Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

emc_spaghetti_dec07Oops! You put pasta sauce in the sippy cup and chocolate milk on the spaghetti.

If you are a mom, you are probably smiling right now. Roget’s Thesaurus should list “multitask” as a synonym for “Mom.” As it turns out, human brains have limited ability to switch back and forth from one task to another, and the more complicated the tasks, the more time our brains need to make the switch. Raising a child is about as complicated as a task can get, so it’s truly a wonder that any dinners ever reach the table if Mom is caring for a child while she cooks.

After my daughter was born, I felt like my brain was being completely rewired. In fact, I described the feeling as an intellectual stupor. Certainly society has labeled women as suffering from “pregnancy brain” and “momnesia” (an actual, unfortunate medical term). It turns out childbirth did “rewire” my brain, but this rewiring didn’t make me stupid. It may have made me smarter.

Mothers may indeed be the smartest people you’ll ever encounter, and raising children is the best thing a person can do to stimulate neural activity.

A 2005 New York Times article by Katherine Ellison highlighted several studies that indicate that giving birth and parenting are good for the brain. The neurons in the brain stay healthy when they are used, when they are constantly forming new connections. Nothing stimulates neural activity like problem solving in new and unusual situations, and nothing creates new and unusual situations that require problem solving like a child. Just think about it, from reading Dr. Seuss tongue twisters to helping a teenager with Geometry and Trig homework, children work our brains.

Studies have even shown that in mice, stem cells from the fetus can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the mother’s brain. Once there, these cells can differentiate into cells that protect and nurture neurons. Although this same phenomenon has not been demonstrated in humans, we do know that fetal stem cells enter the mother’s blood stream. Pregnancy may actually help the mother’s brain by providing a new source of cells.

We live in a society that increasingly manages relationships at a distance. Families are spread around the world. Letters are being replaced by e-mails, and e-mails by text messages. Interpersonal skills are becoming rarer and more valuable. Children force parents to maintain the relationship in the here and now, face-to-face. Interactions with children develop empathy and interpersonal skills. For this reason, the Mom may well be the most valuable employee in any workplace, able to manage relationships with customers and between employees. Being a mother develops a keen emotional intelligence.

So yes, Mom may leave her groceries at the store by the time she herds her toddlers through the aisle and back into the car seat. And yes, mom may leave the stroller sitting beside the family car as she drives away from a day at the park.

But Mom knows exactly how to kiss that skinned knee to make it all better. She always finds Floppy Dog and Baby when you need them. She always sends the basket of half-price after-Easter candy to your dorm, remembering all of your suitemates favorite candies. She always knows what you need to hear as soon as she answers the phone.

So, yes, Mom may put pasta sauce in the sippy cup and chocolate milk on the spaghetti, but that’s only because she knows that the lycopenes in the tomato sauce are very good for you.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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