Monday, April 27, 2009
No, instead of making snide comments about Caitlin Flanagan's review of Alec Baldwin's book, I'm filling out little boxes in a long, complicated form. We're trying to start a Hospice and Palliative Care Fellowship, and the first step is filling in all the boxes.
I'd much rather be snarking at Flanagan, really.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I've chosen to work outside the home. We could send Eve to private school. We could sign her up for soccer. Paradoxically, it's criticism of the one thing I didn't choose that actually gets to me.
bluemilk is expecting (impatiently) her second child. She's a reflective woman, bluemilk is, so she's thinking about what it will be like to leave the only child club. One of her commenters reassures her - your daughter will gain so much! After all, only children only spend time with adults.
An only child will fit herself into adult molds of interacting; and adults are charmed by these children who learn to act like tiny adults and make tiny adult conversation.And I'm off on my own whirling circle of insecurity. Is Eve parentified? Is she acting "like a tiny adult" or is she just articulate and funny? Will she end up resentful when we are old and needy and she has no one to share the burden of our care? She loves kid company so much - wouldn't she be happier with a sibling, a pal, a co-conspirator? Isn't it bad enough that she has to manage the loss of her first mother?
Sam has little patience with this particular cycle of thought. Between us we have three siblings. We have cordial relationships with all of them, but they aren't a part of our day-to-day lives. That's partly geographical but largely temperamental. Sam is particularly amazed that I think Eve would be better off with a sibling given how much I struggle with my relationship with my brother. I wasn't an only child, but I sure was a "tiny adult" who couldn't get along with my peers and preferred adult company. And yet I wonder, and I worry. Eve has friends and good social skills and she clearly perfers kids to adults, but she also takes on too much responsibility and worries about stuff that is our business and says she's lonely.
Around and around I go, forgettting entirely bluemilk's actual post
Quite a few people have suggested that our child will benefit from her departure from the ‘only child’ club by having to share her parents with another. It is difficult not to take that personally, not to suspect them of making some criticism about over-indulgence and only children, or more specifically about our child. To these people I want to say yes Lauca will give up some things and gain some things too from having a sibling but.. only children get an unnecessary bad wrap. Most parents with an only child work hard to achieve balance in their family, and the incredible level of intimacy they can experience with parenting only one child is something quite breath-taking. You really get to know that one child and they know you.Yes.
I'm going around and around out of my own grief. I can own my choices, but I can't own the end of my idea of what our family would look like, my wish for a happy companion for my daughter. When I was younger, I wanted four kids; I thought I would settle happily for two. I have one. On her first day out of the baby room in day care, she made friends with the other new arrival. They were 18 months old and between them they had a 20-word vocabulary, but they knew they loved each other, and they still do. Eve will find the cohort and the boon companions to support her through her life. I need to accept the things I cannot change.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Well, not much improved and I have spent much of the last 9 months grumbling under my breath about my phone or hearing my loved ones and colleagues grumble about it to me.
I have spent hours on the phone with the kind and responsive technical support people who work for my phone carrier.
I traded in the PDA twice, yes twice, and 2 weeks ago I found a 2 hour window in my day and went to the phone store to plead for a fourth PDA. That's a fourth of the same model PDA I have been grumbling about or listening to others grumbling about. I begin to think there is a lesson here.
They had me call the 800 number from the store where someone wanted me to erase all my data and do some other things that sounded like things I have tried before and/or crazy for me to do. And let me tell you, I have a LOT of information on my PDA, thousands of phone numbers and addresses of all sorts of professional and personal contacts, not to mention contact information, locked and password protected, about my patients. To lose all this information would be a giant inconvenience.
The suggestion to erase all the data reduced me to tears.
Usually only insurance companies can reduce me to tears.
Being in the actual phone store and crying while I pleaded with the 800# guy in front of a long line of people waiting for customer support prompted the nice manager to come out and escort me away from the crowds. I gave Nice Manager the reader's digest version of my story and he said he would suggest one more thing before he would recommend I switch to a different model PDA. He wants Nice Technical Guru to review my situation first and if he does not hear from Nice Technical Guru, we should move along, like in a day or two.
A plan and an alternate plan. And a time line.
There might be an end in sight.
So, I work for the next few days and check in with Nice Manager by phone during the week. He says if he does not hear from Technical Guru by tomorrow, let's change over to a different phone. Excellent.
At dinner that night, I tell my saga to the family and the updates to Tigerdad.
"Gee," I remark, "at the store, the line is full of people who got the replacement insurance for their phones and they just walk in and say, 'I lost my phone,' and get sent a new one." It would save so much time if I had lied and said I had lost my phone."
"But that's insurance fraud," says Tigerdad who works in the legal field.
"True," I note, "maybe they should change the name from loss-or-damage insurance to I-changed-my-mind insurance."
The next day, I go into the store between patients. I have 1 hour and 45 minutes until I have to leave be on time to see my next patient. No pressure. Nice Manager has not heard from Technical Guru and has the new PDA ready for me and we get going transferring the data.
At dinner that night, I happily announce that I got a new phone!
Tigercub says, "Did you lie to get your new phone?"
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Dr. Jay practices primary care internal medicine in Worktown and serves as the Associate Medical Director of the Worktown Hospice. She has been an active member of Our Organization since 1992 and graduated from the Training Program in 2004. She currently serves on the Education Committee as the Faculty Development Coordinator. Dr. Jay lives in Ourtown with her husband, nine-year-old daughter and two unruly dogs.
As you will note, this is well under the word limit. I sent it off.
By return Email, I was asked if I want to add anything to use the rest of my 250 words. Can't think of a thing, I replied.
Maybe I should have made something up.
Dr. Jay was abducted by aliens when she was 18, when she acquired the power to transform into a red-tailed hawk. This ability reduces her commuting time and enables her to continue her second career as a Tuscan breadmaker. Since the Hawk Disaster of 2001, Dr. Jay and her family no longer keep rabbits. They are considering acquiring a snake, however.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Just a few days before Julie wrote her elegy in search of community, Sam and I took Eve to Target to buy some jeans. You know that thing kids do when all of sudden everything they're wearing is too small? Saturday afternoon, after dance class and lunch, we headed off to the shopping center. We drove up our street and passed a family walking home from the Orthodox shul.
Mommy, where are they going? They're wearing kipot. Are they Jewish?
Yes, they are. They're going home for lunch after services.
How come they're walking? It's cold out.
Some people don't drive their cars on Shabbat.
We drive our car.
Yes, we do. Every family and every community makes their own decision about how to observe Shabbat.
So they're more Jewish than we are.
No, they're not. We're all Jewish, and we're just as Jewish as anybody else.
And I pray that she believes me. I don't want her to feel what I felt. I don't want her to stand on the fringes of Judaism, feeling inauthentic, fraudulent, uneducated. Between the English lit degree and the years of singing choral music, I found myself at 35 more comfortable in a church service - almost any Protestant service in the US - than in a synagogue that didn't use the Union Prayer Book of my youth. I tell Eve that everyone who is Jewish counts the same, but I sure didn't feel that way.
My parents never seemed to question their authenticity as Jews. My mother had to stop competing in figure skating because Jews weren't allowed in the state finals. My father was admitted to an Ivy League school in the days of an overt Jewish quota, and his father went to medical school because Jews weren't admitted to the PhD program in biology at Johns Hopkins. If that didn't make you authentic, well, what did?
I needed more, and I found it. I learned to read Hebrew and lead services. I started using the lit crit skills I'd developed to swim in Torah. I replaced the Missa Solemnis in my head with four different tunes to Mah Tovu. I want to save my daughter from the sense of inauthenticity that set my feet on that path, but I know that it is the journey - for I am still traveling - that makes my life deeper and richer. I have claimed my own Judaism. If I had learned as a child everything I feel I missed, I would still have had to dive into something unknown to make it mine. That is who I am.
Eve will have to claim hers. I don't know yet what it will look like; neither does she. She will have the education I lacked, but she doesn't have a biological connection to Judaism. She tells us now that she will become Christian (it's all one religion to her) when she's a grownup, so she can have Christmas trees and Easter candy, and perhaps she will. All I can do is hold my belief that she is Jewish; she is authentically Jewish; we are all diferent, but we are all really Jews.
(crossposted from Modern Mitzvot)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
This makes it easier to tolerate her request to "clean up in here before my friend comes over, Mommy. Your stuff is all over and I want it to be neat".
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
And yet I watch it, and enjoy it. Far as I can tell, they are exactly my age - I graduated high school in 1978. I swear I wore some of those clothes. My second high-school boyfriend looked a whole lot like Eric. And some of it just really funny.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Miss Conduct wrote about this twice. In her example, the bullying was physical and prolonged. The two women who've recently friended me never punched me. I don't think they ever even pulled my hair. I enjoyed high school despite them and haven't thought of either of them in years. Having them both pop up in my Facebook in-box within a week offered an opportunity for reflection.
It may be misleading to call them bullies. Or maybe not. When someone you've known since kindergarten (or before) starts deliberately trying to make you miserable when you're 15, I think that counts as bullying. I haven't seen or spoken to her since high school graduation, when she wrote something rude in my yearbook. I considered refusing the friend request, but my curiousity won out. Our Facebook chats have been pleasant, if superficial - we have kids, we're married, our siblings are here and there, she went to law school, I did actually make it to med school - and we've reminisced about elementary school, but neither of us has mentioned high school. Does she remember those last three years the same way I do? I wonder what she thinks about it. I wonder if I'll ask.
The other face from my past was a "new kid". She must have arrived when we were in fifth or sixth grade. It was tough moving into our town, particularly if your parents were divorced and you lived in a funky, not-quite-completed house that wasn't in a subdivision with your mother and her boyfriend. I loved visiting her house - it was untidy and kind of chaotic and when I slept over we were allowed to use the waterbed in the master bedroom. Her mother let us call her by her first name. She was my companion on my first independent shopping trip, by bus to the nearby department stores, a very big deal in our all-car, all-suburban existence. And then after high school started we weren't friends any more. I remember one fight, but I don't remember anything much after that - no active hostility, no lying about me to other friends, no nasty looks in the hallway. I didn't even hesitate when she friended me, and our first few notes back and forth had the same what-have-you-been-up-to quality - and then they changed.
"I've always felt badly about the way I treated you in high school", she wrote. And she apologized, and explained. There was a lot going on in that cheerfuly chaotic house that I couldn't see, and my shopping partner had been desperately unhappy for years. I didn't know what to say. It seemed somehow unfeeling to say "I don't even remember what you did". I told her that I had good memories of our time together, and that I had made my peace with the social struggles of my youth. And I listened, or read, as she apologized again.
Quite a contrast. One relationship will probably remain superficial, and the other feels as if it may deepen into something more than just a fond memory. It feels good to know I've grown past my teenage traumas, and to have my faith in the healing power of relationships confirmed.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I see. What else did they tell you about drugs?
That only stupid people take them. And that sometimes stupid people will try to make us take them, and we should say "no" and tell a teacher, because drugs aren't allowed in school.
Dr. Jay, the school nurse won't accept the form you filled out for Sally's inhaler. The nurse says if Sally doesn't need asthma medicine every day, her asthma's not bad enough that she needs to carry the inhaler.
Sally doesn't have gym every day, and she needs to use the inhaler before she exercises.
I tried to explain that to the nurse. Can you write a note to excuse Sally from PE instead? That's what they suggested.
My migraines are worse lately.
Why do you think that is?
Well, they sometimes start at school, and I'm not allowed to take my migraine medicine to school, so by the time I get home to take it I'm already sick to my stomach and the medicine doesn't work as well. I have to lie down for a while, and then I don't have as much time to do my homework so I stay up later, and then I don't get enough sleep, and I get another migraine the next day.
The fruits of zero tolerance.
Psychoactive substances have been part of human life throughout our history. We've created religious rituals around peyote, wine and tobacco. We've recorded the consequences of overuse and abuse in our literature. We've tried regulating and demonizing and outlawing substance use for hundreds of years.
So what's our current stance? We continue to promote a drug-education program that has been shown to breed cynicism*, not prevent addiction. We pretend that alcohol and tobacco are somehow different from all other potentially addictive substances, so they are legal where marijuana is not. We pay beer companies to emphasize responsibility. We act as if something magical happens when someone turns 21: poof! you are suddenly able to make sound, responsible decisions about something you've never been allowed to do before, at all. Younger than age 21? Then you can't possibly make an informed decision about what to put in your body. Younger than 18, and still in high school? You can't even be trusted with the substances your parents think are good for you.
Zero-tolerance policies are blunt instruments. There's no nuance, no thought, no flexibility. When you "just say no", you don't have a conversation. You don't listen. You don't hear kids struggle to reconcile the message they're getting in school with the glass of wine their parents have with dinner. You don't recognize that you've given kids a choice between ignoring you and believing that their parents are "stupid people". You punish a 16-year-old who is taking a prescribed medication as if she were a twelve-year-old trying to snort a line of coke.
We've already had to explain to Eve that yes, we think it's safe for Mommy and Daddy to have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer when we're out to eat, even if one of us is going to drive home. We've talked with her about how much harder it is for teenagers to know when to stop. We've given her sips of kiddush wine on Friday nights and tastes of beer when she's asked for it. We want her to learn that smart people do sometimes use drugs, that even her beloved grandmother used to smoke cigarettes, that some drugs are OK if used in moderation. We think she can hear and absorb those messages and still know enough to say "no" when it's appropriate. We give her credit for good judgment, and we want her to learn how to think for herself. We have zero tolerance for institutions that fail to prepare our daughter for the real world.
* to our non-US readers: The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, a product of the Reagan administration, is an exercise in groupthink that goes beyond being useless into the realm of counter-productivity. Despite many studies proving it has no benefit, it remains the primary substance-abuse program in American public schools. Never let it be said that we allow evidence to influence our opinions.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
Maybe it's just allergy. No fever, lots of sniffling, frontal headache. But she really looks miserable. Eats four bites of cereal and takes a sip or two of juice and just sits at the table. 10 minutes after the dose of Tylenol, too soon to know how much it will help. Unfortunately, it's 7:20 AM and we need to decide if the child is going to school and, if not, who is staying home.
I hate this.
I have a full day of patients today, with someone squeezed in over lunch, and no open appointments to move people into if I cancel. Sam has a bunch of grant deadlines and a workshop to plan. We're both scheduled to be off Thursday and Friday for Pesach, while Eve is out of school, and I could move today's patients into one of those days, but I really don't want to.
I know Sam can work from home. I know he's perfectly capable of looking after Eve no matter what sort of illness (or non-illness) this turns out to be. She needs rest and quiet and maybe some soup, and he can do all of that as well as I can. But I feel I have to at least offer. Is it a sense of inequity - he almost always is the one who stays home - or is it that I'm the mom and I feel like it's unmaternal to go to work when my kid is sick? I don't know. I know that I want to go to work, that I feel it only makes sense since Sam's schedule is more flexible. I can't see patients at the kitchen counter; he can write a grant there.
"If you feel that miserable, why don't you go upstairs and go back to bed?"
Without argument she pushes her chair back, goes up the stairs, crawls into bed and turns out her light.
So she stays home, and Daddy stays home, and Mommy goes to work. And no one is happy about it.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Lisa Belkin, writing Motherlode over at the Times, cites a few studies that show that parents aren't as happy as non-parents, and it doesn't always get better when the kids leave home.
There is also evidence that the strains associated with parenthood are not only limited to the period during which children are physically and economically dependent. For example, Glenn and McLanahan (1981) found those older parents whose children have left home report the same or slightly less happiness than non-parents of similar age and status. Thus, what these results are suggesting is something very controversial — that having children does not bring joy to our lives.Then there's my friend Mama over at The Elmo Wallpaper, writing more personally about life with her own children, one of whom has developed a penchant for climbing into the toilet.
Why would anyone have a baby when a baby has the capacity to make her unhappy, to make her sad, to make her fragile? I can only speak for myself. I would do it over and over again. Because that is how I became real, how life became real. It's the only thing that matters. It's the definition of love. It has definitely made me unhappy. It has also allowed me to know what happiness is.When a woman can link Keats with a toddler in a toilet, you know she's really a writer. But I digress.
Does having children make parents unhappy? Depends on the parents. Depends on the children. It all depends, as someone once said, on everything. If you are were a 19-year old bride in the 1950s who didn't know anything about sex and wasn't allowed to use birth control, and your brand new husband was gone two weeks out of every month but managed to be home when you were ovulating, and you found yourself with six children by the age of 25, you might just be miserable. You might just tell those children that they had ruined your life, and you might actually mean it.
But if you are were a 35-year old woman in the 1990s, newly married or long-married, or not married to a man or not married at all, and you'd always wanted a child but had watched your friends give birth all around you with nary a missed period of your own, you might feel that not having a child had ruined your life, and you might actually mean it.
Mama's "before the kids" picture made me smile.
That life was totally simple. On a Saturday, I chose between shopping (for a pre-baby body, no less, and one that didn't pee when I sneezed) or having a late brunch after I managed to haul myself out of bed or going on a spontaneous trip to the beach.On Saturdays, when I was the age Mama was before she had children, I got up and went to work as a medical resident, three Saturdays out of four. Or I stayed home and read the journals I didn't have time to read during the week, or studied for the Boards, or packed for one of the annual moves that punctuated our lives during residency and grad school, or did the laundry. If I suggested a spontaneous trip to the beach, Sam would remind me that he had to work on his thesis or go in to the department to use some piece of equipment that was only available to grad students during off-hours.
I wanted a baby then. If that baby had appeared, I would have been a miserable, distracted, resentful mother. I would have felt guilty about my feelings, and I would never have told my child she ruined my life, but the baby would not have made me happy; it would have made me even more unhappy. I realize now that Sam and I were barely functioning as partners in those years - we were each absorbed with our own work and worries, and we hadn't figured out how to help each other. We couldn't even reach each other most days.
The journey to parenthood was not the one I would have chosen. If I'd written the script, I would have gotten pregnant shortly after we moved here, a few years out of residency, in a stronger marriage, with a few just-for-fun weekends behind us. I think if I had, we would have been good parents, and I would have been just as happy with a baby as I was without one. No net flux of happiness. As it turned out, we had a long wait and a lot of work to do with each other before we walked into that hospital nursery nine years ago and took baby Eve into our arms.
And then we were happy in a way we had never been happy before. Not just because we were parents, but because we were parents when we wanted and needed to be parents; we were parents together, finally; we were parents to Eve.
It's not a simple equation: take adults, add child, stir and take happiness out of the oven. Children will bring happiness when women can truly choose to be mothers. When women can be honest about their own desires to delay having children, or even to forgo mothering entirely, without being criticized for being selfish. When women can have four children without being criticized for being selfish. When we stop acting on the assumption that family life is one-size-fits-all, and that it's our individual failing if it doesn't fit us perfectly.
Friday, April 3, 2009
15 or 16 years ago, shortly after we'd moved here, I received a notice of a potential lawsuit from my previous employer. I kept it on my desk for weeks and then carefully filed it away. Every time I looked at it I felt a little sick inside.
A few weeks I had another envelope from the same group. I opened it with great anxiety - and found a note from a doc I'd only met briefly before I moved. She wrote to tell me that she'd seen one of my patients and had been so impressed by my notes and by the way the patient spoke of me. She said "I wanted you to know you made a difference in that life, and that I am trying to follow your example".
I read the note, smiled, and tossed it in the recycling - and sat and stared at the basket. I remembered the other letter, the one that made me feel awful, the one I'd looked at every day for weeks and then made sure was safely stored away. That's when I realized I had it backwards. I fished the second letter out of the recycling and pinned it to the bulletin board by my desk.
That note faded to illegibility years ago, but I've found others to replace it. Whenever I do something to help someone travel - write a prescription for scopolamine, sign a form, arrange vaccinations, prescribe anti-malarials - I ask the patient to send me a postcard from the trip. Colorful pictures of Europe and Asia and US National Parks are tacked up next to thank-you cards and pictures of my daughter.
The nastygrams, which have been far fewer than the warm-and-fuzzies, are stuck away in a drawer I rarely open. I can't quite get my heart to follow this plan - I still believe the negative feedback and dismiss the positive strokes - but when I look at my bulletin board, I feel better.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
You don't know me, but I am Mr. NewPatient's wife. I have an appointment to come see you next week. My husband had an appointment today. He hates doctors. The only reason he came to see you was because I drove him there and made him go in. He hasn't been to see a doctor in 30 years, and he says he's actually willing to come back and see you. He said it was just like you weren't a doctor at all but a real person.
See you next week.