“Can I quit?” I half-joked with my husband as he carried our toddler out of the bathroom. He laughed until I looked him straight in the eyes and repeated, “No, really. Can I quit?”
I was referring to my full-time job. As a stay-at-home, 24/7 mother of two.
And I meant it. I was desperate, smelly, exhausted, completely drained — just done. I wanted to throw in the towel. I didn’t want to lock myself into that bathroom for a power cry and a few deep breaths or sneak downstairs and shove a handful of chocolate chips in my mouth — my current healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms — and jump back in for more rounds.
And there are so many more rounds.
There’s wrestling into pajamas, cleaning up the toys, nursing to sleep, singing to sleep, answering all the philosophical musings of a five-year-old’s universe, and desperately willing them to go to sleep. Then there’s waking up at two a.m. because I have fallen asleep in my clothes, untangling myself from tiny limbs to stumble into the bathroom just to pee and crawling back to bed, too tired to do anything else.
Then I get to wake up and do it again.
Some days, I wish it was a job I could quit. I wish it was a job with flexible hours, manageable hours, limited hours. I wish it was a job with vacation and sick days and a living wage. I wish it was a job with performance bonuses and employee-of-the-month recognition.
Sara Zaske shares the lessons she learned while raising her family in Berlin, on our podcast about family life.
I wish it was a “real” job.
But it’s not. It’s not a job. It’s my entire life, a large part of my identity, my entire heart, body, and soul. Because even if I worked outside of the home full-time, every step would echo with my love for them, every action would be fueled by my need to keep them safe.
I am a mother. No matter what else I become and no matter what else I do, this is forever written on my heart, my body, in my DNA. Even when I take a break, a mum’s night, even when I sleep, this is constant. The loving, the worrying, the working. It is filling. It is draining. It is too much and not enough in all the same and different ways at all the same and different times.
There’s a stage of motherhood referred to as “the trenches.” As I’ve clawed my way up through the baby stage and fumbled through the toddler years, I wonder if “the trenches” are a pendulum, a wave, a phase that we return to over and over again. There is no age limit, no set schedule, no neat and tidy timeline distributed by the pediatrician to help you mark your milestones. There are no trenches that are the same. My trenches are worn and shaped by motherhood — the depths of my children’s needs multiplied by the sprawling expanse of my limitations.