Thursday, January 15, 2009

The fine art of forgetting

There is a name for this.

My sister called yesterday. She sounded tiny and tired and defeated. Before too many words were said, she was crying.

She had lost her wallet, and didn't even know it for three days. She was angry at herself and embarrassed and didn't understand how this could happen. She's a new mom, and this was her first time her Type A personality had crumbled.

Me? I'm used to this. After eight years I just assume that I will embarrass myself on a daily basis. I never know what form my absent-mindedness will take, but I know it will happen.

Like the time my husband was gone on business and not only did I leave the front door unlocked, I left it wide open all night long. In January, in Iowa. And yes, it was below zero that night.

Or the time I just forgot to go to work.

Or the time I remembered to go to work but couldn't because I could not find my keys anywhere. Couldn't find the spare keys, either.

Or the time I left the keys in the car and left the car running (unintentionally) while I grocery shopped, then proceeded to leave my purchased groceries inside the store when I left.

Or the time I forgot to renew my thyroid medication prescription. For an entire month.

Or the time I neglected to renew my driver's license for so long I had to take the written test and the driving test. Oh, and there's the other time I did that, too.

Or the time I sent Jensen for a week-long vacation at his grandparents' without his suitcase, which I had lovingly packed and placed carefully by the front door so I wouldn't forget it.

Or the time I permanently lost my glasses. The ones I didn't replace because I decided it's just easier to be slightly visually-impaired than to try to keep track of yet one more thing.

Or.... I have to stop now, before somebody comes and removes my children from my custody.

Smartest parenting move we ever made was deciding that the birth control pill should probably not be our contraceptive method of choice. Seriously: we'd have seven kids by now. At least.

You know the story: I'm relatively intelligent, relatively high-functioning, relatively organized. (Don't we all think these things about ourselves?) But on any given day there may well be no milk in the refrigerator because I keep forgetting to buy it. Or there may be four gallons of milk in the refrigerator because I keep forgetting that I remembered to buy it.

So, yes, there's a name for this phenomenon, but I don't like it: "mommy brain." I find it troublesome anytime an adult refers to another adult (or herself) as "mommy." But, more importantly, the term implies that there's something inherently wrong with a mother's intelligence. It's condescending.

Nevertheless. There is something that happens when we find ourselves permanently and irrevocably in charge of another human being. Something that leaves us mentally disconnected, grasping at cognitive straws far too often. No matter how well we plan, how many lists we make, how many times we check and double-check... sometimes we forget.

We are tired, chronically, from waking with babies and sleeping with one ear cocked and never really allowing ourselves to rest. We are responsible for something so big that we cannot wrap our exhausted brains around it, and we are distracted by being needed incessantly. And, maybe most importantly, our brains and our hearts are no longer our own. We are taken over by these little people who move into our homes and into our souls and make everything else-- wallets and glasses and keys-- entirely secondary.

Call it mommy brain if you must. I don't like it but I probably won't argue with you. Because it's true that something in me is just not quite capable of addressing life's pettiest tasks sometimes. I like to think it's gotten better, but I'm not sure the evidence supports that assertion. I've learned to live with it, Jeff has learned to live with it, and (aside from my occasionally-bruised ego) we are none the worse for it.

So, Ali, I can't promise you that it will get better, but I can tell you that you'll learn to accomodate your sometimes-slippery mental state. And if you can't take it anymore and need to talk to someone who understands, call me. If you can find the phone.


  1. I'll forgive myself the forgetfulness because so far I haven't done any forgetting that would harm my kids (like the leaving them in the hot car instead of taking them to daycare forgetting), it just seems that the forgetting makes me more mad at myself but its never anything horrible or tragic.

    Totally - it's OK to forget, and I'll probably do a bunch more of it tomorrow.

  2. Oh, do I recognize this one. :)
    I have always thought children should be issued with warning t-shirts.
    For their parents.
    "Warning: Parent of a young child. Functioning with low sleep level and high stress level. Treat with caution. May be forgetful, unreasonably emotional, and/or dangerous."
    I also once heard a comedian (female) suggest that whenever you see a mother outside her own home, with one or more fully dressed children, you should give her a round of applause. Because just getting that far deserves it.

  3. As one who knows how extremely organized and creative and fabulous you really, truly are, Miss Goldfish, this makes your essay even more funny. I love the parents' t-shirt idea...maybe expand it to magnets on SUVs and minivans hurtling around town. I miss you living a gazillion miles away and our skipping pilates to have margaritas instead. Keep writing. I hope this is as much a balm to your soul as it is for mine. love, B

  4. So, I got an email from my neighbor this morning (the night after the coldest night of the year by the way.) He said, as politely as possible, "should we call you when you leave your garage door open at night?". I then opened our door to the garage, and, sure enough -- wide open. Excellent. My goal is to have a list that rivals my sister's in record time.

  5. Didja tell your husband about that, Ali?

  6. I hate to break this one to you girls, but not only is it maternal &/or environmental, but it is also genetic. I seriously cannot tell you the number of times Grandma Elna got to the checkout at the grocery store only to not have her purse..or if she had her purse, no checkbook...or how many Sunday afternoons we went back to church to rescue that same purse....or how many times she lost her teeth, only to find them in the cupboard next to the Jello :-)...really, not a joke - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. So when these things happen to you all, and trust me - they will continue, just think of it as channeling Grandma. And remember, as long as you and your children find home (hopefully all at the same time!) you have had a great day! All else is replaceable.


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