For over 5 years, I slept in three-hour increments, waking for hungry babies, lost pacifiers or wet sheets. Now that “the baby” is nearly 3, my nights have grown longer. But then the dog turned diabetic and we hosted a round of sickness, I relived my newborn years and realized I had forgotten the feeling of Mama Exhaustion.
That bone-tired, bleary-eyed attempt of making breakfast. The deep breath of attempted compassion before approaching a child, instead of with frustration. The sense of being needed, right. now. The inability to fix anything, but offering a touch, a kiss, a few words of “I know” and “me too” and “I’m right here.”
Our kids always need us, that is evident. I’m 35 and call my own parents when I need something. A child never outgrows the peace that comes with a parent knowing your stress, your pain, your needs. The first time I was sick while away at college, I called my mom immediately. Of course, I didn’t expect her to show up with soup – growing up, I would regularly heat up my own can of Campbell’s – but I needed her to know.
As my own children grow, they need me in different ways. They need me less to get them dressed, but rather to make sure a favorite sweater is clean. I don’t have to entertain them, but they need me to throw a ball around for practice, to buy ballet shoes or take goofy pictures. Now I don’t physically feed them by breast or spoon, but they need me to teach them about food and how to care for our bodies. Sometimes, they need me to bring their forgotten lunchbox to school.
In the thick of it, I never believed the fatigue of teeny-tinies would ever end. More than once, in the early hours of the day I wept of exhaustion. And then, nearly suddenly, I slept. Every night. And the season of tinies was over.
My wake-up call didn’t make me miss the season of sleeplessness. It did, however, give me a moment to pause and recognize our progress. To see where we’ve come and remember how we got there. And for certain, this too shall pass. We’ll move on to new struggles one day, probably right as we find ways to live harmoniously within the old ones. Parenting is a beautiful lesson in the myth of certainty. Surely when you come to know something, you realize you know nothing. It keeps us humble and curious. And, on some days, exhausted.