I don’t remember the last time I slept.
I mean, I know I’ve slept somehow because I’m still here and functioning (to the barest qualifier of the word), but I don’t remember when I last slept soundly. When I simply turned off my phone, slid into bed, and enjoyed the bliss of my brain shutting down so rest could sweep over me. Sleep is usually something that tackles me to the ground without me realizing it; one minute, I’ve been scanning over my list for the next day, and the next minute, it is the next day. I don’t feel rested or at peace — I just had a blackout before another day of work and priorities. Really, it all feels automatic.
Try as I might, no amount of lavender sprays, long baths, transformative podcasts, or reduced screen time help me rest. How can they? I’m a mother who is a full time student, works in death care, oversees everything my family needs, and has a writing career on the side — all during a pandemic. I don’t have the luxury of a deep sleep, because my body is constantly running on low and fighting for a few spare ounces of fuel. I thrive off catching a second wind. A lot of us are in this garbage situation together (global pandemic), but mothers are suffering significantly more than we have in the past, and things were bad enough to begin with. So it really, really bothers me that we are still being stuck with the expectation to thrive, be successful, and push past the tasks that are weighing us down. We have to keep juggling everything, and look good doing it, as if we aren’t constantly frozen in fear every time our child sneezes or our throat starts to feel sore.
To draw a picture for those who need it, this is what my day looks like:
Get the kids ready for school. Walk my oldest to school, come home. Sit in my Zoom classes, make lunch, tackle laundry. Walk my youngest to preschool, come home. Two hours of pitch-writing and networking, tackle dishes. Walk back to get both of them, come home. Get dinner ready, sit in on another Zoom class. Begin on-call shift, study. Get dispatched to a home death, come home, study. Go to bed, but lie awake for two hours while I figure out how to get bills paid in the right order. Stare at the ceiling, as if my calendar is projected onto it. See where doctor appointments and school meetings fit. Think about the midterm. Roll over and grab the phone because I forgot to respond to an important email. Toss the phone back on the nightstand and wonder how I can make my kids and husband happier. Marinate on that depressing thought until I black out. Wake up, rinse, repeat.
And that’s if things are going well, and I don’t get a dispatch in the middle of the night (I will), or if my child doesn’t sneeze and then get sent home for a week as a COVID precaution (she did). I don’t want pity, and I’m not looking for a standing ovation. I want you to understand, and to see, that I am just one example of millions who have days that look like mine. Do you see this? Do you understand what it means to live a day such as this, and be told it isn’t enough? When you commend my husband for being so supportive by making a frozen pizza, and then ask me why I don’t shop organic or make my own bone broth during winter time, I want to cry and scream. It’s so demoralizing.
To paint a picture for those who need it, this is what my husband’s day looks like:
Get ready for work, go to work. Work a set 8.5 hours, come home. Help with dinner sometimes, help with bedtime. Watch Netflix, get tomorrow’s lunch ready. Go to sleep. Wake up, rinse and repeat.
I love my husband, and he really does try to help in ways, but it still does not hold a candle to what I have to carry. Do you see why I’ve reached my breaking point? Why I’m here, talking to you?
Like most moms in a pandemic, I’m operating on a level of sheer panic while I’m being pulled in fifteen different directions. And I get berated if one of those directions is further away from another one (I recently lost a good friend because she felt I was not attentive enough). Like most moms, I’m giving literally everything I have to meet an unreasonable list of demands, and it’s never enough. I don’t want to diminish the problems others have, and I don’t like playing comparison olympics, but I see the imbalance. I have to summon compassion and patience and grace for the people who feel slighted, or complain to me that their plate is too full, when it has four grapes rolling around on it and mine could feed a crowd. I spend every moment waiting for something to drop (and it does, of course it does) and then punish myself when it does. I epitomize the idea of living to work.
I’m laying it all out here, and I’m finally snapping, because you aren’t paying enough attention to us. To the moms who have not slept, who can’t meal plan for shit because it’s all just too much. You don’t see us, not really. You don’t picture us as we are: getting home late from work, reading a holistic recipe on Instagram while we shovel in the cold mac and cheese mixed with ketchup from our kid’s bowl, even though we hate mac and cheese mixed with ketchup. We exist as an inevitability to you, and to our partners. We listen to “babe, I’m so tired” after our husbands get a small sampling of the strain we’re under every single hour of every single day. And we’re this level of tired, this level of overburdened, because you don’t want to see us. You give us shit for not doing the maximum, and give our husbands praise when they do the minimum. If I was given that much commendation for so little, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to do much more beyond it, either.
I need you to see me. I need you to see us, mothers in a pandemic, mothers outside of a pandemic. Mothers working, mothers studying, mothers with mental illness, mothers with physical illness, mothers who can never do or be enough. I need you to truly, really see us, even if you don’t understand. I need you to recognize that when the pandemic slows and things return to normal, we will still be here. I need you to stop marveling, wondering, How does she do it? You know exactly how I do it, but you don’t want to see it. Not really. I need you to stop lowering the bar for husbands, while pushing it beyond our reach.
Maybe then, I’ll finally get to sleep.