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Walking a Labyrinth

There’s a labyrinth outside my window at work. Not a maze of hallways or buildings but, a meditation path. It sits there unused and observed like a work of art.

My friend and I walked it a year or so ago on an especially stressful afternoon. “Let’s take a break, get out of here and go walk around that labyrinth thing” We did walk it – fast. We stomped around the intertwined gravel path complaining about our day at work all the way in and all the way out.

Turns out that’s not the best way to walk a labyrinth. I found a better way at a different labyrinth far away from work on the edge of a desert.

Left my phone on a bench nearby.

Stepped in, breathing timed with each slow step.

Lay my worries, stress, fears behind me in the gravel as I stepped.

Foot, step, crunch, breathe, let go, shift, place a foot, step, crunch, breathe, shift, let go.

Lost by the changing direction of the maze.

Just stepping and breathing, stepping and breathing.

In the middle with a lighter burden, I paused and felt tears (surprised at myself) as I looked over the desert beauty; felt the breeze and sun.

Then I turned to walk out by measured degree.

Foot, step, crunch, breathe, hope, shift, foot, step, crunch, breathe, promise.

Slowly, turning, winding.

At the end one last step out.

Buoyant.

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Halloween Candy is a Learning Opportunity

As @KPKiddoc I posted this recently on Twitter:

Don’t have 2 hand out candy on #Halloween Kids like stickers, pencils & sm toys as much! http://1.usa.gov/1N1HVcC 

Only to get this response from a follower:

#delusional

Beyond guessing this person had not read the study I linked the tweet to, I was sure she was not giving our kids enough credit. Sure, they like candy but, they enjoy toys and non-candy treats. If you allow Halloween to be a “learning opportunity” as the nutritionist Ellyn Satter advises, you will find that they learn to manage their own stash of candy and make wise choices. Those choices may be a cool Halloween pencil over yet another mini candy bar. And, I know this works – for 19 years I have offered both candy and fun non-candy items. The pencils and toys are definitely popular!

 

Before becoming a parent, there were many things I thought I’d never do as a mom. You know, like just wipe off the pacifier and plug it back in. Or, buy them a cell phone. Or, let teens wear sagging jeans. Or, let them eat as much Halloween candy as they want. I have had to eat my words a few times and Halloween is one of those.

 

I enjoy Halloween with its fall colors and crisp air. It has little in the way of obligation or work associated with it and feels for the most part, like pure fun. But as parents and teachers, we worry about the amount of sugar kids get each Halloween. This concern is for good reason. The average child in the U.S. is reported to eat 32 teaspoons of sugar a day.  The Centers for Disease Control tell us that American children eat 16% of their total caloric intake or 442 calories a day from added sugars. We buy nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween.

 

Given this, Halloween offers us a chance to educate our kids about sugar, nutrition and exercise. Here are some ideas for how to navigate around these mounds of sugar:

 

  • Tonight at dinner, talk with your kids about sugar, candy, excess and moderation. Is it ok to eat small amounts of candy? Is it important to learn how to stop after one piece? How does eating too much candy make them feel? What can they do with extra candy?
  • Partner with your children’s teacher to teach about nutrition. Kids respond well to the graphics of http://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids/ . Consider using the statistics and articles about sugar consumption cited above.
  • Volunteer to bring a healthy snack to school for Halloween parties. One idea are these seasonal pumpkin muffins.
  • You don’t need to hand out candy on Halloween. Try packs of sugarless gum. A recent studyshowed that kids like getting stickers, pencils and small toys as much as candy!
  • If you hand out candy, give out one small piece per kid.
  • Start off Halloween night with a big, healthy, plant-based dinner. Full kids eat less candy (full grownups too!)

Then, after trick or treating comes the biggest challenge: what do parents do with all the candy? There are many approaches to this and you have to find what works for your family. I suggest that teaching kids moderation is important. Trying to control or prevent all sweet intake can backfire.

  • Some families allow a piece or two a day (many a mom takes one piece for herself each day too!)
  • Some parents “buy back” candy from their kids. For example, a pound of candy can earn a book.
  • Candy can be donated.
  • Show younger kids they can have fun by sorting the candy by color, shape and type. Make graphs of what they got.
  • Do some candy science– there are lots of fun experiments to try!
  • Make trail mix with dried fruits, nuts and small candies.

 

I asked my kids last night at dinner about Halloween candy. I asked why they end up with a pile of uneaten candy each year – rather than chowing down every last grain of sugar? They all felt that it had a lot to do with my unconventional approach. You know those things I said I’d never do as a parent? Well, I do tend to let my kids eat what they want out of their bag of candy. I recognize how crazy that sounds coming from a pediatrician, but – I temper my laid back approach with loads of education. It all comes back to using Halloween as a chance to talk with our kids about health choices, nutrition and exercise.

 

 

Turning The Summer Slide Into a Ladder Up

After our kids work hard all year-long they are thrilled for the break of summer vacation! I remember well how great those seemingly endless days of sleeping in, playing outdoors and reading books in a sunny spot felt. But now that I am the parent, I worry summer months represent a time for my kids to lose ground academically and as a doctor, I know they can be months of slipping into unhealthy habits. Teachers know they send kids home in June at a certain level of knowledge only to expect them to return in the fall having slid down a bit lower   Summertime with its long, lazy days of freedom is a hallmark of childhood but can be a harm to children’s education and fitness.

There are far-reaching benefits to the free-form days of summer. They can be a time of family connection and exploration – I wrote about this last summer. You can focus together as a family on the value of fitness by heading out for a walk or to the park after dinner each night. Summer can also be a time to develop new skills. And the slide in knowledge base that teachers experience is something parents can help prevent.

Making regular reading part of those summer days at home can help kids avoid losing academic ground. A recent study: “Stories to Stop the Summer Slide: Books to Prevent Summer Learning Loss Among Low-Income Students” demonstrated this. Providing our kids with books (preferably of their choosing), the time and sunny space to read in should be one of our goals each summer.

Ideas to get started with:

  • Does your child have their very own library card? Time to get one! Many libraries have summer reading programs and competitions to motivate young readers.
  • Let your kids choose their books. Comic books? Age-appropriate graphic novels? Say yes!
  • Ask their teachers for ideas that fit well with your child’s current reading level.
  • Check out these reading lists for ideas:
  • Be sure to let your kids see you reading. In this electronically focused age it can be hard for parents to put the phone down and read something paper based. Summer can motivate us to take time to relax with a good book too – let your excuse be acting as a role model for the kids!
  • Consider hosting a beginning-of-summer book swap party.
  • Start a parent-child book group. I have been in one with my daughter and her friends since she was in elementary school and have enjoyed reading their books as a way to bond and understand their world.
  • Choose a book to read as a family. One year we read The Calder Game together. It provided plenty of opportunities for conversation and we even tried making mobiles together!

This year at the start of school maybe our teachers will smile to see that our kids have climbed up a ladder to better reading over the summer! Because as they read this summer, our kids will have grown through the stories they soaked up – those of adventure and laughter, those of mystery and fantasy.

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. 

– George R.R. Martin

 

 

Zucchini Hiding

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when I get sneaky.

I have a passion for cooking and a love of gardening. An interest in nutrition and, a love for my children. Combined, these had me convinced that if kids were given the chance to grow their own food in their backyard or patio garden they would eat just about anything they grew.

My garden space is small but full and in July it is full of zucchini. But, it turns out that zucchini is not my kids’ idea of good food. Even if they did grow it. Funny thing that I can’t remember this in May when I put in the seedlings.

So, every year, this time of year, I am forced to hide zucchini everywhere in order to use it up. I have the most fun sneaking the truly huge, two foot-long zucchinis (that seem to grow ignored under those big leaves) in my neighbor’s beds. I sneak over when they have headed out to walk the dog and place, like the tooth fairy but different, a big zucchini under their pillows. Hee, hee.

Then, I turn to cooking up the more manageable fruits. For dinner there is no better choice than the recipe found in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Mineral for Disappearing Zucchini Orzo. It is a perfect way to hide three large ones. Hee, hee, hee!

Then for breakfast I whip up zucchini bread from a recipe I have tuned and tweaked for the past 18 years of feeding children. It is a perfect way to thin the crop and a fabulous way to trick reluctant youngsters into eating their veggies.

Ingredients

3 eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2-3 cups grated zucchini (or a mix of zucchini, yellow summer squash and carrots)

1 cup white flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Beat eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla until light. Mix in zucchini.

Whisk together dry ingredients then fold into wet. Stir in walnuts.

Pour into pan and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until center springs back and tester comes out clean.

Cool for 10 min then turn onto cooling rack.

When asked, don’t tell them what the green flecks are just let them try it first!

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Questions

Last week I tried something new. Something a bit out of my comfort zone and something I have long resisted doing. I enjoyed the experience largely because of its novelty; it felt good to stretch.

The real fun began though, when I started telling people what I had tried. The statement “You’ll never guess what I did on Wednesday” became an interesting litmus test for how my friends and family view me. You might try it with your circle.
Here are their answers:
“You went sky-diving?” Yeah, okay… that person obviously did not know me at all well.

“Rock-climbing?” Ditto.
“You rode a motorcycle?” Really, people?
“Yoga?” Hmmm…
“You got back on Rollerblades? No.
“Run?” Hey really, would that be so unusual?
“Shop?” Ew.
“Skip work?” Okay, that would be surprising.
“Add a day in to work?” Sadly but no, working extra would not shock.
And now, in upside down and backwards writing, the answer is:
Yoga.
It really did feel good to stretch.

Love and “Non Sequitur” Defined (or, A Weekend Alone)

What does a working mother of three do when she finds herself home alone for three days? Well, true story, I can tell you the answer:

Bake, lots. Clean, prune and organize. And think. Lots.

Turns out though that I wasn’t completely alone. I had two rambunctious, trouble-generating puppies to keep me company.

Okay, I baked. First though, I started to clean the kitchen cabinets. As I cleaned I found bits and pieces of things that needed using up. The first was a jar of soy flour from… well, a while ago. So, I baked 8 dozen pumpkin muffins using the soy flour (there was more to use up than I thought.) Then I found a tube of almond paste left over from making stollen this Christmas so, I baked an almond pound cake. I found 3 half bags of chocolate chips. You guessed it – cookies.  Then a bag of golden raisins, a 1/2 box of currants, and some walnuts? Oatmeal cookies.

I thought about the meaning of love – after all, it was Valentines Day this week. Turns out, when you look on-line for a definition of love you may find out that

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

The dogs certainly challenged this definition; I may not have been endlessly patient. I may have angered. I’m afraid I can list their wrongs (they got in the chicken coop – twice, vomited on the rug – once, peed on the rug – once, made a hole in the fence – once, escaped through their new hole in the fence – once, woke me at 530 – three times). And, I did boast a bit when a nice lady complimented my ability to walk two young labs at the same time (didn’t mention that I had run them in the fields for two hours before she saw us limping home.)

I watched TV and learned, from an episode of  “How I Met Your Mother”, that

opening yourself up to another person means opening yourself up to going a little insane

Okay, that definition of love I’ve got covered.

 

I looked up the meaning of the word non sequitur.

I did some laundry (I may have been alone but, I do have three kids.) Pruned the roses. Organized the freezer (to fit in all the baked goods) and then felt compelled to eat all the odd bits of frozen things there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Read the NY Times all the way through. Looked at Twitter despite planning to take a “holiday” from social media. And there I found this definition of love:

Love, I’ve recently recognized, is that moment when you desperately need forgiveness from the one who inspires your best self for having just been, in some small, petty way, your base self.

I walked the dogs again. Made the beds. Cleaned a closet. Sorted through the CDs; listened to lots of Alexi Murdoch, Macy Gray and The Cure. And, spent several nice hours on the phone talking with a handsome man from Switzerland who has always inspired my best self. My Swiss friend asked me – It is hard to live alone isn’t it?

Its going to rain Tuesday.

 

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Puppies and Love (or seriously? you ate that?)

I’ve been struggling all week with what to write about. All that comes to mind is the vomiting dog. So be it.

Last Sunday I did not have to work. For a Pediatrician in flu season that is a big deal. On top of that I woke up early while the kids slept in. I let the puppy out, fed him, made coffee and let him out again. I got the papers from the driveway and proceeded to do the very, very uncommon thing for me, and go back to bed. I curled up with my coffee and started to read. Ah.
I heard the rustling but chose to ignore it.
So about the dog, it all starts about 2 years ago when a stray puppy poodlish thing showed up on our door step one night. Cute and without anyone to claim him he became ours. Now, I had never owned a dog before. I had owned mice, cats, gerbils, fish, an octopus, guinea pigs, many cats and 6 darn chickens. No dogs. They were nice but honestly, I did not understand them. Then “Percy” showed up. He was as much a pain as he was fabulous. Who knew how great a dog’s love could make you feel? It did not matter how hard the rest of life seemed, it did not matter how rough the day was, Percy was there at the door wagging, licking, sneezing in joy to greet us. He healed us and, one day, suddenly and wrenchingly he was gone.
Last summer a sweet friend offered us a chance to own a dog again. The financial cost was more than I was able to bite off. She arranged to have it lowered. The emotional risk felt huge. How could we love again? But, after much midnight thought and loads of dinnertime conversations with my kids we all decided to take the leap again. We now have wagging, licking, happy 4 month old  “Zeus”. He is jet black with soulful eyes and he is here teaching us all to trust again. Which brings this rubber band story back to the rustling sounds.
I was in bed enjoying some article about the terms “husband” and “wife” and looking forward to reading about the latest travel recommendations when I finally decided it was time to see what was going on below me. Good decision made too late. Zeus had by then devoured 1.5 pounds of dry rice with a side of corn meal.
The vet advised that I administer a chaser of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. I did, Zeus didn’t. We looked at each other. He licked me. I threw the ball. We waited. Then the vomiting started. After an hour of cleaning up puppy-brewed risotto I heard my 13 year old wake up. She had been feeling ill the night before and now, suddenly felt rather queasy. So I ran a bowl up to her bedside while thinking to myself “Seriously?” She sleeps with one of the cats, a sweet, timid kitty who loves her more than Friskies. As I hugged my girlie and held the bowl, the tortoiseshell kitty on her bed started retching. I moved the cat to the floor just in time.
I mopped up the rice. The girl used her bowl. The dog? Well, he cleaned up after the cat.
The paper remained unread.
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Of Babies and Donuts

Some silliness unfolded this morning on Twitter. I think it began with this tweet (apparently sent by a tired pediatrician, early in the morning, after being called to a baby’s delivery):

Let’s play a game: what do babies and donuts have in common? #WhatDoTheyHaveInCommon

Let me explain a bit about Twitter. Somehow I, a fairly non-techy sort of gal have 3 Twitter feeds. Two for work: @KPHealthed and @KPBabydoctor. On these I try to be professionally focused. On my personal feed, @KateLandMD, I relax a bit more. My non-medical, non-tech savvy friends are completely mystified by Twitter let alone why a doctor would be using it. I explain that there can be power and value to the connection found in the space on Twitter. That it is important for doctors to be present for the discussion. That it is important to battle misinformation with truths; important to be accessible. I explain that we learn from each other; we stay current. I tried to explain that we make friends. Well, that last bit drew guffaws from one person recently. “Friends? Really?” she said with a sceptically arched brow.

Well yes, friends. Take this morning for example – we went on for quite some time making ourselves giggle by answering the question about babies and donuts. Here is a bit of the transcript:

You never want to squeeze too hard.

There is a powdered version of each.

Eventually, they both wind up stuck on your hips.

Oh good grief! You all crack me up! #giggleswithmycoffee Now I want a donut.

Now I want a baby and a doughnut.

Coffee is a good accompaniment.” And necessary!I just have to pause and say, I am cracking up over these tweets! #WhatDoTheyHaveInCommon

A dozen is probably too many.

Have U noticed, while we are being silly some folks here are still thinking big thoughts #classclowns

Silly is such an important part of life. I never want to forget how to have fun.

This fun question brought back two memories of babies and donuts that I couldn’t quite squeeze into 140 characters. First, from when I was pregnant with my middle child. I was a resident working way-to-many hours in the neonatal intensive care unit, not my favorite place to be even when not pregnant. The call nights were many and long; it was hard to talk myself through them at times. So, I developed a system: if I could make it through the night I earned a donut, an apple fritter to be specific. I had a lot of fritters. At birth she weighed in at 10 pounds – no surprise there.

The second memory, triggered by the Twitter silliness, was about this same donut-fed baby a bit older. In kindergarten she developed a problem with her blood cells. The diagnosis was at first unclear – she seemed quite ill;  and the treatment was very high dose steroid pills. These made her a bit  nutty and put her appetite off. In our state of worry we gave into the one food she would eat. Yes, donuts. Donuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Soon we got the news that her condition was benign and to be short-lived. So, we sat her down at dinner and explained that this was her last donut for a while. Later I found her talking in her sleep:

Pretty donut…pretty donut…

My time spent on Twitter can be hard to explain. Another pediatrician there, Bryan Vartabedian, often does a much better job in his infinitely readable blog 33 Charts. Recently when discussing physician’s roles in social media he said:

There are 50 ways to use something like Twitter to make your world, or the world of those around you, a better place.  YouTube’s potential application in health care is limited only by the imagination.  While no one has to use any of these tools, believing that Twitter is only a place to share what you’re eating for breakfast is to live with your head in the sand.

Ah yes but, while we explore Twitter’s more meaningful side, a bit of banter over breakfast with our friends is awfully good fun.

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Thanks for the fun to these and others: @rychoiMD,  @thegrandefinalle, @jensen_jessica@DNich09

My 3 Words: Stretch, Focus and Learn.

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Using the concepts from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chris Brogan came up with a refreshingly productive new approach to New Year’s Resolutions. In his blog post, My 3 Words for 2013, he walks us through identifying a goal, the barriers to obtaining it and then, identifying three trigger words to remind us how we need to change ourselves to reach the goal. He writes:

Switch, talked about needing three elements to bring about change: a rider (your plans and intents), the elephant (what your mood will do no matter what your plans say), and the path (the environment within which you intend to implement those changes). The concept of the three words is like the path.

I am resolution averse. However, I have had a measure of  success lately with resolutions:  in 2010 by not answering kids when they yell at me from some other room,  in 2011 by starting this blog and in 2012 by baking cookies. This year my goal feels fuzzier:  I want to write more or better or be read more widely. Hard to pin down; hard to define and therefore hard to accomplish. But, let’s see what I can do with Brogan’s technique.

So, I’d like to write. The elephants are crowding the room. I am too busy. I shoot down my efforts. I lack skills in grammar, style and writing technique. I get distracted. What is my path?

Stretch means to make myself a bit uncomfortable. I am short on time. I hate getting out of bed in the dark but, perhaps finding time to write means doing so. Writing regularly means writing less than perfect pieces at times. Or, asking for feedback. Or, writing about difficult topics. Stretching means risking.

Focus means remembering my goals. It is so easy to be swept away by the small pleasures and simple tasks of the day. Day after day until I realize a year is gone again. Focus means giving myself permission to put writing before laundry or phone calls or pleasant visits from neighbors

Learn is easy to define. I went to a liberal arts college which at the time had no general education requirements. I took political science, philosophy and science… no English. Therefore I have a load to learn. Starting with grammar; for example, how to use a semicolon.700206__large

At work I have two exam rooms. This card hangs in the one reserved for teen patients so that I can see it daily. Hopefully some of them read it and I’ll bet many of those that do wonder why on earth number 6 is on the list but, I know.

Thanks go to Bryan Vartabedian whose blog post at 33 Charts got me started with my 3.

I Resolved To Bake Better Cookies – It Was a Tough Year

Yesterday I called a friend near the time his clock would tick over to 2013 to wish him Happy New Year’s. I was informed in so many words that, while happy to hear from me, he doesn’t buy into the whole New Year’s thing. This set me thinking.

Today resolutions abound. We all know that tomorrow most will be broken. In fact, one study from 2009 showed that a full 88% of resolution-makers fail. So, why keep trying? Why make such a big deal of New Year’s Eve and Day?

I too think they are overblown; you certainly won’t find me celebrating on Time’s Square. But, I do enjoy the chance to reflect backwards and to look forward. As I wrote, in my very first blog post on January 1st 2011, it seems better to assess our life’s path as we walk it rather than on one night a year. However, there is a nice symbolism to the passing of one year into the next that provides many of us the focus required to pause and reflect.

I have often resisted making a resolution. Last year I made one and succeeded gloriously! My resolution, broadcast far and wide, was to move through my cookbooks, recipe by recipe, to find, make and perfect my favorite cookie recipes. It took a lot of diligence; it was hard but now, my work has paid off: I have my perfect versions of chocolate chip, oatmeal, ginger, black and white, almond and snicker-doodle cookies. My kids loved it – they were thrilled by watching their possibly insane, semi-perfectionistic mother make batch after batch until she was happy. They, in turn, kept telling me more work needed to be done, that whatever one I had just produced wasn’t quite right, that I needed to try…just one more revision.

Was this resolution silly? Perhaps. It was a fun-loving way to make myself take more time to do something I love with and for those I care most about. Less work, more time with the kids. Who cares about the extra cookie weight? If I were a person who went in for making much of New Year’s Resolutions, that might be the one for 2013.

Postcards2CardsNewYearsResolution1915

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, now if I am ever asked if I ever made a NY’s resolution I kept, I can say “Yes!”

 

The Rough Shifting of My Brain From “Mom” to “Doctor”

DSC_0885My favorite day of the year is December 26th. All work done, house a mess but, who cares – the kids are happy. No dinner to make. There’s enough left-over turkey for the apocalypse. I was sitting by the fire, new book in one hand, glass of Prosecco in the other. I never sit and haven’t read much this year so you’ll forgive me that I did not at first jump at the voice from upstairs.

Mom?

I am reading a good book, The Memoir Project. It is perhaps worth a blog post soon. I was sucked in by the promise of relaxation (fire, Prosecco) and uninterrupted creative thought (book). But then, there was something in the tone of voice that made me ask

Do you need me?

Yes!

Is someone …hurt ?

This last bit uttered as I ran, up the stairs, because by then I already knew.

The big brother sat wide-eyed by the crying, stiff little brother. They had been wrestling as bear-cub brothers will and, it had ended with the little guy crying out. Later, I asked his brother what made him stop the grip he had on his brother’s neck and he said simply that he said “ow.” Must have been a loud “Ow.”

And that is where the point of this story begins. They say that doctors should never practice on their families. There are good reasons and, dire examples. But how, I ask you, is a mother (doctor) supposed to not treat her kids? I don’t do their well checks. I don’t treat their colds. But I am present for their emergencies. At those , there is always a juncture when I have to wrench my mind out of motherhood and disassociate to be … a doctor. Sometimes it works.

This time it worked fine. I was able to calm the little guy, assess his sore neck (muscle spasm) and hug his sorry brother. Whew. But, don’t think that visions of quadriplegics weren’t dancing through my mind as I acted.

Other times it has been harder. I was an exhausted intern, coming home off a 36 hour stretch when I saw the rash. My firstborn (a.k.a. the big brother) was at a friend’s house when I picked him up. She calmly said that he had the strangest rash. I looked. He did. His rash was that I saw in the hospital on kids who died. My mind churned; it twisted – I had to be the doctor again?

Another day, one when I was supposed to be home recuperating from a big leg surgery I again, had to make that shift. The kids had gone kayak camping with their dad. They had paddled into a remote lake and broken camp, gone to bed and the next morning the sister felt ill. All their dad can tell me now a few years later, is that he just “knew”. So, he and her brothers packed it all up, boated everything out and then carried her out. She came home to me and they asked

is she okay?

Well, I will say I tried. I tried to make my mind turn from mommy to doctor. I tried to think clearly but.. it did not happen. Thankfully, her dad was wise and took his little girl with the near-ruptured appendix to the hospital.

I’ve also missed a few broken bones. Correctly pegged headaches as nothing to worry about. Ignored appropriately, several random stomach aches and, imagined cancer at least a half-dozen times.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports the dangers of treating our families. The American Medical Association advises against it. Many hospitals forbid it. I am a fine doctor. I am the best mother my kids have. I should not though, have to play both roles. But, I do at times and during those moments I hold my breath and try to avoid the worst while I summons a brain-shift from mommy to doctor.

Real Friends Would Iron For Me

I am fortunate to have a wonderful group of women as friends. They form several overlapping and intermingling groups. My “birthday group” – six women who meet for dinner on the six birthdays. (Well really five, one gets slighted every year since her birthday is on 12/29; somehow we are all so relieved to have survived the holiday season and all of its joyful work, that we can never quite coordinate to meet on her day. She’s awfully sweet about it and teams up with our January birthday.) My book group, together since early 2000 with many additions and departures but with a core that has stayed from the beginning. I have a group from when our kids were all at the same parent-cooperative preschool. Our families meet for dinners, holidays, camping and gather to each others arms in times (too many lately) of loss.  My bunko group. Bunko? Really? Well, we haven’t actually played for years. We evolved instead, to host nice dinners monthly for each other. Then when that began to seem like an unnecessary amount of work added to our already too-busy lives, we started “Bunko-lite” meant to be just drinks and dessert. Last night, we had even better – just went out to a local pub! Perfect.

So, I do have two or three dear, close male friends. One recently asked me what all these women talk about when we get together. Men? Kids? Jobs? Sex (he said hopefully)? Hmmm… what do we talk about?

So, last night…. We did talk about men some. Sex was mentioned. Our kids too of course. And our parents, jobs, puppies and in-laws. But what captivated our attention? Ironing.

One wonderful woman, a skilled R.N. by training and super-mom by love, was telling us about how she had been inspired by my recent blog post How the Grinch Got it Right to let some things go. Like ironing the sheets. Ironing the sheets?! We giggled over that and decided that must be a nurse-thing since my mother does the same at times (and they both miter their corners nicely also). Then we all joined in the laughter as another friend told us about her son showing her an iron he had found in the closet once and asking what it was. A few of us remembered a comment one friend’s grandmother made: “I’d rather whore than iron” – a comment that has stuck firmly in my mind; it has such earthy wisdom about it. One gal then volunteered with a twinkle in her eye, that sometimes as she flat irons her hair, she touches up her shirt as well! We all liked that time-saving, practical,  modern-mom tip. Another remembered that her family had an ironing lady when she was a child. When I asked the friend next to me if she was an ironer she responded simply “no”. Ah, why would she… her husband irons. And cleans. (now that is a man to talk about).

I have ironed. I was able to say proudly, that in fact I ironed last month. And, almost exactly four years before that. I ironed while watching Obama’s inauguration and this year, while watching the election returns. Generally though, I subscribe to Erma Bombeck’s theory:

My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

Erma Bombeck was also wise about the value of friendships. As she suggested, I have friends who would tell me to eat dessert, never defend a husband who gets me an electric skillet for my birthday and who will definitely tell me that

they saw my old boyfriend and he is a priest.

I have friends who have brought me countless dinners when needed, cared for my children and held me while I cried. But, darn them, I just can’t get them to come over and iron!

The Incredible Lightness of Self

On my far too long flight home from Zürich recently, I watched a dumb movie. I love unchallenging, predictable, movies. Best of all? Dumb romantic comedies. In this one a man and woman who are discovering that they care about one another, are out at lunch. He invites her “to spend some time getting to know each other better.” As they sit, leaning in together, she asks a question about his work. Then she asks another and, another. Then? One more. We know she is curious and cares to understand him; we can see she is nervous. He answers but, after a bit squirms and jests pointedly , that he feels as if he is being interviewed. She sits back abruptly.

Even in the best of relationships (romantic or parental) there pass small moments of strife. Socks on the floor again, toothpaste left in the sink set us on edge. A comment about what the partner is wearing or their hair color that  triggers some deeper insecurity. A word carelessly said. Or, not said. Most of these moments should be allowed to pass by; they are not worth making much of. But, so often we chase them down and chew them apart and, in doing so cause injury. Unintentional injury.
Often as they build, I can feel these moments creeping up on me. There hangs in the air a sense of tottering balance. I could respond with a not really meant vitriol that somehow in these stupid moments can fly out of me. Or, I could choose to walk by the moment without response and take a deep breath. A breath full with understanding that the little things are just that.
If I could wish, I would wish for a warm humor at those times. An ability to shrug my shoulders and laugh at myself and ask, “why take life so seriously?” Socks on the floor, toothpaste on the sink and questions about hair color are just socks, messes and curiosity. They are not more.
While watching the movie I momentarily held my breath. I could see myself there on screen (as the leading lady of my own life) and knew the response to his jest could go one of two ways. I would understand her hurt retreat back into the chair, her stiffened chin and internal kicking herself for going overboard in her attempt to understand him. I could see myself doing just the same defensive retreat.
It was a relief to see her pause, and then laugh and say that “yes, she had a way of going too far when she felt nervous!” What a gift – to accept and to lightly laugh at oneself! What lightness!

How the Grinch Got it Right

I told my friend yesterday that I feel like The Grinch. Why does everyone feel compelled to fit their yearly entertaining into December? Why do we leave March so unattended to? What’s wrong with wine parties in say, September?

I have, no doubt been feeling enormously blue for each of our recent last Decembers. Life has conspired to make me so and, I have given in. Then, tonight I went to a lovely party thrown by a friend with far, far more than me to feel blue about. She confided that she almost did not hold her annual December party because she felt so weighed down by life’s challenges. Then she turned to herself (figuratively) and decided that perhaps that very ‘weight’ was exactly why she should after all, have 30 or so loud, chatty women drink wine at her house.
We chatted about mom-things. Moms-of-teens things: proms, colleges, careers (for us), exercise. Who looked good. Who had a nice sweater. We mentioned how stressful December is with its cards and cooking. One friend warmly told me to let the (damned) cards go; that the year she did so she stood 3 inches taller from the lightening of her load! I left feeling supported and calm.
I did not leave giving up on the (damn) cards though. The gathering (yet another in the many) made me see something. Our holidays can be hard for many. For me, change has made them difficult. For some, loss makes them lonely. Perhaps a wise person somewhere, someday, saw that filling the month with parties and cards gets us through if we are brave enough to be present and take part of them.
Maybe there is something to this insanity of cards and socializing after all,

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. SeussHow the Grinch Stole Christmas

Findling

There is a rock in Switzerland that is making me think.

Once I heard the author Anne Lamott speak in part,  about her writing process. One tip that has stuck with me for many years is her recommendation to keep a notebook for ideas and impressions that make one think. (As an aside, another tidbit from this author comes from her book Operating Instructions in which she discusses new motherhood and describes the way her postpartum belly lays next to her like an obedient puppy). Last week, a cool rock made me think and therefore, entered my notebook.
It lays on a hillside somewhere outside Zurich and is huge, really more of a boulder. It has been finished with a fabulous iridescent blue/green/purple varnish and is presented as art. As such it might bring me back to my ongoing discussion of what exactly, counts as art. But, not now.

The rock is named “Findling”. I asked my friend, my perpetual translator of all things foreign there, what this word means. He did not pause in the answer that it means “a rock left behind after the movement of a glacier”. Not that I question my fine Swiss-German translator but once back in America, I looked up the meaning of “Findling” and found a few options:

  • an infant that has been abandoned by its parents and is discovered and cared for by others.
  • a white German wine grape variety
  • and to be fair: an erratic boulder

Putting aside the slow nature of a glacier’s movement, I have always imagined them as being quite destructive to anything underneath. Having lived for a bit on a glacier in Antarctica, I can tell you that glaciers look huge and mean. Any rock left behind has seen a bit of tumbling. This particular Swiss rock? It came out polished and pretty and can serve as a metaphor for us all.

After the slow but painful tumbling that life can present, the strong ones amongst us come out intact. And, in some cases, even better off. And sometimes even iridescent.

Trying on The Coat

I spoke with a patient’s mother this week. She said that she was sure doctors hear this all the time but… “thank you.” She explained that it seemed what we do must become commonplace in our minds. That we could not really grasp the meaning to her as a parent, of the work we do. She thought I could not understand how much it means that her child is alive and I found it hard to answer her. “You are so very welcome” of course came to mind. Beyond that I felt a bit tongue-tied.

A friend of mine lost a beloved family member recently. The tragedy is overwhelming. So overwhelming that when I was talking earlier to a mutual friend he commented that it was bringing up his own past struggles. He said he felt as if he was “wearing her coat” of pain along with her.  Yes. Exactly.

I have at times shouldered that same coat. In random dark moments my mind slips into thinking about my children’s mortality. Just last night as my eldest drove off in the minivan (a hot date car for certain), I called out to him to “please drive safely!” As if that call out could prevent anything. But still, as my mind wandered towards the worst, I tried. Last year a child I knew (out side of work) died in a heart breaking way. It took me months to stop waking up on the occasional  dark, early morning in a cold, silent panic imagining the pain that her family must feel. I imagined the tragedy, the event. I dipped my toe into their shoes. I wore their coat for a bit.

How could simple words tell my patient’s mother how well I understood her thanks? While I have not walked in her shoes, I have tried her coat on at times. Doing so gives me the strength to reach out and help her more fully. And to answer her that “No, what we do is not commonplace at all. I too feel the wonder of a life helped.”

Reunions and Poetry

Sometimes I find my self paralyzed here before the keyboard. I am paused by concern that my thoughts are mundane or trite; that anything I say will have been said before. And better. Ah well,  sometimes that which has been said before is worth saying again. And perhaps, again.

I went to my 30th high school reunion recently. I was ambivalent about attending; my life now seems so remote from those days of the past. I am here, they are there. I am not who I thought I would be. I have family, friends, career…an identity that seems to have little to do with then. There were though, reasons to go, places to revisit, people to embrace, relationships to nurture. So off I went.

I was moved and surprised. Sure, it was fun. Unexpectedly, stay up-til-3AM-two-nights-in-a-row kind of fun. Sure, there were people who I was surprised by. I found more people than not unchanged; we slipped back into easy conversation. It was as much fun to watch who looked the same as they always had as it was to see who had satisfyingly evolved (not sure where I fell exactly). Sure, it was interesting to see what had come of old flames.

The real magic though was not so simple to explain. I have since, been coming here to this keyboard to write, only to pull away, in a struggle to explain something different. I found my voice through remembering the words of Elizabeth Barret Browning quoted by a classmate as she warmly led us in a remembrance for the too many that we have lost:

What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes.

The people we knew in our youth, the people of our growing years shaped us. They have defined us in ways hard to account for. I was embraced by a warm air of recognition, understanding and support by those many faces from the past. We all move forward into our lives and, the people we become? They are in large part shaped by our relationships of the past. I found this especially poignant and reassuring. I have next to no family of my own left; I have lost many. Yet I know well that they are with me, they are in me. Even so, I was surprised to see how strongly even small acquaintances of the past were a part of who I am today.

As we re-encountered each other we asked and, answered over again, the same set of questions. Where do you live? What do you do? Married? Divorced? So sorry. Children? These were our descriptors used to define us. But just as easily, the questions to define us upon meeting could be: Where were you from? Who was your first kiss? Who taught you art? What were the trees like there in the summer? Which friends motivated you? Who do you love still? What did your high school look like? Who still intimidates you? Who do you miss?

What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes.

Indeed. I am shaped by my past. I taste it.

Happiness, Tesselations and Tangled Hair (or, it is truly all in how you look at it)

Some art is beautiful and moving. Some art just makes me think. The dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s intricate woodcuts and lithographs are examples of the kind of academic, exacting art that moves me little but inspires me lots. His works

feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

They are studies of perspective. His work Relativity shows figures walking up stairs that are upside down and others walking down stairs who should be falling off into space. Our minds struggle to adjust. It is truly all in how you look at it.

I was out with a friend Tuesday night and got a frantic string of texts from my daughter. Here is the transcription:

Hi Mom, I got a comb stuck in my hair….WHAT DO I DO?

MOM?

HELP!!!!!!!?

See Mom:

Oh my. As I gave her my advice of using a bucket of conditioner and slowly trying to work the hair free, I could hear her brothers in the background. They were apparently “helping”. I then had to ask

Honey, are you crying or laughing?

The answer is a study in perspective that shows like Escher’s works, that life is often all in how you look at things. Ensnared and frantic though she was, her whole-hearted response was: “I’m laughing Mom. This is hilarious!”

This ability to see the stairs as right-side up and rising is such a gift! She has the ability to use perspective to her advantage. Currently this very skill is being widely studied and often touted as the key to happiness. As happiness has become a subject of study (an Amazon search of books on happiness yields no less than 24,170 results) we are collectively being told to adjust our thinking in order to be more content. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin repeatedly finds that if she acts the way she wants to feel, she feels the way she wanted to – be it happier or more energetic. She cites studies that show making yourself smile can boost your mood. In a recent lecture by Dr. David Sobel he advised us to pursue happiness. He pointed out that

stress is produced by the stories we tell ourselves … optimists who tell themselves more positive, empowering stories tend to be healthier, live longer and enjoy life more.

Ah indeed, the old “cup is half full” advice. Or the stairs are right side up. Or the tangled hair is funny. I find myself (though more naturally a the-cup-is-half-full-AND-half-empty kid of person) – inspired.

©

P.s.: My daughter’s story and picture were published with her permission. As fits her positive perspective, she thought being blogged about would be a hoot!