I got good grades in high school and always wanted to be the leader or president of every club, but I wasn’t the smartest person in my grade by a long shot. I didn’t go to Harvard, get any advanced degrees, or even get promoted before leaving the workforce due to illness and then to have kids. I used to have thoughts, though. Like, fully formed ideas, if you can believe it.
When you have kids your childless friends pull away a little. It’s totally normal — we are just in different seasons of our lives and temporarily have less in common. Becoming a parent is a 24-hour gig, even when you go back to work, so forgive us for bringing up our kids or quoting mommy bloggers instead of Nietzsche because that is literally our whole life now. Everything is in relation to the kids. After we put Susie to bed we watched The Queen’s Gambit but had to keep the volume low because she’s a light sleeper. We haven’t been able to try the new tapas place because our sitter is out of town. I haven’t tried the new curling iron because Kayden keeps spitting up over my shoulder and into my hair (there’s always one kid named Kayden).
Perhaps your friends without kids are also taking a step back because it’s hard to understand you, period. Not just the life choices, but the garbled muck coming out of our mouths. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture to get people to confess to their crimes, so excuse me if I start a sentence and then stare blankly at the pacifier in my hands because my mental train has jumped the tracks. My vocabulary has been reduced to vague placeholder words like “thingy” and “doohickey” and my husband often has to jump in and help me explain myself. He is also sleep deprived but maintains his vocab through daily legal writing, thank goodness. At least one of us can converse with the outside world.
There is so much crammed into my mind about meals and chores and school calendars and shot records and generally keeping my children alive that a lot other stuff just sort of…falls out. Like the time there were only two events on my calendar for eight months and I scheduled them for the same day. Or when homeschool was asynchronous and we had to sign on for attendance at different times for each student and I somehow got them switched in my mind and ended up missing both check-ins. I had to write both teachers apology notes and confirm that we were indeed completing classwork all day but between the multiple projects for each kid I lost track of time and signed in to the wrong class at the other’s timeslot.
No one likes to be interrupted while they work, but I swear writing is the biggest hurdle in this house. Anyone who has written so much as a thank-you note and been disturbed mid-sentence can attest to this particular challenge. If I’m trying to use my limited selection of big girl words to create something better than usual in the midst of glue bottle clogs, diaper changes, spilled water cups, tantrums, and breaking up territorial brawls, I will get lost and have to reroute once per paragraph. My ideas flit in and out and if I don’t put them down immediately they evaporate, so being called away to fetch snacks or wipe butts means another plan forgotten, another phrase undone.
Today I lost a jar of pickles. A brand new unopened jar of dill slices that I picked up curbside from the store on Saturday. I went to make my son his favorite sandwich for lunch today and there were no pickles in the fridge. First, I obviously blamed my husband for forgetting to order pickles, but then I remembered telling him not to. Well no, that’s a lie — I went to show him the damning grocery list I’d made which included pickles to prove he was guilty of forgetting to buy them, but “pickles” was crossed out with my very own pen since I got them myself when I ordered Easter eggs for my son’s class. Never leave a paper trail.
Once I admitted I had bought them and my husband wasn’t at fault (a bitter pill) I looked in the pantry and couldn’t find them. I feel like I have looked everywhere, though since I never found them I obviously haven’t looked absolutely every place because where are the damn pickles? How does one lose a big green jar? I have a writer-friend with three kids who once lost a block of cream cheese, and today I’m thinking we are soulmates. There just isn’t enough brain space for the care and feeding of three children and the complete fictional worlds we’re creating for our projects. Even when I’m working on nonfiction personal essays, I’ll be hashing out the way I want to explain something, get interrupted, and not even remember where I was headed. I’m just lucky I didn’t lose something that would eventually rot and start to stink in whatever corner of the house my brain thought to hide it.
What I want to say, before I get interrupted again, is that my writing is a hobby. If I get distracted and don’t post anything today, nothing will happen. For parents working from home doing jobs that pay the bills, I don’t have any earthly idea how that’s happening right now. Not just parents who usually work from home, but the folks supervising homeschool and putting out emotional fires all while trying to accomplish even the simplest tasks. You finally get a good rhythm and, oops! It’s lunch time in PreK. Sort out lunch and sit back down, and then the big kid needs help writing his own essay. And the little one needs a new diaper and also to cry in your face for a while. My brain has a lot of tabs open, and they are crashing and freezing intermittently.
So pour one out for the work-at-home/virtual school parents. They’ll accept a toast in their honor, and then forget the drink on the counter for three hours while putting their kids to bed until they stumble across it late at night, thinking, “where did this come from?”