Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Two-Minute Vacation and Other Mommy Realities

Yesterday I blogged that my husband gets the raw end of the deal in our family: less creature comforts, less time at the park, less time with un-cranky children and wife. But I also promised to make a case for the hardships of the mommy. Honestly, I know which argument will win out. And I don't really even want to take a side in the battle of the sexes anyway. But let's just take a look at the downsides of motherhood for fun, shall we?

Yesterday I said that I haven't been to the bathroom by myself since 2004 (year of my firstborn's birth). That's a slight exaggeration. There have been times when I'm out on a date with my husband that I have had solitary stall time. There may have been a dozen times at home when all stars have aligned (one child is zoned out in front of the TV, one is with daddy) and I have got to shut the door. But in general, I usually either have an audience of one, or a small person banging on the door outside. Even so, some days, that's the only time I sit down, so I don't even mind so much.

I also wrote that I do a lot of thankless manual labor. Too true, my sisters. While my husband completes a project at work , gets a review, and possibly even a raise for good job performance, there are a thousand things I do every day that no one notices until they don't get done. And kids love messes. My youngest is never so happy as when she has just dumped out a whole bucket of potting soil and then tracked it through the house. The home is a never-ending spin cycle, and no amount of tips from Real Simple magazine will make it otherwise. To sit down in an uncluttered living room, or to see kitchen counters cleared off when we are not expecting guests: these are the fantasies of the stay-at-home mother.

But I have decided that the number one challenge for me as Mommy is the constant interruptions, not just of my activities, but even of my thoughts. Here's a profound (I think) illustration. When my daughter was two years old, following the popular wisdom of today, she got two minute time outs. I would set her up on a mat in the living room, and go set the timer in the kitchen. Then I'd start to busy myself with a task. As an entire sink full of dishes would go from clean to dirty, I would think, "Wow, I'm sure getting a lot done for some reason." Then I'd remember the timer, glance up, and see that there were still 15 second remaining.

Do you say what I'm saying, friends? When you become a mother, 90 seconds without someone asking you a question (Mommy, does God go to the bathroom?) or making a request (Mommy, can I have my 95th snack of the day?) feels like a long time to be alone with your thoughts! Ninety seconds! Incredible, fascist regime efficiency becomes the norm with a mom, because necessity dictates that anything you must finish, must be finished lightening fast.

This constant contact with your children has a great impact on your brain as well. At first you might call the phenomenon of saying "umbrella" when you mean "toothpick" breastfeeding brain (there is some research to suggest that hormone imbalance from nursing causes Alzheimer's like symptoms). But two years later, you refer to it simply as "mommy brain." I think the interruptions have more to do with it than sleep deprivation. A few years ago, an Ivy League study showed that people who stopped the flow of their work to frequently check e-mails temporarily lost IQ points as a result. Imagine how many IQ points I have lost in the last six years, when I can't even complete a sentence in my own head, let alone out loud on a telephone conversation.

There are days I watch Husband walk out the door,and think, "What I wouldn't give for a 20-minute commute with a cup of coffee and my own choice in radio stations." There are days when Husband comes home from work and needs some "transition time" when I want to say, "Dude, you just had 20 minutes alone in the car with ESPN radio. That's all the transition you're going to get. Now go get that naked kid off the table, while I go to the bathroom by myself."

So, the two-minute time-out vacation. Some days I live for those. The good news is, as they get older, time-outs get longer (one minute for every year they live). The bad news is, they get less frequent (which shows, I guess, that the timeouts are working). But as I implied yesterday, my life is so full of fun, touching and serendipitous days with the kids that being at home with them is really the only choice I feel I could have made. I'll save the recounting of those heart-melting moments for another, more mushy blog. For now I'll just say that truly, the uninterrupted life is not worth living.

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