I can't remember the last time I was as exhausted as I felt yesterday. The pile of tasks mounted like our ever growing pile of urine stained laundry. The emotionally exhausting people growing needier by the second. The deadlines looming ever closer. Three impromptu meetings where despite my protests I wound up signed up for yet another work related task.
My inspiration drained as I stared down the barrel of my computer. I would have cried, but I'm not an emotionally in touch kind of person, and unfortunately being 7 months pregnant I can't engage in either of my tear inducing vices (running well past the point of exhaustion and imbibing in approximately 1.5 drinks).
I tried to write code, but I couldn't. I pulled up my most recent freelance writing assignment covering identity theft, but I just didn't care. I wandered downstairs to get a drink of water. It would have been food, but my stomach was in knots, and we're keeping comfort food out of the house.
The raw chicken that I set out for dinner stared at me from my gleaming new countertops. Never has my kitchen looked so good. Never have I felt more embittered by the need to cook a meal for my family.
I put the chicken into the fridge, and I went back upstairs to stare at my computer until Kenny got home from his carpool. Surely inspiration would come eventually.
In which I just say no
Kenny came home, and I stopped working. I let him jump on the bed because I was too tired to deal with his other favorite activity (Play-Doh).
He fell off the bed and hit his head on a fan. He burst into tears and said, "I'm so frustrated! My head hurts."
I laughed and held him close. I said, "I'm frustrated too." Clearly, I have the ability to process my emotions that is approximately on par with a toddler (a male toddler at that).
I took Kenny downstairs, and I took the chicken out of the fridge again. I was going to make stir fry, but I didn't want stir fry.
I put the chicken back and sat down.
Kenny started crying; I don't know why. He's a toddler, so he doesn't need a why. He wanted his pacifier, and I said, "No, you're a big boy. You don't need it."
"I need it mommy. I need to rest in my bed. I want my nuk and blanket."
I gave in. I put him in his bed and wandered back to my computer. The cursor flashed in my code. I found my mistake, I corrected it. Bitter that it had taken so long. Intermittently cursing my mistake and our databases.
My phone buzzed. Rob would be home in 25 minutes.
Downstairs once more, I grabbed the chicken out of the fridge. I stared at it. Cold and slimy. Maybe Rob could cook dinner when he got home. Maybe I could make breakfast for dinner. My stomach knotted up again. I put the chicken back and coaxed Kenny out of his bed.
I read him some books. I let him "fix" things in my office. My locked blue screen beckoning with the siren song of unfinished work. I wouldn't wander over. I couldn't.
Rob arrived home, and he welcomed me with a hug and a kiss. He looked around for signs of me having started dinner, or at least signs of a screaming toddler who has been told that he can neither turn on burners nor place his fingers in the flame.
"Let's go to Chik-Fil-A." I said, "Or Jimmy Johns."
Rob didn't understand, and I was too tired and too uninspired to try to explain. I could see him wracking his brain for more cost effective solutions. A solution to dinner that would keep us from going out on the roads in the wake of an imminent snowpacalypse (all hype, no snow).
"Let's go." I said.
Rob changed out of his workout clothes, and so did I (I hadn't showered since my lunchtime workout). He drove us to Chik-Fil-A, we got out and ordered. I took Kenny to the play place. Rob and I talked. I enjoyed eating for the first time in a few days. When we got home, Rob and I put Kenny back to bed, and I went back to the computer and nearly completed my freelance writing.
It was the best $17.06 that I ever could have spent.
We did it. We outspent exhausted.
Does outspending exhausted become a slippery slope?
Like most spending on things that are not strictly speaking essential, trying to outspend exhausted is a slippery slope. The marginal value of your first dollar spent will be high. Almost any money will yield relief, but the marginal utility of outspending exhaustion is a steep slope.
A second meal out wouldn't really relieve much of anything, and by a third meal out, I would feel sick. Knowing this, however, yields little change in behavior. I feel quite confident that I will be tempted to eat out again tonight. I have a dinner plan (stir fry), I have the ingredients, and I even sort of want to cook, but I will be tempted. After all, Kenny is with me all day (due to the apparently imminent snowpacalypse), and I will be exhausted again.
The problem of course is that we humans are far less logical than we credit ourselves. Even those of us who are emotionally out of touch fall victim to emotional decision making. The only solution to this, as far as I know is to create systems. Systems that make it easier to make the right decision than the wrong decision. Of course, my dinner system relies on a human input, me. And I broke, so my system broke.
If you're feeling generous, you can call it strategic spending. In reality, it's not. We very easily could have had a cost effective dinner of PB&J. I could have taken a long bath while Rob got Kenny ready for bed. We could have watched Netflix, or maybe I would have felt well enough to write. We didn't do that.
The thing is, I didn't do any of that. I think, if there is any positive side to this at all, it's that I understand what it's like to try to outspend exhausted. I understand that when people buy fast food when they have a super-low income or when they are trying to pay off debt, it's not because they're stupid; it's because they're broken. And maybe, just maybe one fast food meal will make them a little less broken.
And they know it won't, just as I knew it wouldn't, but in the moment it won't matter. Because when we are desperate to fill our deep and desperate longing for rest and happiness, we'll go to just about any length to achieve it.
This morning, I remembered something important about my faith. I remembered that it's not for brokenness that God turns his children away. I'm very broken, and in desperate need of God. While a meal out is a nice crutch, it cannot ever fulfill my most desperate longings.
Sometimes in the face of mundane brokeness it is helpful to focus on eternity instead of the moment. In the scope of eternity, how we spent $17.06 last night is both of ultimate significance and ultimate insignificance. The $17.06 would have faded away like everything else. My attempt to use fast food as a functional savior shows a heart issue far deeper than $17.06 indicates. It's not a questions of how I spent the money, it's a question of whether or not I trust God to provide for my deepest needs. Yesterday, I forgot that God is able to meet me in my brokenness. Today, God reminded me. It's good to worship the God who forgives and loves even when I forget and replace.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.