It has to do with the fact that from the moment you give birth to that little person, they need you for something.
Take a day in our home:
Then Child A insists on waking between five and five-thirty am. That’s when her body clock kicks in. Child B wakes at the slightest noise after first light. Child C needs to be woken with tea.
Child A can dress herself, but has emotional melt downs at the drop of a hat which can be brought on from anything as simple as her school lunch box being in the wrong place, to the fact that she has lost her library book. Many mornings involve hysterical tears.
Child B insists on dressing herself, but she’s not yet three, so she can’t do a damn thing herself. And damn the person who tries to help her. More hysteria. More tears. Often involves throwing things.
Child C doesn’t like drama, so will withdraw into her shell and quietly not get anything done while her sisters go hysterical. But not getting anything done means one of her parents then goes hysterical at her. Again more tears. Or silence, which is oftentimes far worse.
Then the older two (A & C) go to school, mostly happy, sometimes under duress, and almost always with exactly thirty seconds to spare.
Child B can only go to school an hour later, which is when she chooses to wail that her sisters have left her, that her father is leaving, that she doesn’t want to go to school, and wants more tea (after tossing the last batch at the wall.) And then demands her favourite movie on her favourite sofa, where she calmly sits and waits out the next fifty-five minutes.
In these precious minutes, I should be reading a Bible, praying, meditating, grooming. Instead, I am dealing with the household issues: a broken washing machine, a gardener who’s wife is being problematic, a delivery of an unexpected item and the neighbourhood security guys coming to check the street cameras that are on our property. And next thing, I am late.
Time for Child B to get to school, but she wants to see how the movie ends, for the hundredth time. While the nanny tries to get her, to the car I run around frantically looking for her school bag, my grocery list, the shopping bags (can’t be using plastic! Why can’t they just go back in the car after every unpack??) and whatever it is that needs to be handed in for repairs, alterations, dry-cleaning, exchanging etc.
I always forget at least one thing.
I always have to go home after dropping her off.
When I don’t, it is usually a very good morning. Sometimes I then get to go to gym, if my other non-mothering responsibilities allow the time. Charity work. Church stuff. That kind of thing.
Three hours to get everything that can possibly be done, done.
Child B doesn’t like driving around after school, she wants to go home to see her nanny (whom she loves, which is a huge blessing,) except for the odd days that she does. And since the shop is far closer to her school than to home, it's often easier when she does, except then I need to fit a week’s worth of grocery shopping into one trolley with a toddler who needs to sit still when it’s actually nap time and who is sitting in the same trolley. She chooses and opens at least three items on these shops, only eats a few bites and then wants the next item. Oh and I am the terrible mother with the two-year old screaming because I won’t let her have a donut for lunch.
Then it’s time to fetch child A and C. Sometimes it involves waiting for one while the other is finishing off. Sometimes it involves two trips. It always involves one of them telling me I was late (I wasn’t,) and the other telling me that they’re too tired to carry all their school bags, (But Mommy isn’t allowed to get tired.) And then me telling them to hurry up and get to the car, because a three-minute stop has now taken half an hour.
Home for homework. Home for extra swimming. Home for play time. Home for siblings arguing and screaming and again, more hysterics. Then time to make supper. I don’t know why, actually, it’s probably some form of self-punishment, but I insist on cooking myself and making it all from scratch. When I am being very naughty, I involve a ready-made tomato sauce. It’s a blessing and a curse, as I get to teach my children about healthy food, but also that I get to switch off.
I try to cook what they like. I try to keep it free-range/organic/hormone-free. But inevitably, I cook what they liked last week, (How do I get it so wrong?) and they don’t eat ‘it’ anymore. Now that the fridge is fully stocked with the cursed ingredient. Or the nanny handed out the biscuits I was saving for treat day at five pm when the kids were having a melt down in order to keep the peace while I was cooking dinner. And now they have no appetite.
Or my best, they eat it, love it and complement my culinary skills, only to turn their knives on each other when we start talking about who’s bedtime story will be read this evening.
A few things about me:
I like to be prepared, in fact, I handle surprises very badly.
I hate waste. So a fridge full of cucumber that is no longer the favourite food grates me to the core.
I’m paranoid about raising spoilt brats and so I try to ALWAYS check their manners and appreciation levels.
I am quite a quiet soul. I enjoy quiet. I react badly to too many stimuli. I react badly to noise.
So by six-thirty, once supper is done and the tea is made and the bed time bell is chimed, I have reached the end of my tether. I’ve driven around for kids who don’t always say thank-you. I’ve fetched them from school as the final bell rings and not left them there for aftercare until it suits me, even though it’s tempting as heck. I’ve cleared almost every afternoon so that we are all home for the whole afternoon. They eat a meal cooked by my hands. They hear a bed-time story read by one of their parents (their dad is great at this, though.) They get to request a jukebox lullaby and hear me sing them to sleep often. In my book, that’s a pretty good day.
But it’s thirteen hours of almost non-stop giving and being tapped. When my five-year old touches my leg, it’s to get my attention not to show affection. When my almost-eight year old comes to hug me, it’s almost always after she’s been in trouble for something or if I’ve remembered to do something for her. As for the toddler, they’re narcissistic little creatures by nature, so what do you think?
After they’re asleep, which takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour-and-a-half. It’s time to be an adult. I don’t want to talk though. I don’t want to be touched. I want to watch Game of Thrones and not talk and enjoy some adults killing, shagging and swearing. And then falling asleep while they do so.
Or I want to read a book; a good, juicy book which is incredibly intense and escapism at its very best.
NOT because I don’t love my life. I truly do. But I crave the silence. And the day has been exhausting.
What makes me sad is that people will say we should enjoy this phase as it passes so quickly, which I get. But I don’t think they remember that in order to enjoy something the train needs to stop for long enough to smell the roses. We don’t get any rose-smelling time. We go from reactionary to ridiculously loud to crazy chaos and end in a bed-time crash which almost always involves one of the parents falling asleep putting the kids to sleep.
Only to be woken in a few hours because one has a bad dream or one needs water or one needs company, or they were too quiet so we woke up to check they were okay.
And we have tried routine. We’ve tried reading books and guides and consulting experts. It’s just life. And ours is particularly unpredictable, perhaps. But I’m not the only exhausted mother out there, which means ours is not the exception.
So when I say, I’m exhausted, it has so much less to do with sleep and so much more to do with life in general. When a mother looks exhausted, it’s the battle paint showing. It’s not "too busy", it's just non-stop. And we do it, day after day, because we want the best for our kids. Because we want to be part of their lives, even the highs and lows and hysteria. We do it because we adore them. Because they are ours and we would have it no other way.
But, it’s still flipping exhausting. And for now, let's just take a moment to acknowledge that that (The fact that we feel exhausted,) is okay too.