Ahh, Executive Function: the ability to plan, break tasks down into steps, prioritise, execute, and … what’s the last one? Oh yes: finish.
I remember that.
It used to be one of my superpowers. Once upon a time, my life looked like this:
I was enrolled full-time on a Masters degree, coursework plus researching and writing a 30,000-word thesis. I was also working 18hrs/week as a research assistant, collecting and analysing a range of print and video publications for someone else’s project. And I was also working 9hrs/week as a grad teaching assistant. The effortless tidiness of my office attracted colleagues’ admiration.
A few years previously, I’d helped found an animation lobby group, serving as treasurer and producing the newsletter. We were also managing a film project. I had helped obtain and distribute development funding, I’d drawn and submitted my own storyboard, I was helping assess the other proposals.
And that’s not all. In those days, my fella and I lived in a tidy two-story house; we did jiu-jitsu; we saved money; we cooked from scratch and packed our own lunches; we gardened. I had my own room with art and needlepoint supplies in frequent use. We went regularly to the movies and spontaneously invited people to dinner.
That life ticked all my boxes for intellectual stimulation and variety, physical activity, social time and quiet time. I thrived.
Aaaaaand then there’s now.
Now I have one job – homeschooling my kids, which I manage haphazardly – and one hobby that gets any meaningful attention. Even so, I’ve missed the GHF Writers’ EF-themed month, finally starting when by rights I should be excavating a giant pile of Lego, doll clothes, and dust, to find the source of the cat-pee smell.
Meanwhile this week I got to the bakery where I buy the kids’ lunch, only to discover I hadn’t brought my purse, and made an appointment with the hairdresser that I forgot within the hour. I wanted The Skeptic to come to the orthodontist with me because I didn’t feel capable of grasping it all; this was so important that I reminded him repeatedly … of the wrong time. We visited Mum on a day when it wasn’t my turn. And – shh, the kids don’t know this – but I started a small fire by putting a tray lined with baking paper down too close to a gas flame. Twice.
It has been like this for years. Check out this fun facebook memory that cropped up this week:
The playroom rug has never recovered, and my wallet was gone for 32 days, only turning up (in my son’s Lego box, where, fucking hell, I had put it) after I’d driven off without paying for petrol.
Often when I complain about this stuff with other mothers, they laugh it off. Oh sure, they say, giving an example of a goof that didn’t cost anything, waste anyone’s time, put anyone in danger, or ruin anything valuable. That’s parenthood, they say.
But I wonder. I mean, their kids go to school. They hold down jobs and keep fit and their cars don’t smell like they’ve been driving a giant plastic bag of lawn clippings around for a hot summer month. (Must remember to get that out of there today.)
Do they really live in a thick fog of Chronically Lost Things, Missed Appointments, and Forgotten Tasks? Because their nonchalance, their equanimity, suggests to me that perhaps it isn’t quite the same over there in Regular Shower Land.
You see, it isn’t just parenthood that did for my EF: it’s parenting these particular kids, with their screaming and their not-sleeping, their throwing things and their screaming, their mind-blowing questions and their endless bloody screaming, their separation anxiety and their violent school refusal and did I mention the screaming? Additionally, the past 13 years have brought heavy physical and emotional burdens that punched their own enormous holes in my neural networks, quite apart from the children, who will at any rate outgrow most of that stuff. (I hope.)
And I didn’t just lose my ability to get things done. I lost my whole sense of self, which had, rather unfortunately, been built on high – or at least, lots of – achievement. And on being ‘smart’. I don’t feel smart, any more. Where I used to be all about ideas – all the ideas! Big ideas! More ideas! – now I can find myself standing in the kitchen holding a piece of bread, wondering where the toaster is. (Answer: on the bench in front of me, where I put it just before opening the bread-bag.)
Yet Old Rebecca lingers like a snarky ghost, tutting and rolling her eyes when I’m searching for my keys/sunglasses/hearing aid/that thing I was just carrying that I meant to do something with. Whatever it was. She still counts ‘success’ by the number of things I can cross off the list, whereas New Rebecca is lucky to recall that the list even exists. Also, have you seen my shoes? ‘Useless’, she whispers. ‘FFS.’
It wasn’t until I encountered Jen Merrill’s “Adult-Onset, Child-Induced ADHD” (coined in her book) that I finally felt someone really got it. Then I found some other 2e mums IRL and online, those whose IQs have similarly shot from one end of the bell curve to the other, whose laughter is equally frequent, wry, and a little bit wild. Who celebrate the days we manage to have showers. Yes, that counts as an accomplishment these days. High-fives all round.
They’re awesome, the 2e mums, and I am so grateful to know them. They’re helping me be a better person. Whereas Old Rebecca could be a bit of a bitch, testy with those who couldn’t keep up, New Rebecca has a lot more compassion for those who’ve been trampled by wiring, life, accident or illness. She’ll chuck whatever goals she had for the day to share some cake and listen to your story, so I don’t for a moment regret her appearance.
I just… sometimes, I miss my brain.