It’s kind of like a really tough run or a really hard workout. That stretching of skin and muscle, sinew and tendons pulling hard against resistance. That’s what these days have been for me: a remolding of sorts, shape-shifting my way towards strength.
I am tired, exhausted even, to an extent I’ve never known before. It’s tiring enough with a little babe, who, like the ones before him, has a difficult time holding on to sleep at night. But that is not all. There is a tremendously ill family member, daily text messages full of medical jargon. And then work: Mark has been working something that looks like second shift, though it changes without hardly a moment’s notice, and our family has been on prickles, jumpy and edgy without our normal routines to hem us in. And yes, there are golden niceties about this: isn’t it wonderful the kids get to play with him during the day? That’s what the well-meaning say to me. But that hard truth is that I fight my way through the tough stuff, alone. Bedtime is especially difficult, with three Little Ones all at their most fragile, and, yes, Mama, too. And poor Littlest is still trying to orient himself, and the day’s energy gets cried out each night for much longer than I care to endure alone. My mom told me she chuckles at this image I’ve described for her: me, bouncing and tapping and walking this babe around my room with my laptop propped on the bed, watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, I guess it might be a funny sight.
It’s painful, this stretching. I feel myself coming unglued, beginning to lose it. I indulge myself for a moment, giving in to the charm of self-pity. But this charm loses it’s appeal quickly, and there is work to be done, dinner to be made. With the back of my hand, I wipe the weepy from my cheeks, this product of over-tiredness, and push my hair behind my ears, willing myself to lean into the struggle. What is it that I’m learning here?
My mom fed us last night, body and soul, and while I drove home from her house, way-too-late, knowing that bedtime would be a mad-rush of spouting tension, I was grateful anyway. Grateful for pebbled creek beds and skipping stones; for mud-caked boots and kids tired out in the way only fresh air can. Grateful for the loud-loud-loud that was in my car: the Littlest protesting something, for sure, though I’m not sure what, the bigger two shrieking and laughing with tired giddy. I smiled. And I felt myself glow a bit, from the inside. Because I’m doing it. It doesn’t always look pretty, and I can easily spin with self-doubt, but in that moment I was proud and content. It was the post-run boost of endorphins, that look back on the trail to see the miles I’ve covered.
I’m shedding the weight, and I’m gaining muscle-mass of grace. Slowly, layers of pride are coming off, and doubt and selfish junk, too. And I’m learning. I’m learning how to be honest: with myself, and with my loved ones. I’m learning about kindness — what that might look like, to these loved ones, and harder still, to myself. There’s things like trust and faith, and grace, always grace. It’s this life-giving water that keeps me hydrated.
So, don’t feel sorry for me. Please don’t pity me, in my tiredness, in my loneliness. It’s tough, yes, I’ll be the first to admit how hard, and the spiral can begin so quickly. But there is deep and abiding grace, there, too, and I can’t imagine missing out.
And this is the story of motherhood, isn’t it? It’s this crazy mess of fighting it out, holding on to some kind of survival, and the joy and the noise and the ugly and the hard and the beauty all mixed in together. Because it’s more than survival there: there’s growth, and blessing, and it only comes when there is the stretch.