Seriously, Sam? Brain Drain

Seriously, Sam? Brain Drain

Seriously, Sam? is a monthly column that looks at the lighter side of suburban life.  This month, Sam walks us through her brain drain- intellectual to mommy brain.

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Sometimes I like to pretend that I am an erudite, well-read, hyper-informed smarty pants. I guess I do this because, when I was younger, I actually was a painfully pretentious intellectual with a genuine thirst for knowledge. I studied Eastern European history at my small liberal arts college and, five years after the fall of the Berlin wall, spent a semester in Budapest (which I, obviously, pronounced Budah-pesht). I even won a prize for historical scholarship for my senior thesis, a dense and overly written study of modern nationalism, as illustrated by the Hungarian and Romanian claims to Transylvania; the saving grace of this 120-page tome was the opening sentence: “The following has nothing to do with vampires.”

As a professional, I was in charge, for a time, of the team that wrote the five-year strategic plans for one of the leading media companies in the world. I also ran the group that analyzed quantitative consumer data to create complex audience profiles. I was an SVP with an MBA who could use a DCF to find an NPV. I was the real deal.

Times have changed. These days my brain is often most compatible with my seven-year-old son, whose favorite pastime is watching an absurdist cartoon called The Amazing World of Gumball.

And I am finally ok with this.

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The evidence has been piling up for years. Like all of those lunchtimes when, alone at home, I choose to watch The Real Housewives of NYC instead of CNN. Or when I am on the phone with my mom and, as she begins to talk about something deep and meaningful (say, current politics,) I suddenly realize I have to make a dentist appointment and abruptly hang up with an “Uh huh, K, gotta go.” Or, possibly the fact that my definition of great literature has morphed from The Great Gatsby to Crazy Rich Asians.

The starkest example of my downward spiral to idiocy was the family vacation we took last summer to Colonial Williamsburg. We decided to go on this trip for two reasons: 1) my daughter had just studied American colonial life in school (culminating in a fabulous turn as “School Child #1” in her 3rd grade play “Market Day in Williamsburg;”) and, 2) we desperately needed something to fill a few days of the 3-week void between school and camp. I have never known, or even pretended to know, much about American History, so I was super excited to learn with my kids and bond on this educational family vacation.

For those lucky enough to have missed a trip here, the draw of Colonial Williamsburg is that it is a living history museum. This means that, even in the 107-degree heat (Virginia in June, anyone?), the women on the streets, and in the shoppes, were wearing white, shirred morning bonnets over their hair; long-sleeved, floor length, calico printed dresses; and hard, black leather boots. The men wore those triangular revolutionary hats that look like hamentashen, complete with several layers of woolen vests and jackets, smartly accessorized with muskets. No one was smiling much.

We spent our first afternoon wandering the streets of town, dodging manure from the horse drawn carriages and popping into shoppes to learn about various trades. We went to the blacksmith. As the fully clad tradesmen demonstrated and explained the process of creating knives from molten metal, I shuffled my feet, felt overheated and prayed that one of my kids would want to move on. Same thing at the silversmith. The Smithy was full of interesting facts about how silver was used as currency, even if it was in the shape of a spoon; yet all I wanted to do was go back to our hotel pool and have a glass of wine while the kids swam. The intentions of learning in Williamsburg were all there, but the actual learning was beyond painful.

We suffered through a few arduous tours, given by guides with many arcane facts who were particularly stern about using your phone. How was I supposed to see whether the temperature had broken 100 degrees without checking weather.com? The highlight of the trip was a tour of the Capital building. It was an inherently boring place, but our guide was a hearty, smiley woman (perhaps because she got to work in the, anachronistically, air-conditioned capital). She gave us scraps of laminated, Velcro-backed paper with pictures of chairs, and asked us to find them as we walked through the building. A chair scavenger hunt. Only in Williamsburg would this be the pinnacle of fun. Actually, it got better. We ended our tour in the courtroom, where we participated in a mock-trial. My 9-year-old daughter got to be the lawyer because the lawyer’s bench had been her chair. The entire thing lasted 20 minutes and all of us, even my Gumball-loving 6-year-old son, were thoroughly entertained. Of course, it was the “children’s tour,” deemed suitable for those 3-7 years old.

My husband’s intellectual arc has gone in direct opposition to mine. He was a mediocre student in school but is now an avid learner in every facet of life. In Williamsburg, he wanted to listen to every lecture and read every plaque. He even enjoyed “Bits and Bridles” the behind-the-scenes tour of the colonial stables. It was billed as the only way to get up close with the Williamsburg animals. I don’t know if this was true or not because we left before seeing one. While my husband listened patiently to our guide, nodding as she told us about the famous Milking Devons, Leicester Longwools and Nankins, my son pulled my arm and whined “Can we go now, and my daughter whispered “where are the horses?” We had dodged many steaming clumps of evidence that there were horses nearby, but other than a smell that wouldn’t leave my nose for days, there was no indication that our future would hold an actual sighting any time soon. So, we bailed. My studious husband had the honor of politely notifying the guide that we were going to leave the tour. He might not have chosen this role, but I had run out with my kids, like a child released from detention, as soon as he said it was ok for us to leave.

Blame it on mommy brain, or years of extreme sleep deprivation, or just the fact that now that I am in my mid-40s I feel a lot less need to pretend to be anything but who I am. Whatever the reason, I am not the hyper-intellectual super-learner of my youth. I love family time, but I am perfectly happy to get it by watching The Amazing World of Gumball with my son. Besides, this way I get to snuggle and hear him laugh. And that beats learning about American History any day.

About Samantha Woodruff

Samantha Woodruff holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She spent most of her career at Viacom’s MTV Networks, where she oversaw Strategy, Business Development and Consumer Research for Nickelodeon and a host of other brands.

After becoming a mom and moving to the suburbs of Manhattan, Sam left corporate America and made being a mom to her 7 and 9 year old kids her full-time job. In her free moments, Sam teaches yoga and takes classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. She is working on her first novel and writing essays that take a lighter look at the life of a former type-A executive turned suburban mom. Her work has been featured in Read650 and she contributes a monthly column, Seriously, Sam? to Suburbs 101.

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