For the first few years of my son’s life, I actually had to set a reminder on my phone to remember to brush his teeth because otherwise, I’d forget. This among other such moments of stupendous mind power that I have displayed over the years.
I brush off my forgetfulness, make funny remarks about how absentminded I am and then move on.
But I forget really, really important things, too.
Our old house tends to only get sunlight on its south west side. So while the kitchen is usually awash with light on any normal, sunny day (even in the dead of winter), the dining and living rooms aren’t so much.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find my footing in the morning.
By the time I am awake and realize that a new day is upon me, one child is up, and then another. And they all want something to eat. They want to turn on the television. They want a power point presentation detailing the plans I have made for us that day.
They are operating at 75 miles per hour before 9 a.m.
Meanwhile, I’m just trying to blink myself into existence while I sit with my legs pulled against my chest in a dining room chair, wondering if it’s lunch time yet.
I have officially found myself in a season of depletion. And I feel so ashamed about it.
I went to the doctor about a month ago, who remarked with pointedness that I seemed to have yawned my way through a prior appointment with her.
I sat blushing as I realized that she was correct. She closed my file, laced her fingertips around her knees and leaned forward towards me. She prodded me about my sleeping habits, about how much time I have to rest.
Feeling like I was in trouble, I gave answers to the best of my ability, and wavered between,”I think so” and “not that I recall” so as to not incriminate myself.
But the caveat, we both knew, is that sleep and rest when you’re a parent are relative terms. Good sleep, for a time, is sleep that goes on in a four or five hour stretch without being interrupted. Then good sleep becomes a night where no one crawls into bed beside you with a fever, or cries bloody murder over a bad dream.
I miss my children when they aren’t with me, or even when they are occupied in the other room. I don’t know how to person anymore without them. I don’t know what to do with myself.
But when they’re upon me, wanting lunch, smart phone time or just some attention, I am utterly overwhelmed.
I try to tell myself, every day, that this is normal. This is what mothers go through. This is what we have to do.
In exchange for trying to raise wonderful little people into wonderful big people, the trade is our bodies, our sleep, our sanity and our being. And not even just our being, but our essence.
Every ounce of you becomes about them as the current of life starts to flow in an entirely new direction. You can’t stop it. You’re rewired. You also are now made of chicken nuggets, triple paste ointment and strawberry Gogurt on a molecular level.
It’s not that I don’t get time out for myself. I have a supportive and helpful spouse. We just escaped for a long weekend away together. I even made it to the mall last weekend for my birthday.
So…shouldn’t I feel better now?? Less depleted?
Now that my children are getting older, the platitudes about being supermom and the humorous anecdotes about how moms operate on coffee fumes just aren’t cutting it for me anymore. Things aren’t getting easier, they’re getting harder, even though some of the small people around here can wipe their own bottoms.
I’m exhausted…and it isn’t funny.
So I walk around the house in the morning, my pajama pants swishing, coffee slopping around in my cup, hair pulled up into a messy ponytail, and I do the best that I can do to be the interested, engaging and loving mom.
And I will go on this way for longer than I should. I will shuffle around the house, start on the daily chores, wash the same stuff, pick up the same toys, sigh the same sighs and leave my crusty pajama pants on until after lunch.
I’m waiting around, hoping to read a good, honest word that’s going to breathe new life into me. Ready to hear the sentence in the church sermon that will make all of the gears in my mind start turning again.
What I want is something to instantaneously snap me out of whatever darkness I have found myself in.
What I realized that I really wanted today, and for some unknown reason it was today, more than anything, is for someone to grab me by the shoulders and tell me that I’m actually very…normal.
To tell me that this, all of this, this tired and discouraging season, is normal. But how could that possibly be??
I started crying earlier while I was feeding my toddler, because I realized how badly I just want to feel like I’m okay.
One minute we were laughing and singing “happy birthday” because that has become her new favorite song. And in that magical moment, I was still partially somewhere else as a dozen thoughts filtered through my head.
The most prominent of which was me realizing how much I was looking forward to my children starting school.
And that thought crushed me as much as it relieved me.
I cried because I feel like a failure.
I wanted to homeschool them this fall. I wanted to have a new routine, a new schedule. I wanted to give more to my children. And…I can’t. And in that moment, I knew for sure I couldn’t. And it ripped a hole in me.
Parents don’t really get to say that they “can’t”, do they? Not without guilt. Not without feeling like failures.
I realize that you can’t just manufacture joy. It isn’t something to be molded and stamped out and sent down the assembly line to a waiting person.
Yes, choosing joy is a choice. But…what if it’s that you can’t SEE the joy? Maybe sometimes joy is invisible to us. Or just out of our reach.
Sometimes, joy is like motes in the air that linger around you, and you don’t notice until the light pours in and hits them.
Believe it or not, despite the glory of my unwashed hair wrapped up in a loose bun, and circles under my eyes that are wider than the Mississippi, I actually do have a morning routine of sorts.
And a big part of it is remembering to open the curtains throughout the downstairs.
When you have several main living spaces that don’t get much direct sunlight, and you also chose to paint one room in particular a dark, rich color in a fit of youthful decision making, you need to remember that every ray of sunlight can help turn your space from feeling like a cave into a space where it feels like life could happen.
I rope back the curtains, and then stand and look outside. I turn and look at the room, and it feels almost like an entirely different place.
The room is the same, really, both in the dark and in the light. In fact, when the light illuminates everything, I can actually see the messes more clearly, like all of the toys that have found themselves under the edges of my sofa. Sometimes, it makes me want to close the curtains back up, actually.
But the light helps me realize that things aren’t as bad as they seem when you’re operating in the dark.
I know that encouraging words don’t erase the bags under someone’s eyes. They don’t flip a magical, unseen switch that helps life make sense. They don’t always help us to rise to our feet.
But I realized several years ago, quite painfully, that it isn’t just tragedy or depletion or lacking that breaks you. Hope is actually a thing that breaks you, too.
When you choose to hope in spite of everything going on, in spite of darkness, it can actually hurt. Badly. Because you aren’t trained in the ways of hope, you’ve settled into the darkness more than you realize.
Hope is the thing that lines the heart full of pain, and it beats true underneath. It hurts to thump up against that hope, time and time again when you’re hurting. Hoping is what forces you to make a choice, sometimes. Hope is how you find joy.
Sometimes even, hope breaks you into a million little pieces.
And those little shards of you get planted in the deep down dark. And deep is where new things grow.
Nothing that I can say will full reassure me when I’m feeling this way. There is no handy revelation that I have come by honestly. It is a savior that bids me to draw closer, and the closer I get to him, the more the light seeps in. The more I see the motes of joy that are hanging, waiting for the light to find them.
The more I can see the bigger picture, the one that doesn’t rely on me or my perfection, the more I realize that the light doesn’t always take away the thing that haunts me as much as it shows me what it really is, the more I have hope.
Still lots of dishes, but hope.