Mental Space (or: Why I Had Such A Hard Summer)

We didn’t go on any field trips this year.

This has been bothering me all summer. For the last several years, this has been the structure of our summers, and it’s something the kids look forward to. As the summer unfolded, I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t make it work. There was really nothing so different this year from prior years. Like last year, we had two kids in summer school; like last year, we had swim lessons; like last year, we had two kids in baseball. But we did field trips last year. What’s the difference this year?

Photo by topgold, via Flickr

It goes farther back than that, actually. I was kind of a hot mess in April and May as well, but in April and May I thought it was going to settle down once all the end-of-year concerts and events were over. I kept wailing to Christian, “This baseball season is so much more intense than last year!”

He protested. “How is it more intense? It’s the same as last year.”

All I knew was that all through the month of June, I felt on the verge of breakdown. I chalked it up to two things: 1) Christian coaching, and 2) preparing for the big trip to Grand Rapids—a big summer vacation was one thing we did not do last year. Because that trip was doing triple duty—family vacation, travel writing, and music conference—the bulk of the prep work was on me.

The summer improved dramatically once we got on the road, but even afterward, there were no field trips. I just could not get it together.

Now, why am I sharing all this with you? Because my spiritual director offered me an insight yesterday that I think might be as illuminating to others as it was to me.

She suggested that as children develop their own lives and interests, there becomes more for Mom (or primary caregiver) to keep track of. There may not be more running around than there was before, but there’s more mental energy required.

This was a light bulb moment for me. When they were littler we stayed busy, but our lives and worlds were wholly intertwined. We were one unit, a streamlined process.

These days, as logistics mom, I’m constantly making and adjusting plans, trying to figure out how to get my own needs met around the edges of theirs. And trying to help them be successful at learning to be responsible for their own equipment, for instance. You know what I mean: it takes far more mental energy to get four kids to remember to bring all the things they need—snack, water bottle, baseball bag—than it is for me to pack it all myself. But they need to learn responsibility. The upshot? Not only do I have to make sure everything gets in the car, I have to make sure somebody else has thought it through and put it in the car. Which means remembering everything not once, but three or four or five times (because every parent knows that no kid remembers everything with one reminder).

In other words, we’re not physically doing more. It’s just all taking much, much more mental space.

This all makes perfect sense to me. Doing has rarely flipped me out. But I have a finite amount of mental energy. If I’m expending most of it trying to corral the masses and remember everything for everyone, plus teach them how to remember it themselves, all while still trying to do my work-from-home schtick?

Photo by eamoncurry123, via Flickr

Well, it’s no wonder I felt like I was on the verge of breakdown. We’re not meant to run at full brain capacity 24/7.

And it makes sense, too, why Christian wouldn’t have felt the difference, because he didn’t have nearly as much of that brain-logistics dynamic to deal with, because he’s not the at-home parent.

There aren’t any solutions in this insight, but at least now I know there’s a reason for how I felt. I no longer think I’m a) crazy for feeling this way, or worse: b) a whiner.