Parent-Brain Syndrome

Today at 5 p.m. I got off the bus and walked home from the terminal, like I do almost every weekday. When I reached our driveway, I stood there for a moment, puzzled. Where was the car? Then I remembered that it was pouring rain at 7:15 a.m. when I left the house. So I drove to the bus terminal. Which is where the car was still parked.

The keys jingling in my pocket when I reached for my bus pass should have served as a reminder. But I didn’t even notice. I was too lost in the fog of Parent-Brain Syndrome.

I used to be an intelligent person. I graduated at the top of my journalism class. I was even shortlisted for a Rhodes scholarship. Ten years later, it took me three trips from my office to the staff kitchen before I could eat my lunch this afternoon, because I kept forgetting my fork.

Most people associate Parent-Brain Syndrome (PBS) with the parents of newborns—particularly brand-new breastfeeding mothers. No doubt you’ve witnessed someone in the full throes of PBS: dark circles under their vacant, glassy eyes, head swivelling aimlessly as if they can’t quite remember where they are or how they got there. Like concussion victims, parents with a severe case of PBS will probably forget anything you tell them within three minutes. They might even forget your name.

While PBS is usually most intense in those early months, it can flare up for years—and fathers are susceptible too. One common trigger is fatigue, which is definitely my problem today. I went to bed late, all three boys kept having random freakouts last night, and I was up for good at 5 a.m. As a result, there’s been a lot of zoning out today.

Another trigger of PBS is excessive multi-tasking. I’m pretty good at juggling several demands; some nights I cook an adult dinner and a kid dinner at the same time while rolling a ball back and forth to Gideon and corralling the older boys into the bathroom to wash their hands. But sometimes the phone rings or somebody has a crisis that tips the scales and blows a fuse in my mind, and half an hour later I’ll realize I put the measuring cups away in the fridge and the soy sauce in the dishwasher.

Forgetting things or getting mixed up are just a couple of symptoms of Parent-Brain Syndrome. Here are some others:

An inability to complete tasks. Half a dozen times a day I’ll walk past an object and think, “Oh, yeah. I was going to do something with that.” Chances are it still doesn’t get done for another hour. Or day.

Difficulty remembering to feed yourself. My wife occasionally forgets breakfast. It just doesn’t occur to her until practically lunchtime. And neither one of us has finished a cup of tea without reheating it since 2007. Sometimes I’ll open the microwave and find a mug I warmed up two hours ago and then promptly forg0t. Shawna has given up on teacups altogether and only drinks from insulated travel mugs.

Inability to maintain adult conversations. Dinnertime talk between Shawna and me usually goes like this:

Shawna – How was  your day?
Me – Pretty good. This morning I—Oscar, put your underwear on and come back to the table!…What was I saying? Anyhow, what did you do today?
Shawna—Well, Xander and I…just a minute. Gideon climbed a chair and is about to swing from the plant.
(She rushes off, then comes back. Long silence.)
Me—Did I answer your question? I forget.
Shawna—Maybe. Who knows. I can’t even remember what I asked you.
Me—Me either. Good talking to you, though.

Those are few of the more common effects of Parent-Brain Sydrome. There was one more I was going to write about, and it was going to be really funny. But I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.


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