I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.
I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.
The. Last. Flight.
It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.
But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.
In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.
I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.
Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.
My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:
“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”
Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.
“Put your shoes on.”
“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”
Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.
The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.
I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.
But I can be in love with the work.
Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…