I am well educated. I have an inquisitive mind. I am widely and well read. I have travelled and lived abroad. I have met brilliant people. I have a strong and retentive memory for scenes and remember detailed facts. I had a lively mind. I could carry on a conversation about nearly any subject and hold the interest of an accomplished person about her own achievements. Then I went brain dead. I became the primary parent for my children.
For twenty years, I devoted myself to raising my daughter and son. I held a professional career, but somehow I managed to make it secondary, packing it around the interspersed demands of my children. Within twenty minutes of taking this commitment, I was exhausted. I was reduced to four hours of interrupted sleep a night. The exhaustion never went away. Both of my children were not night trained until they were five years old. As young children, their bedtime was 9 PM. After they fell asleep, I perked a pot of coffee and went to work in my home study, researching and writing. I got them up twice, sometimes thrice, a night, putting them on the toilet at sometime about between 11 PM and 2 AM, and then after 4 AM. I went to bed after the midnight potty. Then I arose before dawn, put them on the potty again, and went back to work for a hour or so. Depending upon their ages, I had a woman come to the house for a few hours to help look after them while I went back to work in the study, or spent a few hours at work or at my office; or I took them to day care for the a morning; or I walked them to school. When they were old enough, they walked to school by themselves; but, unknown to them, for years I followed about 100 feet behind them, to make certain they didn't get into to trouble crossing streets and arrived at school safely. I picked them up at school, or was home when they arrived after school.
For years, I baked bread, so there would be fresh bread for them when they got home at midafternoon. My daughter brought a gang of her girl friends with her every day, to share the feast of bread. We called them "the carbohydrate kids". Then I did the afternoon chores, shopping, ferrying the children to friends and back, preparing dinner.
My wife was then a litigation attorney (now a superior court judge). She had no time for childrearing. She could not tell a client, oh, I can't be at your trial today, my kid is sick, or I have a school play rehearsal to attend. She was out of the house by 7 AM in the morning, and didn't get back home until 6:30 or 7 PM. When she arrived home, she was usually so fried from the stress of her work - litigation is combat - that she did not have the energy to do much except sit at the table to eat, then collapse in the bedroom.
To add to these demands on our lives, we took in three teenagers, troubled youths, in the 1990s for varying periods of time. One boy lived with us for 9 months, one boy for over a year, one girl for 3 months. They required a great deal of attention. The boy who lived with us for 9 months was, by age fifteen, an alcoholic and a drug addict. We got him into AA and a social work counsellor, with several appointments a week. Of course, I took him to these, otherwise he wouldn't have gone. I went into some of the counselling sessions with him, to work out what to do with him with the therapist. These were the same years that our son's mental illness showed itself, which raised a world of problems for everybody. Eventually everybody worked out okay. We kept the teenagers off the streets, out of jail, and eventually off booze and drugs. My son's illness moderated itself and he was, after six years, able to go off medicine; he is doing terrific today. So our efforts were helpful.
As a result of these extraordinary demands, I was exhausted. I existed in a fog of exhaustion. I was so tired most of the time that I was numb. To fulfill my family responsibility, I had to cut back on my responsibilities to my professional career. I did this mainly by giving up professional travel and by not doing the reading that I needed to do. For my career, I would otherwise have read four to six hours a day in professional literature. I gave that up. I also gave up all recreational reading. I gave up an art avocation to which I had previously devoted much time. I stopped listening to music, even as background. I packed my extensive library of 33RPM records into storage boxes. I ceased to read newspapers, except for quick, cursory glances at the local pages. I didn't watch television. I remember almost nothing of President Reagan's two terms. The fall of the Soviet Union - a world shaking event - and Russia's years of tumultous struggle toward freedom were but the distant forgettable patter of rain. My world contracted to my house, my family, the supermarket, Kaiser Permanente's pediatric clinics, my children's schools, and their school friends and activities.
My knowledge and interests contracted. I was, though, largely unaware of my withdrawal from the larger world. My conversations were brief and sporadic, about disposable diaper brands, school costumes, why certain foods and meals were disasters at the table, and helping with homework and tutors. My ordinary professional work suffered to a degree, but I had started from a high enough platform that I was able to perform competently, or appear to do so, throughout these two decades.
Eventually my children grew up and went to college. My home responsibilites were vastly reduced. My wife and I planned little excursions into the world. We subscribed to opera at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. We loved the opera. We had seats, serendipitously, near the section reserved for major donors and visiting stars and guests. At one opera, I met David Hockney, who designed the sets for a Britten opera. In the lobby at intermission, he was standing alone, other guests avoiding his celebrity. I had long admired his painting and his interesting vision of Southern California. I went over to talk with him. We began to talk about his upcoming work at a summer festival in Britain. I was enjoying the conversation. Then I found I had nothing to say. I had once had many conversations with people of David's level of achievement; I remembered that I did. But now I had no questions to ask to get David to talk about his art or his summer work. I had no contributions or observations. My brain was dead. I was stupid.