I use the word more than I do my own children’s names.
Once upon a childfree time, it was how I felt after a long day at the office. Now, it has become me. A chronic exhaustion that never lifts or appeases, that hangs like a cloud over even the sunniest of days.
It’s a common theme in the lives of most parents. We joke about it on TV, in books, on blogs, laughing collectively at ourselves for putting the jar of instant coffee into the fridge or leaving the house wearing odd socks.
But go deeper beyond that surface, ‘brave face,’ light-hearted humour and something more sinister lurks. This tiredness, it’s debilitating, actually.
It’s all-consuming, mood-destroying, relationship-testing and relentless.
And it’s not something pilates and a handful of energy-boosting goji berries will fix. It’s too ingrained in us for that. It has become part of us and we function permanently at a slower, less able, less rational pace because of the years worth of physical and emotional energy poured into the raising of our little ones.
I am the keeper of bad sleepers, with 3 being the average age at which children in our house begin to reliably sleep through the night. When friends and relatives have told me proudly and, dare I say, smugly, about their children being sound asleep by 7.30pm and staying that way until 8 or 9am, my soul curls up at the corners in despair.
No child of mine has ever slept past 7am, with most days seeing us awake by 6am. They aren’t good at going to bed either. Every night after stories comes a tirade of demands for snacks and the answers to many imponderable questions, including but not limited to, ‘Why is the moon high up?’ and, ‘What noise do turtles make?’
My mood suffers acutely on the really awful days. The ones when teething, bad dreams, or sniffly noses have robbed us of all but an hour of restless snatched sleep. Those days are tough. Unbearably tough. I often wonder how I’ll make it to bedtime without falling asleep slumped over the coffee machine.
You see, it’s not just about missing out on a full night’s sleep every now and again. It’s so much more. It’s night after night of interrupted sleep over many years. It’s the staying up late to finish jobs you can’t do with little ones around, followed by early starts with early risers the next morning.
And it’s the physical and emotional demands of life with children during daytime hours too – the running around the garden or park, the lifting and carrying of smaller children, the pushing of prams and trolleys, the being climbed over, the piggy backs, the chasing, the scooping up of the child who’s fallen and cut their knee, the carrying of shopping bags, the trying to concentrate at work when your mind is wandering to what the kids are eating for lunch.
All you want to do is curl up in bed and sleep for 3 months.
Sometimes I can’t imagine ever not being tired again. Times when I (shamefully) yearn for this phase of our lives to be done. Times I feel like asking the righteous Enjoy-This-Time-As-It-Doesn’t-Last-sayers to step into my shoes for a month and relive the crippling exhaustion.
But, ultimately, what else is there than to keep going? Coffee in one hand and a mouthful of toast spat from the mouth of a revolted child in the other.
Keep going parents, keep going.