’re doing ALL the things. The ability to do everything on your to-do day in and day out is a fantasy, not a reality. It has dangerous side effects of anger, resentment, and an eventual nervous breakdown. (Which, side note, is sometimes part of my fantasy about not being tired. As in, “If I just had a nervous breakdown, they’d probably send me somewhere where I could sleep for a few days.” But I digress.) So, if you’re getting to the end of the day fixated on everything you didn’t accomplish instead of the giant list of things you did, you might have the teensiest problem with perfectionism. Just saying.
So, yes, while some days (okay, every day) I fantasize about springing out of bed bright-eyed and fully rested, I’d never trade that for what I have now. I’ll take the exhaustion and chaos of my full and beautiful life any day. It means that it’s filled with people I love and care for, and who love and care for me. I may fall asleep tired at the end of every day, but I fall asleep thinking about them and the joy they bring to my life. That right there is an accomplishment worth celebrating every day.
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