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I had to smile earlier this week when I read a news story that began: Motherhood doesn't just change your life. It also changes your brain.

And how! I laughed aloud.

The research, shared at a recent neuroscience meeting in San Diego, actually is rather interesting -- if you don't mind reading about rodents.

It suggests that having babies permanently alters brain function -- whether you are a mother rat or a mother human.

"If you're a rat, it makes you better at finding and killing dinner quickly. If you're a human, it helps you distinguish between your baby's cry and that of other children," reports the Dallas Morning News.

I read with interest how Craig Kinsley, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond in Virginia, discovered that it took a lot less time for lactating rats to snag a cricket for food than it did "virgin rats."

Interacting with babies apparently alters the brains of mother rats so they are better equipped to look after their young, reported Kinsley at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

For human mothers, brain changes also include perking up more at the sound of one's own baby crying than other babies crying, the article continued.

(Research showed that fathers were able to distinguish their own infant's cry, too, but the mothers and fathers showed very different patterns of brain activity.)

Scientific research aside, the article got me thinking about how motherhood -- and fatherhood, too -- permanently alters other things as well.

Such as day-to-day behavior.

As a mother of a young child, I know that some newly acquired habits are subtle. Others, quite obvious.

For example, you know you definitely are a mother when:

You head through a cafeteria line and pull a dozen paper napkins from the dispenser -- even when your child isn't with you.

You don't say good-bye to anyone anymore. You say bye-bye.

You tell colleagues you'll catch up with them as soon as you "go potty."

You tie double knots in everything.

You sit down at a restaurant and remove sharp knives from other people's place settings.

You cut your entire entree into tiny pieces -- and then realize you are at an adult gathering.

You do the Mother's Sway even when you are not holding a baby.

You walk around humming "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Before leaving the house, you ask adults and children alike, "Do you have to go to the bathroom before we leave?"

You carry crayons in your purse.

You reach into a pocket and pull out tiny barrettes and toy parts.

You watch for your child to wave to you from the front window as you pull out of the driveway -- and it tugs at your heart.

When 4:30 p.m. rolls around, you think, "Oh, boy, 'Arthur' is on TV!"

You set a place at the table for your child's imaginary friend.

You temporarily lower your rear-view mirror at red lights so you can watch your child in the back seat.

You see a packet of sparkly stickers and can't resist buying them.

You clean a spot off your child's face with a Kleenex tissue moistened with -- well, you know. One mom we know calls this a "cat bath."

You remember to leave the hall light on.

You have "Show and Tell" days (abbreviated S & T) written on your calendar at work.

You remember to add that all-important and a half to your child's age.

You worry.

Finally, you know you are a mother when you can throw together a peanut butter sandwich faster than it takes other Moms to, well, snag a cricket.