Wednesday, April 30, 2008
It seemed so clear in my mind, but I'm struggling to put it into words.
Mary recoils when she hears a parent say "you can do anything"! She sees the call to overcome obstacles as a breeding tool for perfectionists. She doesn't want to try and climb the wall; she wants to be content where she is.
Me, I want the chance to climb the wall, or at least to wonder if I'm capable of climbing it. I want the courage to risk making a fool of myself as I clamber up. My inner critic doesn't sit there and say "that wasn't enough, it's never enough, there's the next wall, go over THAT and maybe you'll be good enough". My inner critic says "don't even try it - you'll look like an idiot". The only reason I ever tried anything risky, dared anything that seemed even remotely out of my reach, was that someone was standing there saying "You can. You can do this. I believe in you".
I think the damage comes not from "you can do anything" - not from the explicit message - but from the silent, hidden and deadly messages that sometimes come along with it. It's not wanting to achieve that's toxic, it's feeling as if you don't deserve to be loved unless you achieve.
My parents loved me unconditionally, and I didn't feel pressured about grades or scores, but grades or scores came naturally to me. I shrank from anything that exposed me to the judgment of my peers, like sports or dance or student government the creative writing program in college. Academic work was easy and safe, and I knew when I'd done it right.
I wonder about those early, silent messages, the things we don't actually say to our kids but that they intuit from our actions, from our own needs, from our failures. I want my daughter to be content where she is but also to be able to do something daring, to take a risk, to try to climb a wall - if the climbing will make her happy. I want her to love herself enough to honor her own judgment over everyone else's, even over mine. She gets lots of messages about the things she can't do. I do tell her she can do anything - but then I tell her that we will love her no matter what she does, and that we want her to be herself above all else. And sometimes I get up and dance in shul, even though I don't want to, just to show her that it's OK to look silly as long as you're having fun. And maybe even to show myself.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.And she wrote about a commenter on another blog who suggested that, while those people invested their time in art or science or helping others, those of us investing time in our children could accomplish our greatness through raising our children to be "amazing." (So, presumably, while I may not cure cancer or write the great American novel, if my son and daughter do, I will have succeeded.)
And as I read, about what I should be doing with my time (or molding my children to do with theirs) I got the cold, creepy shivers, the way I always do when people talk about "success." I got that icky, covered in slime feeling I get when someone says "you can do anything!" I got that irritated, flies crawling on me feeling I get when someone says "all it takes is hard work!" I got the same uncomfortable, ugly feeling I got when I watched the upbeat, go-get-'em, follow-your-dreams last lecture by that Carnegie Mellon professor who appeared on Oprah (you know, the one who's dying of pancreatic cancer).
Here in America, we like to perpetuate the myth that anyone can be the next superstar. We want to believe that we really can do everything and have it all. And we like to think that success, our ability to have and do it all, doesn't rest on things like money and connections or even inborn talent (things that are out of reach for some of us), but on things like hard work, moxie, how much God loves us and maybe a little luck (things that are, theoretically, within reach for all).
All those voices that say we have just as much time as Einstein, that tell us we can do anything, seem to me to be saying: "Stop making excuses! Work harder! Do better! Do you know the only thing, the one and only thing, that is holding you back from being the world's first Nobel Prize winning, cancer curing, first chair violinist, President of the United States? Your laziness." It's the Puritan work effort on speed for the 21st century.
Yet, in spite of the emphasis on hard work, the effort, in and of itself, isn't what's important. The progress isn't important, the journey isn't important; it's the end product that's important: an end product we can throw superlatives like "amazing" at. We, and our children, can and should be "amazing": not "growing" or "learning" or "becoming" or "making progress," but "grown," "educated," "successful," "amazing." Don't say "I'm working on it," say "I've done it."
And it's that focus on the end goal, that message of "you can and should sacrifice everything to a goal and you should never be satisfied until your reach it" that gives me the creepy crawlies. It's the message that one shouldn't have priorities or limits, that success at all costs is admirable.
So, I was listening to that professor, dying of cancer, giving his last lecture on Oprah. He said that it had been his dream to work at Disney. He'd applied for a job and they'd rejected him, but eventually, many years later, he had ended up working for them. And he said that sometimes when you are pursuing your dreams, you'll run into a brick wall. Those brick walls, he said, are there for a reason.
"Oo," I thought, "I know the reason!" You see I'm a recovering success story, a recovering goal-oriented perfectionist. I spent a long time running at those brick walls. Sometimes I'd work as hard as I could and still that wall was there, and I'd feel like a failure. Sometimes I'd knock a wall down, or scale it, and find that when I reached the other side, I still felt like a failure, because after a brief moment of glory, I saw there was always another wall. Success was a hunger that was never satiated, because as successful as I was, I was never quite a success yet.
I've found that it's only when I let go of the outcome that I succeed. When I write with the goal of being published, every rejection letter is a failure. When I parent with the goal of raising successful kids, every call from the school is a failure. When I write just to enjoy the act of writing, I've already succeeded. When I parent simply to love my kids, I've already succeeded.
So, the way I see those walls now? They're there to tell me that I'm not meant to take that particular path right now. I may never be able to go that way, or the walls may crumble with time. In fact, when I've grown, I may even realize the walls were an illusion all along. For now, I need to enjoy where I am and the journey I'm on, not spend the time I have banging my head against walls.
I waited for the professor to say that. But do you know what lesson he saw in those walls? He saw them as the world's way of saying, "How bad do you want it?"
Keep trying! Keep running at that wall! Knock your head into it until it falls or you do! Don't stop! And don't let your kids stop either.
OK, I'll check your throat. Sounds like a new relationship for you.
Well, we've been together for about six months.
Does "together" include having intercourse?
With a condom?
Oh, absolutely. I wouldn't - and besides, she's kind of paranoid about that.
No, she's not "paranoid", she's smart. Looking for a snake under your bed in a Manhattan penthouse is paranoid. Looking for a snake under your bed in a tent in the Gobi Desert is sensible.
Why? A little background for you:
Goodyear employed a woman named Lilly Ledbetter for over 20 years. Upon retirement Ledbetter was informed through an anonymous letter that she was making significantly less money than the lowest paid male in a similar position and had consistently made less than every man in the same position for her entire career.
Goodyear Tire Co refused to settle the case for $60,000, the difference between Ledbetter’s pay and the lowest paid male worker in the same position. A jury awarded Ledbetter damages of $223,776 in back pay and over $3 million in punitive damages, but Goodyear Tire Co still didn’t want to pay. They took the case to Supreme Court and won (right after Bush’s appointees were placed) because the judge claimed Ledbetter should have filed her claim within 180 days of her first paycheck. The court ignored the fact that Ledbetter had no way of knowing of the disparity earlier.This week the Senate voted on a bill that would have triggered a new 180-day deadline each time a woman got a check that was lower than those of the men doing the same job. The bill's sponsors failed to get the 60 votes they needed to pass.
Join the campaign HERE!!
And Digg it at http://digg.com/people/Goodyear_Screwing_Woman
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Yes, it's a melon baller.
I love melon. Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe - mmm. I love choosing the melon in the store, squeezing and sniffing it; I love the taste; I love the smell. What I don't love is slicing melon. I don't like cutting it into slices or cutting it into little bits or cutting smaller ones in half and scooping out the pits.
For a while I bought melon that was already cut up, but it didn't taste as good and it was a lot more expensive.
Then I went to a friend's house and watched her four-year-old use a melon baller. As they say at Staples, that was easy.
I love my melon baller. It's my favorite non-electronic kitchen gadget. I'll take it with me when we go on vacation this summer (we're renting a beach house - prime melon-eating-time). And tonight I used it for the first time since last August, getting a bowl of watermelon ready for book club. I saved half the watermelon for my daughter, who will get to use the melon baller herself in a day or two, once we've eaten the leftovers from tonight. Yum.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.
My beef is not with WM, who points out, with a sigh, that none of the people on that list had the responsibility for domestic labor or for raising children. My complaint is with one of her commenters, who pipes up
Aren't children your accomplishment? If you invest time into them, and they turn out to be amazing, then aren't you doing exactly the same thing? Your project is your child, where their projects were other things.
My project? My daughter is not a "project". She's a person. A person who arrived in my life with her own ideas, her own opinions and her own unique capacities. I think she's already amazing, but who knows if she will accomplish anything that makes the outside world agree? I kind of hope she doesn't, given what the outside world thinks of as "amazing" for young women.
Nothing I do will guarantee her success, anyway, or her happiness. Mary's right about the lack of impact our parenting has on our children's ultimate accomplishments.
The time I spend with my daughter is not an "investment" with some expectation of outcome that will benefit me. She's not an IRA. What she accomplishes will be hers, not mine. If I start to see her life as a reward for my effort, how the hell will I let her go to live on her own? How will I justify stepping back and watching her make her own choices? My fulfillment has to depend on my own life, not on hers.
Would anyone ever suggest that our child is Sam's "project"? No, indeed, that patronizing bit of patriachal bullcrap is reserved for me, to justify depriving me of equal professional opportunity and equal pay. I'm supposed to be satisfied with pouring all my energy into being a mom, even MORE satisfied than I would be with mere worldly gains. Never mind that a lot of the work isn't parenting per se - it's laundry and dishes and groceries and other stuff that benefits my husband at least as much as my kid. So I guess by that logic I'm also "investing" in his career. Oh, but if he decides he doesn't want to be married to me anymore, then my investment looks more like a risky gamble that I would lose, unless I manage to move from being a revered, self-sacrificing mother to an alimony-grubbing ball-busting money-hungry shrew-bitch.
I have as many hours in the day as Helen Keller and Mother Teresa and I'm using some of them to tell the sanctimonious Unclutterer and the preachy anonymous commenter to fuck off.
Now, I may not be one for much crying, but I did cry (I'll admit it, I did) the first time (ok, ok! few times) I watched Finding Nemo. Even before I lost track of my son a few times, I related so much to the anxiety, the overwhelming desire to keep one's child safe from harm, that Marlin (a.k.a. Nemo's dad -- see, I've watched the movie enough that Marlin and I are on a first name basis) felt.
In one of the DVD features about the making of the film (oh, yeah -- I read instruction manuals too), one of the writers said he is often asked why Nemo has one gimpy fin. He said that they were going to make Nemo learning to swim with this disability a bigger part of the plot line, but even though they didn't, they left the gimpy fin in. Why? Because it symbolized that weakness or that difference in your child that every parent worries about. It's different for every parent and every child, but there's always a worry there.
Jay's great fear centers on adoption; she worries that her daughter feels the pain of that first loss in each subsequent loss and fears being abandoned. And Jay was right when she said that my fear centers on autism, although it's been there for far longer than I have been able to apply the word autism to my son's differences.
When my son was an infant, he would scream these painful, horrific screams. In those screams, from the very day he was born, I always heard him saying, "Mama, please, please help me. I'm scared and I'm hurting and I need you." They were screams like he was being tortured, but when I held him and nursed him, he'd calm down. He seemed so much more vulnerable, so much more helpless and so much more susceptible to fear and pain than other children.
In my postpartum state (in what I now recognize as the extreme anxiety of postpartum depression), I used to have daily panic attacks, daily waking nightmares. I would think about taking him out for a car ride, and I would slip into a vivid picture of us crashing. And the very worst thing that would happen would not be that he would die, but that I would be killed or pinned somewhere unable to reach him. I knew he'd be screaming those screams of pain and terror that I heard every day. And my absolute worst, gut wrenching fear was that there would be no one there to soothe him or help him, because he couldn't help himself and I was the only one who knew how to help. I worried that without my breast, he'd stop eating. I worried that he would live the rest of his life in pain and terror.
I understand those cries better now. I know that his senses don't take the world in the way other people's do, and that everyday events can overwhelm him to the point of pain. I know that he needs everything in his life to fit within the rigid pattern he's defined, not just in order to feel comfortable, but in order to survive.
After Hurricane Katrina, I had some of the same panic attacks. We don't live in the path of that storm, but I saw what it did and wondered what happened to children like my son. I pictured what would happen if some disaster struck us. My son only eats three things, each of which have to be prepared and served in extremely specific ways. If I can't get his special foods, an emergency ration bar isn't going to cut it. He's going to starve. And I would picture him starving, screaming, writhing, with food available, food he was unable to eat. And I pictured myself stuck and helpless to get him what he needed.
Or much, much worse, I pictured him without us, unable to help himself. Or even in the care of strangers. After all, he can't communicate with them. Yes, my son can talk -- technically, his verbal abilities are within a normal range for his age, which is just fabulous -- but that doesn't mean he can communicate.
For example, he likes spaghetti, but he doesn't call it spaghetti. He calls it spinach. Why? Because Popeye likes spinach and he went through a phase of being obsessed with Popeye. Imagine he's suddenly in your care now, with no instructions on how to help him and no idea how to speak his language. He grunts. He cries. He hasn't eaten anything all day. He pushes away everything you offer and screams at you. If you're lucky, he'll get desperate and tells you he wants spinach. You bring him spinach and he looks at it in horror and screams, "No! That's not spinach!" Now, if he's lucky, you're a nice, caring person with transportation to a working hospital, where he'll have to be sedated or strapped down due to his fear of needles and then force fed through a tube. If you're someone with bad intentions or without access to medical care, there continues my nightmare...
In the days since losing him, I've found that I've had a few flashes of these vivid paralyzing fears again. The fear that he will be alone, scared, unable to care for himself and unable to communicate who he is or what he needs to anyone else. The fear that without me or his father or the rest of his close family, he won't survive, or he'll live in pain and terror. I know that I'm taking all the practical steps that I can to protect and prepare him (from ID bracelets and a stock of almond butter to working with him on what to do and say in emergencies), but practical measures take time and aren't foolproof, and fears aren't always rational. That same vulnerability, helplessness and extreme susceptibility to fear and pain that I saw in him as an infant, I still see in him as a first grader. And that's the gimpy fin that spins this particular mama into worry over this particular child.
I'm not sure how a comma connotes optimism or open mindedness or why a comma would be fascinating to talk to. I like to think I'm a comma because the test didn't know where to place me, because my answers were all over the place, because nothing else really fit, because I fit in everywhere and nowhere. (And I overanalyze Internet quizzes.)
You Are a Comma
You are open minded and extremely optimistic.
You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.
You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.
You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.
Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.
(But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)
You excel in: Inspiring people
You get along best with: The Question Mark
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I get along fairly well with my in-laws but this is not my idea of a pleasure trip, and I haven't really been looking forward to it. It's a duty call. But tonight I realized that after the hospice team meeting tomorrow, I will come home to pack and we'll leave - and I don't have to go back to the office until Monday.
I'm on vacation. I hadn't been thinking of it that way, but I am.
All of sudden this looks a lot better.
You Are An Exclamation Point
You are a bundle of... well, something.
You're often a bundle of joy, passion, or drama.
You're loud, brash, and outgoing. If you think it, you say it.
Definitely not the quiet type, you really don't keep a lot to yourself.
You're lively and inspiring. People love to be around your energy.
(But they do secretly worry that you'll spill their secrets without even realizing it.)
You excel in: Public speaking
You get along best with: the Dash
What fascinated me (and infuriated me) about the comment was the fact that, as a white woman, I was blind to any potential affirmative action subtext, but I was very, very keenly tied in to the gender subtext. When I hear Hillary saying that Obama lacks her experience what I hear is the rage and resentment of a woman trying to succeed at the highest levels of a patriarchal society. Whenever she says "experience," it resonates with my experience and that of my female friends, and I become so furious that I can't see straight. It is the one thing that makes me truly dislike the eminently likable and charismatic Obama.
Here's my subtext on experience. I'm a smart, ambitious woman. I work my ass off in school and beat all the men. People tell me I can be anything I want to be. Then I actually try to go into a profession dominated by men and find I start at a built in disadvantage in my career. I have to work twice as hard as they do to get to the same place. I have to prove that I'm dedicated, it's not assumed. After all, I'm a woman; I might run off and have babies or have to take care of my own parents or my husband's.
I have my eye on a leadership position, but I know I need to work to get there. I build my up my résumé. I make sure that every loophole is closed, every question is answered, every weak spot is shored up. I see an opportunity for a promotion, and everyone says I should try for it, but I haven't been in my current job with my current employer for long. I know that my chances for getting that promotion right now are slim without more experience. People won't take me seriously. And I know that another promotion opportunity will be coming up in a few years, and at that point, my experience will be unassailable. When the opportunity comes up again, I put my name in the hat, but so does a guy who is straight out of school, working his first job, who's been in the job for less time than I was when I passed up the first opportunity to try for a promotion. And guess what? Management likes him. He's young! He's a go getter! He's enthusiastic and personable!
My whole life I've been working for this, and all those years of doing twice the work of my male colleagues, all those crossed t's and dotted i's, all the sacrifices I've made -- all swept away. I couldn't have come in here at his age, with his experience and tried for the job he's trying for. Management would have shooed me out the door and given the job to a man with more experience. Now management is shooing me out the door to give the job to a man with less experience.
So what furious woman am I? A retail clerk or a doctor or a businesswoman or Hillary Clinton?
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
When my daughter was 3, I picked her up one Friday afternoon from daycare. "Mommy, Sophie is going to services tonight. Are we going to services tonight?" I said "no" and she collapsed onto the floor in a heap, wailing "but I want to go to SERVICES. I WANT to. It's not FAIR".
I was too tired and too hungry to see the humor in this. I tried cajoling and then ordering her to get up and come with me, and she just wailed louder. So I said "OK, I'm going now" and started walking down the hall. She didn't move. I said "bye!" and she didn't move. I walked through the door - the door she couldn't see out of, the security door that she couldn't open. I walked out and left her in the hallway all by herself.
In the 90 seconds it took for me to realize what I'd done and get buzzed back in, she'd become completely incoherent. She was clearly terrified, sobbing and babbling and clutching at me. This still stands as the worst moment of my parenting life - worse than the time she fell into a puddle of dog pee, worse than the time I accidentally poked her in the eye, worse than the ER trip for a laceration on her face - because I did it to her on purpose. I didn't think I'd ever have to see That Look again.
Last winter we spent a weekend in Big City. Our daughter loves staying in hotels, and she always takes the key and runs ahead of us to open the door to the room. Saturday night we came back after dinner, she ran out of the elevator as soon as she could while we gathered bags to follow - and the door closed before we could step out. We frantically pushed buttons to stop and reverse the elevator, but when we got back to the room she was standing outside the door, sobbing. "I didn't know where you were! I thought you left me"! That Look, again.
Mary's extra layer of worry is her son's autism. Mine is adoption: I wonder if feeling that she's lost us raises some deep issue about that first loss. My rational brain knows she's fully attached to us and that she trusts us; somewhere deep in my soul I worry that she is afraid of being abandoned again. I would give anything I could to keep from seeing That Look ever again in my life.
Yesterday it was "Mother's Day Tea - May 9th. More information coming soon!"
May 9th, you may realize, is a Friday. A Friday less than a month away. A Friday for which I already have four hours of patients scheduled in the morning and might end up with a home visit or a meeting for Hospice before I'm done. A Friday on which my daughter has the first performance of her ballet recital, which means she needs an early dinner and shower before her call time.
Does "tea" mean it's in the afternoon? In the morning? Right smack in the middle of the day? And when, exactly, is "more information" going to show up? Today is the last day of school before their truncated spring break, so we might not hear anything until next week. Do I cancel my patients just in case? If we call them this week, we will be able to reschedule them more easily than if we wait.
I missed a Mother's Day event when my daughter was three because the invitation came home from preschool two days in advance and I just couldn't cancel my day on such short notice. I'm sure my daughter has forgotten about it, but I haven't. Her disappointment landed in my soul. I really don't want her to think my patients are more important than she is, but I also don't want to shortchange my patients or my partners.
The school clearly expects that I am sitting home with nothing better to do than wait for a summons to appear in my daughter's classroom. I can't imagine any mother for whom that's true, whether she works for pay or not. The stay-at-home moms I know are not really at home; they're at the grocery store or the dentist or the other kid's preschool or even, God forbid, the gym doing something for themselves.
Somehow I doubt there will be a Father's Day event during the weekday, since fathers have Real Lives that can't possibly be interrupted for such trivia. Only mothers are expected to be endlessly available.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Imagine my satisfaction when I read this today. And by "satisfaction", I mean "depression".
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Some of the comments raise concerns about who would actually raise a child if KEJ is indeed incapable. Her poor aunt! Why saddle her with another child when she's already caring for a disabled niece?
Why indeed? Why is she caring for her disabled niece in the first place? It's possible that she is doing this out of love, but it's more likely that she is doing it because there was no alternative. Want disabled people cared for? Let the women do it. Have the public schools declined so that children are better off educated at home? Women will do it. Want to have people die at home instead of in the hospital? Well, hospice will help, but mostly the women need to do it.
We have created a society in which the basic necessities are often considered private responsibilities. Gated communities have their own police force, parents send their kids to private schools, physicians don't accept Medicare but provide enhanced services to patients for more money through boutique practices. And almost all of it runs on the unpaid and unappreciated services of women. We expect that sick children will be able to stay home from school and that elderly parents will get help when they can't drive and that those who are too disabled to work will be cared for without being a burden to the public exchequer. We expect that our underfunded schools will get supplies and support from the PTA, a volunteer-run organization. We ask private charities to do more and more of the work of caring for our neediest. And it's almost always the women who do all those things.
Why women? Well, women don't earn as much as men anyway, so if someone has to stay home, it should be the woman. And why don't women earn as much? Well, they're not reliable employees, after all. They just take off work far too often - every time the kids have the flu or Grandma needs to go to the doctor or Daddy has to work overtime and can't take the munchkin to baseball practice. (And yes, I know that young professional women may not have the same kind of wage gap but once they have kids their wages don't keep up with men.)
We've cloaked this in a lovely mythology about how mothers are essential to the life of their children and how motherhood is the most fulfilling thing any woman can ever do with her life, far better than a job even if the job is being a movie star. So of course women will continue to give society a free ride; it's our destiny and our honor to do so. Government support for daycare isn't even a topic for discussion in this Presidential election cycle and hasn't been for 30 years.
All women work. Not all women get paid; even fewer paid what they're worth. And we all benefit. It's time we started picking up the tab.
Pesach begins at sundown tonight. All over the world, there will be gatherings of Jews - large groups, small groups, family groups, friend groups, synagogue groups, community groups, Hillel groups. Most of them will pray. Most of them will argue at some point during the night, about something. Most will drink a lot of wine (some will drink grape juice). All of them will eat. Jews who are not observant - Jews who ignore Yom Kippur, who eat pork and shellfish and cheeseburgers, who set up Christmas trees - are more likely to attend a Seder than do anything else.
What are we commanded to do on Pesach? We are commanded to tell the story. Sure, there's that stuff about welcoming Elijah, and bitter herbs, and reclining, but if we tell the story and eat matzah, we have fulfilled our obligation and we can relax and have a meringue. We tell the story of the Exodus. "And there arose in Egypt a Pharoah who knew not Joseph...". Somewhere in my memory the text of the Union Haggadah, circa 1920, resides in full.
When I was a kid, my grandparents hosted dinner for 30 or 40 people, and we read dutifully through those gray-jacketed Haggadot with their wood-cut illustrations and formal language. I loved those evenings. I loved seeing my cousins, and getting up to open the door for Elijah, and I loved the food - and I loved the story. Is it any surprise that I seek out narrative in my work? We are the people of the Book.
Sam and I don't keep kosher. When I was growing up, we didn't change dishes for Pesach. My grandmother rented dishes for those huge seder meals. My mother, who cleans her cabinets out four times a year anyway, didn't move any of the chametz out of the house and we mostly just ate it. Sam wants to mark the holiday, so he moves all the leavened food and flour and other forbidden stuff into a big box in the garage or the basement, and he finished that this morning. We are headed off to a friend's house in an hour for first Seder.
Why is tonight different from all other nights?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
If you'd asked me before I had a child, I would have told you that I would be backstage at every production. After all, I was a theater rat myself in high school and college - actress, singer, stage manager, director, producer. I started dating Sam when I was producing and he was master electrician for the show I swore would be my last in college. It wasn't; I did two more after that. I directed the "Follies" my second year of medical school. I thought theater was in my blood.
Turns out that what's really in my blood is a need to belong, a need to be part of a group of people with a common purpose. I want to feel accepted and valued and appreciated. I like to perform, sure - for a Jewish woman, I have a lot of ham in me - but performing wasn't the point. It was a means to an end.
So now I have a faith community and a voluntary professional organization and a group of online friends. I still love to sing, and when I can find a choir that suits me or time for voice lessons I'll bring more of that into my life. I'm thrilled to see my daughter find her place on stage and content to sit in the audience and applaud. I would have thought I'd feel sad to say goodbye to something that was such a part of me for so long, but I don't. I feel - content.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Yesterday she got a yellow light for laughing in class. Let's ignore for the moment the basic absurdity of that idea and remember that this is the girl who, last year, refused to call out when she was being injured by another child because "we're not allowed to yell during class". She came home with a three-inch scratch on her arm instead. My kid is hyper-aware of rules and loathe to challenge authority - and that's why I'm proud of the yellow light.
I want to raise a daughter who is thoughtful and principled and willing to act on her values even when her values aren't popular. I want her to honor her own desires and her own needs in balance with those of other people. I want her to be able to stand up to authority when authority is wrong.
No, laughing in class isn't quite speaking truth to power. But learning that a yellow light isn't the end of the world - that your parents still love you and your teacher still speaks to you - seems a necessary first step on the road to a life of integrity.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Meanwhile it's a Monday at the tail end of flu season, the beginning of allergy season, and the week before Pesach. Good times.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Me: "Yes, it's really hot and sunny out today. Let's step over here into the shade and put your shoes back on."
My daughter (slipping her shoes on): "The sun is hot and also sticky. It shines down and sticks its hot to the ground to make the ground hot too!"
Friday, April 11, 2008
I don't know. What do you want?
I want them to move to my house so I don't have to change schools. Oh, look, an airplane!
My mother had some abnormal lab work last week. Not surprising; she was ill. Her doctor repeated them this week (much to my annoyance; it generally takes 2-3 weeks for tests to normalize after a viral illness) and decided she needed a CT scan. The doc left this information on my mother's answering machine, and at least was kind enough to also call me and warn me.
The storm of anxiety broke over my head while I was trying to grab a bit to eat between office hours and a public presentation last night. It continued after the presentation, and I was mostly torn between being pissed at the doc for not waiting and exasperated with my mother for being so anxious she couldn't listen to the answers to the questions she was asking. My mother at the calmest of times can perseverate with the best, and this was not a calm time.
It wasn't until I went to bed that I slowed down enough to think: she's 73 and has had vague stomach and bowel complaints, worse over the past few months. Now, she's had vague stomach and bowel complaints for years - so do I - but she's mentioning them more often. That's the classic description of the presentation of ovarian cancer.
It's probably not. It's probably just the residual effect of last week's viral illness, plus her chronic bowel issues and the side effects of the antibiotics. And I frequently channel my mother's emotions. But I won't be able to put this panicky feeling to rest until I know for sure.
UPDATE: Mom had a CT today; no evidence of ovarian cancer, no masses in the liver or pancreas, but an enlarged spleen. Probably still viral, but her doc wants her to see a hematologist. I'm feeling less anxious now after a moment of utter collapse between phone calls. My mother is at least doing an imitation of someone handling this calmly, and that's good enough for now.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
If you're unconscious and gravely ill, who decides what medical care you will get?
If you have a stroke or you nearly drown or you're in a car accident, and you can't communicate with your doctors, who decides about a feeding tube?
If you will never recover to be able to talk with your family, do you want to continue living?
Vital questions. Difficult questions. Painful questions.
Think about it now. Talk to your family, to your friends, to the people who will surround you when you die.
Don't think about the technology. You don't need to choose among interventions; you don't need to decide about ventilators and feeding tubes. Think about values. Think about goals.
My own choices: it would not be life to me if I couldn't communicate. I could tolerate physical disability, even physical dependence, as long as I can understand what people are trying to tell me, and respond to them meaningfully. If there's a better than 50% chance that an intervention will get me back to that point, I want it. If there isn't that chance, I don't want it; keep me comfortable, hold my hand, sing to me, and let me go.
Other people draw the line in different places. For my father, living independently - being in his own home - was the breaking point.
The patient I saw today wants to keep fighting, keep trying, well past the point where I think there's a reasonable chance of recovery. Even now, even weak and tired and nearly bedbound, she wants to know what else can be done. "I'm not ready", she told me today. She can't say when she'd be ready. I struggled during that conversation to keep my own biases to myself, and I think I succeeded. We did at least clarify who she wants to make decisions if she becomes unable to do so. Progress.
If you live in the US and you want to create a document for yourself, check out the Five Wishes. If you're in a non-state-sanctioned relationship in the US, it's even more important that you designate someone to speak for you if you can't. No matter where you live, think and talk. Your family - and your doctor - will thank you for it.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
It's been almost exactly 9 years since I started seeing her. I was in the throes of the worst episode of depression I've ever experienced, and I do not think I'm exaggerating when I say she saved my life. Or at least she help me save my own life, along with my marriage and my chance to be a mother. When my daughter was a baby, I asked if I could bring her along to a session. "Of course!" said my therapist. "After all, I'm her fairy godmother". Yes, she was.
If I have ever offered a patient the loving, supportive attention my therapist gave me, then I've done enough good in the world to sleep well at night.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The Interstate Widow I saw today has moved her kids four times in 12 years of marriage. She's used to this, and is happy to be here where she's living close to a decent public school and has a ready-made network of friends, all recent transplants in her newly built development. The Widow I saw last week wasn't so happy. She'd lived all her life in a small town about 20 minutes from Big City. Her parents, siblings and high school friends all still live there, but now she's here with her four kids. She hasn't had time to make new friends; the kids are in two different schools and one is still at home, so she can't join the PTO; all the women in her neighborhood are local products and they've known each other forever. Why did they make the move? "Because when we lived there, we couldn't afford a bigger house, and the kids had to share their bedrooms".
So now the kids have their own rooms, and the backyard is bigger, but she's waking up in the middle of the night feeling panicky. The lack of sleep and the loneliness and stress are making her irritable and short-tempered with her kids.
It's all I can do to hold myself back. All this for an extra bedroom? Is that really worth it?
I've had the Interstate Widows on my mind lately as Sam and I ponder our options. I don't know if I have a future in primary care. I'll be taking the board exam for palliative care this fall, and there are lots of jobs out there for board-certified palliative care and hospice docs. We've never moved for my job, always for Sam's, but we might move for me to take a hospice job. If we move, I want to choose a place I really want to live, not choose the job first. So where do want to live?
I can think of lots of places that have better restaurants, more interesting cultural life, bigger Reconstructionist congregations, better mass transit than where I live now. But at the moment I drive 15 miles to work, and Sam drives or bikes about 3. We can leave the house at 8:00 AM and get our daughter to school before the second bell rings at 8:10. We're almost that close to her dance class and to the JCC and not that much farther to a really good grocery store. I can't think of a place to live that offers me better cultural options without such a steep increase in housing costs that one of us would turn into an Interstate Widow.
So we're staying here, but not for the extra bedroom; we're staying here so we can live our lives in our community, and not in our car.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
There is a reward at the end of the week: I get to take my daughter to the Big City to meet friends, one of hers and one of mine, and that will be a lot of fun. If all goes as planned, she'll head home that night with my mother for a long-awaited overnight visit.
Meantime, I'm taking a glass of Bailey's upstairs and watching Law&Order on TiVo.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Orange you glad I didn't say apple?
Friday, April 4, 2008
But how is it that none of my movie-going, kid-taking friends mentioned the new subplot in Horton Hears a Who? I had to hear about it from Peter Sagal (who has now replaced Keith Olbermann as my media-crush-object). According to Peter, in the movie
...the mayor of Whoville has 96 daughters. He has one son. Guess who gets all his attention? Guess who saves the day? Go ahead, think about it, I'll wait.
I won't deconstruct a movie I haven't seen; go ahead and read Peter's essay. But I'm feeling really disappointed in my feminist alert network. I knew that the loony fringe of the anti-choice bloc was jumping on the idea that "a person's a person, no matter how small". But they're just imagining that the movie says something about fetuses. The son/daughter thing is actually there.
But you all let me down. Since I read four or five feminist blogs and follow a parenting and woman-centered listserve and have a real-life circle of feminist mom-friends, and I STILL didn't know this, clearly I need to start getting all my news and updates from Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. That should work.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
|Photo credit: Photo by|
shadowfax the second on Flickr
You see, I believe that when I am open to God (the universe, my higher power, the light within myself, the divine, call it what you will), I see reality more clearly. I see beyond the artificial limits and constraints my mind puts on situations, and I'm able to recognize and pursue alternative solutions. (See how much more pithily he did it?)
Or to use (as I'm prone to) a sci-fi movie metaphor for the way I see things: think of the climax of one of the greatest movies ever made: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Kirk and Khan are flying their spaceships around trying to kick the crap out of each other. Khan is using his super-intelligence to do some galactic scale ass whooping and Kirk (as usual) is in trouble. But in the end, Kirk is able to get the (literal) upper hand because he can think in three dimensions, while Khan (long trapped on the surface of Ceti Alpha Five) thinks in only two. It seems like a ridiculous premise that the super-intelligent Khan could forget, while flying a spaceship, that he could travel in any direction (even up and down!). However, it does allow God to be on the side of the Enterprise (so to speak, since my God is not on anyone's side), and a strangely lovable Shatner to gain the advantage over the sexy Ricardo Montalbon in battle. And after all, don't even the most super-intelligent of us sometimes forget we have other options because we're so used to doing things the way we have always done them?
Of course, you might say that in the Star Trek scenario, any one of Khan's crew could have yelled, "Hey, Khan! Don't forget that these ships fly up and down!" And Khan would have taken that into account and made a different decision. Then Kirk would have died a more respectable death than the way he was eventually (pointlessly) written out. (Oh, don't get me started on Kirk's demise in that Next Generation crossover movie! Sigh!) But in real life, having someone tell me that I have the option to make a choice doesn't actually make that choice any more real or available to me.
Why? Because we each live in our own Matrix of beliefs and assumptions. (Yes, I am pretty sure I have no way of explaining my spiritual vision of the universe without resorting to science or sci-fi metaphors.) If one of you all tells me, while I'm still living in the virtual reality world of the Matrix, "Hey, stand up on your own legs and breathe," I'll mutter, "I am, dumbass!" Because I don't know I'm in a bubble; as far as I know, I am on my own feet, breathing. It's that connection to God (or inner knowledge or call-it-what-you-will) that lets me start to see beyond the constraints I've placed around myself.
I'm on a journey -- toward growth, toward truth, toward a sustained connection with that God of mine -- and at every step, every fork in the road, every moment, every decision, I am doing the best I can with the knowledge and resources (physical, spiritual and emotional) I have available to me at that particular moment. I may look back and think, "If I knew then what I know now..." or "I should have...," but the truth is that I didn't know those things then or have the strength or see those choices from where I was at that moment. I could only have done something different if I were a different person, in a different place, than who I was and where I was. So every choice I make, odd as it sounds, is the best choice for me at the moment I'm making it.
And bringing this back around to Silda Spitzer, who started my thoughts in this direction: Silda Spitzer is a real-live grown-up, adult, big-girl-panties-wearing woman. If the decision to leave was truly available to her and she made the decision to stay, I may not know the reasons or may not have made the same decision myself, but I have to respect her decision.
If her choices were constrained by where she has been in this life and by who she is now, if she was unable to stand up to pressure or unable to see her needs as separate from Eliot Spitzer's or unable to see the difference between what she wants and what she is supposed to do, then that's where she is on her particular journey and I have to accept and respect that. No one can tell her what the Matrix is, and no one can force a red pill down her throat. If she was constrained by an inability to see other options as valid, maybe going up on a stage in front of the whole world by her husband's side is her way of taking the red pill she needs to escape into the real world.
So, the way I see it, the right thing for Silda Spitzer (or anyone else) to do is the thing she, as a unique individual, wants to do, and what she, as a unique individual, is capable of doing within the constraints she lives with at that particular moment. And the best thing I can do right now, as a woman, as a feminist, as a human, as the unique person I am at this moment, is offer my support and respect for the journey she is on.
Of course, I know that if you have a different set of beliefs about the world than I do, you certainly won't agree with those the last three paragraphs. But agree or not, what I really want to know is, how do you all see the world? Free will? People's choices? If you post on your own blog, let me know. (And feel free to use sci-fi metaphors so I can understand it.)
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Yes, she's home and she's feeling a bit better. I'm spending the night here and heading back at about 5:45 tomorrow morning to the office, where I will start seeing patients at 8:15.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
My mother has been ill with what sounded like a sinus infection but has actually gotten worse instead of better after five days of antibiotics. This morning she sounded so awful on the phone that I seriously considered canceling seven hours of patients and driving up to see her; she agreed instead to go back to the doctor. The doctor, as I suspected she would, sent her to the hospital.
I finished my hours, did all my charts, somewhere in there managed three phone calls to the hospital after the two to my brother who did drop everything and go up to be with her, and also made the phone calls and sent the emails to cancel my day tomorrow (four home visits and a therapist's appointment for myself). So tomorrow I will drop my daughter off at school and drive two hours to the hospital to see how she is; I will go prepared to stay overnight if I have to.
Sam has work commitments tomorrow evening but will leave long enough to bring our daughter home; he already arranged a babysitter. I'll have an hour with my daughter in the morning but won't be home until after bedtime, if I get home at all.
I'm starting to understand why people insist that their elderly parents move nearer to them. My mother is basically healthy; she should recover completely from this episode. She's lived al her life in the town I grew up in. I can't imagine she'll uproot herself for my convenience. But I also can't imagine making this juggling act work for another 20 years.