The Exhaustion of Noticing

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Picture it. It was Saturday morning, and snow was gently falling in the early morning light. I had just rolled over to drift back off to sleep when I heard the unmistakable sound of my youngest calling my name from downstairs. He had a nosebleed and needed my help. I will spare you all the details, but what I found was nothing short of a CSI crime scene. I got to work scrubbing and cleaning floors, carpet, sheets, doorknobs (you get the picture)… Everything I touched reminded me of something else that needed to be done. Putting sheets in the washing machine led me to start the dryer because I noticed there were clothes still in it. Cleaning the bathroom floor made me notice the need to get more Clorox wipes.

By the time I was done, I was exhausted, but not just from the cleaning. From the noticing.

The Exhaustion of Noticing As a mom, the noticing is what gets me every time. With every event and school project and sick child comes my need to be vigilant. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do any of this alone — I have an amazing husband who is quick to jump to my aid if I ask him to run to the store or take care of something, but he rarely notices the details until I ask and as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

I’m the one to notice when we’re out of toilet paper. I’m the one to notice when we’ve got a week where we’re not home for dinner three nights in a row. I’m the one to notice the first signs of sickness or when someone needs a haircut. I’m the one to see that the boys’ pants are getting too short or they’re getting cranky and need to go to bed. I’m the one to notice all the things. I’ve got a constant, never ending and never shortening to-do list in my head. 

As a working mom, there are other things to notice too. I’ve got 45 minutes in the morning to fix breakfast, lunch, and notice whether my kids might be showing signs of sickness. I’ve got to spend the last 15 minutes of work grabbing anything I might need in the evening. I’ve got a few precious hours at night to read agendas, help with homework, notice if someone is about to get frustrated with the work, fix dinner, and spend quality time with my family before it’s time to reset the to-do list. 

At night when it’s time to sleep, I do the most noticing — that’s where the worry really sets in. These are the things that keep me up or more often wake me up in the middle of the night.

How do I send snacks to school for Valentine’s Day when the kids ride the bus?

How do I make sure we don’t eat out (and spend all my paycheck) when the week gets too busy to be home for dinner?

I can’t be getting sick — I have to be at work tomorrow.

I think I can get by with doing only two loads of laundry before we leave town this weekend.

Why does the boys’ bathroom smell like pee if we just cleaned it?

I’m not the only noticer — I suspect this happens to most of us. I suspect I’m not the only one who is exhausted with the ever-running list of things to do, buy, make, check, etc. I wish this post ended with some positive tips of how to fight back against this exhaustion or to shut off the noticing. If you’ve got those tips, please share. I’ll add it to my to-read list (there’s one of those too).

I don’t have answers, but what I can tell you is this: the noticing has its perks. We rarely run out of toilet paper, I usually pick a good snack that my kids can easily take on the bus (or luck out with paper products), and I am usually prepared.

You know what else I notice? I notice people, and I notice moments. I notice each new freckle on my youngest son’s face, I notice my oldest using his tender heart to be kind to others, and I notice how hard and willingly my husband works. I notice my parents’ love for each other after 45 years. I notice moments of pride and remember every last detail so as not to forget. I notice things so much it leaks out my eyeballs on a regular basis.

I don’t think I can give up noticing that we’re almost out of bread without also giving up noticing the sound of my husband’s real laugh. I wouldn’t give up noticing those small details for all the world. So I’ll keep noticing, and it will keep me exhausted. But sometimes, it will make my heart explode with joy too — and that is worth it.

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