Bollocks to baby brain coverIf you were smart before you had kids, you don’t need me to point out that you still are. There are a lot of childbirth horror stories out there but I’ve never heard of a labour so gruesome that the hospital cleaner was left fishing the mother’s brain cells out of the birthing pool. So why do some of us feel so intellectually inadequate after we’ve had children?Is inadequate quite the word? It’s not just a cerebral thing. It’s bigger than that. For some of us it’s feeling as if we’re not quite such a whole person as we were before.

Some days – for me we’re talking most days – there’s no time to read; to sleep; to chew my food; or to finish a conversation, a sentence, even a thought. This constant state of busyness sometimes leaves me feeling not quite present. I’ve learnt to un-prick my ears when I catch a sound that piques my interest because I’m meant to be listening out for wailing. I’m lucky to live on the edge of the Peak District but, even on those too-rare occasions when we’re all out in it, I seldom pause to inhale the earthy scent of heather; and my eyes don’t feast on the blazing horizon for long – because I’m too busy child-herding. I’m on edge: spend too long in the moment and my intrepid little charges might gobble fistfuls of poisonous berries or trot towards a rocky precipice or at least into a covert mound of dog poo. These days I’m so busy dashing about keeping family life ticking over – feeling like I’m too stretched to do anything well – it’s no wonder I sometimes feel a bit off centre.

And I am always on the back foot when I bump into an old friend or colleague who idly wonders what I think about that new Hilary Mantel book or the international community’s strategy to combat ISIS.

It’s just time! That’s all there is to it. Of course motherhood doesn’t erode your intelligence but, if you’re not a force of superhuman efficiency, it will snatch every last millisecond of your time. Oh, what wouldn’t I give for some time? Not a child or any of the cats; realistically not even a limb… But definitely a finger. Maybe two or even three. So long as they’re from my left hand.

Every year as my birthday approaches, my audible sighs get more doleful. I don’t mind getting older. (No really: I love the fact that these days people imagine my exhaustive knowledge of the Radio Four schedule and my steadfast evasion of Big Nights Out on the Town is a factor of my age rather than realising the grisly truth that I was born this way.) No, it’s not ageing, it’s the birthday presents that depress me. Because if anyone is kind enough to ask how they could spend money on me, I can think of nothing, nothing at all, that I stand much chance of ever carving out the time to enjoy. I’ve always wanted to spend my money on doing, not having. I’m far from frugal but I don’t really want the stuff. (It doesn’t help that our home is one size up from my children’s wendy house and we only avoid asphyxiation-by-clutter on a strict one-in-one-out policy.) But I only really want the experiences: to read the books; watch the films; go on holidays I’ll never forget; have amazing days or nights out when I taste something new that makes me feel alive: intimacy, culture, food, fear, rebellion, something magical, something wild… If I could tell you quite what I’m after I’d have already lost it…

Well it doesn’t matter anyway because I can’t have it. Not right now. And when, in the blink of an eye, my life changes and I get it all back again, I’ll be sobbing into my pillow at the knowledge that my lovely, lovely, chubby, darling little toddle-tots don’t want to snuggle onto my shoulder anymore or give me their newly-found pebble or hear ‘just one more chapter’. Because soon – so soon if you heed the warnings of those who know; the smiling but pensive grannies who shimmy past us in the supermarket murmuring ‘it seems like yesterday’ – they’ll be more than happy to give me time to do whatever I want. If I’m lucky I’ve got a decade before my daughters will spend every minute they’re awake craving the attention of their friends or – I’m not quite ready to even say it – their more-than-just-friends… Honestly – I’m fine… damn hayfever!

So the moral of the story is: yes it’s great to live in the moment but enjoy the actual moment life has dealt you rather than aching for a different one. For, to cite the mantra of all parents, this too shall pass.

Well I have to accept that ‘me time’, for now, is in short supply. But I want to retain my sense of self – and more importantly to sound like I know what I’m talking about when I’m trying to appear professional or catching up with someone who’s not impressed by mummy chat. So what do I do? I cheat. I bluff. I stop just short of outright lying. Like any good housewife in a time of austerity, I learn how to make a little go a long way. And I want to share my Intellectual Treats for the Time-Starved Mother with you.

Every Friday at Still You we’ll be sharing with you our up-to-the-minute round-up of What’s been going on this week that you really ought to know about and ideally have some sort of well-informed opinion on. That’s a working title. Anyway it’ll be a super-short and easy to read bluffer’s guide to sounding like you know what’s going on in the world – with news, some culture, maybe some gossip and a few choice lines to toss into the conversation like toasted pumpkin seeds into a crisp salad.

Watch this space. The first Friday Five (that’s better isn’t it?) starts on Friday.

4 comments on “We say… bollocks to the baby brain!”

  1. Love it! You’ve summed it up nicely Charlotte and you’re so right, it will pass so treasure every moment. I still feel guilty actually sitting down for my breakfast and not doing something ‘useful’ at the same time, feed baby, pack lunch, get dinner out of the freezer, feed the cat, wash the dishes, no dish washer in my day! Oh my kids are in their 30’s now, plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. (Can’t find French accents sorry). Looking forward to the Friday Five

  2. Oh dear, I can see buying you a Christmas present this year will be difficult. How can I put a couple of free hours in a nice box for you? I still remember that stage, one at school and the other one barely toddling and wouldn’t go in the pushchair, took best part of an hour each way to school morning and afternoon, plus shopping, washing, ironing, cooking, the list goes on.
    Good article

    • Thanks, Auntie Chris! Sorry we’ve only just seen your comment and fished it out of our over-zealous spam bay! I would love two free hours for Christmas! If you do develop some magical time-travel/time generation powers between now and then, I volunteer to be the guinea pig to try it out! X

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