As a treat I found myself sitting at an impromptu workday lunch with another mom friend. Mind you mom lunch isn’t a pretty or relaxing affair. It’s us half starting conversations while we rapidly inhale dim sum by unhinging our jaws, swallowing food whole like anacondas on speed while entertaining the baby with a free hand, one wiggling foot, the table utensils, and a plastic straw.
Mom lunch conversation topics get volleyed across the table like a bad ping pong game, or if you’re a parent, trying to keep the conversation coherent is like trying to play catch with a toddler where the ball goes all over the place and then someone is crying and you’re not sure what happened. We try to connect on the basic emotional stuff – are we staying relatively sane with two kids less than two years apart – and also cover the kid related topics. We both live in the same city and while we’re in the middle of dealing with the preschool lottery process, they will have to go through it for the 2017 school year. Work came up of course, as we met when we worked at the same company years ago, but now we’re both working jobs with a higher level of flexibility to accommodate our young children. It was in the context of the job related talk – and not in the wildly disconnected conversation – that we came to the same conclusion about our changed abilities since becoming mothers.
I am more gray and fuzzy than I was before becoming a mother. It’s not just my hair, it’s my brain too.
I am not as much… everything as I was before.
While I know cognitively that I’m not an unintelligent person, I feel less smart. I have some sense of what’s going on in the world, but I’m not nearly as on top of current events as I was pre-children. I read the front page of the online edition of The Washington Post daily and some articles from the New York Times and NPR as they pop up on my Facebook newsfeed, but I don’t have time for long form journalism, and sometimes I space out before the end of anything too deep or wonky. I haven’t visited FiveThirtyEight since it moved off of the New York Times, despite it being an election year. Speaking of election years, I’m out of the loop and off my volunteering game – I haven’t been on a Hubdialer shift or knocked doors for a candidate since 2012, as I have spent the last three plus years pregnant and/or nursing.
I’m not as funny as I was before. If I’m trying to be witty in a social situation I feel like I can’t keep up and that anything I say will be a beat too late and will land like a fart in an elevator.
Any sense of style I had is gone. I wear clothes that have easy access to my boobs in a not sexy way, and that hide stains. If I put on pants and I see that they’re already stained, I pretend that it just happened and keep wearing the pants, as I don’t have enough clothes that fit me right now. I don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe until I see what happens to all the body parts that have moved out of place, though I suspect my ribcage will not go back to normal and my boobs will be sad, deflated balloons when I’m finished nursing. I now understand mom jeans. It’s not that mom wasn’t stylish, she just didn’t have the fucks to give about her clothes when she was busy keeping tiny people alive.
In some ways (that I notice more than my employer hopefully does) I am not as good of an employee as I was before I had kids. There are days that tend to fall after a particularly bad night of multiple wake ups, or a painfully early morning wake time, where I can barely focus. I will stare blankly at the work in front of me and it takes a herculean effort to focus and accomplish tasks. My creativity feels compromised. I now excel at tasks that are more left-brain analytical tasks, working with numbers and spreadsheets, than my years of experience working in right-brain jobs where I relied on skills more closely related to my liberal arts education. In doing this it feels like a cop out to not have to be creative. What I’m sure is noticeable is that I am not willing to work weekends or put in longer days unless it’s an emergency, and while I frequently work when the boys are asleep, I have a firm stop time in the late afternoon when I’m back on duty with them. I avoid work travel and have no desire to socialize with anyone from my job. Happy hour invitations stress me out, as happy hour is also very close to toddler dinner time.
I tell myself that the root of these issues is that I’m tired all the time. But I’m not sure that’s entirely true.
My brain rarely shuts off, even in the moments when I can’t make it comply, like when I’m staring at my work. I have a hard time falling asleep at night and when I wake up to nurse the baby my brain is wide awake and ramping up while my body stumbles down the hallway. I watch my own thoughts like I’m watching a shitty juggler and I can’t keep my focus on what thing is getting tossed in the air and what thing is about to hit me in the face when they drop everything.
I am distracted trying to manage my life and the lives of those dependent on me.
My calendar is my personal calendar (which is very limited while I’m still nursing), work, my two kids with their schedules and appointments and anything else related to their care, and the days my husband has plans that will require me to shift the other schedules or cover bedtimes on my own. This fact alone could be a reason I’m not quick anymore.
Beyond distraction my priorities have changed. I don’t care about achieving a specific career goal. This may have less to do with the kids and more to do with the realization in my late twenties that work is work, and I would rather have satisfaction elsewhere. I like my job, but I don’t have a career that defines me. Now it’s beyond not being defined by the job. I just want to make enough money to pay the bills and periodically buy something for myself; take a vacation without having to stay at one of those motels where people grill in barrels outside the doors; set aside a little money but not nearly enough for retirement; and not wrack up credit card debt I can’t pay down. More than the money I want flexibility to be able to take the kids to doctor’s appointments and see them for more than an hour a day. I want to be able to bag work on a surprisingly warm afternoon and take my toddler out for ice cream, knowing that I can pick spreadsheets and budgets back up when he’s in bed.
I absolutely still have anxiety it can color my day. I worry more about big issues that my kids will have to deal with, like climate change and gun control. I pay attention to the chemicals in sunscreen, and avoid hand sanitizers with Triclosan, instead of the before time when I would frequently forget sunscreen or just throw on the CVS brand without thinking about it. I regret ever having been a smoker as it means I may have shortened my time with them down the road.
I’m not as good at things and stuff as I was before I became a parent. Of course there’s a flip side to this, and I could write a rebuttal to myself of all the ways I’m a better, kinder person, but I think that’s about who I am, not what I am. The what has changed in many ways for the worse, and I suspect it will be a few years before I feel back to myself. That’s the really shitty part – I feel slower, like I’m dragging my body through the motions in a fog. I suspect the fog will lift, and I hope it does before I get crazy and decide I want another kid, prolonging this feeling.