I Went From Lawyer To Stay-At-Home Mom. Where Have All My Brain Cells Gone?

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Have you ever read Flowers for Algernon? It’s a short story told through the point of view of a man, Charlie, who has been chosen to undergo an experiment to increase his IQ (which starts out quite low). I won’t go into too much detail, but Charlie’s IQ triples right before it starts to rapidly decline, bringing him back to where he was before the procedure with only a memory of what it was like to be smart. While I haven’t read the story in years, I do remember how sad it was for Charlie to know that he was getting dumber and dumber and not being able to do anything about it. And now I can relate.

The first time I noticed that this was happening to me was after I’d been away from my job as a lawyer for about 14 months to stay at home with my son. He was in the bath and we were playing that game where you name the plastic animals and make the sounds that go with them. Everything was fine until we got to the sheep. Or was it a lamb? I couldn’t remember the difference between the two – all I knew is that they were somehow related. I could almost feel the synapses in my brain trying to connect but then getting lazy and missing each other.

And recently it’s gotten worse. Just last week I took the kids to a mammal exhibit at the museum and when trying to describe when a certain extinct mammal existed in relation to the dinosaurs, I really wasn’t sure (that’s right, I couldn’t remember exactly how long the dinosaurs had been extinct). I might have made it up but for the fact that there were too many other parents around who might call me out. Wait, dinosaurs are extinct, right?

The thing is that unlike Charlie, I am not starting from a place with a tripled IQ. In fact, I feel like my IQ has gotten lower with each pregnancy (I recently had my second and have decided to stop here for fear that if I keep going I will wind up so stupid that I won’t be able to follow the Grey’s Anatomy plot-line).

And here’s the crazy part: I think it’s worth it. I love that I was there the first time my son crawled and walked and said the alphabet. I love that I get to take him to gymnastics and swimming, the farm and the library during the day as opposed to in the tired, frantic evening and during already-packed weekends. I love listening to him babble nonsense on the monitor before and after a nap and being the one to pick him up when he first wakes up, when he is still warm and groggy from sleep and looking to cuddle. I love it so much that I am okay with the fact that the most mentally challenging part of my day often involves remembering what time I have to reapply the sunscreen (variables like swimming and sweat do indeed make this more complicated).

I also know that staying home is really not for everyone. While I see it as a privilege and the best and most important thing that I will ever do, others really miss thinking. Smarter people, I suspect. (See? It’s a slippery slope).

Friends tell me that it all comes back to you when you go back to work, but I do worry that all of the grown-up, work-related knowledge that I once had is irretrievably lost. I worry that I will go back to work and will have to confess to clients that while I am unable to help them with any legal issue they might have, I can tell them what the very hungry caterpillar ate each day before he metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly. (I am also very well-versed in the writings of Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton.)

That said, I do feel a little better about the fact that some of my newly acquired stupidity might just be age-related. When I couldn’t remember the difference between a sheep and a lamb, I called in my (gainfully employed outside the home) husband to help out. When he insisted that that sheep is simply the general term and that lamb is the term for either a female or make sheep – he couldn’t decide which one – I felt better about the whole thing. Even I am not that stupid.

(Photo: Hemera)