Just over 18 years and several I.Q. points ago, I considered myself reasonably intelligent. I had gone to college and started in the workforce. I spoke in complete sentences, could carry on a decent conversation, kept up on what was happening around the world, and remembered people's names. I was even a Trivial Pursuit wiz and could answer questions on Jeopardy.
Then I had children. Once I gave birth to my first child, I kissed my brain (as I knew it to be) goodbye. It was as though my mental intellect had been sucked out through the umbilical cord. But I should have seen it coming. I watched it happen repeatedly to other women I knew. As they had babies, they struggled with what few brain cells were left to them. I soon joined their ranks, and the arrival of each child has assured my place in the 'mindless' sorority of mothers. In fact, I think with 9 children, I must be some sort of honorary member.
Oh, we desperately try to cover it up by putting on a face of confidence and intellect. At every opportunity, we bring up our past successes, education, career history, honors, awards, anything to create a facade of intelligence and assurance. But then what comes out of our mouths? Choppy words, incomplete sentences, incoherent mumbles, and uncomfortable pauses. Not only can I not remember people's names, but sometimes I break into a sweat desperately trying to remember who I'm calling on the phone before the person on the other end says, "Hello." The worst is walking into a room and forgetting what I went in it for! No. What's even worse is my eight-year old following me to that room, knowing that she'll have to remind me what I went there for. So very humiliating.
But, all of this, along with the fact that I can now barely answer the questions on Sesame Street, let alone Jeopardy, doesn't bother me that much. And I can live with the fact that I've left the grocery market with everything but what I went there to buy the last eight out of fifteen grocery trips. Nor, does it bother me so much that sticky notes have become my life-line and are found all over my house and car, becoming a decor accessory. No, what bothers me the most is the one shameful, inexplicable brain malfunction that seems to afflict all of us mothers like a curse . . . I can't remember my own children's names!
Oh sure, I remember them right now. That's because right at this moment, my children are all at school. And I can also remember their names when they're asleep. Unfortunately, in only two significant types of circumstances do their names seem to escape from my mid-40's, mother-of-9 brain: when they're either awake and/or in my presence.
Yes, of course, I do know their names! After all naming them was no easy task. Nor was it forgettable. Name comprimising with my husband would have put cold war arms negotiations to shame. I just can't accurately, nor consistently, connect a name to the person it belongs to, then transfer it from my brain and out of my mouth.
In the heat of the moment, I struggle as I stumble through a string of verbal noises that resemble the beginning sounds of their names. The more emotional I am, the more incoherent I become. And oh, by the way, my husband and I thought it would be clever to use "M" names for all but one of our children. Yeah, real clever, huh? So you take a generous portion of Melissa, Madison, Mallory, and Mariah. Then add some Matthew, Marisol, and Mason. Next insert a Kristin, and . . . voila! You have an extraordinary blend of lingual confusion. Just to liven things up a bit more, I throw in the dog's name every now and then.
Each of my children have their own way of living with their mom's shortcomings (and I have many). And when it comes to forgetting or confusing their names, they each take it in stride. My 16-year old daughter has shared her coping strategy with the others saying, "If she's not looking at you, don't answer." Another daughter finds it humorous listening to who I call what. Or is it what I call who? Another teenage daughter doesn't mind as long as I don't do 'it' in front of her friends. And it's heartbreaking to look into the confused and concerned face of my youngest son, when he asks, "Mommy are you okay? You forgot my name again."
The worst happens at dinner as we try to enjoy some 'quality time' forcing our younger children to eat. I turn to Mason, "Mal, Math, M--," then pointing to him, "You! Eat your dinner!" Then to Marisol, "Ma, Maso, Matthew! You need to sit down and eat!" To which my daughter heaves a sigh of disappointment, then rolls her eyes as she informs me, "Mom, you called me Matthew again."
So okay, I've come to accept the fact they might be in therapy the better part of their lives or someday sharing their childhood anguish of identity confusion on a daytime television talk show. But they know I love them with all my heart and would lay down my life for them. Right? And in the light of enternity, does it really matter? Okay, don't answer that. Doesn't the development of eyes in the back of my head, mother's intuition, and multi-tasking juggling make up for it?
My only solace is the fact that I'm not alone. I see mothers all around suffering the same fate. It doesn't matter how many children they have, how long they've been a mom, or their life circumstances. My own mother, my mothers-in-law, and my sister all share the pain. Mothers all over the world endure this plight that can bring us to the brink of insanity. Except, that is, George Forman's wife. They named all five of their sons 'George." Now was that humorously eccentric or proactive wisdom? Sometimes I wonder.