A few weeks before leaving Nuremberg for Hamburg, I frenziedly booked dinners at my favorite restaurants, ran around the Old Town soaking up every detail close to my heart, and looked for souvenirs that would remind me of the city that became my first home in Germany and the place where my son was born.
One such souvenir was a puzzle book, a kind of Nuremberg’s Where’s Wally? depicting the most famous landmarks of the city, but instead of Wally one has to find Albrecht Dürer, the world-renowned painter who was born and raised in the unofficial capital of Franconia.
The illustrations, a true work of art, captivated both me and Kroshka for hours. Consumed by the tiniest details, we would discover Albrecht Dürer strolling through the Christmas market with a painting under his arm, sketching a zebra in the zoo, and eating drei im Weckla, a bun stuffed with local sausages, in the city center.
But among many elaborately-drawn characters I soon noticed a strange pattern: every mother in the book was depicted with a facial expression that screamed of annoyance, irritation or plain exhaustion.
This mom, for example, is surrounded by people playing guitars, reading newspapers, and listening to music —in short, enjoying life — while she’s pushing a stroller with two toddlers, one of which is screaming his head off (a recurrent theme in the book, as you will see). The dark circles under her eyes indicate that the last time she slept though the night was about five years ago.
This mom, again with a screaming baby, is probably considering whether it’s time to schedule a visit to a therapist.
This one has been going to a therapist for a few years, but it is no help, clearly. Her head buried in the shoulders so deep there’s not even a hint of the neck, she’s trying to shut off the sounds of the world because her baby, too, is wailing, of course.
This mom’s expression is hard to read: it’s not obvious displeasure, but it is definitely not joy either. And, given that both her kids are crying, I think we can make an educated guess as to how she feels.
Finally, a couple! The kid is not howling, because he’s likely watching Baby Shark for the fifteenth time in a row. However, the mom is still annoyed, at the dad this time.
Now, this mom is different. I urge you to look closely at her face — she smoked a joint before leaving the house. There’s no other explanation for her serene, jovial face. If you ever found yourself with a screaming baby in the middle of a crowded city center — and she’s walking through the Nuremberg Castle — you’d know that. Albrecht Dürer carrying a painting is right behind her, by the way.
And now I present to you the mom from the very last page of the book, the epitome of motherhood fatigue. Not only is one of her sons crying, but the other one is giving her an evil look as if to check whether they pushed her to the edge yet.
I am not sure whether this was a coincidence or the illustrator drew inspiration from his own life experience. I’ll leave this for you to judge. The truth is I am every woman in this book, except, maybe, for the pot-smoking one. Or I was all these women up until two weeks ago.
When Kroshka was born, I heard more experienced moms say that you get tired on a day-to-day basis, but over months exhaustion builds up and by your baby’s first birthday you feel like a shadow of a person. It took two years for me. Not that I wasn’t tired after the first year, but it took almost two years before I could get any help and gasp for air.
In the past twenty months it was me and my husband taking care of Kroshka. No grandparents, no aunties, no nannies, no kindergarten, no friends who could take him for a few hours. The primary reason for this isolation is that we chose to leave our home countries and settle half way across the globe. Not only are we lacking a family support system, but, since we’ve been moving every couple of years for the past decade, we are missing a closely-knit network of friends and acquaintances, as well as an understanding of how things work in our new home.
And then there’s the global pandemic. Due to travel restrictions and plain fear of traveling with a baby in these uncertain times, we haven’t been able to see our family since this mess started. That is until a few months ago, while choosing the greater of two evils — the possibility of getting sick versus almost certainly going insane — we booked tickets to Sri Lanka.
Currently we live in a house with my husband’s parents, his sister, my mother who also flew in, and a helper, which means a ratio of 7 adults to 1 toddler. A perfect ratio, in my opinion. Much better than 2 to 1.
Seven adults are splitting the responsibilities of looking after a kid, cooking, cleaning, doing groceries, and working. And these seven adults are tired by the end of the day. Which makes me wonder how on Earth two people could do all this work and not break under the strain. How in particular I could make three meals a day, wash the dishes by hand, go out to the playground after breakfast and after lunch, play with Kroshka, try to spend quality time with my husband, have three German classes a week, and work on the blog, even though recently it’s been more of blaming myself for not dedicating enough time to the blog than actually working on it.
By this fall I was so tired, watching Netflix at night seemed like too big of an assignment. I’d put Kroshka to sleep, wash the dishes, brush my teeth and collapse into bed by 9 pm, only to start over the next morning. I stopped writing, which happened only once in the six years since I started blogging.
I desperately wanted to write for my motherhood column, something good and positive, something that would make my love for my son shine through every word, but every time I tried, all I could think of was “I am exhausted!” And that made me sound like a broken record, even to myself.
I have to admit that life in immigration and pandemic are only part of the reason for my fatigue. The biggest one might be my own self. I am still struggling to accept that I can’t be a perfect parent which is why it’s hard for me to release the grip and let someone else in. For a long time I didn’t feel ready. And once I did we have decided to move to Hamburg. So why look for help or apply for kindergarten in Nuremberg? And then once we moved: oh, but I don’t know anything here yet!
In the weeks before traveling to Sri Lanka I’d been wondering what our stay would be like. Would Kroshka recognize his grandparents who he’d only seen on the screen of a phone for over a year? Would I turn jealous seeing him surrounded by other people, not needing me as much anymore? Would it feel weird to leave him with someone to do what I want, not what other people need of me?
I learned the answers on the very first day: yes, immediately; not even a tiny bit, quite the opposite. I spent most of the first two days cozied up in a papasan chair, reading Gone with the Wind. On the rare occasions when I approached Kroshka, he pushed me away much preferring the company of his grandparents and aunt, and it did not bother me in the slightest. I happily retreated to my chair to accompany Scarlett to the picnic at Twelve Oaks.
These days I do the bare minimum required of me: make Kroshka’s meals and put him to sleep. Everything else I delegate, and by “delegate” I mean I leave the room quietly and hide. Sometimes I feel a pang of shame for doing so little, but then I remember that in a few weeks I will go back to Germany which means no help for months ahead, as well as no sun since it’s winter, and the feeling disappears as if by magic.
In the past two weeks I’ve had more rest for my body and mind than ever in the past two years. I feel like myself again, but I also acutely realize, that this is vacation, even if a long one.
I don’t want to be the mom from my puzzle book anymore, but I can’t help but wonder if exhaustion is part of the job. Does it have to be so? Does it get easier? Does the world see moms as perpetually tired or is it one particular illustrator? I wish I was ending this piece with a proper conclusion, not a bunch of questions, but at this point the questions are all I got.
After weeks of exploring the puzzle book I have finely found one mama who looked not just fine, but actually happy. The secret to her contentment was quite simple: a grandmother walking by her side.
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This and other posts about my journey through motherhood are completely ad-free as opposed to food and travel-related content on my blog. I removed all ads as it felt strange to have commercials in between paragraphs where I pour my heart out.
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