Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mom Vision

Being a mother twice-over qualifies me to chime in on a whole host of mom-related issues. Perhaps I give myself too much credit. But the way I figure it, plenty of non-moms are telling moms how it is, and how it should be. I’m at least as qualified as all y’all, I say. So hear me out.

One of my starkest realizations, as I spiraled deeper into motherhood, is that mothering changes the way I see the world around me. I’m not talking about the phenomenon of seeing other moms everywhere, or noticing the countless cute kid things I could spend money on now that I’m child-laden.

I’m talking about how living with children—say, when I’m cooking, or talking on the phone, or taking them somewhere outside my house, heaven forbid—changes how I perceive and absorb what’s going on.

This new way of seeing is not to be confused with a state of distraction. And this I state emphatically, for the mother, especially the stay-at-home mother (whose ranks I count myself within) is often as misunderstood and denigrated as she is loved. I mean, how hard can it be, right? All you have to do is watch the kids all day!? Oh, gentle reader, were it that simple…

Take my trip to Ye Olde Muffler Shoppe a couple of weeks ago. As I herd my two boys into the shop, Half Pint is caught off guard by the New Situation, which can balk a toddler as quickly as a housecat suddenly finding a dingo in the house. Half Pint whimpers, shields his face from the other waiting customers, and immediately wants me to pick him up. When I hand over my keys, he’s wise, even though he can’t see the countertop, and starts calling, “Car, white car, white car,” in a distressed tone. “Mama home. Mama car.” He senses trouble.

Little Bit, the darling sack of potatoes on my hip, gets interested in things and starts squirming. As I try to explain my car’s symptoms, the when-where-and-how, hoping to guide Muffler Man’s prognostication, I simultaneously try to keep Half Pint and Little Bit calm and cool. At this point I’m holding both of them, trying to keep them happy, as I continue talking with Car Man. As we manage out the door, I silently say to myself, “Ahhh. Crisis averted.”

This situation is remarkable only in its ubiquity; it replays itself whenever we go to the grocery store; doctor’s office; any store; church; restaurants; friends’ homes. You name it. And I’m sure countless other moms are out there, trying the same aversion tactics. The best way I can describe it is that only half of my brain is engaged in whatever I’m trying to do, and my eyes only occasionally focus in the same direction at once. Though my visage may suggest serenity, make no mistake: I’m constantly on damage control duty.

Multitasking? This may be what I do, but true multitasking is a myth. What I do, as a mother, is more like driving while trying to see clearly through bifocals. I’m trying to handle the immediate task at hand while also scanning the terrain for stormy weather brewing. Have you tried to coupon shop while managing two kids in the cart? I’m not sure if it’s an amazing feat or a sign of my own persistent haplessness. Depends on the day, I guess.

I know I do this because I notice how it’s difficult for my better half, who is easily frazzled by such situations—and rightfully so. I’m only marginally frazzled, and it’s mainly because I don’t have a choice. Like it or not, the groceries must be bought, the car must be fixed, and we simply must leave the house. And as a result, though Half Pint and Little Bit rarely melt down in a store, or at church, or at the library, I often do the most harebrained things. A few weeks ago I left groceries in my cart when I drove away from the grocery store. The kids, of course, were fine, strapped in and safe. But some of the groceries mysteriously didn’t make it into the trunk. It’s as if I just didn’t see them, didn’t really focus on the groceries by the time we arrived back at the car. My mind had refocused on more important things, ostensibly.

As a person who has long valued her solitary time—time to write, recharge, and generally spend time on whatever I wanted to focus on—this new way of seeing the world is unsettling…and necessary.

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