My Mommy Sense is Tingling: A Mother’s Complete Guide to Synesthesia

Fox is hard-left; spoon is soft-right.
Mackenzie is orange; Amanda is lavender.

And if you were to even suggest that a word might be hard-RIGHT or soft-LEFT, well, my goodness. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. It actually makes me physically uncomfortable. (It was an interesting semester the year my mischievous sixth grade students learned this little-known fact about me.)

Growing up, I thought that everyone associated words with being either hard or soft, left or right. I also assumed that other people saw names as colors.

It wasn’t until I was packed in a van with other teens on a road trip that I first realized my brain is a little different. (“Wait. You mean the word ‘nine’ doesn’t automatically seem just a little ‘left’ to you?”) However, it wasn’t until after college that I found out this quirk of mine is an actual condition called Synesthesia. I also found out that my sister is a synesthete – and that we have almost identical associations between words, colors and spatial location.

So, what is synesthesia? It’s basically a cross-wiring of two or more senses. For example, Scientific American reports that synesthetes may hear colors, feel sounds or taste shapes.

Many world famous composers and artists like Franz Liszt and Vincent Van Gogh are believed to have had synesthesia. Marilyn Monroe, Mary J. Blige, and Billy Joel can also be counted among the sensory-crossed.

I was feeling pretty smug there for a while, being counted among such an elite group of creative geniuses.

Then I became a mother and after some first-hand experience, I came to the conclusion that it’s likely ALL mothers have synesthesia. Moms aren’t limited to just “phoneme-color” or “emotion-flavor” synesthesia though. According to my own [very unscientific] research, we have all sorts of cross-wiring going on.

You can pretty easily diagnose yourself with Mom Synesthesia if you’ve ever experienced any of the following trigger-reaction combinations:

food-flu: Often experienced during early pregnancy, this form of synesthesia is brought on by the sight, smell, or even mention of common foods, which triggers immediate nausea and vomiting.

crying-milk: Limited to the population of nursing mothers, this cross-wiring has resulted in many embarrassing moments, usually in very public places at extremely inconvenient times. This form of synesthesia causes mothers to lactate suddenly and spontaneously anytime a crying baby is within hearing distance.

small threat-overreaction: Experienced by almost all mothers in existence, this can be one of the most shocking forms of synesthesia for those in the company of the synesthete at the time of the reaction. The stimuli is usually quite small, sometimes unnoticeable, to an outside observer, but if the mother’s brain perceives even the smallest threat to her offspring, she is immediately thrown into a hyper-defensive over-reactive state. She has no control over this.

warm food-shock: Synesthetes experiencing cross-wiring of this variety are often taken-aback (some say even shocked) when they partake in eating a meal served warm, as originally intended.

Subaru commercial-tears: Occurring most often during or shortly after pregnancy, this type of synesthesia brings strong, involuntary emotional responses to commercials. Most commonly, Subaru commercials.

alone-bliss: Mothers experiencing this sensory match-up feel an automatic flood of bliss when they find themselves alone in a quiet moment.

nap-crash: One of the most powerful forms of synesthesia identified, nap-crash synesthesia elicits an almost immediate collapse of all energy and will the moment the stimulus (a child falling asleep for naptime) is introduced.

afternoon-amnesia: Although most synesthetes pride themselves on being unique, many would uncross these wires if it were possible. In this form of synesthesia, mothers find that the late afternoon time period triggers a predictable, yet still destructive, onset of amnesia. Reactions can include lost keys, the inability to remember the last item on the grocery list and the accidental omission of scheduled responsibilities.

screen-guilt: This form of motherhood synesthesia has only become apparent in recent years. The unique cross-wiring appears to create an automatic link between a child watching a screen and incapacitating guilt. Mothers experiencing this form of synesthesia are often found rationalizing and discussing the trigger, even hours after the screen has been turned off and no apparent damage to the child is evident.

rash-doctor: Most prevalent in new mothers, this form of synesthesia causes mothers to call pediatricians immediately upon sight of any rash on their child. Any rash. Ever.

doorbell-rage: Quite possibly the most relatable form of synesthesia in motherhood, doorbell-rage synesthesia causes unrelenting torrents of rage to be unleashed from the mother in reaction to the sound of a doorbell during naptime.

If you identify with at least one of the common types of Mom Synesthesia listed above, please know that your cross-wiring is not unusual. You are in good company. And if you experience another type of synesthesia in motherhood, please don’t hesitate to share it with us.

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2 Responses to My Mommy Sense is Tingling: A Mother’s Complete Guide to Synesthesia

  1. Kari May 25, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

    I was on your site looking for things to do this summer with my kids (I also teach middle school) when I came across this post. I also have synesthesia. I’ve never met anyone else that has it, and I can’t find anyone in my family that has it. Most people look at me like I’m nuts when I try to explain it. Just like you, I thought everyone applied gender to letters and numbers (A and B are females and C is a male). I also didn’t understand why people had a hard time alphabetizing, why don’t they use their alphabet picture that’s in their head? Then I saw a news story and realized it was not normal and had a name. Anyway, I was just excited to see someone that I could relate to. 🙂

  2. Amber Dawkins
    Amber Dawkins June 2, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Kari! I just saw this! How exciting to meet someone else with synesthesia! You know some articles claim that we’re the first step toward the evolution of super humans. Ha! 🙂