On Working Tirelessly

Apr 5 2012

I read a compelling article recently about a mama who advocated for her son with special needs. She overcame tremendous obstacles. She loved her son with abandon. She never gave up. It was a beautiful, terrible, sad, triumphant, inspiring story.

But then I tripped over one tiny phrase in the middle of it all.

She worked tirelessly to advocate for her son. 

She worked tirelessly. And I thought, really? Tirelessly? And I get that I may be seriously projecting here as a mama of a kid with special needs myself, but I’m betting that if asked about that tireless bit that mama would say, “NOPE. I worked hard, and it was exhausting.” 

Here’s my true confession: the phrase working tirelessly rubs me the wrong way.

Yes, I know it’s just semantics. And, yes, I understand that working tirelessly simply means to show great effort or big energy. But I get caught up in the tireless synonyms as though they’re bubble gum on hot asphalt that sticks to the sole of my shoe.

tireless (adj.) – indefatigable, untiring, inexhaustible, unflagging

Those words sit out there in the parking lot, and I step in them every time. I instantly wonder who would leave such things lying around, and I want to yell, “THIS IS NOT TRUE! You are harrying weary mamas! They might actually think they have to be tireless! This stuff is hard to scrape off! 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 mom. And a wife. And I work for a humanitarian aid organization. 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. I do laundry. I wipe several bottoms several times every day.

And I am exhausted.

Exhaustion is 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, 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 hear about a mama who worked tirelessly, there’s a hiccup in my brain. I stutter to a stop in my head. Because, as my little 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 we mamas – especially we mamas of young kids – are tired. We make Herculean efforts every day. And making the Herculean mama effort is not the absence of exhaustion, 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 and played hard. 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. Egg sauce did. Exhausted.

That beach plum wore him out. 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.