Here’s the dirty little secret they don’t tell you in the glossy parenting magazines.
You miss your brain.
You miss conversations where you had something to offer other than this floaty, under-water feeling, this blank mush that used to be your frontal cortex that can no longer be counted on to fire.
You watch and listen to adult activity going on around you and think, “Do something now,” but your brain is on strike. “Ya talkin’ to me?’ it says, at which point, you’ve missed your opening and the conversation moves on. You smile gamely; you keep expecting some version of your former intelligence to be available. Time after time, it surprises you that all you have left is this blank, vacuous, space in your head.
Conversations aren’t the only challenge. There’s also the brain-dead activities: like when you go to the grocery store and come back with everything but the crucial ingredient for the recipe that you’re trying to prepare. Or you go to the computer to order a prescription on-line and instead answer a bunch of meaningless e-mails but log off without the re-fill. Even after you have bypassed all those political “must-read” messages.
Someday, you tell yourself, you will be politically informed again. In the meantime, you’re very active in another sort of politics; in fact, you’re sort of an ambassador of peace. You patrol the borders of the daily sibling skirmishes and the uncertain dynamics of playground inclusions and exclusions; you negotiate play dates that teeter from gleeful to hostile, moment to moment.
You hope these are good enough excuses as to why your brain is so fried. But you even got sleep last night and today, have childcare. You should be making a list, getting organized, knocking things out. Instead, you’re sitting glazed over, watching the world pass.
Last night, when you sat with Little Sister clinging and drooling all over Big Brother’s book, attempting to defuse his annoyance before it escalated to outrage, “Why does she always ruin my stuff?” because the last thing you wanted were tears before bedtime, that wasn’t at all what you’d pictured when you’d snuggled down with both kids who were miraculously bathed and powdered before eight-thirty. This was supposed to be the sweet time of the day, during what were supposed to be the good years. At least that’s what all the older parents keep telling you as they watch your kids twining themselves around you when you just want to extract your wallet in the grocery line. The older parents stand there, wistfully telling you how much you’re going to miss these tender years.
But there was nothing pleasant about trying to prevent Big Brother from pulling out all Little Sister’s hair, or buying him off with promises of a new book tomorrow, just go to sleep now so you can get off Damage Control Patrol.
Last night when you got yourself through those melt-downs by picturing these glorious two hours that you have, all to yourself today, you didn’t imagine that you’d be sitting here like a sticky lump of Play dough, unable to move.
Your brain and body don’t seem to recognize each other anymore. They may be permanently estranged. Maybe it’s from eating only brown and orange-colored food for oh, about three years. The only things that have passed your lips are: Gold-fish, graham crackers, hot dogs, mac and cheese. And don’t forget those peanut-butter crackers that are basically fancily packaged sodium.
Or maybe your brain has gone on strike from the sheer monotony of being a PhD who’s now working as a sandwich-maker/sponge-mopper/shelf-stocker. Maybe it’s from the years of having your musical repertoire reduced to a tune sung off-key by a fuzzy red creature. “La-la-la-la, Elmo’s World.”
What makes it worth losing your mind like this?
You return from your un-productive alone time and look at your children. Big Brother has his arm around Little Sister as he ‘reads’ her a story, flipping through the heavy pages of his card-board book. This time he doesn’t seem to notice the drool dripping off her chin, only that she’s gazing up at him, pouring adoration out of her toothless grin.
Your world opens up; the sky is raining love. There is a moment of sweetness. La-la-la-la.
By Mary Beth McClure