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Despite the fun things we’ve done this summer – hiking, beach trips, camping, hanging out with friends, VBS, etc – I’ve noticed a subtle but persistent downward trend in the girls’ behaviors. They’ve been slowly but surely getting meaner to each other, ruder to me, more disobedient, more disrespectful, more destructive (this post was inspired by Grace’s tearing of a library book this morning, good grief, something she’s known is wrong since she was a baby).

I have a tendency, when things like this happen, to want to beat my breast and wail “Woe is me, I have failed as a mother!” At first I thought that was just me being pessimistic, but I realized today that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

See, if I have failed, then there’s nothing to be done. I screwed up, the kids are ruined, over and done with, might as well go back to reading my book. But if this is a sign that there’s fixable trouble, well, then I have to work. I have to invest time and energy in my kids, in figuring out the root of their difficulties, and then in addressing them.

And that’s hard. I am aware that many people don’t consider adrenal fatigue a real condition, but nothing else fits my symptoms and the life events that led to them so well. My point here is I’m tired. Not just a little sleepy, but bone-weary, all the time. Chronic insomnia doesn’t help. At my best, when I’ve gotten enough sleep and there aren’t too many pressures on me, and the weather is just right, and I’m eating perfectly, investing in my kids is – well, not easy, necessarily, because I’m a selfish human being and I really like to invest in me – but possible and achievable. I’m able to move past my selfishness and put my kids first, really involve myself in them.

The rest of the time? I stumble through the day, barely able to make sure everyone’s physical needs are taken care of. Forget emotional needs, it’s all I can do to stay on my feet long enough to take care of basic survival.

I hate it. It’s better than the depression that dogged me when Joy was a toddler and Grace a baby, and I thank God for that. May I never forget that where I am now is so much better than where I was then! But, frankly, it still stinks.

Joy is going to be seven in November, and Grace is five. These are some of the most amazing years of parenthood. I do not want to waste them. Yet no amount of will is enough to overcome the physical and mental lethargy that weighs me down most days.

It makes me feel weak to admit this. I want to be strong enough to handle anything. I want, even if I’m not strong enough in myself to handle normal, everyday life stress, to be strong enough in the Lord to rise above all my difficulties. To admit that I’m neither of those is painful.

I started out this morning looking up ways for an exhausted, scatter-brained person to follow a daily routine, thinking that would help. But the more I perused that, the more certain I became that I was looking in the wrong place for help. Because I never know from day to day if I’m going to have slept well, or if the weather will give me a migraine, or what. And interruptions always happens, in the best-maintained household. So what then? How do I invest the time and energy needed into my family when I can’t rely on a routine and I know there are going to be days when all I have energy for is curling up with a book?

I’m not exactly sure, but one little phrase, recently read in Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine keeps niggling at me: start where you are.

My friend Laura’s New Year’s resolution is ‘start where you are.’ I love it, and I think it can be applied to almost everything. Whatever thing seems too enormous, whatever new skill seems too far off to develop, whatever project has been hanging over your head for what seems like forever: start where you are.

I can’t wave a wand and magically fix my adrenal glands. I can’t suddenly start perfectly following a routine that is going to give my kids the security and the parental involvement they ideally require. I can’t make myself stronger by willing it.

But I also can’t just sit wringing my hands and moaning “Ruined! It’s all ruined! Nothing can ever fix anything!” Because, ugh. Who wants to be that person?

So. Start where I am. One thing. I can add one thing to my day. This fall, I started having the girls make their beds every day. One tiny chore, rather than suddenly expecting them to follow an entire list. Once the bed-making became an established habit, I added folding/putting away their own laundry. Now they help with folding all the laundry. Little steps.

One thing for the kids, one thing for me. Read aloud to them, one picture book or one chapter of a longer book, every day. I can do that. It’s what, fifteen minutes out of my day? And I wouldn’t even have to get out of my chair! And my one thing for me? Well, this will be harder, but … a ten-minute walk, alone, every day. Preferably in the morning, but I’m not going to insist on that.

In fact, I’m going to take advantage of Carl having the girls out in the garden, and go take a walk right now.

And after lunch I’ll read to the chicks.

Start where I am. Little by little, we’ll get there. By God’s grace.