The Graveyard Shift

Tulip by Jean Sander

There’s a certain irony in being too tired to write about being too tired. That’s where I am today.

In the past, I’ve worked a lot of late nights. In graduate school, studying for my oral exam — a list of 100 books I had to know as well as my skin — I read for long waves into midnight. And then I wrote my dissertation.

As a boarding school teacher, I juggled the hours after twilight with red pens, student drafts, and the patrol of dormitory hallways. I thought I knew how “tired” felt. It had its own weight, its grainy density.

Hindsight is a mockery.

When Rainbow Girl was  an infant, it was not unusual for her to wake up eight or more times a night. I learned to sleep walk, more or less. I learned to get by. After you have a baby, you forget what normal feels like. When you finally get that first full night of sleep in months, you wake up wondering how on earth you managed to function in a state where half your brain was stone-cold numb.

Today, my children sleep through the night — something I couldn’t imagine seven years ago. Today, my tired is different. It’s the exhaustion of a juggler, of trying to balance a full load of homeschooling with a full load of writing. It’s trying to stuff two days into one, all packed neatly in the same box of hours, the same limited spectrum of minutes on a scale.

Today, my “tired” feels like sap in my veins. I prop my eyelids with toasted O’s and carry on, more or less. I try not to leave the milk in the bathtub, the toothbrush in the dogfood bin. I doublecheck, before I leave the house, that all the major clothing groups are covered. It’s rare that I go to the store in slippers.

I’d pay a fortune for a caffeine IV. Any day now, really.

Since that’s not likely, and probably not healthy either, I find my solace elsewhere. When you live with a seven-year-old dramatist and a five-year-old imp, there’s no limit to the humor. When laughter fizzes in my veins, I wake up from my stupor and leave my zombie self behind.

Every morning, we walk the dog. Sometimes we go through campus, and sometimes through the streets in town. And sometimes we wander through the old cemetery, with its moss-covered stones and its sky-high trees peppered with intriguing holes for owls and bats and squirrels and fairies. Boo Monkey is especially fond of imagining what lies inside those den-like shadows. She shouts “Go away bears!” at every turn, just to make sure they cannot miss us. Because the really deaf bears might be the only ones who haven’t heard us three-miles down the lane.

Usually, the graveyard is a place for questions. They’ve asked about death and dying, about funerals and gravestones. They’ve asked about poison ivy and leaf fall and porcupines and birds. Because they are children, and nearly as wild as the things they fear, they are not especially reverent. They supply imagination where knowledge fails them. They make up life as they go along, even in a cemetery. They nudge me away from my ledge of exhaustion, back into the marvel of a child’s-eye view. My kids can make a graveyard funny. On a recent morning walk, this was the conversation that followed the appearance of a cemetery worker’s truck:

Rainbow Girl: “I’m keeping Mocha on a short lead. I just heard the truck stop and they might be digging a new grave. Mocha might fall in.”
Boo Monkey: “Then we would lose our puppy.”
Rainbow Girl: “No, I would pull him out. Unless I fell in.”
Boo Monkey: “Then Mommy would pull you out.”
Rainbow Girl: “Unless Mommy fell in.”
Boo Monkey: (beat pause) “Well, then I would just go home.”

Perfect. Priceless. I nearly wet my pants, imagining my five-year-old stomping home alone in rain boots, indignant at the folly of a dog, a sister, and a mother who couldn’t  keep themselves from falling in a well-dug grave.

And there it is, the gem that keeps me juggling on the days I’d rather drop it all, burn the manuscripts, and crawl back into bed. Exhaustion is fierce, but it’s no match for humor and imagination — the one-two punch that can flatten out my sourest days and kick Zombie Mommy to the curb. My stories emerge from the collision of life and language, a place where kids and dogs and foggy mornings intersect with laughter, with a simple, sweet salvation.

I remember what I love. Why I do this. Even when I’m tired.

Today, I stumble on, bears and misplaced toothbrushes and spoiled milk in my wake, but giggling, teaching the multiples of four and crafting stories, grateful.

But I won’t turn down that caffeine IV. Let me know if you invent one.

How do you manage to juggle the jigsaw pieces of a day? What helps you through the troughs of tired?

4 thoughts on “The Graveyard Shift

  1. Oh, Lisa – what fun, to have a peek again into the wondrous mind of a child! I will walk around today with that picture of Boo Monkey stomping home in her rain boots in my mind, bringing a smile to myself whenever I think of it. Thank you for that. And stay away from newly-dug graves. It seems like a place that would be attractive to zombies.

    • Boo Monkey brings a lot of smiles! And thanks for the advice about zombies and the grave — I don’t need anything else to push me over the edge (hee hee). 🙂

  2. I am often struck by the fact that no matter the source of the laughter or the character of it, it invariably results in the restoration of the spirit. It’s amazing to me that the hysterical laughter of exhaustion, which I distinctly recall from Rainbow Girl’s early days, the genuine belly laugh of humor, and even the laughter that comes bursting forth when a person just can’t cry anymore all reawaken hope and a belief that things won’t always be this way. Another delicious peek into your life. Yum.

    • Yes, laughter really is one of those universal cures. Thanks for the comment, and for sharing laughter with me all these years 🙂

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