The chill hits my face, and for a second my breath is taken from me. I hate January. We head for the car, the door gently closing behind us. We look at one another with the same wide-eyed expression, and I beat him to it:
“Well, what do you think?”
Travis responds with, “that was really good. Nan says I’m not burned out and I’m not depressed, so that’s something.”
Alright, we’re getting somewhere. If a counselor doesn’t think you’re burned out and depressed then there is still hope for you yet.
Travis’ supervisor advised we see Nan just to check-in, just to get an outside opinion. So we did. We sat with Nan for an hour in her tiny office adorned with ferns in the window and a floor to ceiling case filled with books offering advise on every topic from adoption to women’s issues.
Our seat belts click. The car pulls out of the counseling center’s parking lot.
“But you are fatigued.”
Fatigued—the exact word Nan used to describe Travis as we sat in her blue, oversized chairs, the cushions enveloping me. But it isn’t only he who feels it. I feel it too.
Fatigued. That should be the tagline for motherhood.
The fatigue hits when my sleep is disturbed by Theo’s sobs. I roll over to check the time. 4:25. Lord, help me. My barely conscious self begins debating inside my mind. I’m torn between pacifying him with my milk like I’ve done every night before and just letting him cry it out. Maybe tonight is the night, I think. I try it, and let ten minutes go by. His wails only increase. My pillow goes over my head and I pray Anna doesn’t come in. But then I hear her tiny footsteps and feel her presence. “Mama, Theo woke me up.” I relent and signal for her to climb in. I look over at Travis and he too has succumbed to using his pillow as a sound barrier. He’s useless. I guess I’ll come to the kid’s rescue yet again.
The fatigue hits when eggs are being scrambled, toast is in the toaster, coffee is ready to be poured for the second time that morning and nothing but silence is coming from the living room. Whatever is going on in the kitchen can wait. With silence always comes a catastrophe. I enter the living room to find Theo dipping a pencil into a mug whose contents are puddled on the side table. Coffee all over Theo, coffee all over the floor, coffee all over a library book and my journal. Who left their coffee on the table?! Who cares? It’s done and now the eggs are burnt.
The fatigue hits at the tail end of lunch and what should be the beginning of nap time. Can I nap too? Not today. I look at the clock. 1:15. Anna’s still gnawing on her spinach, her pb&j and sliced clementine lay untouched on her plate. I’ve already nursed Theo but I hear him from where I am in the dining room talking to himself in his crib. How long will it take him to fall asleep? Will he be asleep before Anna goes in? How long will it take Anna to eat? An hour like it did yesterday and the day before that? I begin with the empty threats, “If you don’t finish in two minutes there will be a consequence.” Five minutes pass, spinach is gone but she’s just starting on the sandwich and I haven’t followed through on that consequence. Note to self: Google creative ways to make your kid eat faster.
The fatigue hits when I hear a knock on the door. It’s not unusual. Most likely Daykulay or Carolina requesting homework help. My heart drops as my hope for a disruption-free afternoon crashes around me. All I want to do is read a chapter from the still-soggy-from-coffee library book while savoring my second reheated cup and three-month-old Halloween fun-size Snickers. Brushing the daydream from my mind, I finish folding the toddler-size shirt that was in my hands before laying it in the basket. I shuffle down the stairs, open the door and summon the student to enter. The tutor is in. Five minutes later I hear cries from the bedroom. After napping an hour the kids are awake. Sigh.
The fatigue hits at 7:05. An hour remains before the night is ours. But there is still so much to do. Clean the mess left from dinner, fill the dishwasher, persuade Anna to pick up her toys while, let’s be real, I’m the one on my hands and knees throwing dolls and cars and balls in their respective bins. And then bath. “Yeah, let’s just wait till tomorrow.”
“But it’s been four days.”
“Meh, it’ll strengthen their immunity.”
Brush teeth, put on pj’s, read a book, pray, good night kisses. 8:10. A burst of energy runs through me. The smell of popcorn and the sound of the cork popping from the Chardonnay are enough to wake my senses even for 21 minutes as we collapse into the couch and press play to view the next “New Girl” episode.
We sat in that tiny office, side by side, on blue, oversized chairs, while a woman we just met asked for the intimate details of our lives. I was hesitant to believe Nan had all the answers, that she was going to diagnose us in an hour. But as Travis began sharing his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions, all relating to his job, I saw the wheels turning in Nan. She had seen this before: the missionary who gives all his time and energy, sacrificing his family and his health to do something for the Lord.
But there was something different in Travis, she said. He wasn’t quite burnt out. He wasn’t so depleted he didn’t have anything else to give.
“You sound fatigued,” Nan said.
Fatigue. It hits like a ton of bricks knocking you off your feet, much like burn out, but sweet moments will come picking you up and bringing joy and peace, reminding you you’re exactly where you need to be.
The sweet moments are the smiles from Theo when I come to his rescue at 4:35 and the mid-morning impromptu dance party after the disaster with the pencil in the coffee. They are the sloppy kisses before nap time and the hug from Carolina as she walks out the front door after finishing her homework. They are the winks from Travis as we countdown to 8 o’clock and the prayer from Anna she sends up to Jesus praising him for rescuing her.
Nan says we can work with fatigue. But if she would have said Travis was burned out? Well that’s different. In the world of ministry there’s no coming back from that, not even with the sweet moments.
Good thing we can work with fatigue because, shoot, Nan, as a mom, I don’t have a choice.
Nan says with sweet moments we can breeze through another four years as missionaries.
What about 18 years as parents? We got this.
Jessica is a wife, mother, and Jesus lover. She lives with her little family in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they are missionaries living in a neighborhood made up primarily of refugees and immigrants, using the sport of soccer to build relationships and disciple young men and women. When she’s not busy supporting her husband and taking care of her three year old and one year old (so, like never), Jessica enjoys writing and sewing. She’s hoping to one day write a book with all her family has experienced living among the nations. You can find Jessica’s sporadic writings at Keeping Up with the Joneses and too many photos of her kids on Instagram.
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