Brain fog is pretty much where I’ve been lost for the last few weeks. As stated before, I was really really looking forward to a break, and when that didn’t materialize, things got a bit ugly. I was hanging in there knowing there would be light at the end of the tunnel, and promptly crashed when that light went out.
Now, the problem is, even I don’t quite get what is going on here. Why on Earth does my brain feel so full at the end of the day, even though the day quite possibly wasn’t particularly strenuous? Why is it that of late, I can’t I seem to be thinking coherent thoughts for longer than five minutes after 8pm?
I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I have been pondering it some more ever since my friend posed this question on my Facebook page:
So what to make of all those mothers who on top of this (childcare, housework, etc) have breadwinning jobs, taking them outside the home 30-50 hours a week? I never stop marvelling how few of them suffer from burnout.
Admittedly, my gut reaction was something cynical along the lines of
‘Yeah, that’s because they pay other people to do the job that’s so damn exhausting!’
But seriously, why burnout now rather than, say, at the height of my corporate career? Why indeed, when I seemingly cruised through working 14-hour days, weekends and traveling across Europe twice a week?
What exactly IS it that makes life with a small child so freakin’ exhausting?
I know for sure that it’s not capability, or stamina, that are at stake here. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am capable. Heck, I’ve spent most of my life being capable and working hard. I have presented, strategized, budgeted, coached, hired, fired, innovated, business-planned. I am so used to being freakin’ capable that finding myself not-quite-so-capable is a fairly novel (and baffling) experience.
So after quite a bit of soul searching, I’ve narrowed the exhausting experience of life with a toddler down to three things:
Life with a small child is incredibly repetitive. It actually seems to have gotten more repetitive since we’ve crossed the threshold into toddlerhood. You pretty much take living in a time warp for granted with a newborn – endless feedings, sleepless nights, that sort of thing. You might find a ‘routine’ (whether that’s parent or child-led), but still, you can skip meals, and naps happen as and when tucked up in a buggy, which made our week-long NY holiday absolutely blissful.
Once you introduce regular meals, all that changes. Breakfast is no longer a matter of sleepily whipping out a boob. It is actually a matter of getting out of bed and producing a bowl of porridge. Naps no longer happen anytime, anywhere; at least not for more than twenty minutes. Therefore meeting friends is no longer as easy as plunking baby down into the pram and making a run for it. Things take a bit more planning, and many things – like meals, naps, going to the park, bedtime – are the same day after day.
I am the stellar opposite of a routine person. I love variety and spontaneity. So I guess it should come as no surprise that I feel like I am living Groundhog Day. And I think even Bill Murray was pretty fed up at the end.
I know that from the outside looking in, it may not look like I’m ‘doing’ a whole heck of a lot on a daily basis. And I’d be lying if I didn’t have ‘spare’ time because, after all, Lilly does sleep, and sleeps rather well, so it’s not like I’m on duty 24/7.
But when Lilly is awake, then no matter what I’m doing, I always have her on my radar, aware of where she is and what she’s up to. Ok, I may miss a few tricks of what she’s up to, and catching her with her face covered in concealer, but at least I knew for sure that she was hanging out in the bathroom!
I went to a play café for two hours the other day, happily chatting to another mum. When I left, I was completely knackered, because in addition to (hopefully) making coherent conversation, I spent the entire time peering over my shoulder, checking on the girl and mitigating the occasional toy dispute. Even at home, my Lilly radar is always on. Doesn’t sound like much, I know… but sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea, ready to spring to action to divert, comfort or rescue isn’t the same as well, just sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea.
When Lilly first arrived, I took it for granted that life as I’d known it would come to a halt for a while, so I was pretty chilled. Yes, there was frustration around being tired and the endless ‘who-does-what’ conversations, but really I don’t recall hitting rock bottom until about June or so.
But I bounced back with gusto, and things merrily went on. That’s what I do – I bounce back easily after a short recharge, like getting away to write for a few hours. What I have noticed though is that over time, every time I’m getting that recharge, I start from a lower base. Maybe the last recharge didn’t quite top me up enough, maybe my battery was actually a few bars lower than I realized or maybe the chance to have a break just doesn’t come around often enough.
What I am learning is this: Without adequate time to regularly recharge my own batteries, I find that I am running down quicker than a year ago when I was still ‘fresh out of the box’.
All that kinda seems to make sense to me. But even so, part of me thinks I should continue coping and functioning just fine. On some level, I buy into this idea so much that even when I talk to friends (most of them without kids), more often than not I feel like I am sitting next to myself – an out of body experience of sorts – listening to myself talk and noticing just how freakin’ insane I sound. I buy into the notion that looking after a toddler should be ‘easy’ just as much as the next person, despite the fact that I now have first hand experience of the opposite. Where does all that come from?
Lastly, this whole ‘being capable’ thing is a lovely double-edged sword. I have always been crap at asking for help, and because I always manage to sort things out, help is rarely offered. Capable people don’t need help. I have therefore found it really hard to communicate that I am wearing a little thin, and I have found it really hard to get heard. After all, how tired can you be exactly, when everything happily ticks over as before?
I recently read a short story written in 1926 about a mother who goes on a family holiday with her husband and three young children (Holiday Group by E M Delafield). It talks about how tired she is at the end of every day, and her husband’s disappointment at her not wanting to stay up all night to make stimulating conversation, or go for long evening walks. That was 1926, and that was with domestic help. So surely what I am experiencing is not so novel after all?
Anyway, I have decided that this whole parenting thing is not designed to be a one (or two) person job. You know, like that good old proverb that says you need a village to raise a child.
Well, I need that village.
I have a tribe but my beloved tribe is spread far and wide. I need a local tribe. So does Lilly.
So… elders, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters – all welcome! We do come with a lovable, if slightly unsociable husband.