My sister is having a baby soon. Very, very soon. My baby, tiny, little sister. A human baby. I’m still having trouble letting that sink in.
Last night Dave and I were Skyping with her and somehow the topic slipped from her website and height differentials in wedding photos to our kids and how tired they make us. (spoiler: very, very tired.) And she asked in the pleading way that someone who already knows the answer to a question asks, ‘but it’s all worth it, right?’ And we both stifled a yawn and were like YES, OMG yes, worth it. Yes. Very.
And we meant it. It is. There are a million mother-bloggers who have written about this a million ways and I would link them all here but I’m too tired but just trust me. They said it better than I could. Worth it? Check.
Somehow when I end up talking to people about kids, my kids, having kids, not having kids, the topic of sleep and not sleeping comes to the fore. And after I talked to my sister last night I laid in bed listening to the heavy breath of my 4 year old who still sleeps with a pacifier and finds a way to put any pointy part of her body into any soft part of mine. I lay there listening to my 1 year old cry out in her sleep as she struggled to settle after keeping them up past bedtime ONE night out of the last 40 ::never again!::. I lay there with my lists running through my mind and the clock getting later and later and I thought that the one thing I wish I could explain to my sister is that we are so very tired and we don’t get enough sleep, but the lack of sleep isn’t what exhausts me the most. But I can’t explain it, and I won’t try. But soon she’ll know.
It’s also not the endless games of “Elsa and Anna rescue Rudolph with a bow and arrow ” ad infinitum where the tedium of the specifics of her rules and the script of this game make you think you mind will simply bust out of your skull in protest of the boredom.
It’s not the way baby O finds a way to cling to my leg with the strongest, tiniest, chubbiest dimpled pinching fingers on the planet Earth any time I try to move more than 4 feet away from her.
It’s not the diaper changing or the wiping of butts. It’s not the tantrums on the floor of the sushi restaurant. Or the shrieks of a teething child. It’s not endless loops of the rink with V or standing guard while O navigates the stairs for the 314th time that day.
All of those things are tiring. And the lack of sleep is, perhaps, the most tangible thing we can name. The most hopeful aspect of life we can dream to reclaim. We are tired NOW, but we will sleep later.
They are small now, but they will grow up later. We won’t always be wiping butts or role-playing for hours. It’s finite. It ends.
And maybe we cling to those things and name those factors because it’s less terrifying than admitting that our exhaustion comes from a deeper place. That while my mom sleeps all night and wipes zero butts, she is still tired.
It isn’t the sleep. It’s the vulnerability.
Since the day V was born my heart has been walking around outside my body. She is subject to pain. Physical pain and illness. Accidents. Tragedies. She is subject to emotional pain. Rejection. Heartbreak. Anger. My girls live in the world, the horrible, awful, glorious world that I love and hate so much. And I can’t keep them safe. A baby gate won’t touch the legions of boogeymen that are out there. The overt and the covert. The subtle and the striking. I can stay up with them all night every night until they leave my house and it still won’t do a thing to prevent a thing. And it’s exhausting.
I want to be a zen, accepting, earth mother person. I want to say PAIN IS BEAUTIFUL and we are HUMAN and isn’t it grand that they will experience all these things and grow and heal and change and I can be here to witness, to support. I want to be that person. I want to embody that sentiment. And I manage it sometimes, once in a while, occasionally and on those 3 seconds per month I pat myself HARD on the back.
But in all the other seconds in the month, I feel very exposed. I feel like all my skin and most of my skeleton is gone and all my juicy organs are available for the vultures to seek and destroy. All in the name of love. Of family. Of life. And it’s exhausting.
Sometimes I don’t sleep well at night. Up and down 10 times. A baby with a fever, a toddler with a nightmare, someone is thirsty, someone needs me. And when I wake up I’m tired. Sometimes this goes on for a week. And I’m very, very tired. And these are the moments I cling to the hope that this tired feeling will relent someday, they will sleep, I will sleep. We will be rested. And I say it but I know it’s not 100% true. They will be rested. But I will be vulnerable. And it’s exhausting.
I know many women who are mothers. I know mothers who have birthed babies that were not alive. I know mothers that have held their children as they wailed through the agony of cancer treatment. I know mothers who have buried their adult children. I know mothers who have lost a child to disagreement. To cultural differences. To drugs. And the the tiredness in their eyes when they tell me their stories trumps a week, a month, a year of what I’ve ever known. They had a baby and their heart moved outside of their body. And life took it’s course, and their vulnerability was assaulted. And it’s exhausting.
I write all this and see that if I were reading it before I had kids, I would say HOW can this all be worth it? And I don’t really know how to answer. I can’t explain it, and I’m almost never at a loss for words. But the joy I feel to live with these children, to see them grow, to watch them live is very real. It’s happening now. It’s not a threat of something that could happen, it is in fact the daily events of my life. The vulnerability is also real, but not a promise, not here in front of me, far enough in the periphery that I can’t see it when my eyes are squinted in a smile.