Okay, okay, that title is kind of clickbait, so I apologize. I care more about something (someone) than I ever have in my entire life, so let’s get that straight. However, like a lot of moms, I find myself with very little bandwidth for stupid things lately. In arguments with my husband, I often find myself throwing my hands up and saying, “Honestly, I have no time for this crap! Not important! Let’s move on.” And that is the case for things I never dreamed I would not care as much about.
Sure, from doing my hair and makeup in the morning, to reorganizing the fridge and Briar’s toys, things have just fallen by the wayside because I don’t have the time to do them. But that’s not even what I’m talking about. That’s simply the byproduct of being overscheduled by a toddler. What I’m talking about is something more positive and freeing: the ability to say, “whatever!” to things that used to occupy a tremendous amount of headspace.
For example, take my return to academia. When I first started testing the waters (in the midst of our first round of sleep training — how’s that for a sleep-deprived, quasi-hallucinatory thing to do at 2am??) I reached out to Yale because that’s where my undergrad advisor had gone, and I figured it would be a good place to start my post-bacc work. I wrote a very matter-of-fact email for me (as you already know, I am loquacious) and received a prompt reply that no, they could not in fact accept me to their post-bacc program because I was one year outside their parameters for the program. I.e. I was one year too late to apply to my dream university for this stage of my academic career.
Before B, I probably would have gotten very flustered, but like… I didn’t. I kind of just shrugged, read the response to Thomas, and said, “I guess they don’t want my money and time! Huh… weird!” and moved on to Columbia. Initially, I chalked it up to being exhausted. But it kept happening.
Homework? Meh. If I can change a diaper half-asleep in the dark I can do some translation. Answering a question incorrectly in front of the class? At least the safety of my child didn’t depend on it. Quizzes? Please, nothing is more terrifying than a pediatrician appointment, so that’s nada. Grades? “I literally have no time to care about that,” I said to my brother as we walked to our respective classes last Thursday. And for the first time in my academic career, I meant all those things. It’s nice not to feel like an imposter in academia, even if I’ve arrived at this place because I had a child.
Being a mother sure puts things into perspective for me. It’s not just that I don’t have the time or energy to care. Before B, my world was a fairly limited space. My constant horizon line was comprised of midterm exams, term papers, thesis writing, editing, and eventually conference work. In other words, my world was delimited by tasks and my job was to complete them before the deadline, or I would fall into an academic black hole and have so much piled up work I could never climb out during the semester. Now, I literally can’t and don’t have an excuse to fall behind, because if I fall behind, I’m not going to pick up the work for years (it simply has to get done in the limited time I have) but simultaneously it does not appear nearly as Important with a capital “i” as it used to, in the face of raising a child. Call it a bildungsroman for a stressed academic.
But this extends to other areas in my life, too, though nothing as obviously. It’s easier for me to shrug off things like ordering takeout for the fifth night in a row because we just can’t cook another thing that isn’t for B. Or like not getting too worked up about traffic on the highway. (I-95 South through Stamford, I’m looking at you!) Or even not stressing about appointment times within reason (“I’ll be ten minutes late; sorry, our toddler refused to keep her socks and shoes on and wouldn’t sit in the carseat.”)
From things large to small, having B means that I have qualify every other responsibility by way of her existence. That is, no responsibility even comes close to taking care of her/raising her/keeping her alive and fed day over day.
Of course, this is not to say having a child always puts things into perspective. There are moments when my brain is so saturated with tasks, I can’t for the life of me prioritize any one thing. I am literally paralyzed by the to-do list and schedule, and I can’t function. Those moments are when I turn to the meditative practice I had before Briar, or when I hand B to Thomas and say, “Yeah, I need like 15 minutes. Alone.” It helps to have a supportive spouse, and it helps to actually sit and think on what is important. Is me getting a 100% on a Latin quiz important? Yes. However, is it as important as making dinner for B? Probably not.
But mainly, a byproduct of becoming B’s mom is the positive side of the “I don’t care” statement. Being a mother has freed me from the nagging feeling of self doubt and imposter syndrome. Aside from actually having my beautiful little girl, I think that’s the greatest gift motherhood has given me: the ability to not sweat the small stuff.
Yours in the trenches of motherhood (and Latin translation),