Friday, January 28, 2011

Multi-Tasking Causes Mommy Brain

My mom is the queen of forwards. You know what I mean - one of those people who forwards every single e-mail anyone ever sends her - the religious stuff, the cutsy ones with kitties and puppies dancing around, the chain e-mails, the "if you don't forward this to 294 friends, disaster will befall you!" stuff, the political rants, the so-called safety alerts. True or not, she sends them on. (I keep telling her about snopes, but she just doesn't get it.) Over the years, I've learned to just hit "delete" when I see a subject line that says "FW:FW:FW:FW: true inspirational story!" But now and then, she hits the jackpot and sends me something that makes me laugh out loud.

Most recently, she sent me something called "A.A.A.D.D." or "Aging Adult Attention Deficit Disorder". (Now, seeing as she gave me Nora Ephron's "I Remember Nothing" and "I Feel Bad About My Neck", for Christmas, I'm wondering if my mother is trying to tell me something. Ahem. Thanks, Mom.) This particular e-mail was all about the aging person's forgetful brain, and how you scatter from one activity to another because you forget what you were doing at the time and get sidetracked easily. Sound familiar? Yeah, it did to me, too. But I'm not sure it has anything to do with aging. I think it has more to do with being a mom and having too much to do and too little time to do it.

I think it's Mommy Brain.

You want proof? Fine. Case in point, last Friday. I went to take a shower and realized it was time to clean my bathroom. I thought sharing a bathroom with my brothers in high school was bad, but now that I've been sharing with a boy for 12 years, I realize I had it pretty easy then. My husband's mirror is covered in what I can only guess is stuff that came off his teeth while flossing; his sink has what my girls call "boy spit" in it, and I'm pretty sure he never wipes down the counter after he shaves. When my girls use my bathroom, they refuse to use his sink and fight about who gets to use mine. And I can't say I blame them.

But I digress.

So there I was, armed with my blue cleaning gloves and a bottle of bleach. Realizing that I was out of Clorox wipes, I returned to the kitchen to get more, and noticed that I hadn't done the breakfast dishes yet. So I finished those, along with another cup of coffee, put the dish towel in the laundry room, and realized that I hadn't finished the laundry I started at 6:00 that morning. So I folded that, moved a load from the washer to the dryer, and took the kids' laundry upstairs so they could put it away after school. (Yeah, I make them do it themselves. Even a 3-year-old can put away her socks and pajamas. C'mon now.) While upstairs, I realized it was time to change their sheets, so I stripped the beds, grabbed all the towels from the kids' bathroom, fed their frogs and fish (not my job, but don't want the pets to die), found a lost library book, and turned off all the nightlights that had been left on. (My dad would laugh. I've become just like him.) Noticing that my sneakers were next to the treadmill, I decided to get in a quick workout and watch the Today Show - which sparked an idea for an article, so I went back downstairs to my computer to make some notes. By then, of course, I needed to move laundry from washer to dryer again, and fold the load that was dry, and then head back into my room to put it away. Then the phone rang at the same time as the doorbell, and I had a quick chat with a friend who needed to arrange transportation for her kids to practice that night while taking delivery of my husband's "protein shakes". (Another rant completely.) That led to a phone call to my husband to make sure he could get home early enough to pick up extra kids on his way to coaching the team practice, which led to his asking me to do some online banking and bill-paying that needed to get done RIGHT NOW TODAY. By that time, I was dying for a bathroom break (funny how long you can hold it when you get busy, huh?), so I headed back into my bathroom.

And that's when I realized that I STILL hadn't finished cleaning the bathroom that I'd started cleaning TWO HOURS EARLIER.

Am I the only one?

They call it "multi-tasking": the idea that we can (and should?) be doing several things at once, in order to accomplish more. Sometimes, it's necessary. I mean, I can nurse a baby while cooking dinner and talking on the phone. I can help both kids with homework while folding laundry and unloading the dishwasher. I can drive while refereeing backseat dramas over whose side of the car is whose and which kid gets to eat which snack. I can get both kids showered and in bed in less than 20 minutes, a job that takes my husband at least an hour. (Oh, wait. That last one has nothing to do with multi-tasking. It just annoys me that it takes him so long.)

But at other times, multi-tasking is just another way for me to feel inadequate. I can't truly pay bills while cleaning a bathroom while e-mailing a teacher while paying attention to my kids. I just can't. I'm always telling my kids to "finish the job," but what am I SHOWING them? Sometimes, I feel like I'm doing everything halfway and doing nothing well. And that makes me feel really bad. I want to be the kind of mom who gives my kids her full attention when they're talking to me; I want to be able to look at them, for them to feel I am fully present in the conversation. Sometimes, they'll have to wait, and I'll say, "I need 3 minutes and then I can listen to your story." And then I do. But I don't want to be an "uh huh" kind of mom. You know, where you say, "Uh huh, uh huh" as your kid babbles on and on about some really boring thing that happened at school. It IS boring, but at least she's telling me about her day! At least she WANTS to talk to me. If my friends with teenagers are right, the day will come when she won't.

Slacker Mom Says...multi-tasking is a crock. It's just a way for us to feel even busier, even more hassled and harried, even MORE inadequate than we already do! So I've decided to really limit my multi-tasking. Sometimes, it's necessary. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But I'm making a conscious attempt to focus on whatever task is at hand, to really listen to whomever is speaking to me, to get one thing done - and done well - at a time. And if less stuff gets done, so be it. If the laundry sits unfolded for a couple of hours, fine. My husband knows where the iron is, and he knows how to use it. If the dishes sit in the sink for another hour, I can live with that. And if I have to wait until tomorrow to clean the bathroom, I doubt my husband will even notice.

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