Exhausted, Grateful Nurse-Moms, I See You.

I should be at work today.

No, I should be home.

I’ll spare you the extraneous details around why I ended up calling out from work today because we didn’t have childcare coverage for our kids, who are now out on summer break. As guilty as I feel, given that the unit sounds a bit short-staffed today, I had to do what I had to do.

I suppose the timing works out. Last week was the final week of elementary school for the kids, and I’d forgotten about the unique level of stress that falls upon parents in that week. After all, it’s been a couple years since I’ve had a “real” school year to wrap up and a “real” summer to try and plan for the kids. We were all scrambling to stay on top of all the special activities, frantic preparations for new summer rhythms, and heightened energy (and also sadness) amongst the kids as they realized the move into summer meant saying good-bye to beloved teachers and classmates, and hello to all their grand expectations for summer liberties. After working my 12 hours on Monday, managing the end-of-school madness with my kids from Tuesday-Friday, working again Saturday, and having a full day at church yesterday, it turns out to be a little gift of grace to have a forced reason to be home from work today.

But it wasn’t just a packed end-of-school week that was doing me in.

It was the realization, pointed about by another mom, that my third-grader this year had just completed her FIRST full, in-person school year since she’d been in kindergarten. When she was in first grade, everything shut down in March. Her entire second grade was spent online via Zoom.

As for my first-grader this past year, she’d been in preschool when things shut down in March 2020. The majority of her kindergarten experience was online at home, though she returned to campus in person for a few half-days per week for her last 1.5 months of kindergarten. She finally got to experience her first full year of in-person school for first grade.

It was the realization that as a nurse and mother of young children, already a very tough combination of hats to wear in normal times, what has been asked of us on a cumulative level over the past two years has been extraordinary.

Pivot between demands of nursing and motherhood in normal times. Figure it out.

Add an extremely contagious, mysterious virus that I have close exposure to at work, for which we don’t always have enough PPE, and come home to my family with no vaccines yet on board. Figure it out.

Add children who are now at home 24/7, needing Mama to be teacher, entertainer, tech supporter, and schedule-maker when so little can be scheduled. Figure it out.

Hallelujah for vaccines on board, but COVID remains a significant thorn in society’s flesh. Re-introduce portions of outside schedules, but with caveats and questions and COVID tests and politics. Figure it out.

Re-introduce the frantic pace of launching my kids into a full summer when I’m still spinning from all of the above. Figure it out.

Is this why I still cringe sometimes at the basic things my kids look to me for? Is this why I long more deeply than ever for the most basic and straightforward patient assignments at work? Is this why I feel strangely extra inflexible to any wrenches or changes to plans?

Is this why I am equally overwhelmed by the constant clutter of my home, and yet can’t get myself to pick up the house? The clutter is so very noisy and feels like a reflection of these last couple years, in particular. No matter how hard I try, it feels impossible to find a sense of order and calm. I’m desperate for the clutter to be gone. But I am also so weary from managing everything else that’s been thrown at me, housework is the last thing I find myself wanting to do.

This is not meant to be a post of complaint. I know in my core that God’s grace has carried me and my family. I hope my gratitude for my husband, kids, colleagues, job, community, home, school, and church family is honest and deep and real.

But true gratitude doesn’t automatically remedy exhaustion. And I suppose this post is just to validate the bone-deep weariness, for all of us who have worn the uniquely difficult combination of nurse-/mom-hats in the past couple of years. We can be grateful and still acknowledge the strange, lingering, bewildering exhaustion that remains after all we’ve been through. I’m trying to go easier on myself if I don’t feel I can just bounce back with extra pep in my step, as we pivot from the school year into our summer schedule.

I’m silencing the “shoulds” and all the extra guilt I can feel about the things I feel I should be doing. Today, I’m acknowledging my need for rest and gentle transitions, my need for God’s grace and the shoulders of my village to lean on. I am exhausted and I am grateful.

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