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Musing: Blame the Mom Brain

May 10, 2010
tags: ,

A recent ironic purchase. Prior to mingling with the wheels of a semi.

I checked out an audiobook from my library last week.  Two minutes later, I rested it on the trunk of my car while I buckled my daughter in her car seat.  Three minutes later, it was cartwheeling under the chassis of an 18-wheeler on the highway.  One confession to a sour-faced librarian and $45 dollars later, I have resolved to redouble my vigilance.  The title of the book?  Nothing to Lose.  The irony is not lost on me.

It’s a costly lesson to learn, this forgetfulness thing.  That $45 would have looked a whole lot better converted into a pair of gladiator sandals or Kate Spade shades.  Sadly, my mommy mess-up is not an isolated event.  It joins a growing list of Mom Brain moments, or momnesia, as I’ve heard it called someplace.  I forget where.  Maybe I’ll remember soon.  Here are some brain escapades from recent weeks:

  • Leaving the gas stove burner on.  While I run errands.  For two hours.  And arriving home to find a lovely blue flame illuminating my kitchen.
  • Cutting my fingernails.  Or nine fingernails.  I forget to cut the tenth.  There it is—one ring finger talon next to nine other stubs.

I’ve turned to the WebMD experts to determine whether I’m dealing with a serious case of early-onset dementia or just a malingering case of Mom Brain.  My new best friend, Dr. Helen Christensen of Austrailia National University, assures me, “[A mom’s] life swirls like a tornado. She constantly handles the needs and wants of her two young kids, a torrent of other household tasks and chores — and she rarely, if ever, gets a good night’s sleep…Under these circumstances, it is 100% normal to have memory lapses or be forgetful.”  My second new best friend, Jane Martin, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Neuropsychological Testing and Evaluation Center at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, backs up Helen’s observations.  “When you are not getting enough sleep and are multitasking, nobody’s memory is good,” Martin confirms. “You are not cognitively sharp when you haven’t slept well.”

Aha!  The answer.  Sleep deprivation.  Had I given into my bone-soaked weariness and taken a quick snooze (complete with drool) on the librarian’s desk, maybe she would have excused my fine and forgetfulness.  Medically speaking, I have a condition.  Mom brain is draining my grey matter of juice even as I type.  Surely my plight deserves pity.  In my library book bungle, before I had sound medical research to back up my excuse, I hoped to earn forgiveness not by my own confession but by dressing my daughter in a particularly adorable outfit and letting her wave, smile, and chirp at the sour-faced librarian.  The sour face cracked a smile, but she still gladly accepted my penance with no offer of fine reduction.  I guess it will be awhile before those gladiator sandals go anywhere on my feet.

I have to do something (sleep, maybe?) to recharge my taxed grey matter.  While my daughter is sleeping much, much better, (merci bien, new third best friend Kim West aka Sleep Lady), sleep alone is not going to heal my anemic brain and remind me of the importance of trimming ALL of my fingernails.  As a formerly avid reader, I’ve usually obtained my brain fuel through the books I wolf down.  The thought of sitting, book in hand, with no little hands patting my knees to be picked up?  Bliss.  Unrealistic bliss.  Even on mother’s day (which this year was spent nursing my flu-ridden husband—oh, irony, how you stalk me), I didn’t have a second of reading time.  Rather than give up on my favorite past time, I’ve done what human beings have done through centuries of survival.  I’ve adapted.  Hello, audiobook.

Sometimes I find excuses to run errands just so I can sit in my car and press my index finger in the little round knob that controls my car’s CD player.  On.  For the next ten or fifteen or sixty minutes, depending on the destination of the trumped-up errand, I get to sit back and read.  Make that “read.”  Audiobook CDs, their plastic shells fighting for space among the books, toys, and crumbs in my backseat, have become my daily mental salvation.  After bedtime, kitchen clean-up, and a brief “how was your day” exchange with my husband, my mind is too numb to tackle the gymnastics of imagination with an open book.  Hence, my reading-while-driving time.  Surely it’s safer than all the texting-while-driving that’s going on out there.

When I was in college, I somehow signed up for an “adopt a grandparent” club and was foisted on the unsuspecting Mrs. McManny, a resident at a local nursing home, who acted confused but gracious when I arrived on her threshold offering to save her from loneliness, or whatever service I was expected to perform.  She claimed she hadn’t signed up for the adopt a grandparent program.  Why would she?  She had scads of relatives visiting her on a weekly basis.  Yet dutifully, I added my name to the list.  An inspiring almost-100, Mrs. McManny tucked me under her grandmotherly wing, and we talked about my college stresses and hazy graduation plans, finding our common ground in books.  After losing a swift battle to macrodegeneration years ago, Mrs. McManny had to put down her beloved hardbacks for good, a deprivation that I know from experience cannot be borne lightly.  She adapted beautifully to her handicap.  Never entertaining even a thought of a complaint, she simply put on a pair of headphones and pressed play on a portable CD player.  Book after book continued to flow into Mrs. McManny’s mind.

I think of Mrs. McManny now as I watch the yellow road ribbons unfurl in front of me and watch, in my mind’s eye, Frodo and Sam stumble down the belching sides of Mt. Doom.  My current read, The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a favorite I’ve returned to a number of times throughout my life, much to the chagrin of my husband who somehow finds the Lord of the Ring trilogy distasteful.  Odd, since his geek-resume is flawless, apart from two glaring holes: Middle Earth worship and solar system gazing.  Can’t say I mourn these deficiencies.

On the days when I come home to find my stove still burning brightly, I sigh and wish life were easier.  The past, receding swiftly behind me, seems comparitively easier.  Life should get more manageable as we move through it.  Shouldn’t it?  But really, there’s not much difference between me and Mrs. McManny.  She had made it through more life stages than I had, and while she wasn’t preoccupied with cutting bananas in bite-sized pieces or collecting potty-training guides, her life wasn’t any easier.  Both of us had to accept our limitations and adapt.  Both of us had to find a way to preserve the importance of reading in our lives.  Does life really need to get easier, or do we just have to get smarter about how we live it?

Smarter.  Brains.  Seems like I just read something about that.  Now what was it???

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa Taylor-Malloff permalink
    May 12, 2010 7:58 pm

    Ouch! $45 on a library book is never a good day! I’m so glad you have found a way to “read” in your often interrupted schedule. I guess now that you have books on “tape” driving 2 hours to the fancy playground wont be so bad! I’m convinced it will make the little one smarter too, just think of all of the new words you are introducing her to! Good luck with the Momnesia, I hope it subsides soon! Oh, and don’t forget to clip fingernail number 10.


  1. Battling the Mom Brain and Pregnancy Forgetfulness | The Household COO

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