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That New 'Mommy Math' Leaves Her Weak in the Knees

April 29, 1990|MICHELE WELDON | Weldon is a South Bend, Ind., free-lancer. and

There are many minor details no one ever told me about becoming a mother, not the least of which was that no matter how young and single I convince myself I look, every May, strangers still wish me "Happy Mother's Day!"

And, most assuredly, no one ever told me about the bizarre sequence of numbers associated with motherhood: Call it Mommy Math.

This numerical system has no correlation with the rest of the universe. I am convinced it is a collusion to keep new mothers further isolated from reality (as if we need more help).

How does it all add up?

It begins with pregnancy.

Like most people, I had always been led to believe a woman is pregnant for nine months. From hints on the barely bawdy "Love American Style" through high school biology, and even until my rabbit test came back positive, I had always assumed the whole shebang took nine months.

Not so.

It takes 40 weeks.

That's 10 months in my Filofax.

I look at it this way: if you get two paychecks every month, or one every two weeks, you count 20 paychecks for an entire pregnancy.

That pretty much adds up to 10 months of Visa and American Express bills. And they're never wrong on their timing.

Now the week business is important because mothers-to-be, as part of their learning Mommy Math, get dealt with only in terms of weeks.

The doctor will no longer talk to you using the monthly, Gregorian calendar civilization has successfully adhered to for a millennium.

No, mothers, before each exam you had better know your week of incubation or you may get signed up for a $75 test that will take all afternoon and you don't need yet.

And if you're not versed enough in weeks to tell strangers without a blink that you're 16, 22 or 37 weeks along, they will treat you like a novice and try to tell you that labor doesn't hurt, if only you learn how to breathe. (These are the same people who tell you wisdom teeth can be extracted painlessly, if only someone would light a scented candle in the room.)

I believe this whole weeks business was created to give expectant mothers something else to obsess about besides black-and-white developmental toys and whether that adorable pastel quilt will breed a slow learner.

Now, when a pregnant woman is up at 3 in the morning having an anxiety attack about how she's going to be able to afford a child while she has six pairs of Walter Steiger shoes on hold at Neiman Marcus, she can ask herself, "How old am I really?"

I was 1,598-weeks-old when my son, Weldon, was born.

At that time, my husband and I were married 117 weeks. It had been seven weeks since we had sex and promised to be a good 100 weeks before we had it again.

Now, mothers, after the baby is born--just as in pregnancy--the math doesn't change.

Doctors continue to talk in weeks. Every time you take the child to the pediatrician for shots and false alarms, the doctor needs to be reminded how many weeks old your kid is.

You say: "One month."

He replies: "Four weeks?"

Your child may be 6 months old, but that nurse at the front desk (who must be deaf, otherwise she couldn't keep smiling through all that screaming) is still asking, "24 weeks?"

Once, while with the doctor (who probably keeps notations on my child's chart reading: "Neurotic, unable to cope with mother's math"), I was introduced to another out-of-context set of measuring standards: inches.

My son was 22 1/2 inches at birth. In my book, that makes him 1-foot-10. After all, I'm 5-foot-6, not 66 inches.

But now my son is 34 inches. And no one is talking feet yet. When do we switch over? And when do we start talking years?

I was convinced that when Weldon turned 1, all this week and month business would cease. Wrong. He's not referred to as 1, he just keeps accumulating months. He's now 17 months old. A friend's child is 30 months old.

When does this stop? Am I really 381 months old? Does it mean I'm too old to shop at The Limited?

Clothes, too, take moms on a whole other numerical trip. Baby sizes have nothing to do with a child's age, though that's the way they're sold. Weldon wore Size 3 Months at birth, Size 6 Months a few weeks later and Size 24 Months at six months.

Who is the norm for these sizes? To have more than a year lag time between chronological age seems senseless. There must be an awful lot of very small babies modeling for romper patterns.

I just don't get any of this.

I suppose I should. Even without a right side of the brain, I consider myself a fairly intelligent, adaptable person. After all, I used to be a woman who shopped at Ann Taylor on whim and could sit through a movie with subtitles without falling asleep.

And now? I've made the transition to a mother who only shops in children's stores and looks forward to Sesame Street every morning because I like the opening song.

Still, I just can't seem to master Mommy Math.

And there is no sign of it easing up. I only seem to get further enmeshed in it.

Since my son has gone through all the baby toys he inherited from my sisters' children, I've just started to shop for toys and have begun to notice the manufacturer's "age appropriate" labels.

Weldon's favorite book is about firemen. I won't even tell you what age child it's suggested for.

Because like everything else in Mommy Math, that number has nothing to do with anything.

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