Monday, July 23, 2012

The Myth of Mommy Brain....

So, someone told me today that they have a bad case of Mommy Brain. I got to thinking about that statement, as well as the self deprecating tone that she used when she told me, relating an occasion when she had forgotten something important.

Mommy brain is generally thought to refer to the impact of pregnancy, birth and or parenting on the mind of a woman. Men (in general) are apparently not subject to Mommy Brain, because there is  not a male equivalent. It is not a compliment. It is the blanket excuse moms use to explain an failing to remember things, inability to perform previously simple tasks, and other intellectual failings. It is also the phrase used by others to explain nearly everything they perceive negatively in a woman with children... Yep, not a compliment at all.

Have you noticed that the addition of "mom" or "mommy" to any word is rarely positive? Mom Jeans, mommy belly, mom car....  Shit. How did that happen?

However, I am going to have to refute the entire perception of Mommy Brain. A reframing and rebranding of sorts, if I correctly remember the terminology from my graduate school education... Which I may not.... However....

As far as I can tell, most of the mommies I know have more on their plate and therefore their minds, than they ever even imagined prior to leaving the world they knew... Even the highest level CEO whatever, has a rude awakening in store when they add responciblity for every aspect of the life of another human (Good Luck to a certain yahoo exec) . I do not know if other moms feel this way, but I look at those days and wonder how I ever imagined I was busy. (BTW, a dear friend pointed out that the Yahoo exec in question will be able to hire help.... Lots of it... Sadly, that will bring other problems... There is no avoiding the life alterations of parenting....)

And this is not to knock dads... I just know very few homes in which things are truly 50/50, right down to taking care of remembering everything. If you live in one, I am glad for you... I also do not know many single dads, much to my detriment I am sure, because I love parents in general, and having been a single foster mom for 7 years, one of them with a newborn, toddler, and 5 year old, I have a deeply special place in my heart for those doing it on their own.. So, dad, if you feel like you have mommy brain after you read my revised defination, you own it!And if you are a mom and you feel like you have completely avoided mommy brain, good for you! This post is not about you, though it may help you understand the struggles of some of your friends and colleagues.

And this is definately not to knock those without kids. I was discussing this blog post with a friend who is married without kids, and she told me, "Um, that is one of the reasons I do not have kids.... mommy brain.... I saw it happen to my friends, and I did not want it for myself. I like remembering where I parked my car...."

Ouch. Yes, people without kids are busy too. But, they seem to have enough time to cast stones...

SO, here is my thesis: mommy brains are like those Galileo Thermometers... You know, with the floating balls.

Anyway, each of the balls has a different pocket of information in it. And, as you can clearly see, there is no possible way that all of them can get to the top at the same time. So, they fight for position, crowding around the top. HOWEVER, inevitably, some of them stay submerged. Some of them actually sink all the way to the bottom, perhaps never to be seen again.

Before parenthood, there were a whole lot less floating balls to deal with and nearly all of them made it to the top fairly frequently. After parenthood, it is a very different story. First of all, the sheer volume of information we need to keep track of skyrocketed. And there was a shift in priorities that ensured that some of the balls would sink like stones. For me, those are likely labeled "Car Keys" and "Personal grooming appointments ".

And instead, dozens of thoughts related to your child(ren) take over nearly every inch of space at the top. "Vaccination Schedules and Precautions" is warring with "Lunch on Tuesday and Friday and bring bathing suits on Wednesday" for precious time at the top of the heap. The "Things I need to do for other people" packet sometimes gets so big it prevents almost anything else from breaking through.

I mean, just today I had, "lunch with less carbs for Max, think about new biting habit, create bedtime routine chart, call dermotologist, tell Maryann you are working Friday, find out when swim lesson registration begins, bring lunch, buy wipes, research refrigerators, plan vacation, pay for ebay item, order homeschooling books, trade in car?, submit resume for new job, email biography, look at bank account (ewwww), insurance, bring maxs lunch, receipts?, training schedule for foster and grandparents, write RFP, ......" and so on and so forth ad infinitum and beyond until 2 days after I die.

and that is just the top layer.  The depths get scary... Horrible blood red and black bubbles with swirling words like, "retirement" and "mamogram" and "credit card debt" and "long term career goals" and "state of marriage". Those bubbles generally float to the top at about 1AM, and eliminate all trace of sleep while they linger there.

Sometimes my brain feels like it is about to explode. Not figuratively, I mean literally explode. I feel hot and stretched, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume and the fairly serious consequences of forgetting or neglecting some of these items. And very alone. It is a huge burden to bear, being responsible for keeping all these balls from hitting the floor... Thank God for Mommy Brain.

 I want to be the first one to tell you that Mommy Brain is not a pejorative. Instead, see it as a very real aknowledgement that you are operating at the very edge, that you are exploring the outer edges of possibility and, the vast majority of time, making it work... And, like all of those testing the limits, you will occasionally go over the edge, lose control, and find that a ball that did not make it to the top recently has gone bad while lingering at the bottom.

No question, those days suck. We are not inclined to cut ourselves slack in the days when we overdraw the bank account, f up the credit card with zero interest by forgetting to pay it, find out our kid had to eat crackers because you forgot his lunch.

Instead, we pull out that "mommy brain" descriptor and use it to beat ourselves up with, before someone else can do it for us. For me, it adds a few more of those black balls to the mix, marked "Early onset Alzeihmers?" and "going to get fired?"...

So, time for a new deal... Can we agree that the next time we see a parent who is on top of things- one who brought the lunch, paid the credit card, got to work with breastpump and annual report in tow, and even thought about making an appointment for a cut and color- we will finally use the term Mommy Brain in the manner it deserves?  As it should be, as a compliment and a rare moment of acknowledgement of the difficulty of the task, and the fact that even those whose feathers never look ruffled are likely frantically paddling webbed feet below the surface?

With the Olympics approaching, I am reminded that the biggest cheers are often for who push themselves the furthest. And the biggest cheers of all are for those who fall and get back up. And I am always in awe of the fact that, when the balls drop, mommies are so often the ones who pick them back up, for themselves and for one another. And far too often with no applause whatsoever...

So, lets make Mommy a word that increases the value of all the things to which it is attached. I dream of a world in which, hearing the phrase "mom jeans", young men begin craning their necks for a glimpse of the babe rocking them.

A world in which Mommy Brain is used to describe anyone who performs apparently impossible feats of intellectual strength on a daily basis, for the benefit of others, with little to no appreciation.

Where cheers of "Mommy Brain, Mommy Brain, Mommy Brain" are heard, at least in our own heads, whenever we end the day with our family even slightly farther ahead than the were in the morning.

hmmmm, I just realized in rereading this post that I kinda lost the thread of the Gallileo Thermometer imagery.  Damn.

Do not blame it on Mommy Brain, OK?


Friday, July 13, 2012

The Return of Dinosaur Rex.

One of the most difficult things being parent is setting and keeping limits. I have found that with Max Archer, the most difficult thing is that he forces me to follow through.
Every single time.
And yet, I have not yet completely internalized the idea that I MUST think before I announce a consequence. So, when Max and I were waiting for the bus a few weeks ago and he would not stop running away, and when I threatened to throw his dinosaur in the trash if he did not come back immediately, I immediately regretted it, immediately. Because I had no interest in actually throwing the dinosaur away. It cost 11 bucks and it was one of his favorites.

So, I counted to 3, then 5. I ignored him, I called him, and finally simply captured him as he ran by... and then he bit me... Hard.... I was so angry at him... not just because of his behavior, but because he was forcing my hand. I was going to have to throw the damn dinosaur away.

So, I pulled it from his sweaty hand and brought it to the trash can. when he realized I was going to do it, he shifted from laughing to crying in a heartbeat. Real, true, painful tears. And I was welling up as well. Because this is the part of parenting that hurts, having to teach lessons that are painful to learn. The only thing that keeps me going is reminding myself over and over that they are far more painful NOT to learn.

So, I threw the dinosaur in the trash.

and Max completely melted. All the fight went out of him, leaving a puddle of sobbing almost three year old on the sidewalk, and I walked over to him, oblivious by then to the watching strangers at the bus stop, and gathered him up, walking over to the fully occupied bus stand bench and standing in front of it rocking him and repeating, "I know it is hard. It hurts to lose something we like, but you must listen to mama and you cannot bite." over and over....

I did not even acknowledge the young man on his cell phone who finally stood up, giving us his seat.
I just held my sweating, sobbing, sorry baby and thought about how incredibly hard it is to be a good parent...
I was in the f*cking Peace Corps, supposedly "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love" and it was a freaking cakewalk compared to being fully responsible for a developing human 24/7.
I was recently talking to friend about why this is so hard, why we obsess over our children, why we so aggressively judge one another and ourselves, have such a take-no-prisoners attitude in defending our choices: weaning, cry it out, cosleeping, bottle feeding, home schooling, nanny, daycare.
It all feels so amazingly important. Every choice we make seems to close as many doors as it opens, and when we meet someone who seems decent and smart, who made a different choice, it feels very scarey to think that they might have made a better decision, that we might be wrong. Because, how could two decisions at such opposite ends of the parenting spectrum BOTH be correct? AND if they are both correct, then what does that say about all the time and energy we put in to making the "right" choice, if there is no "right" choice to be made.
It seems awfully frightening, the idea that these big choices that we make, agonizingly sometimes, have no real impact in the long run.
Because if our parenting decisions are not important, than what is?
I think part of the problem is that we are terrified by the vastness of the potential entrusted to us. The idea of impacting the entire course of a humans development is....immensely frightening. The possiblities for our child's future run frrom abject misery to bliss, and it seems sometimes like our decisions on sleep training and booby vs bottle are going to be the very ones that decide whether he will be happy in his life or miserable in his skin..
So, even as our little one weeps in his crib before falling asleep, we stand in the hallway, tears on our own cheeks, and we make these decisions about how we handle discipline and then we question our conclusions with every interaction.
And so, even though my heart aches and my hands are loathe to let go of my son's beloved plastic reptile, I throw it away, determined to stick to the parenting choices I made, and even as tears drip down my cheeks, I hold fast to my stern and reasonable voice, reminding Max of the reason the dino had to go.
The bus arrives and I carry him up the stairs and grab a seat near the front as Max falls to sleep in my arms, still crying.
"mama, why dino go in trash? Is dino ever come home?" "I do not think so Max". This brings another few sobs before the big blue eyes finally close.
As I held Max, I thought about the lesson I had just tried to teach him, and questioned as usual both the message and the methods, as well basically every parenting decison I had ever made leading up to the moment I threw away Dinosaur Rex forever. I tried to decide if losing Dinosaur Rex was too huge a consequence, if it will obliterate the lesson I am trying to teach, if it will scar him for Life, if it will be the thing that he finally gets to in therapy, the root of his misery and sorrow.
As I contemplated Max's Dinosaur Rex-less future, I was sure that I had made the wrong choice...
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, and the young man, the kid really, who had given us his seat on the bench at the bus stop was behind me. I turned to find him offering me a plastic bag.
"It's the dinosaur. I pulled it out of the trash. I thought you might want it, maybe you could give it back to him after enough time has passed."
"Oh my God, Thank you, thank you."
"Yeah", he said. "I was on the phone with my mom and told her what happened. She told me when I was little I forced her to make good on every threat she ever made. And she told me you were probably really upset about throwing the toy away, so I got it out for you."
I thanked him again, and told him that his mom would be proud.
He just smiled, and went back to his seat.
A few minutes later, we reached our stop and I carried Max down the stairs and to the car. He was still asleep when we got home and I woke him only to have the first words out of his mouth be, "mama, I wanna say sorry."
I told him I accepted his apology. We hugged. He was quiet all the way home.
When we got home, he said, "Mama, you think Dinosaur Rex come home if I be good?"
"Maybe Max."
"Mama, next time I not bite mama. I not run away."
"Max, I am so glad to hear you say that...." because it means you'll be safer next time we go out, because it means that someday when listening is a Life skill-you'll be able to do it.
And because it means that, at least in this one moment, out of all the "right"choices, I managed to pick one of them. the one that won't leave put you into therapy, the one that will make you choose a partner who cares for you, the one that will give you the courage to pursue your dreams.
Or maybe just the one that makes you a teeny, tiny,itsy bitsy bit less likely to run away and then bite me when I manage to catch you.
Or maybe not.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I need to tell you something...

On Friday, I was walking with a friend, talking about some of the changes I have been making in my life over the past few months...

As we walked, she said "Well, I am really proud of you."

and here I am, still thinking about it.... because it meant something to me...

as a mom, I spend a lot of time making sure my little guy hears positive messages about himself, receives reassurance, and generally is able to believe that he is a pretty impressive guy... not without flaws but still....

However, there is a point at which we stop hearing those messages...  there is no longer someone who takes on the role of cheerleader, telling us we look nice, we are smart, we are gifted, we are good people...

The saddest thing about that is: there are still lots of people who think it....

I know this because I think at least 20 nice things a day about people i see, hear from, and interact with....

I just do not always say them... 

and therein lies the problem....

I have thought about this before... About a year ago, I met a woman in a store whose beauty immediately struck me... She was about 40, and she had a great face, slim body, but the thing I was most aware of was her haircut. She had the most amazing very short hair. It made her eyes prettier, her neck longer, her cheekbones higher.

She was wearing the hell out of that hair...

I saw her a couple of times, and finally approached her and said, "Excuse me, I apologize, but your hair is amazing. Just perfect for you."

And she burst into tears.

She kept gasping, "I am so sorry, I am so sorry", even tears welled up in my own eyes, the two of us, strangers standing in the aisle of the Stop and Shop, crying.

After a few moments, she gained control, and said, "I am so sorry, but you cannot imagine what that means to me, to hear that today."

Turns out, that was her first day out without her wig in the 18 months she had been battling cancer.

She was incredibly self conscious, and was just about to leave the store to put a scarf over the short hair that made her feel so obvious. Her husband and son had assured her a thousand times that she was beautiful, but she found it impossible to believe them. Her sister, not a touchy feely woman, told her nobody really gave a damn what anyone else looked like, and no one cared about her hair.

However, the words of a stranger, a woman she would never see again, had the power to change her. To help her let go of the memories of her long bob, and give her a start on the path to appreciating the strength of this new warrior cut.

The entire interaction lasted about 3 minutes... One hundred and eighty seconds that, in her own words, changed her Life. We hugged, I got in line to pay. Walking to my car, I passed her on her cell phone... I overheard her say, "and she told me she loved my haircut, like it was a choice I had made."

I cried all the way home...

because I almost did not say it... I came so close to walking to the register without telling her that she was beautiful. And because there had been so many other times that I had left, had noticed, appreciated, and thought, and left...

The mom doing such an amazing job with a screaming kid. The teen offering his seat on the bus. The cashier making an extra effort to be nice to a mean customer.

Who knows if they thought to themselves, "Why do I bother, no one notices." When in fact, we do notice...

Think back on the last week.

Think of the chances you had to tell someone that they looked great, did great, sounded great, acted great.... That they were generally pretty impressive guys.. not without flaws, but still.... Bright, beautiful, kind, smart...

You'll know when you see it. Especially if you keep your eyes open and look for chances to tell someone something good about themselves.

Because we all need to hear it....