By Sara Weiss Zimmerman
“Being a mom to a toddler has exacerbated my absentmindedness.”
You think I’d learn not to rest my coffee cup on the roof of the car while buckling my daughter Nora into her car seat, but sometimes, I only have so many hands. How many times have I backed out of the driveway and heard the clunk of a thing hitting the pavement? My phone, my sunglasses, a water bottle, a lunch bag, a juice box. And I have spent much of my existence searching for lost items, so much so that my two-year-old has a habit of walking into my closet with her hands in the air, saying, “I’m just looking for something.”
My absentmindedness is not a new affliction. My mom tells me she’d pick me up from elementary school on a frigid winter day, and I’d walk up to her car in a t-shirt. “Where’s your coat?” she’d ask and I’d shrug. Once, the carpool driver dropped me off at home without my sister. “Where’s Rachel?” my mom asked, and I shrugged. I didn’t think to question it. We made plenty of trips back to school to retrieve forgotten homework assignments, backpacks, books, items of clothing, etc. Pictures of me as a kid show my hair falling over my eyes, my shirt sliding down one shoulder, head tilted, my bottom lip tucked under my top lip—a little goofy, a little out there.
Though I was absentminded in some ways, I was also a perfectionist in others—especially once I got to high school. I worked hard to get straight A’s, sometimes staying up until 2 a.m. to finish my homework. I wanted to be the best at everything I did, whether it was my school work, writing for the newspaper, playing field hockey or practicing my saxophone. I was exhausted by the effort of trying to prove myself to myself and to others. If I finished my homework, I’d shoot some hoops in the driveway and wouldn’t let myself come back inside until I’d gotten ten in a row.
While working hard to be the best at everything I set out to do, clothes and papers piled up on the floor of my room—I lost my shin guards, my history book, my favorite sweatshirt—I sprinted to school every morning to try to make it to homeroom on time—and I sometimes felt unmoored, floating around without the top of my head.
I don’t know exactly how these two personality traits can exist at the same time—absentmindedness and perfectionism. While I worked so hard to perform well when it comes to things that “mattered” on my work, on the way people perceived me, that my inner world became chaotic.
I’ve gotten my act together somewhat as an adult woman, as a teacher, a writer, a wife. I put systems in place: Lists, reminders, file cabinets, storage boxes, routines. I found yoga and have tried to accept myself, to meditate, relax and breathe, which has helped me feel like my head is attached to my body again.
But being a mom to a toddler has exacerbated my absentmindedness. Some of the systems I have worked so hard to put in place have gone kaput. When my daughter was a newborn, I just had to feed her, clothe her and comfort her. I nursed her all day long in the comfort of our cozy house. When she cried, I tended to her, rocking her, bouncing her on an exercise ball, taking her for long walks in the baby carrier.
But now that she is two, I want to make sure to keep her stimulated. I take her to story time at the library, to the playground, on playdates, to the pool. I need to remember to bring a whole slew of items when I leave the house—my wallet, my keys, Nora’s (replenished) diaper bag with appropriate snacks and drinks, shoes, changes of clothes, socks, winter hats and gloves or summer hats, towels and suntan lotion. And while I’m packing up the fifteen bags to go check the mail, there’s a toddler yelling at me. “I want juice! I want to bring my bunny and my Dora and my baby and my puzzle in the car!” I’m finally almost out the door and she’s taking off her shoes. Or I turn my back for one second to grab that extra diaper, and she’s balanced on the back of the couch looking like she wants to fly. It sometimes feels like a test—can you pack a bag with a monkey in the room who will simultaneously be unpacking your bag?
I know it gets worse when we beat ourselves up. In addition to the monkey in the room, there’s this judgmental voice inside my head nagging at me. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you keep it together? Why are you such a space cadet?” And who could get anything done with all that noise? Anxiety and self-criticism only aggravate the problem.
Absentmindedness is a sign that I’m trying to do way too much and that I need to find some way to simplify—or else my head might actually blow off one of these days. It’s okay to say no to people sometimes. The best days are sometimes the ones when we have nothing planned, when Nora and I read books together, go for a walk, or run around the yard. Yesterday, I watched her focus as she sat in the baby pool, filling a cup with water and pouring it out again. She’s entirely present every moment of every day.
I know that I need to accept who I am and accept that life with little kids is messy. That’s the reality of it. But Nora will grow up, this time in my life will be short-lived and I want to enjoy the journey as chaotic as it may be.
I know all of this, and yet, I’m bound to drive away with my phone on the roof of the car in the near future, because, well, that’s who I am, and that’s what I do.
Sara Weiss Zimmerman, a writer and yoga teacher living in Nyack, NY with her husband and beautiful two-year-old daughter, has published work in Literary Mama, Underwater New York and The Hook Magazine. You can learn more about her adventures with a toddler on her blog, www.shmooples.com.