A PhD in Mommyhood?

Mommy Brain.  We all know someone with it.  We all joke about it.  Any mom who has ever locked her keys in the car, left the milk under the grocery cart in the cart corral or who has said, “What?  (Some event) has happened in (insert name of country here)?!” know exactly what Mommy Brain is.

Or do we?

If I had the foresight years ago to scrapbook all the clever ditties I read about motherhood, I could tell you who derived my favorite factoid and how but since I can’t…Well, I’m going to tell you about it anyway.  Because it is just too good.  When my boys were babies, I read in Real Simple magazine that when women become mothers they get smarter.  At the time I was involved in a Mothers of Multiples group and when I brought this little bit of reassurance to a meeting of fried, overtired women, everyone agreed when a fellow member said:  “Smarter?  Overwhelmed and exhausted, yes.  But smarter?  No.”

If that bit of info came qualified with more detail, I could have argued the counterpoint.  But the article, a mere few sentences in length, didn’t offer up much support for itself.  Still, it’s an interesting tidbit.  One that I want to defend.  So forget the captive keys and MIA milk and consider these points:

A mom’s ability to pre-plan.  Which doesn’t only apply to the grocery list, although that’s part of it.  Mothers have to remember who has (school) library when.  Which child’s class needs treats for a party (a detail to remember at the grocery store, adding to the layer of pre-planning).  What day the kids need picked up from school for activities and remembering, for example, to pack the violin, the check for the instructor, the healthy snacks AND the piece d’ resistance:  stuff for those in the audience so they don’t interrupt by calling the budding musician “papier mache pants.”  Remember the photo I posted in “My Trunk, My Self” (April 2014) of everything we needed for a single two hour time period after school?  I had to plan it all out, with a handwritten list, a few days before.  No way could I have thrown all that together last minute.  And my husband would have been overwhelmed.  (Love you, Babe!)  But we moms?  Planning like this is all in a day’s work.

Mothers can organize in an out-of-the-box (pun intended) style.  We remember where we saw the beloved stuffed rabbit (in the fridge) right before bedtime .  We place the pencil holder not where the pencils should go but where they end up naturally.  And, given our kids obsession with tape and scissors, hide a private stash of both so we are never without on Christmas Eve.  And one last word:  LABELMAKER!!!  Either the contraption or the job title but most often, both.

Moms burst with a unique kind of creativity.  Kids definitely drive us to mental gymnastics that benefit them.  For example, think of the tricks we use to keep our offspring believing in Santa just one more year (Well, hear the bell…don’t you?…Yes, I’m sure Santa uses clones…there’s no way he can be everywhere at once!).  Or how that rickety old ladder collecting dust in the basement should just be thrown out, but it would make a really cool “reclaimed wood” display case for lego creations (how I wish that were my idea!).  And my absolute favorite example of a mom’s quick creativity: telling kids the candy shop they just wandered past is actually a candy museum.  

So we moms are challenged in a way academia can not: the way only our uniquely wonderful children can.  Don’t we deserve at least honorary doctorate status for that?  And if I were to write a thesis (or is it “thesus?”) for my Mommyhood Phd I would choose to defend two additional motherly talents:  1)  the mother’s inherent ability to dodge child vomit and dog pee while wearing heels and 2) quick responses to a pediatrician when chastised for feeding a toddler Cheerios (well-meaning doc: “Cheerios are a choking hazard!”  mom, continuing to feed the child Cheerios:  “Why?  There’s a breathing hole in them!!!”).  Because, it’s not just our mental prowess but our agility and sharp tongues that make us truly great and deserving of those colorful hoods doctorates wear.

And as for the ubiquitous “Mommy Brain.”  Its existence shouldn’t keep us from earning that hood (vomit-colored would be appropriate, am I right?).  Because even those with “PhD” after their names leave things like textbooks in odd places, like in the freezer.  Or they try skate boarding on Big Wheels or riding broken bicycles.  We all share brain hiccups, so please pass the diploma…with a side of spare car keys, sour milk and a newspaper.


Here is your brain.  Or part of it, anyway.  Mommy, PhD or otherwise, everyone's pretty much looks the same.

Here is your brain. Or part of it, anyway. Mommy, PhD or otherwise, everyone’s pretty much looks the same.

(Photo from the Atlas of Human Anatomy by Frank H. Netter, M.D., pub. Ciba-Heigy Corporation, Summit, New Jersey, copyright 1989.)



I hate to be cryptic instead of concrete but this time I need to be, to protect those involved.  For several months I have been ruminating over something, wasting my energies.  I was investing emotional currency into a situation I could only speculate about and it was unhealthy, draining and unproductive.

Then recently, a turn of events shed light onto the whole deal and things seemed to make sense…the reactions or lack thereof, avoidances and interactions that I tried to dissect came together to form a picture different from what I mentally painted.  What a relief it was to have some understanding even though it meant a sad situation was revealed.

And it made me think how important it is to give someone the benefit of the doubt and that we can never know for sure what pain others are experiencing.  The issue is likely not us, but something else entirely.  Even though all I did was steer clear and exercise caution in the face of the perceived situation, a quote I love reminded me that I should have risen above my frustration and behaved differently:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be kind.  Always.

(quote courtesy of iBelieve.com)

Happy Birthday! (Hold the Cake…)


A highlight of a child’s birthday is bringing treats to school.  The interruption of the school routine for personal attention, a “Happy Birthday” serenade complete with “Cha-cha-cha’s” and a decadent treat to eat drive my kids to plan this particular event not days, but months in advance.  Despite their intense pre-planning (motivation I wish would spill over to doing homework, cleaning their rooms….) the request from mom’s kitchen is predictable:  cupcakes with sprinkles or fancy toothpicks, please.  However this year my daughter threw a sweet curveball.  As some of her friends are on a gluten-free diet, she wanted gluten-free brownies to take to her class.  With her name “written” in M and M’s, please.  I love her unprovoked thoughtfulness on a day when most young kids develop an unsurpassed narcissism and was more than willing to indulge her request.  Plus these brownies are literally to die for.  No one misses the gluten-y goodness.

When I brought the treats to my daughter’s second grade class, two children rushed up to ask what was in the brownies. Continue reading

Sorry, Mr. Robbins, My Mind Just Doesn’t Work That Way

Good Wisconsin cheese, local coffee and a new book.  I almost put my ski boots in the picture but thought that would be weird.  Not weirder than riding in a roast turkey, though.

Good Wisconsin cheese, local coffee and a new book. I almost put my ski boots in the picture but thought that would be weird. Not weirder than riding in a roast turkey, though.

Life is short.  Too short to drink bad coffee (as is advertised by the coffee shop I’m sitting in right now), eat processed cheese and to not give downhill skiing a second chance (God help me).  Well, I tried and tried to get into Nurtured by Love, the account by violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki on his “talent is learned” philosophy, but have struggled through the first third of his 142-page book.  As my frustration grew with trying to learn valuable insights on our son’s violin method my husband told me

Life is short.  Read something you enjoy.

His advice got my attention.  Because when I tossed aside How the Mind Works after wading through a dry first chapter on mental neurology, he said I didn’t give the textbook-sized volume enough of a chance.  And when a Tom Robbins novel opened with newlyweds roaring down the highway in a roast turkey, I thought that was the dumbest thing ever (bye-bye, book) and my husband rolled his eyes.  So when his newfound live-in-the-moment-life-is-short perspective gave me permission to close the cover on yet a third book, I did. Continue reading

The Principal Always Rings Twice

What do parents and doctors have in common?  Call.  Which means we must have some sort of electronic gadget within easy reach (surgical attachment, anyone?) so the school or the sitter (or the hospital) can get ahold of us at a moment’s notice.  The only difference is parents must take this responsibility round the clock, not every third weekend or weekday (which, don’t get me wrong,  is plenty tough).   But like doctors, we parents can have a degree of superstition about how to ward off bad news delivered by phone.  For me, my mobile is always in my pocket or purse…even when I meet my kids at the bus stop after school.  Because inevitably, if I leave it on the kitchen counter, the school calls.  Without fail.

But doggone it,  the school has found a loophole in my strategy:  call while I am brushing my teeth in public. Continue reading



My younger son loves to play games.  And not surprisingly, he loves to win.  He is so driven in fact, that he is a flagrant, and I mean flagrant, cheater.  As in he grabs a handful of cards from a deck and chooses the one he wants, right in front of his opponents.  Or he tries to break the rules by announcing just that and then shoots us the I-am-so-guilty-but-maybe-they-won’t-notice look.

Therefore, my son has been dubbed “Sir Cheaterpants.”

Fortunately he is a good natured boy and takes the ribbing well.  But his inclination to “stack the deck” in his favor has me thinking:

Should we let our kids win? Continue reading

Runway Model?

My daughter running full "tilt" down the hallway of the gymnastic center annex.

I am barely five-foot four.  There is nothing in my closet with a designer label (unless Osprey and Merrill count).  I firmly believe my own flesh-and-blood heels belong no higher than a couple centimeters off the ground.  So I doubt anyone would mistake me for one of the genetic enigmas we call “runway models.”

But the other day, something happened that could change that. Continue reading

Learning the Language of Music (Yes, There are Strings Attached)


I first heard about the Suzuki method of musical instruction when my sons voiced respective interests in learning violin and classical guitar.  After we talked with both instructors, and observed their differing styles in response to our inquiries,  I grew curious about the methodology that tied these teachers together.  So enter the book for October 2014:  Shin’ichi Suzuki’s book Nutured by Love.  Suzuki was an accomplished Japanese violinist who astutely observed that children learn their native tongue through simple repetition.  He felt that by using the same approach, with an understanding that ability is learned and not innate, children could learn a musical instrument.  So over the course of many years he cultivated the Mother Tongue Method of music teaching.  This style of music instruction does come with “strings attached:”  parental involvement and presence during lessons is required.  This a given, I hope this month’s book will help me I gain a better understanding of how my son is learning violin so I can become a better support to his at-home practice.

Nurtured by Love discusses Mr. Suzuki’s process through his personal experiences as a musician and teacher.  And if he can shed any light on tuning a violin without breaking a string, I hope to learn that as well.  So far I’m only on Chapter two of his book, so stay, ahem, tuned…

Overscheduled, Underworked


My son left this note for me at breakfast. But I guess he was willing to wait a day so he could practice with his biking team…

I’m just going to come out and say it:

Kids need to work more.

They need to scatter legos and build, build, build.  They need to challenge each other with board games and don old clothes, pretending to be a Spy Kid, Dorothy from Kansas or Captain America.

If play is a child’s work, why don’t they get to do it more often? Continue reading

For the Remaining 88 Percent

In my last post “Twelve Percent of You Really Need to Read This Post” (September 25, 2014), I wrote briefly about what to say when someone confides they are struggling with infertility.  As I thought more about it and received some feedback, I’d like to expand on what I said.

We humans want to fix problems.  We become uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.  That’s just the way we are.  And when a loved one comes to us revealing a painful ordeal, we want to help and make things better.  But some things we cannot change or influence and infertility is one of those situations.  Even if we have been there ourselves.  So a conversation can be very hard to have.  And in the fight-or-flight response of helplessness,  it can be so easy to make a verbal misstep.

But remember, we are only human.

So let’s give ourselves a break.  Not try so hard.  If your sister, a cousin or a friend comes to you and needs to talk about their struggles to conceive, just be honest.  It’s okay if your response is I’m not sure what to say.  But I am sorry.  Think of it this way.  If someone has the courage and the honesty to come to you with such a personal frustration as infertility, they are giving you permission to also be honest.  Just listen.  Be upfront.  Be supportive.

That’s all you have to do .