Senile or Savvy? Your Agile, Aging Mommy Brain

I forgot to send my younger daughter to school recently.

And you thought I had it together, right?

I thought so too.

I religiously record events in my calendar. Recently, I put “make pediatrician appointments for spring break” down for February of 2012.  Being organized is one of my strengths.

So on the Monday after spring break, when nothing on the calendar noted that school was resuming, I assumed it was a day off. That’s usually the case after break.

Alas, this year was different as became clear when my daughter announced, wide-eyed, that her friends had been at school.

Oops.

A Nagging Concern

A year ago, I would have feared early Alzheimer’s. It’s a common midlife mom conclusion. I forgot to pack the school lunch; therefore I’m losing my mind, which hasn’t been the same anyway since the kids arrived.

Since then, though, I’ve read Katherine Ellison’s book The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Ellison is a midlife mom who had her first son at 38 and second three years later. Fearing that raising children might diminish her mental capacities, Ellison postponed having kids. And when she did have them her assessment of occasional errors was much like mine.

“By the time I gave birth, at what my obstetrician politely called my ‘advanced maternal age,’ I’d waited so long that it was already hard to say whether `Mommy Brain’ or early onset of senility was more to blame for my occasional mental lapses,” she writes.

Go Mama Rats

Researching the issue, however, she found instead that motherhood conveys significant mental advantages. I love the study Ellison cites of the mommy rats outperforming those who had never mated in finding Fruit Loops. And get this – the mother rats’ learning and memory advantages persisted into old age.

Consider that the next time you put the shopping list in the refrigerator.

Since reading The Mommy Brain, I’ve abandoned that dismal “there goes my brain” mantra. I now view my mishaps as mistakes rather than signs of slippage.

Isn’t it amazing how much we do remember on any given day?

Smarter Than I Thought?

And in this case, perhaps I just outsmarted myself.

Our family spent spring break in Chicago socializing nonstop. It was a blast, but we were exhausted upon return.

As a result of my “screwup,” my younger daughter slept late. I snoozed until 9 a.m. (Dad was not so lucky. Shared parenting means he drives my older daughter’s Monday carpool and I knew she had school.)

Was this worth playing hooky? My daughter sure benefited from the rest. And any midlife mom knows how rare my long slumber was.

Oh, you sneaky, smart mommy brain. Thank you!

***

Has motherhood turned your mind to mush or made you smarter? Do you assume you’re losing it when you mess up? Please comment below!

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About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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In Beyond One, Jennifer chronicles her leap from one child to two, describing the enormous impact the second child has on a woman’s body, marriage, family life, friendships and work.

"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Credits

The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, CNN.com, MS., Parenting, Real Simple, Salon.com, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Working Mother, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, American Way, Brain, Child, The Christian Science Monitor, and more.