Parenting Amnesia is a Blessing and a Curse

I’ve decided that the secret to parenting is amnesia. How else does one explain the baffling reality that women willingly undergo childbirth more than once? For many (although certainly not all) mothers, the joy that follows simply wipes the trauma from our memories.

My first attempt at breastfeeding went so horribly awry that I wound up in the hospital for a week and had to have surgery. Yes, from breastfeeding. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s say just that it’s bad luck to discover an antibiotic allergy while attempting to treat a serious case of mastitis.

And yet, two years later, I gamely tried again. I vaguely remembered that the experience had been a total disaster with my daughter, but the immediacy of my son’s tiny, hungry body overpowered those fears. Now, with all children long past weaning, my memories of nursing my second and third child form the most profoundly beautiful moments of my entire life. I lay the thanks for those memories at the feet of parenting amnesia and a darned good lactation consultant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Parenting amnesia is also the only possible explanation for why I purchased backyard incendiaries for the Fourth of July again this year, despite my utter certainty last year that one, if not all three, of my children was going to catch fire at any moment. Fireworks terrify me, but my fear for my own personal safety is nothing compared to the anxiety I feel when watching my children frolic in close range to explosive devices.

And yet, we bought smoke bombs and pop-its again this year. We launched a couple tiny fountains of sparks and raced around the yard waving sparklers and inexplicably singing “Let It Go” loudly and joyfully. My blood pressure almost certainly reached unhealthy levels during the whole ordeal, but already the memory of the panic is fading, overshadowed by the photographs of my children’s smiling faces illuminated by their sparklers.

We freak out. We forget. We move on. Repeat!

Unfortunately there’s another kind of parenting amnesia that is perhaps even more common than the first. This second amnesia is the forgetfulness born of constant distraction. It is the inability to complete a train of thought, finish a task, or carve out five minutes to use the bathroom in peace.

This distracted amnesia is the reason I can never find my keys or my phone. They get absented placed somewhere incongruous as I am responding to whatever micro-crisis needs my attention and no part of my brain is available to note their location. Thus I’ll find my phone sitting forlornly on top of the recycling bin in the garage, left there as I lunged for the screen door that was swinging closed on the child who was proudly carrying a carton of eggs into the house. Or my keys will surface in the pocket of a pair of pants I didn’t even remember I was wearing, having changed after serving as a human napkin for a child’s sticky fingers.

I accidentally used baking soda in place of baking powder in a biscuit recipe this weekend and didn’t realize the error until we tried – unsuccessfully – to eat the horrid things. Looking back, I realized I was using all my focus to keep my six-year-old “helper” from dumping extra scoops of sugar into the dough and as a result, I didn’t read the recipe closely.

They talk about the muddled years of early parenthood when sleep deprivation causes you to walk through life in a fog, but the fog continues well beyond potty-training. For parents, the ability to forget difficult times and the ability to create difficult times via forgetfulness are two sides of the same coin.

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