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In which these are the tired thirties

I am reading Madeline L’Engle’s first volume of memoirs from the Crosswicks Journals, A Circle of Quiet. In it, she writes – for me, I am convinced – about this time of her life, this one that I am in right now, as “the tired thirties.” And I nearly wept with relief.

If one of the greatest and most creative writers of our time, a woman whom I so admire, can write this about her thirties:

“I was always tired. So was Hugh. During the decade between thirty and forty, most couples are raising small children, and we were no exception.  Hugh was struggling to support his growing family…And there was I, absolutely stuck in bucology, with the washing machine freezing at least once a week, the kitchen never above 55 degrees when the wind blew from the northwest, not able to write until after my little ones were in bed, by which time I was so tired that I often quite literally fell asleep with my head on the typewriter.”

Evelynn has been sick for three days. Just a minor head cold but she can’t sleep unless she’s being held upright and I am more tired than a tired thing. When I get tired, I begin to make delirious references to my period immersed in 90s rap and so I have been lamely informing everyone that “Damn, it feels good to be a homeschooler” because it’s pouring rain, everyone is tired, we’re all coming down with the cold and I’m so thankful I don’t have to do drop-off this morning. The quilt is spread on the floor, Evelynn is finally sleeping (now, of course, during the day) and the tinies are in the jammies still (me, too, I’m not too proud to admit) and we’re watching Sesame Street so I can think for three seconds. I have a candle burning that smells like fall, the french press is steeping and it’s comforting me.

Cookie Monster: “That what wrong with the media today. All they have are questions, questions, questions. And no one have any COOKIES.”

I feel ya, Cookie Monster.

Last night, Brian was out working late again and when my mother called at 7:30, I think I talked for thirty minutes straight about 87 different things because I was just so happy to talk to another grown-up.

I can feel the tension between the big things that grieve me to my over-sensitive core – like the execution of Troy Davis that took place last night – and the little things that tick me off – like folding laundry again, the big things that overwhelm me with gratitude – beauty, truth, love, friendship, kinship – and the little things that make me want to weep with joy – the gap between Joseph’s teeth, Evelynn’s toothless smiles, Anne perched in a chair for an hour with a book. I feel it all, too much, and then I feel this yearning to create but it’s just not always my time because this is such a short season of my life, constantly on some kind of a balance bar but the truth is, most of my moments are every one else’s needs first – and that’s okay to me. I wonder if I should just give up trying to write anything more than a blog post these days and then I have moments exactly like this one:

Madeline L’Engle writes about her fortieth birthday and her eagerness for change after her thirties, particularly as a writer. But instead, she receives a major rejection from a publishing house for her book The Lost Innocent.

This seemed an obvious sign from heaven. I should stop trying to write. All during the decade of my thirties, I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t a good New England housewife and mother.  When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn’t make decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everybody wore streaky pink underwear. And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.

So the rejection on the fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie. 

I covered the typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation. Then I walked around and around the room, bawling my head off. I was totally, unutterably miserable. 

Suddenly I stopped, because I realised what my subconscious mind was doing while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.

Evelynn has eyelashes like the Snuffleupagus. Even when I am rocking in the chair at 2:37 AM, I am so aware of how fast she is growing, so intent to not miss this moment, so I am writing it out in my head, finding solace in the creak of the chair, the sound of the wind in the trees and I am praying praying praying for eyes to see it and hands that will love well.  And even when I am tired – so tired today – I am okay, joyful even, in my choices because of the company like Madeline L’Engle, Sesame Street, writers, mamas, believers and zealots, all of us just a bit tired in our thirties.

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Reposted from 5 months ago.

books, parenting, women, writing
  • http://arthomas.blogspot.com annaliseree

    Oh sweetie…  Right there with you.  Can we get some “the tired thirties” t-shirts made, so we don’t have to constantly explain to everyone WHY we are so tired??  

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Seriously. I think we could form a club.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ Leigh Kramer

    YES!  And I don’t even have a spouse or children to tend to. But I feel the exhaustion, or rather I felt it until I quit my job in June.  Now I have this space and time to rest and create and be.  The time is drawing closer to regular work hours and I wonder if I’ve done enough and beat myself up for not having my novel completely finished.  But I have to celebrate that it’s halfway there and received great feedback from the critique group and that this is my idea being birthed.  No expectation of outcome but relief at finally doing what I’ve wanted to do.  So today, I echo your gangsta rap: damn, it feels good to be a writer.  You, too, are a writer, no matter what form it takes or what hour it must occur.  Never stop believing that.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Absolutely. I love this, Leigh!

  • http://retrospectphotography.wordpress.com/ Stephanie H.

    I too feel that need to create and it’s hard to ignore.  I can’t just put the creativity away and say “see you later,”  because I’ve learned it’s an innate part of me.  I have this feeling it will be a lifelong push and pull for time and space for creative endeavours.  
    Hooray for coffee and pajama days!  Enjoy the cosy day in and feel better soon.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      It is absolutely key to who we are as people and it can’t be shoved off, can it? I’m learning to involve my tinies where I can and to take the time to do the things that make me feel like a person, too. It’s such a dance, isn’t it?

  • KathleenBasi

    I’ve been told before that I need to read Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction. After that excerpt, I know they’re right.

    I’m feeling it, too.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Absolutely – start with Walking on Water.

  • http://everleephoto.com/ Leslie Lee

    that second L’Engle excerpt really got me. we don’t have any kiddos yet, but in the meantime i love soaking up this raw mother-writer wisdom (from her *and* you). 

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Yes, it’s universal for women. I wish I’d found her when I was a singleton!

      • Maya Resnikoff

        I was lucky enough to read that book long before I met my husband, much less anything beyond- and they have definitely shaped my vision of spiritual living as an adult, with all the business that that seems to imply.  It just felt really perfect for me that you reposted this now- I was just thinking of some of her works (and rereading A Small Rain) this morning.

  • Mary1912

    I agree with this..but have found that my 40s are just as tiring. In different ways..but just as exhausting.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Yes. Life is just tiring, isn’t it?

  • http://corvidarium.blogspot.com/ wendy

    Oh, so true!!
    Well, I started my journey through mummy-hood earlier than most, so for me it was the tired twenties… it’s hard to fathom, before you have kids, just how exhausting it is to be a parent of young children. I honestly, sadly, don’t remember much about my 20s. If I didn’t write it down or take a picture of it (and I usually didn’t – I was too tired!) it didn’t happen.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      I find I’m the same way!

  • http://www.prairiemama.net PrairieMama

    I am right there with you. In fact, I just went to lay Elliott down for a nap and fell asleep with him.  It was a glorious 10 minutes until Libby came and woke me up.
    I am exhausted, and that is just the state of my life. I haven’t slept in 9 years…it’s true. Almost a decade since I’ve slept peacefully (minus about 2 weeks total when I have snuck in some good sleep).
    I too am writing it all out in my head and on my heart.  I pray I never forget this time, that through the exhaustion, all the amazing miracles I see will never be forgotten.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Amen.

  • http://twitter.com/MrsNo17 Rachel Reeves

    THIS piece of work is one of my favorite blog posts of all time.  I have so few posts that leave me in tears, because everything has been written before, but this post, while covering a topic that is no mystery to any mother, was new.
    And beautiful.

    And good writing, guilty writing, hard writing, exhausting writing is always that.

    Beautiful.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Oh, Rachel – *thank you*. Praying for you and all of the Blog Sugar beauties today!

  • http://www.christiepurifoy.com/ Christie Purifoy

    I remember reading those exact words in A Circle of Quiet when I had a toddler, an infant, and a dissertation that simply refused to be written.  In fact, when I read them, I was lying on our guest bed where I had been sent by my husband to hopefully gain one night of uninterrupted sleep.  Reading L’Engle that evening, I actually did cry.  Someone understood!  I wasn’t the only one!  I’ve never forgotten the message I heard in her words: yes you are tired, and rightly so, but it won’t always be like this, and you have no idea what good things you are walking towards.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Amen.

  • http://homekettle.wordpress.com David Nilsen

    I have read these words from Madeleine so many times they’re like old friends. She is a gift. And also? I think my tired thirties started early. I’m 29.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      You’re only 29? wisdom beyond your years in so many ways, friend!

  • Tammyakay

    What a timely post this is. Its exactly how I feel right now. I’m 31 and pregnant with my fifth child. I’m kind and loving. Creative and fun. Somewhere inside me I am those things. Although I can’t for the life of me find that joy lately. I feel sometimes like I’m swallowed up by all this. Just going through the motions. Trying to get to bedtime. Scared of what I will miss but only after guilt sets in. My daughters smile makes me cry. Her sweetness overflows my heart but quickly diminishes when I look over at the huge mound of laundry that has been sitting in the same place for a week. I miss being creative. I miss being who I once was. I miss being the kind of mom who I know I want to be. Maybe its just a season. This feeling. This sadness. This huge fog that I feel like I’m living in. Oh, how I want to see clearly. How I want to be who I long to be. But at the end of the day when I do count my cost I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love them so much my heart could burst. The problem really is me. Me. Me with my idea of who I want to be instead of where I am right now. Me with my selfishness and pride. Me with four children who need me all. the. time. I am blessed. But very, very tired? Oh, yes! I think that was probably the most random comment that I’ve ever posted. I think I needed to write that to myself. Thank you for posting that. Its nice to meet you.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Nice to “meet” you, too! Blessings, friend, and prayers on your behalf today. Be gentle with yourself always – you are a gift.

  • http://www.alotofloves.com Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)

    This is me. Though it is getting a little easier as the children get a little older. I have often spent a lot of time thinking about are exhausting the 30s are – even though there are so many good things happening.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Exactly.

  • Arianne Segerman

    This is you writing tired? oooohweeee girl!

    Beauty, as usual. Loved this. <3

  • Diana trautwein

    Sometimes I think Madeleine L’Engle saved my life. I know she saved my sanity a couple of times. Didn’t know her when my kids were tinies, but from the ages of 9/7/5, she was a best friend. EVERYTHING you love is valid, all of it is who you are, and sometimes all of it is too much. DEEP breath, one foot in front of the other, the name of Jesus over and over, being thankful for every small thing you can find, asking for help, reading the helpful, beautiful words of others – all of these things are God’s gifts to the mothers of young children. Keep writing, even when you’re dead on your feet – even little things, snippets of ideas – whatever. I did not do that and I am more sorry than I can say. I never gave myself permission to write – maybe I was just too tired!! This will change, the level of exhaustion will lessen and shift and spaces will open – in your day and in your spirit.

    Such sweet, sad, true words. Thanks, Sarah.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Thank you, Diana! Always.

  • Anne J

    I feel ya.  Here’s to a solid night’s sleep soon for you.

  • clairezip

    AMEN sister!

  • http://lisamckaywriting.wordpress.com Lisa McKay

    Amen. I’m 35. My first child is 6 weeks old (well, six weeks and three days :)). I’m reading this while nursing, and trying not to think about everything that needs doing before I leave Australia to rejoin my husband in Laos in two weeks, and all the things that I would love to have the time to write about right now. I’ve been reading your blog recently and loving it. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Lisa – so glad to have you along with us!

  • http://www.edcyzewski.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Something I’ve noticed is that even if I have an abundance of time, I cram it full of stuff and still end up feeling busy. I naturally clutter my life. Having just moved and dealt with some really time-consuming stuff, I’ve trimmed off the things that weren’t quite that important, and I have a much better idea of how my priorities should be arranged.

    On a related note, I spoke with Mike Hall, an author and speaker, at the STORY conference and he attended Dream Year where he was encouraged to focus on a really tight, limited idea. There were alumni of that program who had all kinds of great ideas that I learned a lot from.  Having just one big thing that you do well is pretty awesome. So I wrote all of that just to say that you do great things with this blog and that is quite significant in the Kingdom!

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      I really wish I could go to things like Story (maybe someday, eh?) – it sounds amazing. Even made you an A.Voskamp fan! 

      • http://www.edcyzewski.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

        Send the kids to the grandparents. Buy a plane ticket. Soak up creativity and ideas for two days. It’s a wonderful conference that will leave you feeling refreshed. My wife and I will even treat you to Giordano’s deep dish pizza… and a beer.

  • Margi

    I turned 30 last week and I’m already exhausted… 3 kids will do that to you though :)

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Yes, yes, they will!

  • Deborah

    This is beautiful. I, too, am an exhausted thirty-something mom.  I avoided coffee until about the last year or so. Now, it is part of my daily routine!

    Thank you for reminding all of us that we’re not alone in this! This is  a beautiful time in my life which I wouldn’t trade for the world, but, quite frankly, I’m completely knackered most days! :)

    I hope your gorgeous  baby recovers from her nasty virus soon,  and that all of you can get some peaceful sleep tonight. Thanks again for your lovely thoughts and words.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      She is getting better now, thank you. Of course, Joe is down with it though… Ha!

  • Emily Wierenga

    oh friend. i am reading that exact same book right now, and it is speaking loud to me–especially the bit about the tired thirties, and not getting discouraged over countless rejections… how she encourages. and how i hope to meet you at the retreat (the convo seems to have slowed to a stop, but i sure hope it picks up again and that we ADS girls can get together!) love e.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Heart friends, we are.

  • Daniloudoan

    yes

  • http://dlmayfield.wordpress.com/ D.L. Mayfield

    so timely. i just got a wee bit of writing success in my life and now i am terrified i won’t be able to make cherry pies anymore (not like i ever did, btw). so wonderful to read this today. i wonder how many people read your post and could have cried with relief as well.

  • mylestones

    You write it, I read it, and then I nod my head so vigorously my neck gets tweaked, because A-freakin-MEN, sister!
    One of these days, hopefully before our tired 30s are up, I’m going to hug you in real life. Mark my words.

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      I’ll hold you to it.

  • Christine

    Wow…this gave me chills.  Absolutely beautiful, relateable, perfectly said.  Thank you.

  • Melody Reid

    Oh Sarah, I remember those days well.  Three little girls in four years, and always being tired, all the time, every day.  The little girls are 18, 20 and 22 today, and I’d love to get those days back!  What would I tell my 30 year old self?

    In the blink of an eye, these days will be gone.  Allow yourself to enjoy these babies. Sleep when they sleep.  It doesn’t matter what your house looks like.  Enjoy them!  They are priceless gifts from God.  Cut yourself some slack!  Relax!  You are loved!!!

    • http://www.sarahbessey.com/ Sarah Bessey

      Wise, wise words – thank you, Melody! Perspective is such a gift to give us tired mamas still in the thick of it!

  • http://gretchenlouise.com/ Gretchen Louise

    You wrote this on my 28th birthday.  But I believe I may have entered the tired thirties club a bit early.

    Reading this today, when my three littles have colds and the youngest (a few days older or younger than yours–I can’t remember) needed to be held all last night…well, yes, I’ve joined the club.  Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

    And?  I obviously need to be reading L’Engle.

  • Brian Priesman

    My wife discoved your blog and made me read this entry… It speaks to both of us, as we are in our mid thirties with two children and creative impulses we have put on the back burner. But here is the strange thing… I am a youth leader considering entering seminary, I am a Nebraska native and lifelong Husker fan, and I am also named Brian. My wife is a massive L’Engle fan and we are both too conservative to be truly liberal and too liberal to be conservative…

    I can’t speak for my wife, who is currently feeding out youngest, but I look forward to reading your blog regularly…

  • Rebecca Miller

    Love love love love love this post!  I totally get it!  I so miss the days when I was carefree, able to do whatever I wanted with my time.

    But I didn’t even know what to write about, really.  I hadn’t really lived life. 

    Now that I have…well, I have no time to write about it. 

    But I do have my blog.

    And I have my most important creation…my little daughter.

  • http://www.twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis/ @teenbug

    *deep sigh*

    …  I, too, am tired - so tired - this morning. I am okay, because of the company of delicious you, Kelley, Idelette, writers, mamas, believers and zealots, all of us just a bit tired in our thirties.
    Love this:”while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.”  - [insert cackle] #amen

  • Missy Kemp

    Ah, yes. In the last days (quite literally) of my thirties here, home with a boy who has a freshly broken arm, with little sleep and medicine schedules and the sort of hangover that comes from seeing your precious child in great pain you cannot immediately ease. But YES–  yes to Madeleine on the page and Carrie Newcomer on Pandora and chenille throws and another cup of coffee. And places like here.  Thank you.

  • Sam

    A Circle of Quiet saved me, quite literally, from walking away from Christianity in my early twenties. It spoke to me so deeply, so many questions Madeleine had – and it was okay. I think I’m overdue a re-read. It’s so good to know that others have struggled during this time, that it’s not forever. You’ll get there. Madeleine was a late bloomer, it seems, and what she had to write sprung up like a glorious garden for all of us. 

  • Riss B

    Mmmm. This was a timely post for me to read…I’m new here and so happy I found your lovely blog. Can’t wait to catch up on your old posts and get to know emerging mummy! I’m blogging myself over at http://brunkandbrunk.blogspot.com/

    I have 10 month old twin daughters and often when I read friend’s blogs and see all they accomplish, I often wonder how they do it…because I feel SO tired! :)

  • http://www.sharingisthehappyway.blogspot.com/ Misty

    Safe to say I already hang on to just about every word you write here but this post captivated me from beginning to end and was spot on for so much in my own tired brain.  Thank you for your faithfulness.  You speak so much good into my life on a regular basis. 

  • Paige Allen

    Oh, so true…and then I look to the calendar hoping…just wishing for a bit of relief and it takes two hands to count down the days until there MIGHT be a reprieve…and I’ve learned to not get my hopes up because it’s really not even about the calendar – if only it were…but it’s just this phase of life!  Thank you so much for your honesty – it’s just nice to know I’m not alone.

  • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

    I wasn’t around on your blog 5 months ago, so I am in love with this.  I didn’t even get to read it thoroughly because my daughter is rebelling against her nap and won’t watch the movie I put in for her in a last ditch effort to get me-time.  She’s been throwing blocks on my keyboard and I plugged my ears just so I could shallowly absorb the like-me-ness you wrote above.  

    I too consistently threaten to walk away from my book proposal.  I’m reading this again later with my wine, after my beautiful curly haired perpetual motion machine slumbers.  Thanks for being real and cool and nice, and other awkward compliments that come from a place of sleep deprivation and no nap-times….

  • Laura_InTheBackyard

    Needed this on a weary, head-spinning Monday.  Thank you.

  • http://theblessingbowl.blogspot.com/ Ginny Tarleton

    I have read all three of Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks journals – and I guess I first read them when I myself was in my tired thirties.  I’ll be 60 in July.  My three children have grown up, married, and given me six wonderful grandchildren (all under the age of 7).  I am long past the tired thirties but still read L’Engle often for her life wisdom.  (I recently re-read the time trilogy books – Wrinkle in Time, etc.)   One of her books that I don’t believe is as well known, but that I recommend is  “The Rock that is Higher – Story as Truth?”

  • http://www.walkingtochina.blogspot.com/ Sandy

    At the age of 50, I have an 18 year old and a two year old special needs foster son.  I am freaking tired all the time!  But it is a joyful time in so many ways..but I would kill for a nap some days.
    St.  Madeline is my patron Saint also.  So glad you and so many others are keeping her literary literacy going!

  • Stephanie

    I remember this post – quite clearly. BUT I didn’t remember your long lashes and lovely profile. You are stunning, my friend. Just so you know.

  • http://www.adrielbooker.com/ Adriel Booker

    don’t ya know you’re not supposed to read other people’s journal entries and then re-write them on your own blog? ;) *sigh* 
    *smile*

  • Anastasia Borisyuk

    Very well said. I am not quite a writer, yet I love to write. English is not my first language. I’m 28, so for me it is the tired 20s – will be 30s soon! I have a 3 y.o and 3 month old and work (write) from home. I nodded my head to all of the above, and we have yet to start homeschooling. I’m probably where you were 4-5 years ago or so :) I don’t remember the last time I took care of myself, it is always taking care of other. But I’m okay with that, I enjoy it. I’m just so exhausted. 

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  • Guest

    love this. thank you so much for sharing this. I am also in “the tired thirties” It is a relief to read someone putting to words this stage of my life. Now I need to get off this computer and get to bed before my little one wakes for another night feeding :)

  • jenna

    love this! I am also in “the tired thirties”. Thank you for putting words to this stage we’re in. It is a relief and a comfort to read. Now I need to get off this computer and get to bed before my little one wakes for another night feeding :)

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  • Sara Bee

    This is the first post from your blog that I’ve read. Thank you (times a million) for being a voice I can relate to…I’m experiencing every bit of this right now…thank you!

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