Dear Dave

Friday 30 May 2008


Dear Dave,

It's official - the kids' schedules are fuller than mine. Their combined list of activities has been impressive for a long time but now their social commitments outweigh mine on an individual basis. They visit friends, friends come here, they arrange gatherings at the swing park and they go to swimming lessons, drama class and goodness knows what else. Amidst this whirlwind, meals and homework, baths and toilet breaks all have to be slotted in.

Of course, their friends have busy lives also, and organising a play session can turn into a lengthy negotiation to find over-lapping windows of opportunity. I start off by suggesting Thursday lunch-time to a child's mum and end up with Tuesday afternoon, by way of Saturday tea-time and Sunday morning. Occasionally, I lose track of the details. Three days later, I struggle to remember who I invited and when and if they're coming.

The other week, I forgot about a lunch engagement entirely. A friend rang up in the morning to check it was still OK to bring his little boy round to play with Marie and it took me a minute to even recollect making the arrangement. Then I had to apologise profusely and admit that I'd double-booked us. It was embarrassing and scary. I'd only spoken to him a few days previously. It felt like I was losing the plot.

This was on top of a string of other minor mental oversights I'd had. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Not long afterwards, I tried to sort out an issue by email and the woman I was dealing with blamed a lapse of short-term memory on 'preg-head'. I'd never heard of it and looked it up. Apparently, it's a condition in pregnant women and the symptoms are general abstraction and emotional instability. The article reckoned that the cause is distraction due to worry, planning, preparation and organisation.

I was sceptical. Surely that's just being a parent.

I've heard a couple of other explanations for ditziness during pregnancy. One is surging hormones inducing mild craziness. This can't be fixed but at least it implies the problem will go away once the pregnancy is over. The other explanation is that a gestating baby essentially plunders the mum's brain to make its own. This can be alleviated somewhat by eating oily fish.

Distraction, though? I'm sure being huge, constantly needing the toilet, not being able to sleep and all the other fun side-effects of pregnancy are pretty distracting in themselves but the distraction from the child only gets worse once they've popped out. I frequently have to hold three conversations at the same time while checking my email, eating a meal and doing the washing-up. This takes a certain level of concentration to avoid misunderstanding, indigestion and electrocution.

As I considered my research, I couldn't help thinking that if preg-head is all down to distraction, it would continue unabated until the kid left home. Then I suddenly realised I was standing in the middle of the kitchen holding three pairs of swimming goggles and I couldn't remember where I was going.

Merely contemplating distraction had been enough distraction to push me over the edge into total confusion. It continued for half an hour. With respect to the questions of what I was doing, why I was doing it and where I was supposed to be, I was unable to recall more than two answers at any given moment. I wandered the house, packing sandwiches into a bag of towels and feeding the children their swimming trunks. It was frightening.

I'm convinced that there's more to preg-head than distraction but maybe distraction is an issue. If so, then the problem doesn't end at birth - those who look after children constantly are liable to suffer bouts of disorientation from time to time. It certainly explains my own forgetfulness. In fact, it's that or I'm pregnant. (Let's see: fatigue, mood swings, food cravings, irritability, weight gain, no period... Argh! The symptoms fit!)

I already pass off moments of incompetence as offspring inspired lunacy. When the kids are around, I can point to them in explanation. When they're not, it would be good to have a proper name for my ailment. Distraction doesn't get much sympathy. If I could claim a medical condition, that would be far better. How about parental block? Or offspring overload? Mention of kid confusion, kinsanity or the onset of a primary carer moment might be good as well. It would also be reassuring to everyone involved, myself included. Take my current issue with green beans as an example:
I've discovered that all three of my children will eat lightly cooked green beans. The kind they like, I have to buy fresh, trim and then bung in the microwave for two minutes. The trimming is a bit of a faff so the beans are usually one of the last things I prepare. I slice off the ends, put the beans in a bowl and nuke them. Then, three hours later, when Sarah gets home and I go to heat some vegetables for our tea, I find the beans still in the microwave, looking decidedly shrivelled. If I did this occasionally, I wouldn't be worried. Unfortunately, I've done it at least twice a week for a month.
Thankfully, I've now realised that I'm not losing my marbles. I think it's safe to say that I'm simply coming down with a bad case of parent-head.

As I see it, there are three ways to minimise the effects:
  • More sleep. (Drat.)
  • Less distraction. (Double drat.)
  • Writing things down. (Yawn.)
I suppose that at least the last one is do-able, even if it does sound dull. Recently, I visited someone else who has three young children. She had drawn a timetable out for the week and stuck it to the wall. Scarily, it listed stuff such as having lunch. I don't believe I'm that far gone yet. Although, now that I think about it, did I have breakfast today? Darn. No wonder I'm feeling hungry. OK, maybe I should go and... erm...

What was I going to do again?

Nope. Can't remember... Maybe I should have written it down...

Ho well, just in case I am pregnant and this is all down to hormones and brain shrinkage, I'm off to eat sardines in a cold shower.

Wish me luck.

Yours in a woman's world,


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