The high school I graduated from was a teeny, tiny private school way the hell across town. It took a solid 30 to 45 minutes to get there every morning. And let’s just say I’ve always struggled with mornings. So when I started driving myself to school, after a while I sort of started driving on autopilot, cruising through morning traffic, in my own little haze of coffee and not-terribly-deep thoughts. Every once in a while I’d sort of tune into where I was and realize I couldn’t actually remember the last ten minutes. It had become so routine I didn’t actually have to think about it. Luckily, the worst consequence of this less-than-ideal behavior was that I would occasionally be in the wrong lane as I-35 and I-44 split, and I’d accidentally take myself on a lengthy tour of the city as I tried to get back on track.
I’ve recently noticed a similar ability to autopilot my way through certain parenting tasks. Most notably, when I’m reading to Tommy. When we started sleep training the kiddo, we instituted a bedtime ritual that involved reading a story before every nap and bedtime. Because (a) I love reading, (b) apparently it’s good for building language skills, and (c) I would rather do anything other than attempt to sing a lullaby as the book suggested. We have a ton of books that we’ve accumulated over the past year; we got some as gifts, I bought a few, and Robin and his mom scrounged some out of her basement. But when you’re reading at least one story, four times a day, you tend to cycle through the collection fairly quickly. So I’ve now read every kids’ book we own at least a dozen times. And I’ve developed the ability to read the stories aloud—with proper pacing, modulation, and even voices, mind you—while thinking of something else entirely. For instance, earlier today while reading a story about a very determined little steam shovel, I was mentally composing a proposal and writing sample for a writing gig I’m trying to land. While Stanley the Steam Shovel was attempting to move a giant boulder and prove his worth, I was coming up with quippy but situationally appropriate copy. I’m not sure how this is possible, employing my eyes and mouth to read one set of words aloud while working with an entirely different set of words in my mind, but I was doing it. Superpowers? Maybe. But I think this might just be an ability that moms develop, allowing us to compartmentalize tasks in our minds and simultaneously accomplish several different things at the same time.
Now, I’ve multitasked plenty before. I can cook, clean the kitchen, and have a dance party with the baby simultaneously. I’ve come up with lesson plans while grading homework and answering e-mails. Just yesterday when I was at Burger King a gentleman commented on my multitasking abilities as I ate, fed the baby, played a game on my phone, and listened to an audiobook at the same time. Multitasking is just sort of what we do in life.
But this can have its drawbacks. I’ve never been able to really engage with something I’m reading when my attention is divided, so when I’m editing, grading, or doing research I have to have the TV off, and I definitely can’t have a baby that I have to entertain in the room. A friend of mine recently told me that her five-year-old routinely schools her in the Memory card game because when she plays she’s always thinking about the shopping list and where she put her coffee and whether she moved the laundry to the dryer. There is something to be said about giving one task your undivided attention.
Sometimes, however, when you don’t need to focus quite so much, you can do awesome work while you’re doing something else. Sometimes you come up with your greatest ideas while you’re in the shower or at the gym. Hurray! Motivation to work out! There’s actual science behind this. It’s called the Default Mode Network, or if you’re Jack Donaghy, the Shower Principle (ah, 30 Rock, how I love you).
Still, I like to think that I’ve somehow tapped into a new realm of superpowers. Yes, I may have relinquished my bodily autonomy and free time, but I traded them for enhanced mental capabilities. Should I get a superhero costume? (No capes!) For my next trick: omniscience (or at least convincing my kid that I know everything).
Have you developed any parenting superpowers?