I used to be a capable woman. I was. I founded three businesses, made movies, wrote articles, wrote plays, and acted in my own productions. I did all kinds of things and I did them well. I was the person in the post office that other people always asked questions of, such as “How much is a stamp?” or, “Is this where I put my letter?” and the ever-popular “Do you have a pen I could borrow?” I always had the answers and I always had a pen and those who didn’t could spot me.
I am no longer that person. I am now the person who is allowing her two-year-old to run wild while she struggles to buy postage from a vending machine. Once I couldn’t even do it. I had to borrow a dollar from someone because mine were limp and sticky from spilled apple juice and the machine wouldn’t accept such spoiled currency. Neither would the person who gave me the dollar. The only question people ask me now is, “Is he
I observed this phenomenon for years and didn’t understand it. I didn’t think it could happen to me, but it did. It started in pregnancy. I recently saw some pictures that were taken of me when I was pregnant and all I can say is I looked stoned. I looked like I had smoked enough pot to waste a rock band. And that’s how I felt. I had begun a project before I knew I was pregnant, a capable woman project, that although I did finish, well, let’s just say they haven’t called back. I just couldn’t seem to wake up every day. It was as if I got up in the morning and took a sleeping pill. I even fell asleep at the dinner table once, I kid you not. I put my head on my hand, closed my eyes for just a second and–nodded off. This happened at my father’s house and he sort of gently led me to the couch where I proceeded to sleep for three hours. He was worried. He called his sister and told her about it. “She’s just pregnant,” she told him, “don’t worry.”
Well, I thought, surely once this creature inside of me gets outside of me I will return to my old functional self. Not so. Because after he was born I started nursing him. Nursing is great. Nursing a baby is the best drug I’ve ever been on. Instead of feeling like I had taken a sleeping pill every day, it was as if there were a slow steady drip of Valium in my arm. Not enough to knock me out, just enough to make me feel really good. This is apparently nature’s way of keeping sleep-deprived women from slaughtering colicky infants. And it works. My son was colicky. He cried for 16 hours a day. “Isn’t he beautiful?” I would coo. Yes, I wanted him to stop crying, but the only thing that made that happen was when he had my nipple in his mouth. And he was a big guy; he ate a lot.
We would lie down together and drift off into Heaven. Everything was OK. I had to wean my son when he was nine months old and that’s when reality hit me. I suddenly woke up and realized what a mess my life was in and that I had to start making changes. (Things had happened during those nine months of bliss that weren’t exactly blissful.) So, now surely, I would regain my capabilities and turn everything around. Not so.
While the party was over, I was still fuzzy. Things that used to seem simple enough, like moving my computer from one room to another, now seemed completely overwhelming. I couldn’t start it. Surely, I thought, I will disconnect this thing and then my son will wake up screaming, I will not be able to reconnect it until his nap tomorrow and meanwhile I have to check my email. Small tasks became my best friend. Check email. Fix bottle. Feed cat. These things I could do. Anything that could potentially take longer than a short nap had to be deferred. And so they piled up. And up and up.
Additionally, you can’t overlook the changes in my lifestyle. Capable woman read The New Yorker every week; mommy woman watches Sesame Street every day. Capable woman socialized often with intelligent people; mommy woman spends most of her time alone with a toddler. Capable woman was free to go anywhere she pleased anytime she wanted; mommy woman does not get to go the bathroom. Is it any wonder my brain is fuzzy?
It does seem to get easier and I do gain clarity as my son gets older, but I have realized that the old me is never coming back. I will be distracted for the next twenty years. If he is with me, I will be worrying about everything I have to do; if I am trying to get things done, I will be worrying that I am neglecting my son. And then there’s just the way he has of making everything else seem utterly trivial anyway. Why worry about earning a living (or writing an essay) when it’s warm outside and we can go to the park?
Mommy brain. I’ve got it. And I wouldn’t give it back. But I do need to get my computer moved into the other room. Well, maybe when he goes to kindergarten…
* * *
Liza Case has written four full-length plays including The Unspoken Ones, which wonthe Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award and the Stark Award for Drama and received a reading at the Women in Theater conference at ATHE. She wrote screenplays for several short films, including Destiny, which played on the Emmy-Award-winning PBS show The Short List and IFC. Her short play Online Education was recently read by Food For Thought at The Players. Liza received her B.A. in Creative Writing from CUNY and her MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU.