On Working Tirelessly

I read a compelling article recently about a mama who advocated for her son with special needs. She overcame tremendous obstacles. She loved her son with abandon. She never gave up. It was a beautiful, terrible, sad, triumphant, inspiring story.

But then I tripped over one tiny phrase in the middle of it all.

She worked tirelessly to advocate for her son. 

She worked tirelessly. And I thought, really? Tirelessly? And I get that I may be seriously projecting here as a mama of a kid with special needs myself, but I’m betting that if asked about that tireless bit that mama would say, “NOPE. I worked hard, and it was exhausting.” 

Here’s my true confession: the phrase working tirelessly rubs me the wrong way.

Yes, I know it’s just semantics. And, yes, I understand that working tirelessly simply means to show great effort or big energy. But I get caught up in the tireless synonyms as though they’re bubble gum on hot asphalt that sticks to the sole of my shoe.

tireless (adj.) – indefatigable, untiring, inexhaustible, unflagging

Those words sit out there in the parking lot, and I step in them every time. I instantly wonder who would leave such things lying around, and I want to yell, “THIS IS NOT TRUE! You are harrying weary mamas! They might actually think they have to be tireless! This stuff is hard to scrape off! YOU MUST STOP!”

The truth is, I would LOVE to work tirelessly, but that’s as ridiculous a concept in my life as it is unrealistic.

You guys, I’m a mom. And a wife. And I work for a humanitarian aid organization. I make dinner almost every night except when I say “ah, screw it!” and boil off-brand mac and cheese and tell the kids they can scoop it into their own bowls. I do laundry. I wipe several bottoms several times every day.

And I am exhausted.

Exhaustion is like living in terrific humidity. It’s so thick in the air, I’m certain I can reach out and touch it. Bag it and bundle it. Gather it to myself in solid form. It’s sticky on my skin, it makes my hair act weird, and it takes years of adjustment to live life fully inside of it. And even though I can technically breathe it and find oxygen there, I sometimes feel as though I’m drowning a little bit, and I must cough and splutter to dislodge some of the dampness before I can use it to fuel my blood and heart and brain.

So when I hear about a mama who worked tirelessly, there’s a hiccup in my brain. I stutter to a stop in my head. Because, as my little niece used to say, I just no believe it. I just no believe that her experience can be so very different than mine. I know women. I’ve met a few here and there. And we mamas – especially we mamas of young kids – are tired. We make Herculean efforts every day. And making the Herculean mama effort is not the absence of exhaustion, it’s the triumph over it.

This is an accomplishment, folks! A grand and worthy life. To work, not tirelessly, but in spite of our weariness. To push through the exhaustion because who we are and living life are more important than our fatigue.

We went to the beach last week and played hard. And every day ended with my 5-year-old, Cai, wandering around the house, eyes at half-mast, feet shuffling, head lolling, and muttering over and over, “Egg sauce did. Egg sauce did. Egg sauce did.”

He was pathetic and fabulous and funny. “Cai Cai? What are you saying, dude?” I just wanted him to keep talking about the egg sauce.

“Egg sauce did, Mom. I am egg sauce did,” Cai said. Egg sauce did. Exhausted.

That beach plum wore him out. He couldn’t take being awake another minute. Not another second. And the very nice thing about being 5 is, when you’re Egg Sauce Did, you get to go to sleep and stay there awhile.

For those of you, though, who aren’t 5 and who find yourselves working tirefully – who are Egg Sauce Did but with no slumber in sight – I want you to know…

You’re the ones I admire. And I’m proud to breathe this water with you.

Beth

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
27 comments
  1. I’m new here and have been laughing and crying my way through a bunch if your posts while I sit, tied to my breast pump for what seems like a million hours a day. I’m so thankful to have found you, and all the others who comment and encourage and share. The real-ness is so refreshing 🙂

    And also:

    “And making the Herculean mama effort is not the absence of exhaustion, it’s the triumph over it.”

    Holy wow did I need to read that today. I’m a first time mama to an amazing and *active* 5.5 month old girl. Egg sauce did a out sums it up. But somehow I manage to keep going, even though I don’t quite understand how. And I’ve felt guilty somehow, like I should somehow have been able to figure this out by now. But this truth, that it’s not absence but overcoming, is a nreath of fresh air. Ok. I can’t make the exhaustion go away and it only makes me more weary to try. But I can just keep going, sometimes one minute to the next. So thank you, so very much, for this and for sharing your life!

  2. […] mom — funny, charming, engaging, involved — until I’m ragey and dysfunctional and tired and, well, not at all wonderful. And I’m a wonderful daughter, a wonderful sister, a wonderful […]

  3. Oh I feel ya! I work crazy third shift and have a 15 month old. I try to be really cognizant of how many times I respond to the question “how are you” with some version of “tired/worn out/exhausted”. There are times I get off work at 0700, come home to a sick kiddo that can’t go to daycare, but in the end I remind myself that I gotta do what I gotta do. Even if it means only 2 or 3 hours of sleep. At least I’m in the position where I can stay home with him without using sick time. There’s the positive – am I right?!

  4. I am literally in tears right now. I am in the drowning phase of things right now, and can’t seem to get up for air and am SO tired. (I have a 3.5 year old son, twin 2.5 daughters, who are full of it, I work full time as a preschool teacher/curriculum director am taking a full time load of courses online to get my BA, and my husband has chronic migraines, meaning he is MIA most of the time) After a late night writing a research paper and catching random drips from the ceiling in various bowls from the torrential downpour last night, I dragged myself into work, to be told we were overstaffed and was being sent home…. NAP…. more than 10 minutes with my 15 page research paper before someone has pooped, or dumped and entire Costco size bottle of handsoap on the kitchen floor and played slip and slide (true story, happened last week… twice, and last night… but with liquid coffee creamer) nope. I had to take the kids with me, and occupy them for 8 hours after we have had weeks of rain and all the parks are flooded, and rent is due this week so I have no money. I cried when they told me. And we went to the zoo, and had a wonderful time, and they stomped in the mud puddles and ran in opposite directions, and it was wonderful. We were all Egg Sauce Did… they are all sleeping on the couch, I’m gonna try for another page of that research paper….. thank you.

    1. Oh Katie!!! Big HUG!
      We do what we do because we HAVE to. That’s all there is. My hubby has ADD and is MIA as well–mainly because he forgot what he was supposed to be doing and where he was supposed to be going–but it does mean I can’t depend on him for child care or important stuff. Way it is :). You have too much on your plate, girl–beg, borrow a teen to come help with your kiddos for the summer. Or to clean your house, cook your meals, put away your Costco groceries? Please from one overextended mom to another–you really, really need a “wife” :D. And now i will shut up. 😉

  5. I never knew why I HATED this phrase. And it took me reading all the comments all the comments to understand “Egg Sauce Did” and I do mean all the comments. So funny!

    My other pet peeve is people who talk about someone who was sick their whole lives and “never complained”. I call BS. I’ve had Lupus since I was 12 and believe me I’ve complained but I’ve also picked myself up time and time again and did what I needed to and lived a life I love. And then gotten to sick to do any of it and started all over again. We need to give ourselves credit for failing/running out of steam and resting and then trying again. Because everyone struggles. It is the triumph over the exhaustion and the complaining and the impatience that makes us great.

  6. So true.. I think the other pet peeve I have is how do you be a parent with Chronic fatigue….I don’t know…I just do…I like your definition of triumphing over the fatigue

    1. Oh Erin, I am sooo with you here. I can remember being a single mom of five and falling asleep as I stood against the wall–cuz I STILL had kids awake and moving!!! Now my oldest daughter, 34 has asked me ‘HOW IN THE WORLD did you parent 5 kids-(one with Asperger’s we NOW know, thank you very much. and 2 with ADD). Um, I don’t remember cuz I was Egg Sauce Did!
      Can tell you–God had my back so many times for which I still praise Him to this day.

  7. Oh, thanks, y’all for the camaraderie and understanding! Love.

  8. Btw, my #5 kiddo is a one month old who thinks sleeping is best done in mom’s arms, bed, or on mom’s chest which makes getting all the other stuff that needs to be done a real challenge.

  9. I’m about to cry! This is brilliant, funny, and oh, so, encouraging! Thank you, from one Egg Sauce Did mommy to another.
    ~Sharon

  10. Oh, how did you know I needed this today? I wrote this whole other part, and erased it because it was depressing and long. 🙁 But, thanks. I needed to know I’m not the only one drowning in humidity-exhaustion, ’cause this desert girl doesn’t even understand the point of humidity.

  11. I mean “This REMINDS me…” (Do you see how exhausted I am?)

  12. This me of your ‘overwhelmed’ contest from over a year ago. I’m sure you could get a lot of contestants for an “eggs sauced did” contest, i.e. “I’m so exhausted because…”

    I doubt I could win, but I think I could make a decent showing.

  13. amen! and i am so egg sauce did that i had to read that out loud before i understood 😀

  14. Egg Sauce Did. Yup, totally there right now.
    And I felt the need to thoroughly clean my house this week… mainly because I finally can after 2 months of not being able to do anything, and because it was driving me nuts, and because although I know they would understand (having twins themselves) my in-laws are coming tomorrow…

    1. Krista, I so get this. I live with my in-laws, kindasorta. And my mother-in-law? Is Tireless. I feel completely lazy when she’s around. But mostly, I want to let you know that I. So. Get. This. Hugs!

  15. Oh, thank you! I have always felt that the word “tirelessly” was needlessly judge-y. And i’d like to say that it gets better as all the babies start sleeping through the night and going to school all day and maybe it does when none of them are teens who suddenly want to stay up all hours. This mama hasn’t figured out how to sleep when any of her kidlets is up, but I believe that transition may be coming because I am really getting Egg Sauce Did.

    1. Ha! I feel your pain, Trina! A teen who’s at her peak from 11pm-2am, and littles who wake at 6am… it’s a challenge, it is. Good thing I love the Egg Sauce, ’cause I eat it with EVERYTHING these days. 😉

  16. Sitting in the hospital after 3 sleepless nights with my 9 month old because he has the flu AND RSV and I am ten dozen kinds of egg sauce did. And did I mention 2 of his little teeth have cut through in the last 2 days? Poor fella is also egg sauce did 🙂 Can I join the Egg Sauce Did Club? I promise I’m past the mean, snarky, missing a little sleep
    stage. I’m full on in the ‘such a lack of sleep I’m delirious and goofy’ stage. I’m fun right now, totally!

    1. Oh, sweetie! Been in a similar situation and then mine got scarier for me, but we got through it. Even got through the egg sauce. I hope you have some great friends and family to come along side and let you lean on them. God give you strength and keep you fun! 😉

    2. So glad your babe is on the mend, Roxanne! Thanks for returning my email, and you know I’m wishing you all MUCH rest and hoping you’re HOME together now.

      xoxoxoxo,
      B

  17. Thank you for this post. So glad to know I am not alone in my egg sauce!

  18. To prove how Egg Sauce Did I am, I almost cried reading this post. Thanks for the love. 🙂

  19. Welcome fellow water-breather:) Egg Sauce Did cracked me up!

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