Here is but one apparent difference between the male mind and the female mind: Focus.
Whether my husband is seated at his computer writing code, reading news articles or sending imaginary mercenaries to their virtual deaths, his focus is total. There is nothing tentative or casual in his appearance, sitting there, completely absorbed in the contents of his LCD screen. Nothing short of the smell of burning flesh really is really likely to intrude on his concentration. This is why it never really works out when he suggests that I go lie down and relax while he keep track of the kids. (Or at least why it works only if nothing is required of the kids other than their not burning to death.)
Conversely, whether I am writing, cooking or conversing with a particular child, my brain is wired to continue to receive sensory information about everything else that is going on at the same time. Hence my dinner preparations are nightly interrupted multiple times by instructions to my three sons to get off their I Pad or stop talking to their brother in that condescending tone of voice or explain to me their plan to complete their book report on time. My writing is interrupted by homework questions. My conversations with one child are derailed by the sudden need to discipline another for tracking mud all over the carpet.
I have situational ADD. I can't really read a full page of text anymore without distraction, even if left completely alone. I'm listening for children fighting while I should be sleeping, or planning grocery lists while I'm washing my hair. I'm blogging while I'm supposed to be reading my kid to sleep.
I know that this situational ADD is familiar to all mothers with children still at home. I do wonder, however, if certain other mothers manage to maintain attention long enough to experience more sense of accomplishment than I do. Right now, the primary tangible accomplishment I can claim at the end of any day is dinner, which is prepared nightly with strict attention to taste and nutritional guidelines, and then consumed as if by a pack of indifferent hyenas who, far from being grateful, are pretty much pissed that we are out of Bacon Bits.
Alarmingly, I've observed that my mothering seems a bit patchy lately. For instance, I forgot to have my youngest son have a social life. It is unfortunate that somehow this is up to me, given my proclivity for shyness, but I gather than I should have scheduled a play date for him sometime during this school year and this hasn't crossed my mind until five months in. Another similar problem is that my oldest son is supposed to register for high school in four weeks, and I have totally forgotten to freak out about this and gather all the information in the world ahead of time. It all seems to take so much energy.
I want to say, in my defense, that I am devoting a lot of time and attention to my blogging, and that this is what is absorbing my mothering energy, but the evidence would suggest that I am devoting more time and attention to Twitter than to actually writing. (The use of Twitter was supposed to cause my page views to explode, but it hasn't, so it is probably just another source of distraction. I think I'm doing it wrong.)
To my relief, I think that I am still doing my paying job with full attention and effectiveness. However, given that I work only 26 hours a week, it seems like I should probably be able to be productive in some other way as well.
I would like to feel that I have total command of the responsibilities I have assumed. This is not working out.
Thirteen years ago, I was lying in my bed with my infant son, watching TV and feeling utterly depressed. It was spring in Northern California, it had been raining forever, and we had moved to a new neighborhood, far away from my old friends. I was twenty-two, a new mother, and my husband was commuting to work every day, leaving me for hours and hours alone with a child whose one goal in life was to climb everything. It was 11 A.M. and I was still in my nightgown, having never bothered to get dressed, when I heard a knock on my door. I went to go answer it, and outside there stood a woman in a long waist-less dress, with a halo of untamed, frizzy brown hair and an air of authority. She told me her name was Amy, and she was going door to door inviting people to a potluck dinner to build community.
At that particular moment in time–at the advent of that knock–my life started to define itself around a central meaning again, something I chose. Amy swept me up in her community-building activities and in the meanings that surrounded her, and I moved away from that horrible uncomfortable crack in the table I had fallen into it with my new motherhood (you know, the cracks in between table leaves where all the crumbs stick to the nastiness–the place where nothing is ever clean) and toward something that felt like my own.
I have to remember that moment today because I have fallen into the damn crack in the table again, although this time it's just been a couple of weeks I've spent there–just feeling like all the gunk in the world is sticking to me and nothing will ever make me clean.
I am ready for the next knock on my door to remind me what I am here for.