Conversationally, I am not witty. I am on the opposite side of the graph, an outlier of slow.
Since I was not always this way, what I have found is that my new behavior comes across as irritable or angry. Last night, for instance, my husband asked me nicely where the cheese grater was. I was not ignoring him, but I did not answer.
The second time he asked, it seemed a little hostile when I still did not respond and only pointed toward that big white thing that holds the perishable food. I knew where the cheese grater was, but the words “one piece is stuck under the left side of the back of the refrigerator, and the other piece is outside in the recycling bin” could not be mashed together into one sentence fast enough. Sometimes it shocks me that the words won’t come out, that they no longer live on the tip of my tongue. Flabbergasted, it takes me even longer to name that piece of equipment, right there in the kitchen, that we use to pop that stuff we like to eat when we go to the movies.
Anne Lamott, the sardonic author of “Operating Instructions: a Journal of My Son’s First Year,” says that when you give birth the baby is born clutching one-fifth of your brain. It feels like that’s true. It is not birthing kids, I think, that makes you stupid; it’s just that you have never spent all 24 hours of your day keeping something alive before. Every hour of life may cause death.
Now that I am a mother, all my senses are continuously looking for impending signs of danger. My eyes are scanning for lumps that might be the crumpled body of a kid, or for movement that might be little bodies flying through the air (like after they learned about Tarzan, goodbye curtains) or for muddy footprints leading to frog olympics hosted by the white carpet.
Always on the hunt for peculiar odors, my nose is smelling for dangerous chemicals: smoke, propane or some other deadly gas. While also aware scents that may be a clue that peanut butter, diaper cream or vaseline may be being used as body paint.
My ears are listening for thumps, bumps, running water, drilling tools, growling dogs and scariest of all … QUIET. (The kid has either knocked himself unconscious or he’s putting marbles in his bum.)
Thinking evolutionally, I assume I would be using my sense of taste to test that I was not feeding these kids rotten food but so far, I think I feed them putrid stuff pretty regularly. “Oh, my kids just love water. They won’t even drink juice.” (I didn’t know that juice could go rancid.)
Formerly ordinary household objects have turned into terrorists waiting to strike. A hot dog, previously a nasty, easy snack food, is now the No. 1 cause of food-related death. A plastic chair on the porch is now a weapon of mass facial reconstruction. Electric plugs, blinds, grapes, anything that contains water, anything made of plastic (especially the dreaded plastic bag), canned goods, heavy dressers, stairs, deep fat fryers, things made in China; I think to myself, when is it all going to turn deadly?
If they survive the day and you get the kids to sleep, then you can sit back and worry about them sleeping on their backs, suffocation, loose sheets, low air flow, heads caught in crib slats, fire and/or spontaneous combustion. Sleep tight because there truly is a possibility that the bed bugs may bite.
To make things worse, there is always a new culprit lingering in the crevasses. Pad the whole house and force the kids into bike helmets and you still may get attacked by some innocuous item … like a spoon. When my oldest son was 2 ½ he went happily running to the kitchen to grab a second piece of pizza, and on his way he slipped on a spoon and broke his tibia. A Spoon!
When we “rushed” him to the Pediatric Walk-In Clinic, a mere 24 hours later, Nurse Ratched seemed a little suspicious of our story. I mean, who slips on a spoon and breaks his leg? But our story checked out. The break was called a spiral fracture because apparently, if you slip the right way, you can twist the bone so hard it snaps. Happily, the clinic did not call DCF, but maybe they should have, since we tortured the kid for a full day. We thought he was just being a baby, crying over a bad bruise. We really could not conceive that if you are not an old, old woman, you could slip on a spoon and break your leg.
(For weeks afterward, I kept finding Slip and Fall Attorneys lurking in the bushes around our house with lollipops and crayons, attempting to lure our son into filing suit against us for negligent housekeeping.)
I had always been told that toddlers bounce, that their bones are like silly putty. But when our second son broke his shinbone four months later (this time it only took us 48 hours to get X-rays), we found out that broken tibias are called the “toddler fracture” because they are so common. Since, 1) his leg wasn’t swollen, 2) he didn’t seem to be in much pain, and 3) he could wiggle his toes, two doctors assured us that it wasn’t broken. But as soon as Nurse Ratched heard that he fell at the playground, she said, “If it happened at the playground, then it’s broken.” And she was right.
It is instinctual, this obsession with safeguarding our children. All mothers have it no matter how protective or non-protective they seem to outsiders. Now, I’ll concede that two broken legs in four months makes it seem like I’m eating Bonbons on the job. But, as life often reminds us, if it’s not a spoon, it’s gonna be a fork. (aka Best laid plans of mice and men, or YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL.)
So when I say, “the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Big Trophy instead of the Heisman Cup, I mean, the Piston Cup,” it is not because I don’t know the word Stanley Cup; it’s because the hyper-acuity of my senses has limited my capacity for speech … basically to zero. Think of me as always on call. I am trying to keep two kids alive, for Pete’s sake. I know it can occasionally be painful to spend time with me, but cut me some slack. (I swear I didn’t notice that big chocolate smear on your face.)
I’m not mad at you. And I’m not being a bitch. It’s just that my brain is now filled with thousands of warning labels — “Caution: Choking Hazard,” “May cause death,” “May contain nuts,” “May topple,” “May cause hysteria” — and I am just desperately rummaging through all this crap searching for the correct, you know … the correct … ummm … (Found it!) … word.
(If you are reading this and you work for DCF, call me. I have good excuses.)