Courage is not the absence of fear, they say, but the triumph over it. I see this quote attributed to Mark Twain, to Nelson Mandela, and to Ambrose Redmoon. I don’t know who said it first, or who Ambrose Redmoon is, or even who said it best; I just know that it strikes me as true and as common to our human experience. We keep on moving through life, despite our fear, or else who would ever let their children out of the house? Every mama knows the terrible courage that is required to allow our kids to learn to eat by choking on their food … and to run, even on concrete, which is hard … and to go to school where there are children who will act like children toward our babies. It’s just awful being courageous. And also wonderful.
Perhaps that gut reaction to the truth is why the phrase “working tirelessly” so perpetually rubs me the wrong way. Yes, yes; I understand that working tirelessly simply means to show great effort or big energy. But I get caught up in the synonyms as though they’re bubble gum on hot asphalt that sticks unpleasantly to the sole of my shoe.
indefatigable – untiring – inexhaustible – unflagging
She worked tirelessly to put food on the table.
She worked tirelessly to advocate for her children.
Those words sit out there in the parking lot, and I trip over them. I instantly wonder who would leave such things lying around, and I want to yell, “THIS IS NOT TRUE! You guys are harrying weary mamas, and this stuff is hard to scrape off, so YOU MUST STOP!”
The truth is, I would LOVE to work tirelessly, but that’s as ridiculous a concept in my life as it is unrealistic.
You guys, I’m a mama of kids. And a wife. And I work for a humanitarian aid organization. And I make dinner almost every night except when I say “ah, screw it!” and boil off-brand mac and cheese and tell the kids they can scoop it into their own bowls. And I do laundry. And I wipe several bottoms several times every day.
And I am exhausted.
Exhaustion is, to me, like living in terrific humidity. It’s so thick in the air, I’m certain I can reach out and touch it. Bag it and bundle it. Gather it to myself in solid form. It’s sticky on my skin, and it makes my hair act weird, and it takes years of adjustment to live life fully inside of it. And even though I can technically breathe it and find oxygen there, I sometimes feel as though I’m drowning a little bit, and I must cough and splutter to dislodge some of the dampness before I can use it to fuel my blood and heart and brain.
So when I read an article about a mama who worked tirelessly, there’s a hiccup in my brain. I stutter to a stop in my head. Because, as my toddler niece used to say, I just no believe it. I just no believe that her experience can be so very different than mine. I know women. I’ve met a few here and there, and I am one. And we mamas – especially we mamas of young kids – we are tired. We make Herculean efforts every day. And making the Herculean mama effort is not the absence of exhaustion, y’all, it’s the triumph over it.
This is an accomplishment, folks! A grand and worthy life. To work, not tirelessly, but in spite of our weariness. To push through the exhaustion because who we are and living life are more important than our fatigue.
We went to the beach last week for Spring Break. And every day ended with my 5-year-old, Cai, wandering around the house, eyes at half-mast, feet shuffling, head lolling, and muttering over and over, “Egg sauce did. Egg sauce did. Egg sauce did.”
He was pathetic and fabulous and funny. “Cai Cai? What are you saying, dude?” I just wanted him to keep talking about the egg sauce.
“Egg sauce did, Mom. I am egg sauce did,” Cai said. Exhausted!
That beach plum wore him out. And he couldn’t take being awake another minute. Not another second. And the very nice thing about being 5 is, when you’re Egg Sauce Did, you get to go to sleep and stay there awhile.
For those of you, though, who aren’t 5 and who find yourselves working tirefully – who are Egg Sauce Did but with no slumber in sight- I want you to know…
You’re the ones I admire. And I’m proud to breathe this water with you.