Musings, Parenting

Mommy Brains are Not Dull Brains

Recently, a relative asked me when I plan on returning to work. I said that Casey and I haven’t really discussed a timeline, especially since we have not had a helper stay long enough for me to consider working full-time again. He then said that I haven’t worked for so long, and I might go stale. A few days later, a friend asked me if I experienced mommy brain. I asked her to clarify what that meant, and she said it’s when new moms become so overwhelmed with taking care of their babies that they lose touch with the world, and their brain deteriorates somewhat. I just looked at her and said, no, I’ve never experienced that, but deep inside I felt offended. Both instances revealed to me a condescension toward stay-at-home parents.

Child care has been undervalued for centuries, and sadly, it remains so to this day. I know a lot of people would still say that taking care of a child is not as mentally stimulating as being part of the work force. This notion is deeply ingrained yet sadly misinformed. It continues to be perpetuated by people who may not have had enough experience on both sides of the fence. Speaking as someone who has experienced both, I have several rebuttals to the idea that child-rearing is a mental walk in the park compared with corporate life.

  1. Many full-time jobs entail long hours of being idle. In the eight hours of work at the office, a good chunk is not actually spent being productive. I know that this is true for many in the corporate world. Now you may be thinking that staying at home with a child involves a lot of idle time as well. It could be so, but that would depend on the stay-at-home parent. At home, you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder to check that you’re doing office-related things, and so free time can be truly productive. When my baby is asleep, I often use the time to read, write, or trade stocks. Or sometimes I nap beside my baby, which is very productive as well.
  2. Many full-time jobs are unavoidably routinary. Daily tasks remain essentially the same, to the point that people merely go through the motions at work, and most actions become almost automatic. When you’re so used to doing certain tasks, your brain does not get that effective a workout. The same can be said for housework, but like I mentioned earlier, the amount of mental stimulation one can get varies depending on how much one actively seeks it. This actually holds true whether you have full-time office work or stay at home. The difference is that arguably, you have more leeway to plan your day at home, and so if you wish, staying at home can open up more opportunities to sharpen your mind.
  3. Raising a child involves a lot of brain activity. Meal planning, creative storytelling, singing and dancing, exploring—these sound fun and easy, but they require resourcefulness, innovation, patience, and discipline, which are high-level mental and emotional exercises. “Mommy brains” are not dull brains. They are brains that are challenged every day by their boss babies. Can’t take my word for it? Science is on my side.

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

To be clear, I’m not saying that being a stay-at-home parent is more mentally challenging than having a full-time office job. I’m just saying that both roles can be mentally challenging, and that assuming that staying at home with the kids equals rotting brain cells is wrong. For those who think being a mommy doesn’t exercise the brain, well, just imagine taking care of a human other than yourself, and on top of that, realize that the human cannot even make his needs known directly.

Feeding a toddler

Take meal time, for example. You’re not a mom. You’re hungry, and so you eat a Subway sandwich, which is what you felt like eating. The end. Meal time is simple and requires minimal mental effort. Compare this to if you are a mom. You’re hungry. Your baby is hungry. You make him a sandwich. He eats a bit then starts spitting it out. You ask him if he wants a banana. He says “nana” and so you peel a banana. He takes a bite, spits it out, spreads mush on the table and smiles at his work of art. He then bounces up and down, grunting, and you realize he needs to poop. So you wait for him to poop, clean him up, then offer chicken and rice, which is what he wanted after all, but how would you know? Chicken is hard to say! Finally, an hour later, you get to eat his leftovers, which are not what you wanted but are all you have time and energy left to eat. On the bright side, at least you got to eat. Haha.

Also, take note that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg. I can only imagine how my brain will be tested once Wolf learns how to answer back!

I hope this post can help others better appreciate the value and challenge of parenthood. I don’t know if I will ever return to a regular office job, but even if I don’t, please realize that my mommy brain will remain in tip-top shape, thank you very much!

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

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Musings, Parenting

December Baby Birthday Blues

Wolf is turning one on December 27 this year. Every time people find out his birth date, they smile and comment how unlucky he is, because he’ll get only one gift for his birthday and Christmas. I would always smile along, but deep inside, I’d feel bad for my baby. It’s not his fault that his parents lacked foresight when they decided to do away with contraception! Haha.

frowning baby with mom

I imagined what his birthday would be like every year, squeezed in amid all the Christmas festivities, like a little footnote to the grandness of the Yuletide season. I imagined him at seven, wanting a big party like all his classmates, while I would fret over how to break it to him that his friends would be out of town on his special day. I imagined him opening his joint birthday and Christmas presents alongside his cousins, his face falling because even if it were his birthday, all the other kids had lots of presents too.

We originally did not plan on celebrating his first birthday with a party. We were going to have a simple family vacation a stone’s throw away from the metro, just the three of us. But then I realized, this year might be the first and last chance for us to plan a birthday party for him. I don’t want to have a huge party every year, because it’s just not practical. After the first birthday, the next big birthday is the seventh, but a party on Wolf’s seventh may not be in the cards. As I mentioned above, I imagined the heartbreak he’d feel at not being able to have his friends at the party, thus making the possibility of a seventh birthday bash very slim. As for the birthdays that follow, people unfortunately tend to become even busier as they get older. His chances of partying on his birthday seem quite bleak indeed.

tearful baby with dad

And so we decided that we should have a party for his first birthday, at the very least. As I began inviting people, sure enough, several regretfully told me that they’d be out of town. This early in Wolf’s life, it’s no big deal. He’s not yet aware. But later on, he will be. And that’s why we’re jumping at the chance to celebrate now that he’s still too little to feel rejected.

When he’s much older and more emotionally mature, he will laugh along with his friends when they joke about the inconvenience of his birthday. He will gladly accept that the Christmas spread will inevitably double as his birthday feast. Perhaps he will even jovially invite everyone to partake of the “birthday treat” he prepared. But as a child, he will not be able to help himself from feeling the sting of sharing the gift-opening spotlight with everyone else.

Casey and I will try our best to help Wolf still feel special on his birthday by making it distinct from Christmas, especially when it comes to opening gifts. Wolf will have two piles of gifts to unwrap — his Christmas gifts and his birthday gifts. We have pledged to each other that we will always make an effort to get Wolf two gifts every year. I think that no matter how nice the gift is, reading “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!” on one card will make any kid feel down. I would like to appeal to our immediate family and closest friends to try and do the same. If you will get Wolf a Christmas gift, please get him a birthday gift as well. Getting two gifts doesn’t mean spending more. Wolf is a very happy, easy-to-please child who busies himself with the simplest of items. Don’t trouble yourselves with getting fancy toys or gadgets. The gifts don’t need to be extraordinary. They don’t need to be expensive. They just need, ideally, to be two.

happy baby with mom

Musings

A Letter to my Ex-Best Friend

I don’t expect that you will get to read this. But I am writing this for myself. You know how my thoughts need to get written down so I can make sense of them, and then preserved, so I can learn from them.

I saw pictures of your wedding posted by a common friend. The pictures made me think two things simultaneously, one quite shallow, and the other worth pondering:

  1. If I were still your best friend, I would have advised against the size of your hair accessory. You would have taken my advice.
  2. I would have been happy to be there, but I’m just as happy not being there.

The second thought warrants elaboration. I have let most among our common circles assume that the reason we stopped being friends was my fault entirely. I guess that could be argued, because although it was you who burned bridges, from the moment I made the decision to begin dating your crush, I knew that you would interpret my actions as a betrayal you could not overlook. Never mind that he never reciprocated your feelings, and, more importantly, that you yourself were seeing someone else at the time (consequently, your husband now). That circumstance should have made our friendship survive my “betrayal.” It’s like how in Riverdale, when Veronica and Archie told Betty that they were dating, Betty was totally cool with it, because she was with Jughead.

Alas, you chose not to remain friends. I believe that at the time, although you were very happy with your boyfriend, a part of you still clung to the possibility of ending up with “Archie.” Why else would our relationship have affected you so deeply? As long as he remained available, you were not ready to give your heart fully to anyone. But you would have been such a bad match. Opposites, much like the two of us.

I watched you harbor your feelings for so long, and I always knew as much as he did that you ending up with him would have spelled disaster. I watched you turn resentful as your feelings remained unreciprocated.

Then one day, you asked me out to lunch, and I knew that day was different. I remember how you brought me to a fancy restaurant that I hadn’t tried before. You could hardly contain your smile, and as soon as we had placed our orders, you broke into a full grin and said, “I met someone nice.” I could tell he was different from the previous guys you dated. I detected no trace of settling for second best, no hint of a subconscious desire to be distracted from the one you couldn’t have. It was apparent from the beginning that you were really into this guy. Even then, I could imagine you one day marrying him.

It’s funny how at first, we may think that our story has taken a turn for the worst, only to realize later on that the conflict was needed to ensure our happy ending. I remember how as schoolgirls, we would spend hours after class, conjuring up our own fantasies, exploring all the what ifs.

Well here’s the biggest “what if” of our lives. What if I had not begun dating Archie? Would you have ended up married to the love of your life? Or would you have clung to the hope of feelings finally reciprocated? Would you have spent more years asking “what if?” We will never know now. But it was a solid possibility. After all, it’s the “what ifs” that are difficult to forget. Had I not dated Archie, had there been a tiny shred of hope that you could end up together, you may have missed your chance to experience love with no skeletons.

I dashed all hope that we would remain friends. It was a sad ending to a truly beautiful friendship. But inadvertently, I also cleared the rubble from the path leading to something even more beautiful–your ultimate happiness. If we were still friends, I would have been at your wedding, maybe telling all the guests about how giddy you were when you told me you had met such a great guy. But if we were still friends, you might not have had that special day at all. Who knows? It’s not a cookie cutter world. So I am happy I was not at your wedding. You deserved that day of pure, boundless joy.

I wish you all the best.

All the love of a stranger,

Veronica