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When people warned me that I might not have enough energy to keep up with a toddler in my 40’s I shrugged them off. As it turned out, I’ve kept up with my son physically. What I didn’t anticipate was that as a 51-year-old, I’d have trouble keeping up my 11 year old mentally.
I am a university professor and a fast thinking New Yorker. Who knew I’d meet my match not in an academic debate but in the back seat of my own car?
Mom’s Morning Question Time
In the morning, I imbibe a cup of coffee before venturing into Daniel’s room to gently touch his shoulder and tell him to “wake up.” After a few minutes of keeping his eyes closed and mumbling, “I’m too tired to go to school,” he looks right at me and the questions begin.
“If we built a computer out of carbon, and knew how to make all the nerve pathways, what else do we need to give it consciousness?” Or, “Why do we have two opposing political parties in charge when they can never get things done? Why don’t we have a better system?”
Daniel is a bright kid, eager to learn, and I want to encourage his curiosity, at least in theory. But my usual response dribbles out more on the order of “Good questions, honey. I’m too tired to think about that right now. What would you like for breakfast?”
The problem is I say the same thing at dinner-time. I thought I was getting away with all this until one day, he spoke to me in a gentle tone that he adopts when talking to younger children “Mommy, are you sure you used to be smart?”
The thing is, I’m 51-year-old woman in peri-menopause, an older mom, with a full-time academic and professional life. My son is my top priority, and I have what sometimes feels like unlimited love for and interest in him. But as for my brain-power, not so unlimited.
While I blame this on age, I should note that the younger moms I know report similar issues. Maybe brain fatigue is just the result of keeping your kids in mind 24/7 while still conducting other aspects of life.
Still, the age thing makes me sad occasionally, just knowing that my intellectual peak and Daniel’s never coincided. What an exciting meeting of the minds we might have had. At the very least, I want him to respect me.
Why Being An Older Mom Is Worth It
I needn’t have worried. Recently, my friends and I were talking about the value of “wisdom.” I didn’t even know Daniel was listening, but the next day he asked me at breakfast, “Is there really such a thing as wisdom?”
“What do you think?” I asked, lobbing another one of my avoidance strategies.
“Yes and no” he said. “It’s good to learn from experience…but everything involves a level of uncertainty and change. If you think you’ve mastered it, you are probably kidding yourself.”
I looked at him, amazed. And relieved that our souls connect even if our minds might run at different speeds.
About This Blog:
Jodi Halpern,MD, PhD is a psychiatrist and an associate professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the University of California, Berkeley. Her book From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice (Oxford University Press, 2001, 2011) helped build a wave of research on clinical empathy. Halpern investigates how emotions and the imagination shape the healthcare decisions of clinicians and patients. In addition to studying how to educate professionals for empathy, she is completing a book on the role of self-empathy in living well in the wake of illness and disability. She is also beginning work on the challenges veterans face reconnecting with their families after war. See jodihalpern.com.
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