Children do wreak havoc on parents' memory cells

September 08, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

This was supposed to be a column about a woman environmentalist who, after giving birth to a child, decided that science really didn't need all that much evidence before banning substances that might be harmful to children.

But it isn't, and it is my kids' fault.

I was driving around in the van doing a series of idiotic errands, and I was listening to the kind of radio station I listen to when my 16-year-old daughter is not in the car.

I heard a teaser for an interview with this mother-scientist, and it sounded like a column that would write itself.

I am having a hard time remembering things these days. So, knowing I would not remember having heard the interview, let alone the woman's name, I reached for my cell phone. I was preparing to call and leave myself a message when the cell phone rang in my hand.

It was one of my kids.

I purchased a cell phone for each of my children after 9 / 11. I thought of it as a lifeline, but they apparently think of it as a leash, because every few minutes one of them jerks their end and my head snaps back.

It was my son, calling from college. Could I resend the essay I had proofread for him because he'd accidentally deleted it from his e-mail list?

Not exactly something I could do from the driver's seat of the van.

So I made a U-turn, headed home and did something for a child that I had done once already, which is kind of what raising kids is like.

As you have probably guessed, the woman environmentalist and her epiphany blew right out of my head.

This is happening a lot lately.

Stuff I need to remember keeps tumbling out of my brain like grapefruits out the bottom of a soggy grocery bag. I can't hold onto a thought long enough to say it out loud.

I call people on the phone and can't remember who I am calling, let alone what I am calling about.

I walk two steps to the grocery list posted by the door, and forget the item by the time I get there. I holler for my husband or one of the kids, and I can't remember what order I meant to give.

And it is my kids' fault.

I used to be the queen of multi-tasking. Since my children arrived, I can't seem to complete one task. Halfway through, I forget what I was supposed to be doing.

I write for a living and I have an SAT vocabulary, but I can't seem to retrieve the word that describes that thing you pour noodles into when you want to drain off the water.

I can have a paring knife in my hand and potatoes in the sink, and I will still have to retrace my steps since breakfast in order to jog my memory. I get in the car, turn on the ignition and start wondering where I have to be.

These lapses are ordinarily triggered by an outburst from one of my kids.

It is usually urgent and imperative ("Mom! I have to take the check with me to practice and my ride is here.")

Or it is weighty and deserving of a serious answer. ("Mom? Are we poor?")

Or it is a complete non sequitur, having no connection to what came before it in the conversation. ("Yeah. Right. Whatever. Will I have my own bathroom in college?")

Whatever the topic, these interruptions from children are designed to cause parents to slam on their mental brakes and change emotional direction, stripping gears as they go. When the kids are done peppering us with questions, we wouldn't remember to tie off an artery spurting blood.

The things I am trying to remember are not gone for good, but only temporarily lost in the folds of my brain.

And they pop up at the strangest times.

I will be driving around in the van doing a series of idiotic errands when suddenly the phrase "blood work" leaps up, and I remember that my daughter needs to have blood drawn as part of her sports physical.

This requires a great big needle, and I know she will be afraid and furious when I tell her that it needs to be done.

If I remember.

So I reach for the cell phone, call and leave myself a message.

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