The Struggle is Real

Hi, I’m tired. How are you?

How are you?

I’m tired.

Yah, me too.

I hear ya.

Yah, I feel your pain.

I swear, I have more conversations about being tired than I have about anything else. It comes up when I’m chatting with friends. It comes up when my colleagues are making small talk. It comes up when I’m talking to the cashier at the grocery.

Oh, or maybe the cashier was just being polite when she asked “How are you?” when it was my turn in the checkout line. Meh, I don’t care, I needed to whine.

Being tired is this weird badge of motherhood. We wear it on our chests like a blue ribbon we just won at the fair – if blue ribbons were emblazoned with neon and flashing lights, that is.

We talk about how tired we are as if we’ll be understood. As if we were to complain about it enough, maybe the next person will step back and say “Whoah, hold on a sec there, lady, you need sleep! Let me get you a blanket and some fluffy pillows, this needs to be fixed! Have mercy!”

(In case you’re wondering, that was narrated inside my head by the voice of John Stamos – and I have absolutely no idea why. I’m guessing the sleep deprivation is giving me Full House hallucinations?)

My kids like to wake up in the middle of the night – and my heart justifies the sleep interruption by telling myself that I should be there for my kids because they won’t need me like this forever. They won’t be, like, 23 and still running into my room. “Mommy! Wake up Mommy! I have an essay due tomorrow and I can’t think of a way to justify the existence of the ego in the conscious mind! Mommy, you have to stay up with me!”

But they need me now. They’re still little enough to need me, and I take some consolation in that. I also get woken when I hear the video games go on at 4am, when my 8 year old wakes himself up extra early to fit in a few hours of uninterrupted play, or when my 6 year old feels the urge to have a midnight meet-up with Ben & Jerry. That kind of drives me nuts. But I was the one who refused to sleep train them. (The jury is still out on whether I made the right decision with that one, but I don’t dwell…)

Sometimes moms-to-be actually dare to ask me if it’s really that bad. “That bad?” Those are the moments where I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to scare them, but I don’t want to lie.

But the truth is, I don’t know how I made it through the first two months, or the next two – or even the last 8 years. I haven’t felt well-rested more than maybe 5 or 6 days in that entire stretch. Even when I have a night without kids, they’ve trained me to wake, they’ve trained me that sleeping in is not feasible.

Somewhere around year 4 I had an unfortunate epiphany: Tired is the new normal.

Once I realized that craving the old, well-rested version of myself was futile, I seemed to resent it less, embrace exhaustion more, and just accept it. It was like the day I realized that my feet weren’t going back to their pre-pregnancy size and I finally got rid of the beautiful-but-too-small shoes.

But sleep deprivation really isn’t funny. It’s no joke. Lack of sleep and exhaustion wreaks havoc on your immune system and your general health. Not to mention that I’ve actually had moments of clarity when I’ve said to myself “You really shouldn’t be driving.” It’s frightening how many times I find myself driving and saying this to myself in the rear-view mirror.

Plus it makes me short with the kids sometimes. But they brought that on themselves…

We’re just not allowed a “Tired Break” from life. We are still expected to chase children, do our jobs, take care of our homes, be interesting, relate well, deal with schools, insurance companies, the mortgage, jobs, colleagues, the grocery store cashier and the neighbours. Plus the hubby – we’re supposed to feel sexy and sensual and want to spend time in bed NOT sleeping.

Sleep deprivation – I wasn’t prepared for this and I don’t get it. It’s the one part of motherhood I don’t remember being told in any convincing way. I didn’t know a human being could actually survive being this tired. All. The. Time.

And then one look in one of my boy’s faces, and I know I’d give up even more sleep – all of it – just for them.