She looked tired. Bone-tired. Overwhelmed, frazzled, but mostly tired.
Of course, she was. She had four children who looked to all be under age 10, with the youngest being a newborn who was wailing in her arms, clearly wanting nothing to do with this trip to the grocery store.
Bouncing the newborn down the frozen food aisle and zoned out with a zombie-like sway, I knew she hadn’t slept in years. YEARS. I was lucky to be shopping sans kids, as mine were much older and I was finally reaping the benefits of putting in my baby time. I approached this weary mom and said, “You have a beautiful family! You’re doing great to be here with all of them and a newborn.”
She paused for a few seconds as if she was holding back tears and blinked her eyes while looking away from me, as if to study the frozen waffle selection. I knew she was pausing to lasso in all the responses she really wanted to say and instead replace them with the one sentence that every mother I know uses every single day. The one sentence we substitute in for what we really want to say. She simply looked at me and said, “I’m tired.”
I knew exactly what she meant, and it didn’t just mean she was tired from not sleeping well the night before.
It meant she was full-blown, 100%, super-sized to the utmost magnitude and degree tired — in every single aspect of her current life. Oh, how I understood that more than she could know.
You see, when mothers say “I’m tired” to our spouses, our friends, strangers, neighbors, doctors, even our own mothers, we are saying so much more than that.
“I’m tired” means the weight of being the sole caretaker to small children day in and day out can be completely soul-crushing.
“I’m tired” means there are moments I think I can’t do this one more second.
“I’m tired” means I never thought it would all be this hard.
“I’m tired” means not only am I not getting sleep now, but I also don’t know when I ever will again. When?
“I’m tired” means if I have to cut the crusts off one more PB&J sandwich, I may stab my hand instead.
“I’m tired” means I don’t want to have sex. And it’s not because I don’t love the act or my husband, it’s because I can’t turn off my fatigued mind enough for it to actually be turned on.
“I’m tired” means I don’t have the mental muscle to do small talk with anyone. Not in the grocery store, at the playground, at a PTA meeting, in a waiting room, or anywhere else there are other tired people like me.
“I’m tired” means please don’t tell me I will miss this one day. Though it may be true, I don’t want to hear that right now. It won’t help.
“I’m tired” means I am grieving my before-mom body, attitude, personality, free time, solitude, and many other things that are now gone from my new normal that I’m still adjusting to.
“I’m tired” means I wonder whether I will ever feel like myself again or if this state of exhaustion will be my new state of forever.
“I’m tired” simply means I. Am. Tired. I cannot do so many regular adult things right now, ironically because I am the adult now. The mother. The sacrificer. The one who needs to have her shit together cannot actually anything right now.
I gave that strange mom in the grocery store a gentle pat on the shoulder. I didn’t tell her it would get better, or how blessed she was, or that she will miss this one day. Instead, I looked her straight into her weary eyes, smiled softly, nodded, and said, “I understand.”
And then she smiled back.
Sometimes the only thing all of us “I’m tired” moms need is to know is that we’re not tired alone.
The realization that there is an entire sisterhood of physically, emotionally, and mentally tired mothers out there can bring a sense of both camaraderie and relief. Because we all know more than anyone else what is actually behind the “I’m tired” answer, and together, God willing, it’s not going to be our answer forever.