I stood there, snow leaking into the top of my boots and more wet flakes falling, wrestling with the baby who didn’t want to be buckled into her stroller. Meanwhile, my middle child cried because I wasn’t getting him out of his car seat quickly enough. It was 8:35 a.m., which meant my four-year-old was already five minutes late. We still needed to get across the snowy parking lot, up the elevator, and to his classroom. I tucked a blanket around the baby’s legs; she was crying too now, still annoyed about the buckling (and cold, no doubt). I ran around to the other side of the van, sliding in snow. I got the two-year-old out while yelling at the four-year-old to get out of the drop-off zone and back on the sidewalk. I was sweating under my coat, and my boots kept slipping on the mucky, slick asphalt.
“Ok, guys. Hurry. We’re late.”
And at that moment, it hit me.
I can’t explain how the mind and soul work, the reason why a thought or idea just floats into my consciousness at random moments. Is it the Holy Spirit, perhaps? Have my synapses fired just right, making the necessary connections there, in that nanosecond? Is it the voice of a God who uses his words to create reality? It seems to come from somewhere beyond me entirely.
Whatever the reason, I wiped melting snowflakes from the lenses of my glasses and thought, “If this—all of us cold and wet and late—is the worst thing that happens today, today is not too bad.”
I had been struggling all winter. We repeated this scene Monday through Thursday each week: rush through breakfast, slide into boots, start the van to warm it up, track mud and snow into the house, wrap three children in snow gear, but not so well as to make it very difficult to unbundle them in a minute. Carry two wobbly toddlers and walk with one whiny preschooler, watching for ice patches. Put everyone in the van, and now remove their coats so they can be safely buckled in their 5-point harnesses. Tuck them in with blankets, then listen to them cry on the drive when the blankets slide to the van floor. Fight traffic. Arrive at the school, hunt for a parking space, get wet and cold as the snow falls, unbuckle three car seats, put coats back on all three children, buckle stroller, walk in the snow. Pray for someone—anyone—to hold the door for us. Try to keep the boys from fighting about pushing the elevator button. Drop off. Return to car. Unbuckle stroller, unzip coats, buckle car seats (just two this time). Repeat when arriving at home. (And again, at afternoon pick-up.)
I hate winter.
It was really no wonder I was grumpy, but I was perfectly content to wallow in self-pity and frustration. When my husband would arrive home later and ask how my day was, I was prepared to answer, “Same as every day, lately. Exhausting.” I allowed that tiresome hour to color the entirety of my day.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to equate fatigue with failure. If I was tired at the end of the day, I must have done something wrong. To be tired meant I failed to find the perfect balance between rest and work, or I didn’t use my time well, or I messed up my schedule. This frame of mind is disastrous for a mom of young toddlers because a good night’s sleep and an afternoon nap and alone time and well-timed cups of coffee will never be enough to override the demands of this gig. Throw in the physical demands of navigating a harsh Michigan winter with three children who can hardly walk in snow boots, and it’s a recipe for utter, daily energy depletion.
I’ve learned to differentiate between two types of tired: the good and the bad. There is a tired that results when I have used all my downtime to scroll social media, when I ate nothing but carbs all day, and when I lay in bed after dark rehashing my mistakes and anticipating tomorrow’s difficulties. Bad tired.
But there is also the kind of tired that results from a day well spent.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I had a rare date night, and we stopped at a local art exhibition. The installation asked us to sit at a themed table, put our phones into a box, and choose a prepared conversation starter. Evan picked one and read it aloud.
“If you had one day left on earth, how would you spend it?”
We both looked at each other with slight smiles on our faces and a sense of certainty. “Honestly?” I replied. “It would be a lot like today.”
Nothing monumental had occurred. We awoke to the sound of toddlers demanding breakfast. We did laundry, watched some college football, broke up sibling squabbles. We struggled to keep our kids entertained all day and fought with one who refused to nap at the appropriate time. We eagerly handed the kids off to their babysitter, and we kept yawning throughout our date. But faced with that question, as contrived as it may have been, we knew the truth. This was a good day.
Don’t get me wrong: If a fairy godmother arrived and offered to take responsibility for transporting my children anywhere they need to go as long as there is snow on the ground, I would take that deal. And yet, I know this constant zipping and unzipping, lifting and carrying, wiping and soothing, tickling and explaining, reminding and correcting—it is sacred. And like much of our holy, God-honoring work, it requires more of me than I know how to give.
It is exhausting, but I guess that’s ok.
I am content to work hard on behalf of the people I love most. I am content to pour myself out until empty and then pour a little more. It’s sustainable only when I am intentional about caring for myself and resting and restoring whenever possible, and when I learn to do that, I don’t feel the bad, discontented tired as often.
Our heads hit the pillow at the end of the day, more silent snow falling, shadowy in the glow of the streetlight through the window.
Today was not too bad.
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.