Periods of complete exhaustion are inevitable for a mother. Her nursing baby makes quality night sleep impossible; her exuberant toddler requires constant vigilance; her preschoolers need activities; her school-aged children can entertain and help themselves but challenge her mind with questions as they approach the age of reason. Just that is enough to make her head spin, because she wants to do it well, with love. All the while, her home has to be cleaned and maintained, food must be obtained and prepared, laundry piles up. She is careful with their money, and that requires intelligence and effort. Her loving husband needs her whole self, and she needs him. Her friends need a friend, and she needs them. The Eucharist, the source and summit of her life, is celebrated every morning at 8am and she wants to be there… with her crew in tow. She teaches them to adore Jesus too, day by day. She wants to present an appealing picture of a thriving Christian mother, so she maintains her weight and her appearance. Every day is different; she can’t set many expectations, because with so many moving parts, plans are bound to change. She attempts a coherent thought from time to time, but it’s usually interrupted.
And she is blessed, because her life is full. It’s an offering. She doesn’t have to decide to pour herself out. It’s done for her. She’ll sit back when she’s old and remember these happy, full days. And she’ll be exhausted just thinking about them.
Oh these days are exhausting! And exhaustion is complicated for women, perhaps especially for mothers. Women aren’t wired simply. When our mental, physical and emotional tanks are drained, they don’t just stay dry until we find rest. They immediately begin refilling themselves with all kinds of poison–first impatience and anxiety or sadness which quickly give way to self-doubt, guilt, blame, jealousy, irrationality, hysteria and panic, hatred. Rest is the solution, but where do we find it in these full days and eventful nights? Motherhood does not have built-in breaks.
I am practicing the ability to “cube up and shut down”, a la the Pixar movie WALL-E: to close myself off for a few seconds amid the noise and needs in order to clear my mind completely, recenter, and utter a quick prayer. It’s like a little water break in a long, hot race. I read the story of a holy mother who would fling a sheet over her head whenever she was nearing her breaking point. This signaled to her children that she needed a few moments to gather herself. She’d take deep breaths and say a few prayers then begin again.
Hiring help and taking a mother’s Sabbath occasionally are wonderful. Nonetheless, things can get ugly if I am not able to combat the daily exhaustion with little, regular periods of refreshment. At best, I fly through every day in desperation; at worst, I behave like a hysterical monster. And since I’m supposed to be the heart of this home and all, “Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t a pretty picture.