November 3, 2010

Do the Math

When you become a mother, you improve your math skills. Did no one tell you that? There you were all those years, bored out of your mind in math class, doodling your future married name surrounded by hearts when you should have been learning the skills needed to care for your future children. I can tell you’re skeptical. Picture it this way:

The baby cries. You open one eye and glare at the clock. It reads 2:30am. Your mind shifts into high gear to solve the following word problem:

If the baby went down at 11:45pm and it is now 2:30am, then she has been asleep 2 hours and 45 minutes. This means she must be hungry. I will have to get up and feed her. I went to bed at 12:30am. I have been asleep 2 hours. If it takes 30 minutes to change her, feed her, and get her back to sleep, I can be back in bed by 3am. That means that I can sleep at least 2 more hours before she wakes up again. I might get as much as six hours of sleep tonight—if I add it all together.

Approximately 30 seconds have passed since the baby actually started crying. If those aren’t math skills, I don’t know what is.

What’s remarkable to me is that this feat is repeated pretty much at every feeding, diaper change, and nap for the first few months. There is a constant running list and accompanying clock of how long it has been since the child input, output, or slept. I picture it as the sort of heads-up display an advanced robot might have on board. This is why moms look at dads like they’re imbeciles when they ask whether the baby is hungry when she cries for no good reason. Doesn’t he know that she ate 35 minutes and 27 seconds ago? He does not.

I love getting some time to leave the house by myself. But inevitably I will come home and ask when the last time our daughter ate/peed/slept was and will be met with a raised eyebrow and a look of (lucky for him) adorable concentration. I usually receive a ballpark estimate and a sheepish grin. The physics major/math minor in me took a while to adjust to this “uncertainty” in my schedule.

Amazingly, if you look, babies will tell you exactly what they need when they need it. There is a cry for hunger, a posture for poops, and sudden, uncalled for fits to signal nap times. And yet, I cannot let go. (You can laugh right now when I try to tell you that I am a proponent of baby-led schedules.) It’s not that I want to tell her what to do. I just want to be able to plan for what comes next.

Thankfully as the first year passes and you don’t have to add to come up with the number of hours you slept—you can just count like a normal person—the schedule thing becomes a lot more fluid. That’s when you have the afternoon where you realize that the reason she’s screaming at you is because you haven’t fed her yet, and it’s been a while to say the least. Eek! You thank your lucky stars that babies can tell you their needs, unlike the plant I constantly forget to water. Then you get her lunch. And maybe yourself lunch, because you never actually had breakfast. 

The math can wait until after lunch.


  1. Hooray for a real post! I have another word problem for you: if your five-year-old rolls his eyes at you fourteen times in one hour, and your two-year-old uses three crayons to write on the wall while you're showering, how many martinis do you drink at 8:13 p. m.?

  2. So true. Isn't it amazing how much thought is put into eating/pooping/bodily functions? Hard to explain to a first time parent just how much they'll think about these things, but I even had forgotten the pattern by the time Dash was born. :) Thanks for posting!

  3. This sooo true and so funny and so sad at the same time. It really is astonishing how you are just driven by the math of the times of things. And why I definitely look at Greg like he's an idiot when he goes " i think he's hungry" when I know for a fact he ate just an hour ago (although to be fair, breast feeding takes up a lot of his and mine waking hours) Thanks for the honesty on this one!


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