Being a mother means using your brain

Published 6:40 pm Saturday, October 13, 2012

Column: Pass the Hot Dish

Pacifiers are the new snooze buttons. It is the rare morning that I don’t try to stretch 10 more minutes out of the night by sticking a pacifier into one or both of the babies’ mouths. I’d eat that pink, rubber, BPA free comforting tool myself if I thought it would buy me a little more sleep. Is that wrong? I have no idea. I knew a lot more about parenting before I had children. All I know is that I could use that extra 10 minutes.

I’ve been tired before. I’ve stayed up all night and gotten up for work the next morning. I’ve crammed for finals, fought insomnia and dug ditches until I dropped to the ground. Well, that last one might have been “Cool Hand Luke” which has been in my DVD player for four months, but I’ve done all those other things and lived to tell about them. Still, I never knew what tired really felt like until I was taking care of two babies.

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Caring for Gertie and Clara is a joy, a joy punctuated by yawns, broken sleep and the occasional confused moment. I read today that the man who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature wrote “hallucinatory realism.” I don’t even know what that means, but I’m pretty sure I’m living it.

I was standing in the produce section of the grocery store shortly after the girls were born talking to my best friend, Christina, on the phone.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m standing here looking at grapes like I’ve never seen them before in my life,” I told her. “There are red ones and green ones. What am I supposed to buy?” I bought both and then left them in the car until my trunk smelled like cheap wine.

More recently, my husband, Graham, and I were talking about how Gertie is smaller than Clara. I looked at him with crazy in my eyes and asked, “Do you think she might be an elf?” I was so tired that for a minute I forgot that elves are only a figment of Santa Claus’s imagination and I thought my daughter might really be one. That’s a true story, friends.

I’m lucky. My girls sleep fairly well. Nighttime feedings run so smoothly it’s like those babies are on rails. I had Clara fed, changed and back to sleep in 28 minutes the other night. It’s not sleep deprivation that I suffer from. It’s having to use my brain all the time. That’s taxing. Look, I don’t like to admit this any more than my dad likes to hear it, but when it was just me I didn’t have to use my brain that much. What is there to taking care of yourself? Get dressed, be nice to people and never walk away from the stove when you’re reheating fries under the broiler. It’s not that hard.

When you’re a mom you have to think. You have to think all the time. There is no break in the thinking. You’re constantly on alert. You are the embodiment of DEFCON 1. Who knew?

It doesn’t seem like that should be surprising, but it is. There is something startling about the way your mind awakens to the potential disasters as well as all the wonderful possibilities that will confront your children every day and how many of both you will not be able to control. It’s enough to leave a new mother mentally exhausted, which is the state I find myself in today.

So yes, this morning I gave Gertie the pacifier. I told her that the quality of both our lives would be greatly enhanced if she’d learn to keep it in her mouth instead of chomping on it twice and spitting it across the room. Then I got back in bed only to lie there thinking thinking thinking about the girls. I crept back over to the bassinet and saw her grinning up at me with the pacifier lying at her feet. She’s going to be so good at spitting watermelon seeds. This time I picked her up and held her close to me. I was tired, yes, but who needs 10 more minutes of sleep when the sweetest dreams wait for you in the light of morning?

 Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is at