Mommy Brain

I’m a mom. I suffer from “mommy brain.” A loose definition of this malady would include forgetfulness, a constant look of distraction, something akin to attention deficit disorder (ADD) when a) having a conversation, b) cleaning the house, and c) shopping or otherwise being in public, acute exhaustion, sudden bursts of uncontrolled joy followed by deep, almost manic moments of despair and/or anger. Physical indicators for “mommy brain” include a wardrobe full of torn, stained, and super comfy cotton clothing, a pervasive pony-tail, and make-up limited to chap-stick. Like other ailments, “mommy brain” is not consistent; some days are good, others are horrific. It all depends on outside factors, many of which seem to be uncontrollable, irrational, unpredictable, and delicate.
Before I became a mommy, I watched other moms in grocery stores or at the mall and shook my head. “Really? Can’t you manage better than that?” seemed to be my professional and naïve reaction. “I’ll never do… be… say… (fill in the blank here) THAT when I become a mom.” Yeah, well. So much for that. I’ve worn less make-up in the nearly 5 years since my son was born than I did the in the 35 years prior to that. And “mommy brain” has taken such a strong hold over my body that I can’t even finish making a bed without bouncing from about 7 other activities along the way. I have been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on, smeared on with food, paint, and plant matter, used as a Kleenex for a runny nose and for drying tears, used as a napkin, a jungle gym, a pillow. Sometimes I am a tree to swing from, a diving board to launch from, a safety net.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Motherhood has inducted me into a wonderful club. An elite few (well, probably not so elite or few) who have an amazing comradery built out of empathy, sympathy, and the need for survival. Earlier today, I spent some time with my son, some of his friends and their mommies at the park. One mommy who had a particularly challenging morning due to the atypical behavior of her son clipped, “Parenting is really hard.” We could all relate. There was an audible sighing of agreement as each of us hit the TEVO button in our heads and replayed our own challenging moments from recent history. It was a moment where we should have all laid hands on the mommy and prayed over her and her son, adding our own selves as needing grace, patience, and wisdom. As we were getting ready to leave, one little boy realized he had lost a piece of a toy his father had given him. Completely distraught over this knowledge, the little boy began sobbing. The mommies all began scouring the playground, raking the tan bark, circling the sand box, combing the grass. As the minutes passed, the little boy’s mom said, “This is like finding a needle in a haystack.” Ready to go, we all agreed, promised the little boy we would look for it the next time we came to the park, looked at his sad little face, and… went right back to our search. Amazingly, another mom found the piece in the grass and joyfully we went home! Moms are special people.

I was flipping through a book by Max Lucado recently, You Were Made to Make a Difference, and in it I stumbled across a fable. In the story, the captain and crew of a ship get blown off course and “discover” a series of uncharted islands. As they visit each of the islands in turn, they are saddened by the warfare, lack of education, poverty, and disease they encounter. But when they arrive at the last and largest of the islands, the populace seems content, well-fed, healthy. Why? The chief of the island explains that Father Benjamin educated them on all kinds of things from governing to building roads to establishing medical clinics to farming. The captain is eager to meet Father Benjamin and requests he be taken to see where Father Benjamin lives. First, he is taken to a medical clinic where he sees clean beds, shelves of medicines, and a friendly, educated staff. But seeing no Father Benjamin, he repeats his request to be shown where Father Benjamin lives. He is next taken to a series of ponds and canals where the islanders can fish for food. Jobs abound here but there is no Father Benjamin. A third time, the captain makes his request and this time he is taken to the top of a mountain where there is a chapel. Inside, he sees a cross, some benches, and a Bible. The chief whispers, “He taught us about God.” Growing irritated, the captain demands to meet Father Benjamin. The chief explains that will be impossible as Father Benjamin died several years ago. The story ends like this: “The confused captain stares at the men. ‘I asked to see him and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death.’

‘You didn’t ask about his death,’ the chief explains. ‘You asked to see where he lives. We showed you.’”

This beautiful story struck me as I thought about the ways in which we build each day a lasting memorial within our children. What will that memorial look like? Will it be clean, well-stocked, friendly and healing? Will it be profitable, sustaining, adding meaning and value to life? Will it be spiritual, bringing hope and good news to the world? In the midst of those challenging days of mothering, monuments are being built, patterns of behavior are forming, clay pots are being shaped and filled. Are our words and deeds as mothers positive, encouraging, affirming? What about the women, the mothers, who shaped and built memorials within you? What do those memorials look like? How have they shaped you?

Maybe, like Father Benjamin, mothers are missionaries in a strange, sometimes hostile world. What mothers build into their children may make the quintessential difference. Father Benjamin knew that he could help the people on the island through healthcare and job creation. But more importantly, he had to teach them about God. Without that as the solid foundation, he was only treating the exterior of the body, not the whole.

Maybe mommy brain needs to look less like chaos and more like purpose, God-driven and affirming. Maybe mommy brain needs to be more educating and less trivial, more focused and less erratic. Maybe mommy brain isn’t an affliction. Maybe it is a way of life, a calling, a mission field.

I need another cup of tea.

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