Something my mother once told me that has stuck in my mind throughout the years is how she felt right after the first of her four children was born. A nurse found her crying in her hospital bed in Minneapolis. "Why are you crying? This is such a happy time," the nurse said. "I'm just thinking," my mother answered, "how soon it will all be over!"
Apart from what this says about the weirdly glass-half-empty perspective that my mother and I share, I do think it also says something about the general nature of having children. On the one hand, we mothers are told, ad nauseum, that this is the best time of our lives and we'd better gosh darn enjoy it, a mantra that usually pops into my head when I'm doing something like scraping chewing gum off the carpet. On the other hand, there's something about having kids that can make you more gloriously conscious, in an almost Buddhist way, of passing time and the inevitability of death. Almost as if creating life puts you that much closer to the finish line, while reminding you the race has a limit. (The birth of the child is the death of the parent, as Hegel has said.) In "The Mommy Brain," I focused for the most part on what the current scientific research says about motherhood's potential to make us smarter. But in the end, some of the best parts of this story are abstract, unmeasurable. Many moms I interviewed told me, quite subjectively, that parenting had made them better at deadlines. But some went on to add they felt themselves getting better about that mother of all deadlines, the last one. They've told me that having kids has made them that much more determined to leave a legacy -- they realize, now, they'll be remembered, and want to be remembered well. As a later life mom, who has already lost two great friends to cancer, I think about this kind of stuff a lot, perhaps too much. But I also appreciate in a truly upbeat sense that having kids is a great opportunity to rearrange your goals with the fact that we're all ephemeral in mind. With luck, it becomes a practice that lasts a long lifetime.