A few weeks ago, my 2.5-year-old slept for 13 hours.
Two nights in a row.
Both nights I slept for nine of those hours and woke on the second day a) delusionally thinking this was our new blissful reality and b) foolishly expecting the tiredness that has dogged me since his conception to have lifted. And it had lifted — slightly. The fog that leaves sentences hanging unfinished and sees butter tidied away into the junk drawer had risen to more of a low-lying cloud. But it was definitely still there.
I was still so tired.
Which got me thinking — what sort of monster is this tiredness that sleep can’t kill? Have I simply built up enough of a sleep debt to keep me tired forever? Or is there something else integral to being a Mom that fatigues us? There’s always the possibility that I’m just a weak human who will never feel fully charged, but one of my coping mechanisms is to assume we are all very much alike. So I put that theory aside and started my research.
Scene one: I kiss my son’s forehead. He’s been a little cranky, and as I kiss him I decide he’s got a slight fever.
Scene two: We’re on a flight to England, and our dinner is served. I notice that both my son and husband’s meal comes with a fruit cup. Our son loves fruit, so I make a mental note that my husband’s fruit cup will come in handy. It seems so very obvious that I don’t speak the thought aloud. Ten minutes later, when bribery is needed, I ask my husband for his fruit. He looks up bewildered: “I ate it.”
Scene three: I leave my son playing quietly in the living room and go to the kitchen to start dinner. A few minutes pass and I realize there’s been a subtle shift in the nature of the “quiet.” I go to check, and he’s teetering on top of the play kitchen. “What are I doing up there?” he asks.
Scene four: We’re packing to go away:
Husband: “Have you seen my boxer shorts?”
Me: “Try the laundry basket of your clothes neatly folded but not yet put away.” (Let’s not lie, they never get put away). “And can you get a crib sheet?”
Husband: “Where’s the laundry basket? And where are the crib sheets?”
Scene five: Every night ever: Baby cries, I wake up within seconds, husband continues to snore.
It’s not that my husband is selfish or unhelpful. It’s that somehow in motherhood my senses are heightened. I am — we are — always listening, noticing, planning ahead.
And this is the root of the pervasive un-killable tiredness.
We are human thermometers, the knowers and finders of things. We know when we hear the wrong kind of silence and which cries mean real pain and which are more theatrical. Our bodies are pacifiers, comforters, trampolines. We routinely, unthinkingly forsake our own basic needs because we’re busy catering to everyone else’s. Someone always seems to need something, so the time we do steal for ourselves feels stolen and carries with it a guilt it shouldn’t carry.
We are tired because we’re wearing too many hats, inhabiting too many roles, and feeling guilty for all the rest.
The worst thing is, it’s not even anyone’s fault except maybe my own (hi, guilt). Oh and Society — because somehow this need to be all things has made its way into my psyche and set up camp. My husband didn’t force me to be this way. If anything, I’ve probably inhibited his relationship with our son by taking on too much (hi, guilt).
But my quest wasn’t to solve the problem. I just wanted to understand why I was always so tired. I’m not even sure what I’d want to change aside from having my husband read my mind and find his own boxer shorts. It may be a little masochistic, but I kind of like being a human thermometer/family encyclopedia/omnipotent ninja. It’s sort of like a superpower after all.
An extremely tiring superpower.