This is Your Brain on Noise

Parents: How tired are you?

Exhausted, right?

I thought so. But why?

Is she really asking me why? 

I am. But only because I just figured something out that I should have understood years ago. Yeah, my body is tired, but if I’m being honest, it’s my mind that could really use a 12-year nap.

Some of our exhaustion as parents is indeed physical. In terms of small children, it’s things like the endless clean-up and assistance factor. With babies, it’s sleep deprivation. Lugging an infant car seat around. Schlepping a stroller in and out of the trunk. The gear. The nursing. It’s tiring, for sure. But I feel like my body, most days, can handle the running around, the lack of sleep, the 1,363 lunges to pick up the dropped food and the toy that keeps hitting the floor, the wrestling of the baby into a jacket.

But what I’ve only recently put my finger on is the mental exhaustion of raising kids. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out.  Probably because cause-and-effect equations have never been  my strong suit. Or because I haven’t been able to hear myself think since 2007.

I’ve come to realize that my brain is completely dulled by noise. It sounds obvious, right? The constant hum, or roar, of noise in a house with kids. Sometimes, it’s in the background — a zillion consecutive bing bing bing bings of my son battling Stormtroopers in the family room. Or my daughter singing the first and only line she knows from the Frozen songs, over and over and over. Don’t get me wrong: It’s charming at first, when not drowned out by the baby crying or, on our best days, everyone competing with each other in one dysfunctional crescendo.

Other times, the noise is distinctly in the forefront, of course. The crying. The bickering. And, of course, the questions. You know, childhood.

When the day is done, I often sit on my couch in the stark silence for a few minutes so my brain remembers what that’s like. Did you hear that? It was the sound of wine hitting the bottom of my glass. It was the sound of my mindless magazine opening. It was the sound of me hitting Like on a few Facebook posts I read on an uninterrupted basis.

Yeah, of course I expect noise. It comes with the territory. But at some point, it began eating my brain and swallowing things like complete thoughts or witty remarks.

 

But it’s not just the noise that drives us to the brink of exhaustion. It’s problem-solving, mediation and debate. Why didn’t I pay closer attention to these subjects in college?

Solving complex equations, for starters. I read somewhere that a woman’s brain is like having a million browser windows open at the same time, and it’s true. Behold:

  • If I have to leave for school drop-off in seven minutes, do I have time to feed the baby, sign the school permission slip, set up the crock pot for dinner, move the laundry and make sure everyone is wearing jackets and shoes? But where are my keys?
  • If we’re going from school right to gymnastics this afternoon and I have nothing for dinner, can I get to the grocery store in a 12-minute window previously reserved for my shower? Seriously, where are my keys?
  • Do we like Juan Pablo as The Bachelor? Why can’t he properly secure his daughter in a car seat? Don’t the ABC producers see this?
  • How am I already an hour late for something that’s not happening for a week?
  • Milk money is due tomorrow. Why can’t I pay this online? Oh crap, I only have three more days left for my 365-day Zappos return. Pre-school Show & Tell is the letter I this week — WTF starts with an I? Can I put ice in her back pack? How about an infant? Yes, an infant! Then I could use that time to get my flu shot and stop by the cub scout store for that badge I have to sew on. Wait, do we have thread? Oh good, there’s my cell phone — in the fridge. How many Weight Watchers points are in a stick of butter? We’re out of chicken nuggets? Holy shit. AND WHERE ARE MY FUCKING KEYS?

I know I am far from alone in saying that I go to sleep and wake up with my brain firing like this. It is the anti-calm. Especially when it is repeatedly interrupted mid-thought by shoe tying and bathroom assistance requests.

I remember from my corporate days the feeling of my brain overloading with fluid information and critical facts to make a quick (and often expensive) decision. And, honestly, most days, the shit running through my head now is somehow just as stressful. I know that’s hard to believe. And I say this not to pit working moms against stay-at-home-moms, because I have been both, but to map out a frame of reference. {Unless you work for the woman who was my boss from 1999-2003, in which case, you win the stressful gold medal. Please step forward to retrieve it, along with your express ticket to heaven.}

 

If complex equations are not wearing you out, let’s visit the lost art of sibling mediation.

Today, for instance, I negotiated the following:

  • The safe release of a certain princess hostage from the grip of ninja warriors.
  • The share time of a singular and untouched-for-the-last-three-years toy car that is missing a wheel.
  • The distribution of vegetables between the pro-broccoli and the pro-corn set.
  • Possession of the remote control.
  • The replacement of an uncomfortable sock due to poor seam placement.
  • Selection of a bedtime book.
  • The order of entrance into the minivan.
  • Who gets the red cup today.
  • Bath or shower? Bath or shower? Bath or shower? OMG, PICK ONE.

I keep looking for my Diplomat license plates to arrive in the mail, obviously, but the UN seems to have lost my address. I need to follow up with them because those plates could probably get me some preferential placement in the school car line.

 

And, finally, debate. Why, oh why, did I not doggedly pursue a spot on the varsity debate team? I would be so much more eloquent and prepped in my rebuttals to the following broken record:

  • Wait…
  • Just one more minutes…
  • Can I just…
  • But…
  • But, but, but…
  • I just want…
  • Why can’t I have…?
  • I don’t want to…
  • It’s not fair…

It’s the phenomenon of most requests being met with some caveat, protest or level of resistance. On my best days, my responses are calm and textbookish and parental. On other days, they are emotional and tired and, well, parental.

 

I know it’s not just the sounds within my house that are exhausting. They echo off the walls in every family. And I’m sure these sounds and debates morph as kids grow. They change into real problems and issues beyond requesting a snack every 76 seconds or choosing exactly which cup should be for milk and not for water because who the hell knows why. I anticipate that weariness comes from very deep worries and debates escalate over truly legitimate concerns down the road.

And do I dismiss the noise of laughter, bad knock-knock jokes, a baby cooing and family room dance parties? No, I don’t. That noise reboots my brain when its levels hit that of the blinking red light on my phone battery {has anyone seen my charger?}

I appreciate that feeling like my ears are bleeding from the sound of my name being called is something I will miss when they no longer need me for every little thing. And that day will be here sooner than I can imagine.

But, in the meantime, I think it’s OK to feel exhausted and grateful for the tiny pockets of quiet between the madness.

 

 

 

 

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Treading Water

<Taps microphone>

Is this thing on? Does it still work? Is anyone out there?

Oh good.

That was a long blog hiatus for me — my longest ever. It wasn’t deliberate. I tried to come back sooner, but everything I typed looked something like this: Louaoiejnfwoiern xoiernwml owerucustiwern. More or less.

I’m a good swimmer. I have been since I was a kid. I know what it’s like to move quickly and effortlessly through chlorine or sea water. And I know what it feels like to stay in one place. To tread water.

Lately I’ve been treading water.

It doesn’t feel unsafe or threatening. It just feels like I’m staying still, putting in a lot of physical effort that is not allowing me to really go anywhere. Effort that has made me bone-tired.

The baby doesn’t sleep. In the ultimate bait-and-switch, he had been pulling ten-hour stretches of sleep for the month of September, and then he turned into the definition what the Internet details as four month sleep regression. Which has since extended into five month sleep regression. Those ten hours a night? Gone. Divided by about five. The kid likes to party.

And not just by moonlight. My sweet boy doesn’t want to miss a thing during the day either. A cat nap here and there, but that’s all the sleeping he’ll do.

Now, let me just say this: This child could not be any sweeter. He is a happy, smiling baby who melts my heart about 846 times a day.

But he won’t sleep and I am the human pacifier. And so I’m irritable and void of short-term memory and probably not completing logical sentences {see previous blog attempt reference above}. Add in two older kids who need me to be on top of my game and it’s more than my normal threshold of chaos here.

I’m forgetting a lot of things. Nothing disastrous. School forms. A bill payment or two. Oh and I’m the jackass mom at elementary school who has met you about five times still does not know your name. I can remember the parking spot we used in my childhood trip to Walt Disney World in 1982 {Goofy A-56}, but can’t recall which of my son’s classmates is your kid. It’s like being the guy from the movie Memento. Maybe I should take Polaroids and tattoo some key reminders to myself.

I’m cranky. And it’s not fair to my kids or my husband. But I am.

I’m behind. On life. Cleaning. Groceries. Laundry. Exercise. Holidays. My email inbox. All of it. Everything. If it is supposed to be happening, and I’m in charge, you can safely file it in the “pending” category, if I’m lucky. More likely, it’s in the “delinquent” file. Here is what the extent of my correspondence looks and sounds like every day:

I’m running late.

I’m running later.

Can we reschedule?

Sorry I missed it.

Was that today?

I misplaced it.

When is the deadline again?

 

Because I’m here, treading water. Watching my limbs moving — somewhere between fluidly and feverishly — yet staying in one place. To be clear: Not drowning — not even close. But watching the shore and trying to get a little closer.

Most of my kicking and flailing occurs between 4 and 7pm. These three hours, as most of you know, can feel like they last 12 days. The six year-old’s resistance to homework. Me holding flashcards in one hand, with a nursing baby in the other. My four year-old putting an ironic tiara on my head and asking me to play princesses in between first grade number line assignments. And some semblance of dinner prep {I use the term loosely} going very, very poorly in the background.

If I had a webcam hooked up, I’d tell you to grab a seat, a cocktail and some popcorn to watch some pretty compelling reality TV.

My husband has a long commute, so he usually can’t get back in time to help with the bath/bedtime madness. Now and then, he sends a text with the most magical and life-altering string of words: “Caught an earlier train.”  It’s not often, but sometimes it happens and it’s the world’s best surprise. Sort of like me taking the vacuum out of the closet.

Plenty of people have three young kids. Plenty have more. Some swim circles around me and others feel like they are sinking. And some are here with me, hanging tough in the deep end and waiting to feel like we are making progress. Like we are moving forward without kicking quite so hard.

I’m a lucky woman. I have a great family. And I the last thing I want is to wish this time away, because it is fleeting. It will all even out. I know this.

But, in the meantime, let me offer a blanket apology to every person I interact with. I’m sorry for the unreturned emails/texts/phone calls, the missed appointments, the tardiness to any and all things, the fact that I forgot your name again and anything else I’ve missed.

I’ll make it all up to everyone when I’m swimming at full speed again.

So, if you see me, please toss me a pair of swimmies. Or at least a more flattering bathing suit.

 

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The Secret Post-Baby Workout

You know what I love? Seeing those highly realistic Body After Baby articles in women’s magazines. And they’re even better when they have photos, aren’t they? Because a side of self-loathing goes a long way with the six total minutes I can spend daily, on average, reading on an uninterrupted basis.

Since the baby was born in June, I haven’t had as much time to work out as in the past. Something about the sum of a newborn,  lack of sleep, two older kids and everyone needing three meals a day just wins out over exercise.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that the guilt I have been feeling about this is misplaced. Because, you guys, I have been unknowingly getting a highly effective full-body workout, courtesy of my four month-old. Right in the comfort of my home.

It’s true! Have a look at the various aspects of my regimen:

Agility: Wrestling a tiny, resistant baby into a jacket is no fucking joke. If you think I don’t break a sweat and get my heart rate up by battling his freakishly strong limbs, you’re mistaken. Calories burned: 612.

Strength Training: I have some questions about the infant car seat. Let’s start with: Why the hell can’t I lift this thing? What are they using in the manufacturing process? Is it lead? It is, right? Look, I am no stranger to these seats. My two older kids used them — I have photos as evidence. But, when, for the love of all things holy, did the infant car seat start weighing about 78 lbs? I know I’m older now, but seriously? I feel like I’m hauling around my six year-old — and possibly a spare first grader — in that seat all day. And, as a result, is that a bicep pop I see? Why, yes. Yes, I believe it is. And that’s also my back going out and the sound of a chiropractor on speed dial from the minivan.

Cardio: Forget the Stair Master. Forget the Insanity DVDs. Because you know what starts to make one feel sweaty and insane? Dragging around a mountain of laundry that mutates into its own zip code and can be seen from Google Earth. Add in two flights of steps for each load and this is a serious calorie burner. Plus, my wine fridge is located on this well-treaded path, so I may — at times — be seen increasing my workout intensity by adding a bottle of dry white to the pile. It’s all about challenging yourself.

Speed Drills: Now, here is where the “put pacifier back in baby’s mouth before he wakes up the whole house at 4am” technique is really working for me. I can assure you that you have never seen someone go from horizontal REM mode to a full-on sprint so quickly. Although, without my contact lenses and in the dark, this portion of my workout has proven to produce the highest number of sports-related injuries. Damn walls.

Flexibility: I will spare you a visual, but the lengths to which I can stretch to avoid being hit by projectile spit-up or a rogue diaper-changing urine spray is astounding. Even circus-like. Because, damnit, if I have on a clean shirt, I am not going down without a fight. I am in the safe zone before you can say Lululemon.

Core: I know that baby carriers exist for the comfort and security of the child. And yes, the hands-free component for the parent is great. But do you have any idea what type of core strength is required to accomplish various tasks with an infant dangling from your person? Oh yes, I am undoubtedly working my core to its limit while bagging a week’s worth of groceries and loading them into the car with my squirming son strapped across my torso. P90X? Please. Until they add a component where you must bathe a four year-old with a crying infant hanging off of your mid-section during the proverbial witching hour, I call bullshit. Planking is for the weak.

 

Not to be left out of my in-home fitness pursuits, I should also mention that my older two kids have added tremendous value to these workouts. This happens mainly in the critical areas of repetition and mental endurance, which go hand in hand. Because until you have listened to a blow-by-blow recap of a Jake & The Neverland Pirates episode five consecutive times, you just haven’t trained the part of your brain that can tune out the noise and focus. {On wine.} In this capacity, my six and four year-old are the Bela and Marta Karolyi of athletic training. They will bring you to your knees.

 

So, forget the magazines. Forget the Maria Kang post-baby-body controversy. For all you new moms {or new-ish moms, or not really new moms at all} out there, I hope this helps to clarify just how fit we actually can get at  home all day.

Sure, the tight, vise-like grip that my ice cream addiction has on me could be hindering me from my goals. But just a few more nights of Pacifier Retrieval Sprints should put me right back on track.

 

 

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Just Them

 

I would not normally put the phrases “town pool” and “perfect day” together — for a variety of reasons that are probably obvious to you.

But it happened. Just as we were wrapping up summer.

I actually hadn’t been to the pool all summer. It has just been easier for my husband to take my two older kids most weekends because, really: The nonstop-nursing baby + two kids who are not strong swimmers + deep water + me + sleep deprivation = Not Good At All.

{That is the most accurately complex math I’ve ever performed, BTW.}

But anyway. Over Labor Day weekend, we all ventured to the pool. In addition to my husband, my mom and stepfather came too. So I had an army of reinforcements.

First order of business: Getting in the water with the two older kids. This was the summer my son started going underwater and really swimming. It was a long time coming and the difference was astounding. The confidence he had in himself was glowing. And he was dying to show me everything he could now do in the water.

The baby slept in his stroller — something he doesn’t normally do — and my husband stayed with him, while I was able to say to my oldest in the pool, “Yes, show me. Show me again. Yes, I’d love to see it again. Amazing! Look at you!”

I meant it sincerely, every time. Show me again.

Just you.

And my daughter wanted me to see how she puts her face in the water. How she floats on her back. And could I throw her in the air?

“Yes, show me. Show me again. Yes, I’d love to see it again. You want me to throw you in the air again? OK, again. And again.”

I meant it sincerely, every time. Show me again. I’ll throw you in the air again.

Just you.

And the baby slept and slept — while I had my only swim of the summer with my older kids.

Later on, I got the hand signal from my husband that the baby was finally awake and needed to eat. After the time we spent in the pool, the older kids didn’t seem to mind. {Plus, they had their grandparents as a captive audience.}

The baby ate and then sat with me while I lounged in a pool chair. It was 5pm and the temperature outside was perfect. He slept, again — a deep, sound sleep, on my chest — and a wonderful afternoon breeze came through. And I had this idyllic moment of the late summer air and the smell of an infant and the sound of him sleeping.

Just him.

And in those last moments of summer, I had finally done what I had tried so hard to do for the past three months — what I had beaten myself up over not being able to do: I had given each of my kids my total, undivided attention. With no stress. With no distractions. With no time limits.

And what they had given me was something far greater. They had given me indelible images of a perfect summer afternoon.

 

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It’s a Confetti & Lipstick Day

I have some really exciting news today. I’ve been waiting a while to share this.

NO, I’M NOT HAVING ANOTHER BABY. RELAX.

My eight week-old son finally gave me six consecutive hours of sleep. It was glorious. The colors of the world seemed brighter. Food tasted better. I completed full sentences. I considered throwing him a parade.

And while this is exciting news, it’s not THE exciting news I’m referencing. Although this full night of sleep helped confirm that I wasn’t hallucinating when THE exciting news happened.

I’m in another book!

Yes, back in the days when I only had two kids and, apparently, more time on my hands than I was smart enough to appreciate beyond measure, I submitted a piece for this book and crossed my fingers. You can file that under Things That Would Never Happen Now That A Newborn Lives Here.

Anyway, I’m really grateful I was selected. I’m in fabulous company — take a look!

Now, I KNOW that you all finished off your summer reading lists just last night, and woke up today desperately searching for a brand new collection of light yet brilliant* essays. Can you believe our timing? Fucking impeccable.

And OF COURSE you are already on Amazon today buying back-to-school crap. So while you’re there, just clicky on over here for the Kindle version or here for the paperback.

Did you click yet? OK, good. You’re the best.

Oh, wait. Just a little disclaimer for my craft-minded friends. My essay, as you’ll see pretty quickly, is firmly in the anti-craft camp. In fact, it’s called Confessions of a Craft Hater. Because it’s important for me to own up to this. I hope we can still be friends.

So that’s THE exciting news.

Now I have to go and pay for the bragging I did about the baby sleeping for six consecutive hours. I’ll be up until Sunday if anyone needs me.

______

*my essay does not fall in the brilliant camp

 

 

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