What Mom Brain Actually Looks Like
Scene: a writer-slash-mom sits at her desk and opens her laptop to write a post for a popular online parenting publication. Or maybe she was going to answer an email. Or check Facebook? Or send an invoice. Or tidy up her desk. Oh hey, there’s a bowl that needs to go back to the kitchen. Speaking of which, did I pull out chicken from the freezer for dinner? I should go do that before it’s too late. But first, the emails. Or whatever. What was I doing up here, again? Oh right, writing that post about mom brain.
If you grew up in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, like I did, you probably remember the infamous “this is your brain on drugs” ad with the egg and the frying pan. I have never done hard drugs but I have two children, so I relate to this commercial deeply – and I bet you do, too. Why?
We’ve all done that thing where we walk into the kitchen, pause for an extended period of time and stand there wondering what we’re doing or why we just walked over here. It was intentional – that much you remember – but what was the goal? Were you looking for your phone or about to make toast? Does someone in your family need a glass of water? Did you want to mark something on the calendar? Ahhh, there’s that school form you need to sign. That’s why you came in here. And also, maybe you’ll make toast.
Mom brain, friends. It’s an epidemic.
I remember my brain pre-kids. It was big and beautiful and it remembered facts and dates like nobody’s business. It thrived throughout university and increasingly challenging career moves. It would retain wonderful, quirky tidbits gained from all those hours spent watching Jeopardy on the couch with my significant other. Today, it’s all of those things but both busier and sort of scrambled. It hasn’t melted, but it’s definitely been shaken up. Also, I stand aimlessly in my kitchen on a regular basis, so there’s that.
But what is mom brain, exactly?
How does neuroscience explain this common phenomenon, and can it be reversed? I do not know because I am not a scientist, and this is not Scientific American. That said, I can offer a little view into the mind of the average mom. You’re welcome and also, if you relate, I’m very sorry.
What are we going to have for dinner tonight? Do I need to go to the grocery store?
Did my kids take their vitamins this morning?
Was there enough protein in that school lunch? Will everyone be hangry after school?
Have I eaten? Am I drinking enough water every day?
Is that a poppy seed on the counter or a small bug? Do we have bugs or just eat a lot of bagels? Oh good, it’s just a seed. Hey, wait – are we out of bagels?
I should clean the fridge.
When was the last time the kids saw the eye doctor?
I should book them a dentist appointment, too.
Does the Tooth Fairy have to pay more for teeth that were extracted at the dentist?
When do their health cards expire?
Don’t forget to change over the laundry or it will get musty and you’ll have it re-wash the whole load.
Did I pay for that field trip? Yes, I did…better mark it on the calendar.
Am I putting enough money in my kids’ university fund?
Am I saving enough for retirement?
When was the last time I had a pap smear?
Lizzo is badass and empowering and talented and therefore totally ok for my kids to listen to, but also, are these lyrics super age-inappropriate? How do I explain what “I don’t wanna ho no mo” means to a nine-year-old?
The kids are going to need new shoes soon. Keep an eye out for sales.
We are almost out of milk and bread. Get some.
You should start reading that novel you picked up for book club.
You need to order more contact lenses soon or you won’t be able to see or drive or work or function.
Dammit, income tax season is coming. Get that paperwork ready.
Oh, and remember to buy tea tree oil because lice is going around the school.
FML if I get lice.
What is new math? Is it harder than regular math or have I always been bad at math?
How much can I spoil my kids without actually “spoiling” them, as in absolutely ruining them by creating a horrific sense of entitlement?
Who is Diamond Steve and my does my kid care so much?
Why are there so many rocks in my kid’s backpack? Is he a budding geologist or a hoarder?
By letting my kid’s hair be overgrown and wild because he likes it that way, am I encouraging his self-expression or just being lazy and neglectful because it checks “take son for hair cut” off my stupid-long “to do” list?
When The Pixies wrote “Where Is My Mind,” was it inspired by a mom? It had to be. I could have written that song. Man, The Pixies are great.
If I’m relatively successful in my career despite living with mom brain AND a longstanding system of patriarchy, how successful would I be if I were a childless man?
Who is the father of Mindy Kaling’s baby? I know it’s probably not BJ Novak but I really want it to be BJ Novak.
Why am I standing in the kitchen again?!
And finally, this unexpected internal dialogue:
Why are there 12 pairs of clean underwear hidden in the couch cushions? Why on earth is my child hiding underwear in the living room? At least they’re clean…but seriously, why? WTF, kids.
This chaotic stream of information enters and exits my brain in the span of an hour or so, and it’s been on a constant loop every day for almost ten years. Do I have the answer to any of these questions? Some of them, maybe, but I’ll probably forget. However, in the wise words of Michael Scott: somehow, I manage. We all will. One day, when our kids have grown up and flown the nest and we’ve caught up on years of lost sleep, we’ll sit quietly and think a single thought and realize, hey – that was almost uninterrupted. It will feel like a beautiful spring flower blooming after a long, cold winter, and it will be glorious.
Or maybe we’ll just stand in our kitchens forever. Like I said, I’m no scientist.