From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2


Children are a great comfort in your old age— and they help you reach it faster too.

Lionel Kauffman

It was the headline, “Learn to Recognize, Fight Fatigue Symptoms” that initially caught my eye. Having not had a full night’s sleep since 1990, the text completely drew me in.

“Feeling too exhausted to complete your daily routines? By mid-afternoon, are you ready for a nap?” the article asked. My autobiography had been written without me even knowing! Spellbound, I read on.

“Fatigue can have a variety of lifestyle causes, including lack of sleep,” the author declared.

Really. Well, who would have guessed that I was walking around only half-coherent because I don’t get enough sleep? Who penned this stroke of genius? I wondered. Albert Einstein?

Fatigue has a variety of causes, all right—most of which begin at the moment of conception and continue through the childrearing years. Once spawned and in the world, the tiny barnacle we call “child” will not sleep through the night for, in some cases, twenty-one years. (I am told there will very likely be a three- or four-year period when the child will not wake up. Not having a child who has reached that stage, I have yet to see how this is a bad thing.)

Colic, teething and immunizations perpetuate the fatigue problem in parents of those freshest from God. But later, fielding questions like, “Do tornadoes poop?” and hearing at 11:00 P.M., “Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you I have to dress like Caesar Augustus tomorrow,” serve only to further aggravate the condition.

Some of the symptoms of exhaustion are obvious, such as the presence of bags and/or dark circles under the eyes. Most likely, however, the signs of disease will be more subtle. There are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to determine if you, too, are suffering from sleep deprivation:

1. Have you ever given birth? Is the child still at home? Did you ever give birth again? (It is important to note that each subsequent labor and delivery increases one’s chance for developing a lack-of-sleep disorder.)

2. Have you ever been asked, “Why do people look down when they pray when God is up there?”

3. Do you ever provide answers to questions that you know, deep down, don’t really answer the question? For example: “Because I’m the Mom, that’s why,” and “Because I said so!”

4. When your child asks you if you have seen his math paper, have you ever, without so much as blinking, looked in the freezer?

5. Look at your feet. Are you wearing two socks of different hue?

6. Do you have spit-up on one or more of your shoulders when you leave for work in the morning?

7. Do you eat two or more meals per day in a moving vehicle?

8. Have you ever slept in the living room on a towel wearing nothing but your swimsuit simply because you were asked, in January, “Can we go to the beach?”

9. When playing Candy Land, have you ever become volatile when, two spaces before being named Candy Land champion of the world, you draw the swirly mint card?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, there is a good chance you are tired.

But what can you do about it? The article offered several brilliant suggestions for combating fatigue. This was my favorite: “Reduce stress in your life where you can.” If tubal ligation had been a prerequisite for graduating from high school, this may have been possible. Unfortunately, there is no going back now.

“Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet,” the article recommended.

“Not possible,” I responded under my breath, because no matter how valiant my efforts, by morning, four Lilliputians will find their way through the dark into my bed.

They will illuminate their path with the “Bug’s Life” flashlights they ordered off the back of a cereal box. They will pry both my eyes open with their greasy little fingers and ask, “Are you asleep?”

They will then lie down next to me and begin to breathe, all four of them at different intervals. My oldest son will put one hand under his opposite armpit and flap until flatulence has been successfully simulated. The other three will subsequently giggle, chortle and begin to thrash about.

They will laugh so hard they start to cough, and then they will ask me to get them a drink. That done, they will ask me what time it is.

“Time to go back to sleep,” I will say.

They will ask me how long it is until morning.

“Not long enough,” I will answer, wearily.

My son will burp. The giggling will begin again. Then the coughing. Then the need for a drink. My temper will heat up and, inevitably, the cool, dark, quiet conditions conducive to obtaining a good night’s rest will be shattered.

I am not a doctor. I do not hold a Ph.D. in the sleep sciences. But after having four cesarean sections and then feebly attempting to raise the aftermath, I feel qualified to declare that, as long as one is a mother, there is no way to effectively fight fatigue.

What’s worse, even after our children have grown, they will continue to make us tired. We can run, but we can’t hide. They will find us in our houseboats off the deserted islands we purchase with our 401(k) money. It will not matter that we left no forwarding address. There they will be, and most likely, they will have reproduced. People will be calling us “Nana.”

Of some comfort is that most mothers find they are able to—although, sometimes just barely—secure employment, maintain a semiefficient household, meet the basic needs of their children, create a Caesar Augustus costume in twenty-four minutes and still carry on an adult conversation. (Although those conversations tend to be about how their two-year-old son used the potty for the first time.)

Fatigue, as mothers know and accept, is nothing more than the tradeoff for the comfort of squinting in the night to see the soft rise and fall of your son’s tiny chest as he lies sleeping in his bassinet; for the pleasure of kissing his jam-smeared face; for being the one he wants when he is sick; for hearing his teacher say, “He’s a great kid.” Fatigue is the small price we pay for being our child’s safe harbor— for his whisper in the dark, “Can I sleep in your bed?”

Staci Ann Richmond

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