The Time I Threw Out My New iPod: Taking Care of My Brain

Today, I was not just late for a meeting. Today I missed a meeting altogether. I’m loathe to tell you why, but you might guess so here it goes: I was sleeping. I had forgotten to double check my calendar before deciding to take a mid-morning nap with Mani, and sure enough, when I woke up I realized I was 30 minutes, also known as “too,” late to make it.

This morning, I had two copies of “Why I Was Late for Our Meeting” sitting on the little chest where we keep the dishes in the kitchen. I knew they were both books I set aside to give away. The problem was, I had no idea whom they were for. Over the course of two or so hours, some Facebook messages and emails tipped me off, and I remembered. But oh, the forgetting is disconcerting.

As I write this, Mani is in the other room doing her hour of “brain gym” exercises. She is becoming a veritable amateur scholar when it comes to neuroplasticity and our ability to not only rewire our brains but also strengthen them and keep them agile and able as we age. You might think we’re too young to be thinking about this stuff, but no. It starts now. The slipping. The “why did I come into this room again?”

I threw out my iPod shuffle last weekend. The brand new red one that I had especially engraved with words that seem slightly ironic now: “Everything counts.” I didn’t mean to toss it, mind you. I was bringing the trash down to the garage after a short run, and somehow I didn’t notice till later that the iPod was nowhere to be found.

On Monday, our landlord sent an email to us and our downstairs neighbor: “Anyone missing a small red iPod? Music’s terrible, but might be one of yours.” Hey, what? I responded with a yes, and a wink about needing to get better music. He wrote back, sounding a bit sheepish and blaming his kids for their musical taste. Last night, he dropped it off for me. End of story.

But clearly part of a bigger story, one where I begin to worry about my mind.

I used to worry about my mind being overactive. Now, it’s a lack of focus I find distressing. Mind you, this is not a constant state. I can tell you what year it is. Unfortunately, I can even tell you who the president of the United States is. I know my social security number, my kids’ birthdays, and people’s phone numbers I haven’t called in years. I keep track of multiple writing groups at any given moment, try to remember when we’re low on toilet paper, and write down appointments in my handy-dandy paper calendar. My 2016 taxes are even done. All things considered, as a working mama with my own business, I’m holding my own. I may have thrown out my iPod, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

But I want to do more than keep up and keep track of all the moving parts. I want to be intentional about what gets my time and attention and yes, where I hung up the car keys. (By the way, last year, I threw out my whole keychain in that same garbage can — true story. I never recovered those, though. Mani and I have been sharing keys ever since.) I want to be present to whatever I’m doing, not jumping up to make a cup of tea mid-sentence, or clicking over to one of the other 18 open tabs (I just counted) on my desktop when I’m still in the middle of writing something here.

I’m not even going to bother writing about shame. Bah, we don’t have time for that old story.

And I have no pithy words of wisdom about multitasking and how terrible it is for our brains. There are a million studies and books and websites addressing what we already now. Instead, I’m coming here to write about this simply because it’s true. It’s getting my attention and is the kind of thing where small concerns can quickly become big problems when they go untended.

I hear the beeps and boops of Mani’s computer program and see us: Two middle-aged women, not even three years married. Five kids between us with an 11-year age range. A peaceful apartment in a quiet neighborhood in a college town in the northeast, with plans to move to Southern California after my two have turned 18 (or sooner, should the universe conspire on our behalf). I see us on this mission to be healthy not only of body but of mind and spirit, too.

I just spoke with a friend today, whose partner’s father has brain cancer. The surgery he had required cutting out part of his brain, the part that controls empathy and emotion. I want to rush into the next room to say, “I love you.” In fact, we do this many times each day — stop and give thanks. It’s a near constant. Even on days when I am rattled or rushed, a conversation with her will bring me back to something softer and kinder inside of myself.

I leave in 10 minutes to pick kids up early from school for eye doctor appointments. My work day is chopped up; I will return to the computer to catch up with all of my writing peeps later, most likely while Aviva and Pearl are at the rock gym with their dad. But right now, I am here. I am writing this blog post. I am taking a breath in, and I am taking a breath out. I hear the rhythm of it and realize I’m doing ujjayi pranayama — ocean breath — without even meaning to. It’s soothing and centering.

I hear the “ding” of another Facebook notification; at least 12 have occurred in the 20 or so minutes since I began writing. I choose to ignore it, for now. I will finish what I started, before beginning the next thing. And see if I can bring some kindness to myself as I keep practicing this.

Last night, I wrote something about not being unnecessarily hard on myself, then realized that being hard on ourselves is never necessary. Yes, we can identify things that need our attention. Sometimes these are even urgent. There is so much waking up to do. But beating ourselves up really doesn’t expedite the learning; if anything, it makes me want to run the other way.

No running away. No lashes on the back. Just honesty with myself and a willingness to be real here, too. It’s a good place to start again. After all, everything counts.

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