I've got a riddle for you: What do you do when you're totally and completely burned out by the one thing in your life that you can never escape?
OK, so that's not much of a fun riddle, but still. What would you do?
I was definitely at a burnout moment in mothering my four young kiddos, working full-time, and some other personal issues I really can't get into at the moment, but they were there—a constant weight on my shoulders, a drizzling, rainy dark cloud above my head, an emotional soul-sapping energy I couldn't shake. I started each and every day with the best of intentions, but before I knew it, I was slipping into the drudgery, dreading every diaper change, dragging out bedtime because I honest-to-goodness couldn't get my kids just to freaking sleep and I had tried every trick of the trade.
I get really super-duper annoyed by the trillions of cliched articles and "advice" out there for moms like me on how to survive burnout.
I felt like I was going through the motions, that I couldn't possibly go on, but I had to. It was like I wanted so badly to be this fun, adventurous, happy mom who whips up creative snacks, plans family outings and drinks wine at night while snuggling with my husband like moms are supposed to do. But instead, I was grumpy, exhausted, and my husband and I fell asleep in one of the kids' bedrooms separately every.single.night. because that is life.
Sometimes I would get really super-duper annoyed by the trillions of cliched articles and "advice" out there for moms like me on how to survive burnout. Hire a sitter! they say. Call up Grandma! they advise. Time time for yourself! they proclaim.
Well guess what, annoying advice-givers of the world? Some of us can't afford help, can't find a sitter, don't have grandparents that babysit at the drop of a hat, and frankly, making time for ourselves just feels like yet another task that is more work than it's worth, mmmk? So just stop.
But still. There comes a time in every mother's life when the energy shifts, when the scales turn, when a tipping point is reached. Mine came two days ago.
Strangely enough, my solution to burnout came in the form of having a complete stranger manhandle my boobs in a freezing cold room while I fought back tears. No, seriously. But it's not what you think.
I was there for an ultrasound after a problem developed after my fourth baby. I had been putting off the test for about a year and a half out of fear for I might find. When I finally dragged myself in and the ultrasound tech suddenly went quiet, my entire body went ice cold.
I couldn't stop thinking about the ones whose lives do change in an instant, the ones who wish they could go back to worrying about stupid things that honestly don't even matter.
She seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time probing around, and even though I'm a nurse and I know better, I still couldn't help myself from asking.
"You're making me nervous," I stammered with a nervous half-giggle/half-sob. "Do you see something?"
"I can't tell you anything," she replied calmly, never taking her eyes of the screen. "But the doctor will be in to discuss the results."
Until that moment, I never really thought that anything could be wrong, but with her words, I suddenly saw, with picture-perfect clarity how easily my world could end in a literal second.
I had nothing to distract me for 10 excruciating minutes while I waited for the test to end and the doctor to come in. You never really realize how much we rely on our phones and apps and emails and busy work to distract us from the harsh realities of life until you're lying half-naked on a cold hospital bed, wondering if someone is going to walk through the door and tell you that you have cancer.
When he walked in, he took one look at my face and said, "It's OK," and while my heart crumpled in relief, I couldn't stop thinking about all the women who had to sit and wait and then hear the other diagnosis delivered. I couldn't stop thinking about the ones whose lives do change in an instant, the ones who wish they could go back to worrying about stupid things that honestly don't even matter, like vacuuming the carpets and that form you have to drop off to your daughter's school, instead of scheduling chemotherapy and making a will, just in case.
I went home that night feeling like my eyes had opened. I went to the grocery store and wanted to throw my arms open like some kind of deranged "Sound of Music" impersonator because I was just so happy to be there and have the chance to buy some freaking delicious cheese for nacho movie night. How incredibly lucky am I to be alive and be able to eat cheese? To have made it through this week and have four amazing kids to make nachos with? How could I forget how lucky we are to have the simplest things in life?
I could tell that I was not the same mother I was three days ago.
I vowed I would be a changed woman, burned out no more by a life that is too good to be true.
Of course, my new resolution on life lasted about 24 hours, and by nap time the next day I was seriously dragging. I had completed five in-and-out errands, which, for those you not schooled in stay-at-home mom speak, that means five errands that required me to unbuckle two small children, drag them through meetings and stores and grocery loading, and then rebuckle them—a feat more trying than the Olympics. But even as I collapsed on the couch and then had to get up 10 minutes later because (of course), my son wouldn't nap on the day I really needed it, I could tell that I was not the same mother I was three days ago.
Because instead of grumbling about my son skipping his nap and me not having my precious work time and marching him back to his room, I turned on a movie for us and made us two mugs of hot chocolate. I put my arm around my 3-year-old son, who is swiftly becoming a man before my eyes, and we just sat together.
Motherhood—and life for that matter—is always going to be challenging and exhausting and full of awful things. I know this. But still, I want more.
Even if it's something as simple as drinking hot chocolate on a couch with my son instead of complaining.