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?


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