Monday, December 31, 2007

Under the Wire

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of my very first Maggots, someone I ranked up near the top of my Successes list, when she said something that made my blood run cold:

“So I’ve been running regularly for a year and a half now, and I never want to stop … even though I’m no good at it.”

“Say what?”

“I just kind of suck at running. I still can’t run for the whole half hour.”

I was stunned. Here I thought I’d taught her so well, and she’d been ignoring my second edict:
Everyone makes the same mistake when starting out: going too fast. When you start, you need to go SLOWLY. So slowly that you could probably walk faster. So slowly that you will feel humiliated if you see anyone you know.
“You idiot! You’re going too fast!” I said. She looked skeptical. So I slapped her upside the head and told her to start doing it right. And now she can run the whole half hour.

She’s a stubborn sort, but it made me realize that I must not have emphasized this point enough.



Am I making myself clear?

Someone asked if I ever get in a slump, and the answer is, of course – especially during the winter, and especially if I’ve been sick and off my schedule. The one and only solution is to put on my shoes and get my ass out the door. Once I’ve got that first run in, the next one is exponentially less painful. So far this winter it’s happened twice in a row, and it was really annoying to have essentially wasted my first couple of getting back to it runs.

I really hate winter.

Christmas was okay. We had it here for the first time ever, and it was less onerous than I expected to put up a tree. HellBoy was pretty angelic, for him. Chanukah probably helped soften him up. (Yes, we do both. And by “we” I mean me and the rat in my pocket.) My stepdad did crack everyone up when he declared that he’d found HB’s theme song: Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” HB himself agrees that it’s appropriate, and learned the words after hearing it twice – not that the lyrics are particularly complicated. (Petty doesn’t seem nearly as convincing singing it as HB does.) (Get this: lately HB’s been staying up later than we do. We tell him to stop jumping on our heads and go play in his room, and he goes … somewhere. Not for very long, and he can’t unlatch the gate to the downstairs, so I don’t think he can do much harm.)

My folks came here, which was pretty nice. My parents don’t usually push my buttons, partly because I’m a tad insensitive and my mother is a tad ... vague. However, my mother does have this way of looking at me that I know means “I’m worried you’re too busy.” I know the look means this because from time to time she actually says “I’m worried you’re too busy” when she looks at me that way. And I am, but – where to trim things down?

Here’s a start: we hired a new physician who starts this month, and I gave myself a 20% lighter clinic schedule. I didn’t exactly get permission to cut back my schedule, so we’ll see how long it takes before my bosses notice. Then we’ll see what I’ll do if anyone does notice …

Here’s to less guilt in 2008.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Picky, Picky

It’s been a while since I’ve done an advice post. So, inspired by a few inquiries from friends, I bring you the following public service post.

Are you a face picker? Are you obsessed with removing every little imperfection in your complexion? Do you spend a half hour at a time sequestered in the bathroom, up against the mirror, scanning every inch of your skin, imagining defects if you can’t actually see them? Do you inevitably make things worse, leaving yourself with an angry bleeding crater where there was nothing before but a slightly tender little bump? Do you promise yourself you’ll never do this again, only to be back at it the very next day?

I’m here to help.

I’ve known a lot of you. Under times of stress, I’ve joined your ranks. I’ve see many patients, almost always young women, with the telltale red marks fanning out across their cheeks. It’s never their reason for the doctor visit, and I know how painful it is for them when I bring it up, uncovering their shame. But there are things that can help you, if not stop, at least minimize the carnage.

Rules to Pick By
  • Don’t think you’ll be able to stop through willpower alone. Habits like this—nail biting, hair twirling, face picking—are notoriously hard to break that way, at least in the long term. You need a strategy.
  • The simplest trick of all, yet the one that is most resisted: Wherever it is that you’re doing it, switch the light bulb for one of exceedingly low wattage. When you can’t see the “problems,” one of the triggers is gone. Stop arguing about this one. Just try it. You can always switch the stupid bulbs back again.
  • Get a face care regimen, and stick with it. It doesn’t really matter much which one. Most of them are based on one of four ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, antibiotics, or salicylic acid. Some are over the counter, some are prescription. They all work ok, but none of them work overnight. You need to give a product at least a month to see if it agrees with you. (This is probably why the Pr0@ctiv system is successful. Although it’s just benzoyl peroxide, it gets you to buy into the regular use for a month thing. You can get similar “systems” for much less at the drugstore.)
  • Consider investing in one of those electric pimple-zappers. These are pricey, but can be worth it. They ostensibly work by heating the blemish, and are meant to be used on the deep painful kind of blemish. This may or may not be effective at curing the pimple, but is definitely effective at hurting like hell. This is psychologically quite useful, because it gives you something serious to do. Take that! You can think as you hear the zap and feel the pain. If you can transfer your compulsion from picking—which is especially counterproductive with this kind of pimple—to zapping, you may be able to short-circuit the impulse to try and “fix” it by squeezing.
  • When a pimple is healing—whether you picked at it or not—it usually flakes. Do NOT pick at these flakes with your filthy fingernails. Get a flat-tipped tweezer, and remove the dead skin with those. And don’t peel the skin back—pull forward, to pull off just the dead part. Scraping at the skin with your fingernails will grind bacteria in, and then you’ll get all sorts of nastiness.
  • In fact, never scrape at your skin with your fingernails ever. If you end up with a blemish that MUST be manually removed—you know the ones I’m talking about, the kind that you avert your eyes from if you spot one on a stranger and wonder how on earth their loved one let them leave the house like that—do NOT pick at it with your fingernails. Use a washcloth, a cotton pad, almost anything but your fingernails.
  • If you should end up with something on your face that is bleeding—which should only happen if you’ve ignored one or more of the instructions above, but whatever—I have a neat trick for stopping the bleeding in time for you to get to work. Remember how I said you should never use decongestant nasal spray for decongesting, but you can use it for a nosebleed? Well, you can also use it for other kinds of bleeding. A few drops on a bleeding wound constricts the blood vessels and stops the hemorrhage.
  • Never use antibiotic ointments on any wound, but especially not on the face. About a third of folks who use these for any length of time develop a contact allergy to them, and the result looks just like an infection. So you keep putting the ointment on, and make the allergy worse, and put even more on, etc. … plain Vaseline is good for wounds, but use sparingly on your face, since if you spread it around, it’ll make you break out more. A tiny dab will help keep a lesion from looking quite so crusty.
  • When you need camouflage, Dermablend is amazing stuff. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to figure out which shade is best for you on line, which really sucks. If you can find a store that sells it, that’s probably the best way to find out, but I’ve never had the guts to approach one of those white-coated cosmetics ladies at the department stores myself. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, but it has something to do with the thought of someone peering at my skin under bright lights and then gasping in horror. My skin is ok, but they’re paid to make you think your skin is only fit for a freak show.
  • Try to remember that the vast majority of blemishes do not contain anything that has to come out. Yes, there is the odd whitehead or blackhead that can be easily removed, and very rarely an exceedingly ripe pustule that can be released, but most of the time, thinking that there’s something there that you can get out and thereby fix the problem is the path to madness, and to the wreck of a perfectly nice complexion.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Answers and Updates

Just got done with an enormous project and a sticky personnel issue. So it’s back to the rest of life.

Re: $
Q: Why, exactly, are you sending HB to private schools?
We live in a city where the public schools are unfortunately very bad. Not “bad” as in the SAT scores are lousy—bad as in kids get shot at in school, and teachers have been so assaulted so severely that they end up crippled. If we lived somewhere where the public schools were so-so but safe, I’d send HB there; I’m no snob. But we are very committed to city living. And I’m hoping we’ll find a school that will be a good, granola-ish fit. No prep schools for HB. He can stay where he is through kindergarten, which is another two years.

Re: Running
Q: How do you run once the sun sets so early?
Find a well-populated and well-lit path, and wear a reflective vest.

Q: What's the best way to cool down? A hot, lukewarm, or cold shower?
My favorite thing to do is to wait to shower until I’m actually chilly, then take a hot shower. This is a rare luxury, however. If I have to shower soon after a run, I take as cold of a shower as I can stand. I have the unfortunate capacity to continue to sweat for hours. I have this patch between my shoulder blades that is like the core of a nuclear reactor.

Re: Driving
Q: Care to share your thrifty driving techniques?
It’s called hypermiling, and here’s a site that explains it. I always thought I was not an aggressive driver, but turns out, boy was I was wrong. I used to get 27 mpg in the city, and after only my third tank of using many of these techniques, I’m getting more than 32—which is higher than the rating on my car. It’s really fun, too—it’s a challenge. Some people take this to extremes. I’ll admit to squealing my tires a bit coasting down the parking garage if I’m leaving late and no one’s around, but I’ve never drafted an 18-wheeler.

Re: HellBoy
He’s been SO much easier lately. Because I’ve been calmer? Because he’s getting older? Because I’ve been even more careful about picking my battles and sticking with no if that’s what I’ve decided? Because he’s started telling us exactly what he wants us to say when we’re playing with him?* I really have no idea. But the amount of time he spends angry and crying is dramatically decreasing. Hallelujah indeed. (By the way: yes, that song appears in Shr-k. In the movie, John Cale sings it, but for the CD, they used the Rufus Wainwright version. HB prefers John Cale, though he does like other Rufus Wainwright songs—his favorite is Across the Universe, which for a long time he called “Nothing’s Going to Change My Worm,” and would explain, “Because my worm is perfect!”)

*Sample script:
HB: I’m John Cale. (aside:) Say, “Here comes someone who knows the words to Hallelujah!”
ME: Here comes someone who knows the words to Hallelujah!
HB (walking slowly onto the “stage”): Now I’m going to play a song that was written by Leonard Cohen. (aside:) Say “That’s my favorite song!”
ME: That’s my favorite!
HB: No, no, say “That’s my favorite song!”
ME: Oh, sorry. That’s my favorite song!”

Monday, October 01, 2007


Such an uncomfortable topic for me. When you grow up poor, money takes getting used to.

I was told back in the spring that I was probably going to get a raise, but I didn’t hear anything else until recently, when my new contract showed up. The raise was nice, and nicer was that in my next paycheck, I got something extra: back pay—my raise was back-dated nine months, to the beginning of the year.

So I ran right to my checkbook and took care of one of my higher-interest student loans. This is what I’ve done with every influx of cash I’ve had since starting a “real” job five years ago, and yet it was only recently that my student loans got below $100,000. When we married, TrophyHusband and I were in debt for about a third of a million, with no assets to speak of aside from our degrees. His loans are being whittled away by a program for physicians who devote their time to research (research being much less remunerative than clinical work, the government tries to lure folks into it this way). Mine I’m chipping away at—$1300 a month, plus extras. I’m also putting the maximum into the various retirement accounts available to me, as is TH; the Alternative Minimum Tax rakes us over the coals every year; and of course there’s daycare. So our bank account isn’t enormous.

But we don’t have to worry. It is highly unlikely that we will ever have to worry again, at least not the way I worried growing up. After my father died, we had no income; my mother had three kids and no degree. I was placed in Head Start. We lived in a tiny apartment—we owned the house, but rented out two-thirds of it. We had an old car that broke down a lot. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs. I had two Barbies, while my friends had dozens (though I don’t recall wanting Barbies, or any toys really; all I ever wanted was books).

I didn’t really mind any of that. It felt normal to me. And I wasn’t truly deprived; I did have music lessons, and our local Y had an awesome array of classes priced on a sliding scale—I took pottery, trampoline, gymnastics, magic, swimming, even horseback riding. I mostly made friends who didn’t have much more than we did; the richer kids just seemed to live in a different world. But I did hate the worry. My mom was not good with money. Bounced checks were routine, every single month. There were always stores we couldn’t shop in because her name could be found on the handwritten list above the cash register: DO NOT ACCEPT CHECKS FROM THE FOLLOWING … Having people show up to cut off the gas or electric was not uncommon (though I learned that if you tell them you have a sick baby, they rarely actually do it). We lived in the poorer section of town, and when I went to junior high, I had to ride the “bad” bus, where you risked getting assaulted if you tried to sit in one of the tough kids’ seats, and sometimes even if you didn’t. A couple of times I went home after school with friends from one of the fancier suburbs, and I was astonished at how nice their buses were. I did whatever I could to avoid my bus—rode my bike, begged a ride, even walked the three miles.

Finally, when I was about twelve, I said to my mother, “This is ridiculous. We shouldn’t be bouncing checks. We should only spend what we have.” This was when I found out that a) my mother was unsure as to just how much money was coming in and b) didn’t really know how to balance a checkbook. So I sat down and figured those things out, put us on a budget, and took over the finances. I didn’t let my mother go to the grocery store without me, because she was liable to throw all kinds of pricey crap in the cart instead of the perfectly good store brand stuff. And it was a beautiful thing—no more bounced checks, and I finally knew just how much I could spend on new shoes for school. As soon as I could earn a little money babysitting, I did it as much as I could (in fact, I was regularly sitting for a family of three boys under 4 from the time I was twelve—no wonder I didn’t want to have kids too young). In high school, I saved enough money to pay for all of my own stuff, plus get myself to Europe two summers in a row. (My mother eventually married my stepdad, who is a perfect balance for her—he’s so frugal that he has been known to pour cheap wine into expensive bottles for her, and she can’t tell the difference, so everyone is happy.)

Frugality has a hold on me that I’m not sure will ever loosen. Oh, I’ve relaxed some—we go out to eat a lot, we take a vacation here and there, I get my family nice gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and I’ll buy myself fun stuff every now and again. We give a lot of money to charity. GoodCat recently had to have some teeth pulled out, and when they said that they could pull out two extra that looked iffy for about $60 more or wait and see, meaning it could be an extra $500 down the road to redo the sedation, I let him keep his teeth. But I’ve never bought a fancy car (I drive a Scion; TH almost exclusively rides his bike and will probably sell his car soon), we resisted our real estate agent when she suggested we look at the biggest house we could qualify for (three times as much as the house we bought), and the most I’ve spent by far any item of clothing was the $300 I dropped for my wedding dress. We never carry a credit card balance. Our house has one and a half bathrooms and two and a half bedrooms, no garage. I almost never buy my son clothes that are not on sale, and I certainly buy him nothing from any boutiques. His equipment is all of the good-enough brands. I recently learned how to drive my car so that I get more than 31 miles per gallon in the city, and this pleases me enormously.

Right now I tell people that I’m cautious with money because of the student loan debt, but there’s more to it than that. Buying things that cost a lot when you can get something much less expensive that works just as well just seems, well, stupid if you don’t have much money, and immoral if you do. My in-laws redid their kitchen using a special kind of granite that had to be imported from Brazil. It looks no better than the home-grown stuff, but cost something like five times as much. This just seems wrong to me. But then, I guess we don’t really need to live in a 1300 square foot house either. We didn’t have to use real tile when we redid our bathroom (though we did have to redo it; it was crumbling to pieces and flooding the downstairs). And one of these days I am going to have someone out to repair all the holes in the plaster …

Anyway, what I really meant to talk about when I started this is, I have no idea how to raise my son when it comes to the whole money thing. I feel very uncomfortable about the fact that he will be in such a different position than I was. He’ll be going to private schools pretty soon. When he asks for money, I won’t be able to say “we don’t have it” honestly. I’m not sorry that he won’t have to scrub other students’ toilets in college like I did, but I also don’t want him to be like the rich kids I hated. Or did I just hate them because they were rich?

I can already see some of the ways I’ll be mortifying HellBoy when he’s a teenager ...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's September, Maggots!

I’m getting better at the ipod running, thanks to some of the excellent advice I got here. I also found some ear buds that stay in my remarkably cavernous ear canals. (I bet I just creeped out someone who has an ear phobia. They made it through the cockroach post only to get hit with that. But it’s true, I have unusually large ones. The ears themselves are pretty normal-sized.) I’m discovering that I have way too many downbeat songs in my library, though.

(Speaking of downbeat songs, HellBoy’s most requested video at the moment is this one. Which is fine, except that he pesters me to explain the lyrics to him. Never mind the part about “when I moved in you”—how the hell do I explain what a “broken hallelujah” is?)

Now, are you maggots up & about? September is a great month to run no matter where you live. And don’t let Snickollet get you down. Running is running. We don’t all have to be able to do eleven-minute miles, PUSHING TWINS, without even training. So get your asses out there, and don’t time yourselves.

Speaking of September running, I run through a park that wedding parties often stop in to get photos done. Today, every bridesmaid there (about five separate groups) was wearing a shade of brown. Must be a September wedding thing. Seems like adding bridesmaid insult to bridesmaid injury. And most of the brides were in strapless gowns, though that style really flatters precious few. Ah well, they looked very happy, and I expect the photographers can crop my sweaty self right out of the background.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Is Better

I recently had a nice demonstration of the difference between being On an SSRI and being Off.

Some six years ago, while I was Off, TrophyHusband and I moved into our first house. It was 200 years old, but had just been completely renovated. Which is how I knew that the wee baby cockroach creeping across the floor toward me when I got up to pee in the middle of the night had been imported from our prior residence, a slum of an apartment building—actually, from the basement, where we had been storing our boxed wedding gifts next to the leaky pipes and bare wires.

Bugs—especially spiders and cockroaches—being one of my phobias, I felt a bit woozy, but I talked myself through the squishing and flushing of the little fellow. I felt a little worse when I spotted #2, but I handled it. As I did with #3, #4, #5, and #6. At this point I was sweating, nauseated, and lightheaded, but I was keeping it together. A few tiny cockroaches weren’t going to hurt me!

Then I turned around and saw—the mother. This one was the size of a small mouse. I could hear the noise her legs made as she moved. She was moving pretty slowly, too—almost as if she knew I was too phobic to be a threat. There was no way I could squish this one. This one would crunch, and she might put up a fight.

I tried. I got around her and made it to the vacuum cleaner. Genius! I wouldn’t have to touch or hear a thing! But as I neared, hose in hand, she perked up and … scooted under the door into our bedroom, where TH lay sleeping on the mattress, which was lying on the floor. Surrounded by heaps of half-emptied boxes.

I lost my mind. I flung open the door, turned on the lights, jumped onto the bed and started sobbing and yelling. Poor TH leapt up, naked and disoriented. Finally he understood what was going on.

“Don’t worry, I’ll kill it!” he said.

“You’ll never find it!” I wailed.

He banged around, shoving boxes this way and that, and finally uncovered it and beat it to death with a shoe.

I started crying harder.

“What’s wrong? I got it!” he said.

“But I know there are moooore,” I sobbed.

That night TH had to feed me sedatives to get me to go back to sleep. The next day I began feverish research into how to eliminate cockroaches. The two most important things: 1. You cannot starve cockroaches. Even if you could remove every speck of food in every crevice of your house, they can survive on soap and candles. But you can drive them away by cutting off any access to water. Fix any dripping faucets (we had one), then plug all the drains every night. Leave no open water around, such as glasses of water by the bed. (Aaagh!) 2. They adore corrugated cardboard. They slip into those little tunnels and stay there all cozy until the lights go off.

I have never unpacked so fast in my life. I also trained myself to sleep through the night for the first time ever. I fixed the problem, but I had the heebie-jeebies for months.

Last week, it became clear to me that one of our rowhouse neighbors had brought in an exterminator and driven their roaches west. I knew this because one morning I saw one cockroach on our kitchen floor, then another on the bathroom floor, and finally one clinging to the back of my son’s t-shirt. But now, I am On an SSRI. Now, I was able to dispatch them all while hardly breaking a sweat, and when I didn’t have time to get all the plugs I needed to seal off all of our drains that day, I was able to wait another couple of days without any particular mental distress. I didn’t like it when I went downstairs in the middle of the night and disturbed two black shiny Hummers of the roach world—seriously, they were so big, you could see under them when they walked; if they were SUVs, they’d have really bad rollover statistics—but I didn’t freak out. (Where do those really big ones hide out during the day, anyway? They can’t fit into any of the crevices I’m aware of.)

Don’t worry, we’re on top of it now. You can come over and nothing nasty will leap out at you, aside from BadCat, who has conjunctivitis in his right eye and looks like an extra from a horror movie. But that’s a story for another day. Anyway, On is definitely better.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I got another great present for my birthday, from my dear friend E:

Isn’t it gorgeous? I love love love it. I am a little embarrassed to admit, however, that in all my years of running, I have never run to a soundtrack, and I’m a total clod at it. With each new song I get all geeked and try to run to the beat, which must look absurd. I’m like someone trying to use cruise control for the first time ... whoaaaa! too fast! stop! stop! ok, too slow, too slow ...

What’s the trick? Do I do a playlist with certain bpms? (Is that hard to do?) Learn to ignore the beat? Start appreciating atonal, arrhythmic music? Or should I just run with it turned off, since it looks so cool and no one can tell the difference?

Friday, August 17, 2007


First, let me reiterate that I adore my child, I don’t think he has anything “wrong” with him, and I am very very grateful that he’s my son. I don’t want to squash his personality in any way; I just wonder if there’s something I’m doing that’s making things harder than they have to be. (Some of you are uncomfortable with the nickname HellBoy. I’m wondering if those of you who find it not funny actually believe in the existence of a Hell? Because I definitely don’t. And maybe you haven’t seen the movie? At any rate, we’ve been calling him this since around two months of age, and it doesn’t mean we think he’s evil. To me, it’s just a variation on “hellion,” which I’m guessing most people don’t have a problem with?)

Your comments are terrific, and I much appreciate the supportive tone. I haven’t had enough time to digest all of them, but a few themes are evident:

Hey, He Sounds Just Like My Kid

These comments are immensely comforting, because it’s a very isolating thing, having a kid like this. Some people “get” it, but a lot of times people assume it’s your fault, or that you’re exaggerating, or that you’re a wimp. Or they’ll think you’re talking about a tough phase. Or they’ll spend a little time with your kid and say, “He’s perfectly good with me!” It’s a relief when people really know what we’re dealing with. Once at a daycare conference with one of his teachers, we asked, “Where does he fall on the willfulness scale?” and his teacher paused for a long moment, then said, “Well, I’ve met kids who were as willful …” and it just made us feel so much better.

One of my best friends (who reads this blog), mother of a charming toddler, was over the other night as HB went through his paces, and it was hilarious watching her face as she tried to think of ways that this or that tantrum might be truncated. Sort of like, “Hmmm …. Maybe … Ooh, no, that doesn’t work, does it?” (But she was over again last night, and HB was really quite charming. His only crying spell happened after her toddler refused HB’s offer of a stuffed frog to try to cheer him up.)

I found the “bottomless pit” description especially helpful. He is like that, and it makes me feel less awful about setting limits on how much I can give.

We need a support group: Parents of Bottomless Pits. PBP.

I Have a Good Technique/Book …

Victoria was worried I might ban her from my site (which I wouldn’t know how to do even if I wanted to, which of course I don’t) for saying, “Maybe I’m naive, but I’m sort of enchanted by the idea that there are some easily learned tricks that help reduce the frustration of having to live with people who drive you crazy. … So why not look for some child-management tricks?”

Yes! This is exactly what I’m trying to do here! I love techniques for dealing with tough people; I have to use them all the time with patients, in fact. I call them my “magic words.” (Most of them don’t work on toddlers, more’s the pity.) There’s a difference between taking a class on how to deal with difficult people and taking HB to a therapist, though. The former makes no judgments on how you in particular might deal with any specific difficult person. The latter seems like a setup for making my relationship with my son feel pathological. (I know it wouldn’t necessarily do so, but it could. Hey, I’ve been through a reasonable amount of therapy in my life.) I will try to browse through the books suggested.

TrophyHusband figured out a great technique that is making preschool dropoff much happier—a variation on the giving control technique (he’s outgrown choices, unfortunately). Now whichever of us is dropping him off asks him how long he wants us to stay. He will say “Two minutes”—or three or four or ten. “Okay, tell me when the time is up,” we’ll say, and within about thirty seconds he kisses us and says, “Time’s up! Bye!” I don’t know how this will work once he can actually tell time, but for now it’s great. Another thing that can work is distracting by humor, but you have to be pretty “on” to do it to his satisfaction, and I'm not much of a standup comic.

It’s Tough to Be a Hellion

This, I know. I know because I not only was one, I am one. The other evening TrophyHusband and I were talking about how tough HB is, and TH said, “Well, he might look just like me, but his personality is all you.” I thought he was referring to stories about me as a child, but he went on, “Honestly, sometimes interacting with him is just like interacting with you.” I sat for a minute thinking about this. And I realized that I am a HellDoctorMama. I remembered something that happened during our wedding ceremony. The woman who married us met with us a few times and had us give her details about ourselves and each other, which she incorporated into the ceremony. During the wedding, she described her impressions of us, including “[TrophyHusband] is generous and nurturing. ... [DoctorMama] has strong principals and doesn’t back down in tough situations.” This provoked such a gale of laughter through the audience that the officiant had to pause before going on. She hadn’t realized what an understatement she was making.

This little epiphany has been helping me a lot. It both makes me realize why I find it so painful to watch him go through this—it hits so close to home—and why I don’t have great techniques for ushering him neatly out of his tantrums. Those of you who mentioned that you were intense kids, and that the worst moments were when someone tried to criticize you for being that way—I completely remember the same feelings myself. I don’t remember what did help, besides time, but mocking didn’t, and hitting certainly didn’t. (What helps me now is still mainly time to digest all of my feelings.)

So I have a lot of empathy for what HB is going through. I know he doesn’t enjoy this. I know he’s not doing it to manipulate me. And this knowledge does help give me patience.

I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Is Nana Right? Am I Doing Something WRONG with HB?—Advice Welcome

I don’t mind getting advice on child raising. Hey, I even ask for it from parents I admire and trust. So I’m soliciting it from you folks.

But first, more about my mother-in-law. More context. Part of what made me so angry is that she does not say anything good or positive about me. This in itself does not make me mad; I’m pretty thick-skinned in that way—I don’t need a ton of affirmation from people I’m not close to. But when she finally makes a comment, it’s usually negative. And this is despite a conscious effort on my part to compliment her often, since she clearly does need it and since it’s not my reflex to pay compliments in general. (Have I said lately that you guys are terrific? Well, you are!) Another thing that made me angry is that my husband was never allowed to suggest to her that her way of parenting is anything but gold medal-worthy. When his younger brother was having serious problems in high school, for instance, and my husband tried to suggest different ways to approach him, she dissolved into hysterics, sobbing, “I’m the worst mother in the world! I never do anything right! You hate me!” etc. And the things she did after she and my husband’s father got divorced were pretty awful. She meets most of the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder (you should see how she dresses, Oh-My-God); my husband’s thought when he first read that description was, “Hey! They’ve met Mom!” He, bless his mensch-y soul, learned pretty early that you should not take her personally in any way, and this makes my life oh so much easier. I just shouldn’t fall into the trap myself.

Enough about her. Here’s the deal with my kid. I realize it could sound like sensory integration disorder from some of the descriptions I’ve given, but that definitely does not fit him. He’s neither over or under-sensitive to anything, doesn’t seek or avoid stimulation, doesn’t swing or spin any more than average, isn’t more or less active than average, is well coordinated, will walk on any surfaces, likes a lot of different food (except vegetables), and is no more impulsive or distractible than the average three-year-old. He toilet-trained himself for the most part. And eye contact—he is the king of eye contact. I haven’t read much on the issue (and some of the descriptions sound a little like horoscopes, I must say), but no, it doesn’t resonate. We’ve talked in depth with several very talented people at his daycare, too, and they had no concerns at all in this area.

My kid is, however, a handful, and more of a handful for me than for other people. My kid is intense and willful. The things that people typically say about him are: “He really knows what he wants.” “He’s so serious!” If HB wants to do something, he REALLY wants to. There’s no particular pattern to what he wants; this morning’s examples were to leave the sand ON his shoes, to watch his father clean up the cat poop, and to have me play baseball with him; last night it was to eat candy before dinner, to hang the new shower curtain himself, to take a shower and not a bath, not to brush his teeth, etc. All normal stuff for his age. The only difference between him and other kids is how fiercely he insists and how mad he gets when thwarted. He threw a tantrum in the car the last time my parents visited because he decided that we should stop at green lights and go at red lights, and was OUTRAGED that we wouldn’t comply. He’s not much of a biter or a hitter, but he yells and cries a LOT. (TH and I almost never yell, by the way.)

The problem with car rides has never been getting him into the seat; it’s that after ten minutes or so, he wants to be doing something else, and no amount of distraction will convince him otherwise. It’s gotten better and better the more interested he’s become in watching the world go by, but there’s always the risk that he’ll, say, spot a train and then want to see another one.

As for sleep: aside from the period when he couldn’t breathe (he’s completely over that now, by the way), he’s quite a good sleeper; he’s just a night owl, and doesn’t sleep a lot. He naps for about an hour and a half each afternoon (and it is impossible to prevent him from doing so—we’ve experimented on the weekends, in the hopes of an earlier bedtime). He has a nighttime routine—bath, milk, stories, bed—and doesn’t need to be patted/rocked/sung to sleep, but does want me with him. If he is put to bed at eight, he doesn’t protest, he just tosses and turns and talks and requests politely to get up. If he is put to bed at nine-thirty, he usually goes to sleep. He wakes up at seven, usually on his own. He is not to any outward appearances overtired at night; he is in fact at his most pleasant from eight to nine-thirty. He doesn’t even yawn.

Our approach has been to try and accommodate him within the bounds of health and safety and politeness. Trying to harm someone else results in a timeout. Please and thank you are strictly enforced, even with Mama and Daddy. No TV except for DVDs (so as to avoid commercials), and fairly little of that. No candy for dinner, the car seat stays buckled, teeth get brushed, hands are washed, all that stuff. But we let him stay in his our bed at night, he can run around naked if he wants, and we try to indulge most requests for us to play with him.

The toughest part for me is that he’s so very attached to me. He would love it if I would carry him everywhere (and I do carry him a LOT. It has done wonders for my upper body strength—you should see my arms: I’ve got guns). He’d like to be able to pat and stroke and blow raspberries on me all day and all night. It’s tempting to say that this is because I work a lot. This is probably why I didn’t wean him for so long and it’s definitely why we never made him cry it out at night and let him sleep in our bed. But putting more time in with him doesn’t really change him. He’s exactly as clingy and demanding on the seventh day of a vacation as he is on a Monday night. No matter what, I get the brunt of the intensity and rage, and when he’s really on a roll, it’s no fun.

It’s gotten easier, for sure. He can now be reasoned with; if I can explain to his satisfaction why I want him to do something, there’s a fair chance he’ll agree. He’s also gotten more interested in doing things for himself, thank heavens. And I can tell that I’ll enjoy him even more as he gets older. Last night I showed him how a toilet works, which was pretty cool. I feel like if I can make it through the next couple of years, it will be mostly a blast to be his mother.

So … any advice?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: The Nana Wars

I used to hear stories about other people’s in-laws and think that I really shouldn’t complain. My mother-in-law is a bit of a handful, sure; but she’s generous, energetic, and great with my kid. I used to think I had it pretty lucky.

Not anymore.

We just got back from a trip to Nana and Papa’s. We don’t get up there more than about twice a year, because whether you take a car, a plane, or a train, at some point the trip necessarily involves hours of driving. (I suppose helicopter would be an exception; they do have a big enough field that one could be landed there. I haven’t priced helicopter charters recently, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fit in our budget.) This was a minor annoyance before the birth of HellBoy; since then, whenever the subject comes up, I get a visceral reaction something like I imagine a mild case of PTSD to be. But HB is much, much better in the car than he used to be, which is to say, he doesn’t keep up an unearthly, earsplitting, gurgling, yodeling howl the entire time.*

Anyway, we armed ourselves with dvds and treats (both of which lose all potency after about twenty minutes), and off we went. It was bad, that’s all I’ll say. But we got there. And it’s little boy heaven at Nana’s. HB went on a horse and a tractor, caught a fish, swam in the pond, chased tadpoles, ate cherries, and was doted upon. TrophyHusband did lots of bike riding. I caught up on some work, which was relaxing in its own way. I had insisted in advance that we only stay three days, because by the fourth day, I’m usually cracking from the strain of not saying what I’m really thinking. This time, though, Nana seemed to be behaving herself. No comments about HB’s size—well, not very many; no comments about the fact that he doesn’t go to sleep at seven pm like his cousin—well, only one or two. On Tuesday evening, I had been lulled into thinking about offering that we put off leaving for another day.

The usual routine at Nana’s is that Nana and Papa take HB on adventures until he’s worn completely out; TH and I get a break until the end of the day, when one of us takes over wrangling him. Our last night there, Nana had just brought HB back from the pond. He was worn out and a little hungry. TH was off riding. HB and I played in the family room for a few minutes, but he insisted on jumping on the chairs naked, which is against the rules at Nana’s (both the jumping and the nudity), so I took him outside. We took a walk back to the pond, where he was happy for a little while, until I refused to push him around on the inner tube in the exact direction he preferred for the forty-seventh time. Then he threw a fit because I wouldn’t carry him in my arms like a baby all the way back to the house. Then he threw a fit that I wouldn’t let him go back inside to jump on the chairs naked. Then I didn’t spin him around by the arms and land him on the grass quite the right way. And etc. Finally his dinner was ready and I took him back inside and got his pants on.

Nana asked why he was being grumpy, so I recited litany of his complaints against me.

“You know where I think you should take him?” she said.

The hackles rose on the back of my neck. I knew I wasn’t going to like where this was leading. “To daycare?” I joked.

“No,” she said. “I think you should take him to a therapist. The two of you should go together, so that you can learn how to handle him.”


I was stunned speechless. Or more accurately, I was too stunned to think of something to say that wouldn’t take us right to in-law DEFCON 1. She mistook my silence as rapt attention, and went on. “You work really long hours, and when you get to spend time with him, you should be able to enjoy him, not resent him!” She kept talking, but the buzzing in my ears was so loud I couldn’t process it well.

I got HB safely into his highchair and fled upstairs to, I’m ashamed to say, bawl in the bathroom for the next fifteen minutes or so.

It’s a lot easier to take outrageous statements from her when they’re about something that I know she 100% wrong about. That we don’t feed HB, for instance. But this, this is a sore point. Of course it is—don’t most people fear that they’re not doing the “right” thing with their children? The fact that I know she’s batshit crazy didn’t make it less painful to hear. In some ways it made it worse—I had been thinking that maybe she wasn’t so bad, maybe we could have some real conversations from time to time. I had let down my guard.

Finally I splashed water on my face, came down and got a beer, and went back outside with HB until TH got home. I didn’t get long enough alone with him to let him know what was going on until we went to bed, at which point he was appropriately comforting, reminding me of all the horrible things she’s said to him over the years. We got out of there first thing in the morning, and I didn’t have to have any more conversations with her.

Thanksgiving, I’m staying home.

*When HB was an infant, Nana was terribly offended that we wouldn’t drive up to see them, and said that we just needed to let him “cry it out.” The next time she came to visit us, we got in the car for a short trip and HB did his usual routine. It lasted maybe five minutes before Nana was howling too. “My god, what’s WRONG with him?” she shrieked. “Make him stop! Make him stop! Let me out!” (In fact, I often had my husband let me out of the car once we got within a half mile of our house. He would have climbed out too, but that would have left no one to watch the baby. Although the way HB shrieked, I don’t think anyone would have been willing to even carjack him.) I think the longest we ever tried to let him “cry it out” was 45 minutes; perhaps we just didn’t wait it out long enough, but by that point our nerves were shattered. Multi-stop trips were even worse; he got more frantic with each time he was strapped into the seat.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Birthday Maggot

I’m not too hung up on birthdays; since I share one with my brother, it’s always seemed like just another holiday rather than My Special Day. But this year my husband, in cahoots with one of my best friends, decided to throw me an almost-surprise party—“almost” in that he didn’t tell me until a week beforehand that it was going to happen, which didn’t give me enough time to get anxious about it. And it was absolutely lovely. A perfect mix of friends—from work, from the neighborhood, from the family, from blogs, and even from my childhood. Lots of kids for HellBoy to jump on the couch with, and I got to hang out on my patio and sip mojitos. My husband got me a pretty cool present too:

And he’s not even allowed to read my blog—he just listens up when I tell him about it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Embracing My Inner Maggot

Here’s how tough things have been around here: I started running in the morning.

It was a long time coming. I had to skip my run more and more often, what with late meetings/work/HellBoy meltdowns. And I started to wake up too early more and more often, opening my eyes in a panic: What is it I’m overdue on today?

Finally one morning as I lay in bed waiting for the 6 am alarm to go off, I realized I was a maggot, and I knew what I had to do. I hauled my carcass out of bed, put on my running clothes (discovering in the process that a tight running bra is a lot harder to wriggle into when you’re stiff), did my warmup stretches (ditto), swallowed some coffee, and for the first time since I started running some two decades ago, went out for a run as the sun was rising.

I hated it. I’m a running owl, not a lark. But I thought of all you maggots out there, and I did it. And did it again, and again. And you know? It’s not so bad. It’s certainly very different. I can’t get the same cleansing, relaxing feeling I do at the end of the day, when I can let all of my built-up frustrations melt away. I actually need to run longer to feel like I’ve done anything. But it does lend the rest of the day a certain calmness.

On another subject, we saw the ENT, and got good news: since HB is overall improving, we can hold off on surgery, as he is likely to outgrow this. I was more relieved than I expected to be.

As for the blog rename, I’m mulling over the options. I won’t go password-protected. I’ve been combing through my archives a little bit, and I don’t think I have too much on here that I’d be horrified if someone discovered. I’d much rather not be outed, and I do think I need to change things up a little, but to completely prevent all possibility of recognition would mean changing the blog so much that it wouldn’t be fun anymore.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Rooting for Strep

HellBoy may be having a nervous breakdown. Or, it could be just strep throat.

It all started a few months ago, when HB went from being a silent, peaceful sleeper to sounding like your uncle Bob after the Fourth of July barbeque—snoring, grunting, thrashing, and, at times, becoming apneic. Yes, we took him to the pediatrician, and yes, she recommended a consultation with ENT. However, an appointment with ENT turned out to be a precious commodity. While we were waiting, he seemed to get better.

Then a couple of weeks ago he had a volcanic vomiting illness. Then he had a second one, some five days later. Then he had a febrile illness—and by febrile, I mean that one afternoon the temporal artery thermometer flashed “HI” at us, and it hadn’t developed artificial intelligence and started saying hello—it was indicating that his temperature was above the upper limits of its range, which is to say, above 107. (It was TrophyHusband who obtained this reading. Since he’d done it while HB was sleeping, he figured that maybe the child had recently turned over and that he’d just measured the side that had been pressed against the couch. He turned on a fan and rechecked it a few minutes later and it was “only” 104.5.) His eardrums looked fine, and the fever went away after three days or so.

Then the snoring/choking/thrashing started up again. This meant that none of us were sleeping well, so everyone got kind of crabby.

All of this was followed closely by HB’s third birthday, which he thoroughly enjoyed despite the sleep deprivation. He got his heart’s desire: a real guitar, ¼ sized. He also got a lot of grandparental attention.

Finally Monday he had to go back to daycare, and immediately started his transition to Pre-K. (Pre-K!)

And started falling apart. By Wednesday, the teacher (his toddler class teacher; they've slowed down the transition) called us to come pick him up, which they have never, ever done before. His daycare is awesome; it takes something close to demonic possession for them to eject a child. His father took him Wednesday afternoon. I tried to drop him off Thursday morning, and he huddled on the rocking chair with me for thirty minutes, then burst into heartwrenching sobs as I peeled him off of me. I went to a meeting at work, then called daycare, and they said “Well … he’s a little better … well, actually, you’d better come get him.” When I got there all of the other children were frolicking in the playground, and he was crumpled into a ball on his teacher’s lap. He burst into tears when he saw me and sobbed, “I didn’t think you would come!”

Of course, I’ve also been fiendishly busy. I’ve been trying to spend every non-working moment paying attention to him—I have proof of that: my last entry was weeks ago! I didn’t even go running some days!—but I know he’s picked up on my stress, and he certainly notices when I don’t get home until 7 or 8.

HB looks exactly like his father, but his temperament seems, unfortunately, to be all me. This is the source of some guilt on my part. Should I have bred, knowing that my genome carries the code for some seriously messed up psyches? My brother went to school 38 days of first grade. He didn’t miss 38 days. He went for a total of 38 days. (Of course, that was immediately after my father died, but still.) And I hated being a child. This makes adulthood probably more enjoyable for me in some ways, but I still want HB to be happy being a kid. And lately, he doesn’t seem very happy.

Then yesterday was his three year checkup. I told our pediatrician the saga, and she said 1. Don’t pick him up early from daycare anymore and 2. His tonsils look hideous, let’s get a rapid strep test.

Of course his tonsils look hideous, I thought—they’ve been hideous for months. And he’s not complaining of a sore throat (not that he ever complains of anything, except having his will thwarted) and he’s not even febrile anymore. But sure, whatever. She said they’d call later in the afternoon, because the test had to be sent to the hospital for processing. (“Rapid strep” seems like a misnomer in this situation; “quickish strep” would be more accurate.)

No call came, which didn’t surprise me, since I knew he didn’t have strep anyway. I was able to cancel most of my obligations for the day and hang out with him, but then I had an awards dinner to attend.

This morning I took HB with me to a lovely baby shower. He was slightly subdued, which meant that he climbed into the host’s child’s crib and bounced on the mattress like a rabid kangaroo, used balloons as punching bags, took stages dives from the top of the couch and nearly took out the expectant mother, and ate cake, chicken nuggets, and a ham and cheese croissant. He also shared rather nicely, in particular allowing all of the other toddlers to take swigs from his sippy cup.

As I pushed him in his stroller toward my car, I noticed a text message on my phone from my husband: Just got a call that the rapid strep from yesterday was positive.

My first thought was, OK, that’s not even quickish strep, that’s glacial strep. My second thought was, oh god, he’s Typhoid HellBoy—all those kids who shared his cup! My third thought was, hey, maybe he’s not having a nervous breakdown—maybe the poor kid’s just sick.

I’m rooting for the strep.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I'm Here, Sort Of

The last time I was this frantic was when I was a resident in the ICU. I considered abandoning blogging, but I really don’t want to. I know I keep saying this, but please hang in there while I try to regain my balance. In the meantime, here’s an update:

Good news: I fired the temp assistant
Bad news: my old assistant still hasn’t come back, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that she ever will
Good news: two of my associates in the outpatient offices had babies
Bad news: there is no one but me to fill in at the outpatient offices
Good news: I got a raise and a bonus
Bad news: I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse to take over as Medical Director of my outpatient office
Good news: I was relieved of several detested duties
Bad news: I have four months’ worth of unfinished work to get through
Good news: my parents are coming for the weekend
Bad news: TH is going away for the weekend
Good news: HB had a tiny growth spurt and grew out of his 2T overalls in time for his upcoming third birthday
Bad news: Nana is still convinced we’re starving him
Uncategorized: HB weaned himself (without ever learning any words for breasts)

I feel like I’m at a dead run from the time I wake up until I slide into bed, and sometimes all night long. But overall it’s a reasonably good busy.

And now I’m late for a meeting.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Two Medical Truths

Hearing stories like Snickollet’s makes everyone—including me—nervous. What if what happened to her husband happens to me? we ask. And then: How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?

The short answer is, you can’t. When someone comes come to me and says “I want to be tested for everything,” I try to explain that most dread diseases can’t be “caught early” and that it’s actually dangerous to be tested for things you’re not at high risk for, but I know that this isn’t reassuring.

The truth is scary. The truth is that any of us, no matter how healthy our lifestyle, can be struck down by something awful at any time. Most of us won’t, but there are no guarantees.

There are really only two things you can do to vastly increase your chances of living a long and healthy life, and neither of them is something that I can order a test or write a prescription for. Nor will they make the cover of any magazine. They are:

1. Don’t smoke


2. ALWAYS buckle your seatbelt.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exercise, eat healthfully, wear sunscreen, get a Pap smear, or be checked for high blood pressure. But honestly, worrying about any of those things when you haven’t taken care of the first two is like worrying about whether your underwear is clean while you’re stepping in front of a bus. (As for worrying about any of the latest health fads—don’t get me started.)

My advice? Do what you can to keep yourself safe and whole; do your best not to fret about what can’t be foreseen or prevented; and savor your time on this earth.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The 'Screw Interview

Because I said I would, I now answer these questions from thumbscrews:

1. You can travel back in time and visit yourself at [select all applicable] 10, 16, 22 and 30. What would you tell your various temporally-disjointed selves?

Amazingly enough, these are the ages where I had things pretty together (whereas 9, 15, and 21 sucked). (29 was pretty good.)

At 10: Get a photo of yourself in that red vinyl jumper. But not in the yellow patent leather shoes.
At 16: Don’t bother with the German. Learn Spanish.
At 22: It won’t kill you to suck up a little more often.
At 30: Just get it over with and get rid of him now.

2. If your drug of choice was an item which could be purchased at Home Depot for under $150, which one would it be, and why?

I’m not sure if this means something that really can be bought at HD, in which case, I don’t know, maybe a flat of flowers that could not possibly survive in my garden? Because hope springs eternal? If this means an actual drug drug, I’d pick E. Because happiness is nice.

3. You can reanimate and spend several hours (say, sharing some Batter-Dipped Choco-Cheesecake Nibblers at the local crap-on-the-walls chain restaurant) with one of the following individuals - which one would you choose, and why?
- A deceased relative of whom you were moderately (but not overwhelmingly) fond.
- A randomly-selected serial killer of moderate notoriety.

Definitely the relative; serial killers kind of bore me. I’d pick my paternal grandfather and try to get up the guts to ask him a) what possessed him to marry my grandmother and b) what my father was like.

4. Think of your most esoteric, potentially-humiliating sexual fantasy. Think of another, equally-odd (but completely fabricated) fantasy. Describe them both without identifying which is which.

For me, describing a fantasy in detail will ruin it. Therefore I give you no details, just:
a. Ordering someone around.
b. Being ordered around.

5. What is the typical prison sentence for the most legally-questionable act you've ever committed?

Prison sentence, probably ten years. More concerning to me would be license revocation. No comment on this one.

6. Think of the worst physical pain you've ever experienced (childbirth, ping-pong ball-sized kidney stones, atomic wedgie). Think of the worst emotional pain (depression, divorce, disaster). Think of the person who is closest to you in the world (child, spouse, sibling). You must decide whether they will suffer a comparable degree of physical OR emotional pain. If you choose the former, you will be required to inflict it yourself. If you choose the latter, it will occur without any involvement on your part. Which do you choose?

I could not possibly deliberately inflict physical pain on my child. So I guess it would have to be the emotional pain. Which was horrendous, but I have a feeling it will happen to him one day regardless; might as well get it over with.

7. You're granted the power to uncover the truth behind one very, very big secret of the modern age - who shot Kennedy? What the hell is the deal with celebrity Scientologists? You will not be permitted to share this knowledge with anyone, ever - it will be solely to satisfy your own curiosity. What do you choose to learn?

Did Bush truly believe there were WMDs in Iraq? I.e., is he just stupid, or is he evil?

8. While purchasing some plantains at Tienda Mexicano, you find The Lord. You discover that he is a cruel, arbitrary Lord, as well as one who has read entirely too many "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. He takes you outside, sits you down on the hood of his El Camino, hands you a can of Jugo de Coco and informs you that you will never see any of your current loved ones again. They will continue to live their lives, just magically sans any awareness of your continued existence. By way of compensation, you'll be allowed to determine your own natural lifespan. You may elect to die instantly, live to 120 or any option in between. What do you choose? Why?

120. I could think of ways to fill the time.

9. You are given the opportunity to sample human flesh. Your enjoyment of this unusual entree will not be the result of any amoral acts - the source of your Bruce Burger (Tim Tartare? Francois Filet?) will be an individual who has died of unrelated causes. Your consumption of said flesh will not be as a result of starvation, nor as a condition of some sick wager ("Take a chomp out of Lloyd's thigh and I'll give you season tickets to Six Flags Over Highly Unlikely Transactionville"). Yea or nay?

Nay, but not because of squeamishness about cannibalism per se; rather, I have a hard time eating any meat—even chicken can squick me out if I think about it too hard.

10. You are given a Memory Dustbuster. It looks like a regular Dustbuster, circa 1989. However, when held against the human skull, it has the ability to suck out specific memories. Like many small appliances, this one has gotten a bit finicky in its old age. It no longer removes single memories ... for each one which is removed, an equal-but-opposite second memory is also vacuumed up. You can suck out a particularly awful recollection ... however, you'll also lose a happy memory of comparable intensity, and you have no say in which one it happens to be. Do you use this device? How many times?

Nope. Maybe I would’ve at the time, but they’re part of me now.

11. The Enormous Glowing Sphere of Influence Equation: how many of the following events have occurred in your life for which you've felt personally responsible? By this, I mean that the event in question would definitely NOT have occurred were it not for one or more conscious decisions on your part. Do NOT include events which were confined strictly to your professional life - thus, lawyers/doctors/matchmakers/executioners/etc. should use their discretion on this one.

- Marriages - 2
- Divorces - 0
- Births/adoptions – 2 (yes, I only have one child, but I’m counting the baby born to a patient for whom I prescribed the medicine that starts with V and ends with A)
- Deaths – nonprofessionally, 1 (helped my mother say the right things to get them to let my grandmother go a little earlier than she might otherwise); professionally, many … I am proud of how many people I’ve helped to die in the presence of their loved ones with as few tubes jammed into them as possible. All of them would have died anyway, but it would have been days or weeks later for most, and years for at least one.
- Involuntary commitments (mental institution/rehab/prison) – 0, but it should have been 2 (one rehab, one prison)
- Relocations of over 1,500 miles - 0
- Ascension to a level of fame/renown/power sufficient to interest/impact more than 10,000 individuals – I was going to say 0, but I have had at least a slight influence on the lives of many patients, students, and residents. That number is in the thousands, I guess.
- Change in income level of +/- 50% - 2
- Formal adoption/renunciation of religious faith (or other organized belief system) – 0. Never had it, never will; I don’t think I’ve discouraged anyone else, however.

12. An exercise in writing, randomness and self-reflection (when commenting/posting, only include item "C"):
A. In exactly 25 words, describe the thing you're proudest of.
B. In exactly 25 words, describe the thing you're most ashamed of.
C. Combine the odd-numbered words from A. with the even-numbered words from B

Graduating account the a of finking medical on class, a I pal quit France job summer done was courses without knowing I I not succeed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bad In-Law Karma

I shouldn’t be writing this for two reasons:
  1. I am already so behind at work that even going in to the office for several hours yesterday (Saturday) and NOT blogging, I didn’t catch up, and tomorrow I start a week “on service,” which unfortunately does not mean I get serviced; it means seven days seeing patients in the hospital while continuing to do the rest of my job, which means someone is going to be suffering, and mostly that someone is me, though I fear more than a few patients may be feeling the pain too.
  2. Whenever I bitch about my in-laws, I get an image in my mind of all the things HellBoy’s future partner will say about me. In-law karma is going to bite me in the ass.
But anyway. This is what was supposed to happen this morning: When HellBoy woke up, TrophyHusband was to whisk him into Nana and Papa’s room and they’d let us—particularly me, since I guess I seemed a mite cranky yesterday—sleep in. I would rise several hours later, rested and maybe even bearable to be around, and certainly not likely to write an ungracious post about them.

This is what actually happened:

6:45 am. HB wakes. TH whisks. I roll over and even manage to pick up the thread of my dream, which had something to do with edible handkerchiefs.

6:47 am. HB is climbing on my head.

6:48 am. TH is attempting to peel a howling HB off my head, explaining that Nana apparently didn’t understand that HB can open doors.

6:54 am. TH succeeds. The howling travels downstairs. I roll over again, but the dream has fled.

6:56 am. Howling.

6:57 am. Howling.

7:03 am. Howling.

7:05 am. Sounds of television (usually forbidden during daytime) echoing up into my bedroom.

7:20 am. I give up and come downstairs and turn off the television.

7:21 am-7:40 am. Howling.


I suppose I could have sedated myself at that point, but although I am generally a big fan of Better Living Through Chemistry, the idea of taking a sleeping pill in order to sleep late seems a bit much.

Then there was breakfast, which involved Nana making 1) pancakes 2) an enormous mushroom cloud of blue smoke and 3) piles of dirty dishes. During the eating of said breakfast, the following conversation took place:

NANA: Eat the pancakes, HB! Eat the yummy pancakes!

HB: I want to eat butter.

NANA: You know, when he comes to our house, he eats a lot more!

ME: Really. [Subtext: Nana truly believes that I do not feed HB enough, and that this is the cause of his small stature, rather than that he might have inherited some short genes, for instance from her side of the family, where none of the men stand above five four.]

PAPA: That’s true! I think it’s because if his cousin is there, it’s like a competition. Are you going to eat that pancake? [Note: Nana also loves to tell stories about how Papa’s mother used to feed him raw eggs when he was a child to try to fatten him up. Papa is now of Shrek-like proportions. For some reason this is supposed to inspire us.]

NANA: Maybe it’s like with Annie and Jasmine. H__ can never get Annie to eat at her house unless she cooks her something really special, but when she brings her to our house and she gets to eat next to Jasmine, she’s fine!

ME: Are you saying that H__ has an anorexic GOLDEN RETRIEVER?

TH: [laughing so hard he starts weeping and wheezing]

HB: I want to eat whipped cream.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Some very enlightening comments on my last post. I meant to follow up on that post earlier, but I got blindsided this week. I was in a fantastic mood at the beginning of the week, because my assistant was finally returning (her replacement still cannot reliably transfer a phone call, page someone, or revise a Word document). I was peppering! all my emails! with exclamation points!!!

Then I got a call from my assistant.

Her OB put her on disability for another month at least.

For severe postpartum depression.

I feel like a gigantic asshole for not realizing this. She hadn’t told anyone, but the signs were there. It’s sobering to realize how blind I can be (and how much in denial). I’ll go visit her this weekend, and I sent her flowers. She’s getting treatment.

I’m panicking about how I’m going to make it through the next month, and terrified that she’ll never come back. I’m now trying to plow through the mountain of stuff that I had been putting off doing until she came back.

It will probably be a little while before I’m blogging much.

BUT: I’ve been seeing a lot of maggots on the running path now that the weather’s better, and that makes me happy. Keep it up, everyone, and don’t forget to keep it slow!

Anyone have any good running reports to share?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Roundheels or Prudes?

I have a lovely single friend who graciously allows me to enjoy vicariously her romantic exploits (and gave permission for me to discuss this topic here). She’s a hottie who is not afraid to (very safely) explore her wild side, and she’s ticked off a number of conquests that are on my fantasy list (e.g., bike messenger, guitarist in a rock and roll band, various other sullen slacker stereotypes). The other day she was recounting to me a romp with someone new, and remarked that this fellow was unusual in that he’d asked specific permission to proceed at every step along the primrose path. Although she certainly appreciated his courteousness, this had the effect of interrupting the momentum somewhat. It wasn’t as if he was asking to do anything freaky, she pointed out. It was more that he seemed to be expecting her to call a halt to the proceedings at any moment, and was surprised (though grateful) that she did not. And come to think of it, many of the men she’d enjoyed had displayed a similar “Wow! What a wonderful surprise!” reaction to her favors. Which made her start to wonder if she is unusual. Do most people call a halt before going All the Way? And if so, when? And for crying out loud, why?

I was of no help here, because I’ve encountered a similar “surprised but happy conquest” situation a number of times (including with TrophyHusband). I have never started making out with a guy without following the experience through to what I believe to be its natural conclusion. This is because I would never swap spit with someone I was not willing to swap other bodily fluids with (or pretend to—condoms always, everybody!). So we got to wondering, are we easy? Or are we overly picky? Do lots of people make out with someone they aren’t that into, or do lots of people hold back even when they’re hot for someone?

We went to the closest authority for more information: TrophyHusband. As a man who is very experienced in the ways of the swinging single world, we figured he’d have a reasonable sample size to be able to give an opinion. The question we posed to him was: “Did most of the women you made out with ask you to stop at some point?” (His sample being limited to women.)

His answer was a rueful “Oh yeah.” He was unable to put a number on it (years have past since those times, after all), but estimated that it was certainly the majority of the time. He said that where things were halted varied widely, though there was perhaps an above-the-waist/ below-the-waist trend. He had no answer to the why question; he said no one ever explained, they just said, “Okay, that’s enough!”

So, are my friend and I roundheels, or prudes? For those of you who don’t finish what you start, why? And what makes you decide when to stop?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Embrace Your Taste (and I Reserve the Right to Disagree)

In my last post, I singled out one of the paintings displayed on our cruise for ridicule, and this engendered some questions as to why, essentially, I was being mean about that particular work.

My mother is a painter and was an art teacher; she is also alarmingly frank. She is incapable of saying “How nice!” about a work of art that she thinks is bad. The first time she was at my mother-in-law’s house, my MIL grabbed her and said, “I want to know what you think of this print we bought!” and my then-fiance and I each made an audible gasp of horror. (Miraculously, my mother liked the piece.) When we were children, if my siblings or I drew a picture, we never expected my mother to say “Honey, that’s beautiful!” and hang it on the fridge; instead, we got a critique. This is not to say she never liked the things we drew. She let us know when she approved of something as well as when she didn’t, and why—though she still wouldn’t put anything on the fridge; she finds that practice abhorrent. (My husband recently put one of HB’s finger paintings up on our fridge, and I flinched. I let it stay—for now.)

So I was taught from a young age to look at things in a visually critical way, to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t, and to try and articulate why I felt the way I did. In other words, I was schooled in the development of taste. This is not to say that my mother ever insisted that there is one absolute standard for good art; I was always aware that there were pieces that a lot of people liked that she didn’t, and vice versa. (The argument over what should be anointed as Great Art and go into museums is beyond the scope of this entry.)

Why do I detest this painting? Yes, it has some good qualities. It is fairly proficient technically; aside from the hands, the figures are well rendered. The sole of the woman’s left foot is particularly nicely done. Yet when I rounded the corner on our cruise and was confronted with this piece, I recoiled (and sent my husband back to take pictures of it). Why? There are a number of reasons I can articulate, though many I probably cannot.
  • The coloring is monotonous and not pleasing.
  • The overall composition is ungainly. The eye is not led around the figures but rather gets an impression of a triangular clump of body parts. The phrase “beast with two backs” comes to mind.
  • The positioning of the figures is awkward; it seems forced. It is obvious that this was not done from live models, as it would not be possible for the models to maintain that pose for much longer than it would take to make a snapshot, and indeed it looks as if this was drawn from a photo rather than life. There are reasons to draw something rather than photograph it; for one thing, the artist gets an opportunity to walk around the models and get a real sense of where things are in space and how gravity acts, and to use this to inform the piece in a way that a photo cannot. I could imagine a painting of two nudes in an awkward position that I would appreciate—if it was obvious that the painting was meant to display the awkwardness of human coupling.
  • There is a coyness to the hiding of all the naughty bits that is irritating—reminiscent of the opening scene in Austin Powers, which is funny but not beautiful.
  • But the thing that really gets me about this piece, I think, is the obvious idealization of the figures. What is the purpose of this piece? If it’s to display the beauty of the human form, I’d like to see a real human form. If it’s to titillate, it should be sexier. This piece is like soft-core porn: offensive to some, yet not getting anyone off—the worst of both worlds.
Of course this is all subjective. Most simply, I find gazing at this picture viscerally unpleasant. Other people must not, or it wouldn’t be hanging there (though I am willing to bet that a lot of people wouldn’t like it).

The bigger question is, is it okay to mock a work of art? I say, of course it is. Someone went to the trouble to create it for public display and someone else went to the trouble of selecting it and hanging it in the hopes that yet another person would buy it. This means that it is being offered up for judgment. That’s the point.

And is it okay to criticize another’s taste? Well, yes, sometimes. If my mother had disliked the piece my mother-in-law showed her, I don’t think she should have said, “Ew, that sucks,” as that would be criticizing my MIL’s taste to no purpose and therefore impolite. But if my MIL had asked my mother’s artistic opinion on a piece my MIL was thinking of buying, then telling her she didn’t like it would be honest and right.

It doesn’t seem any different from, say, music. I’m sure you know and love people who enjoy music you can’t stand, and you’re willing to tell them that, yet you do not love them any less for it. I, for instance, cannot abide jazz, though it does not make me respect someone less for enjoying it. Some people are embarrassed by their own taste in music, which I don’t get. If you like something, you like it. Same with art. Embrace your own taste.

So, if you happen to enjoy this piece of art, I don’t think you should be ashamed of that fact. But I also think you should know that if you go on this cruise and buy it, there are a significant number of people who will recoil when they see it on the wall of your boudoir.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Supposedly Fun Thing

Even before I read David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, I was never tempted by the thought of going on a cruise. But this was before I found out that it was one of the few vacations that includes free daycare (with the exception of the grandparent “vacation,” but the easy grandparents were unavailable, and the exhausting ones, well, we did that last year).

Free daycare is great—if your child consents to participate. It can even be great if your child does not consent, provided that the daycare workers do not page you fifteen minutes into your idyll telling you that no, he has not “settled down,” and please come get him NOW, before he contaminates all the happy toddlers.

So, a cruise with a two and half year old stuck to one’s leg is probably different from a childfree cruise. But the ships still seem kind of hideous, I’ll bet. I don’t think my dislike of the artwork would have been any less keen, for instance. I would also wager that having the main shore stop cancelled due to high winds would not have been any less annoying. Perhaps more so: I know for a fact that the couple who had planned to be wed on shore—and had waiting guests and attendants who had traveled by air—were more upset about missing their own wedding than we were about getting on an actual, not perceptibly moving beach.

But there were some good moments. Sitting on the balcony reading the first novel I’ve finished in months while TrophyHusband was in the pool with HellBoy (who had a fabulous time, once he was sprung from the horrors of ship daycare); running on the track some thirteen stories above the blue ocean, uphill as the ship tilted one way, then downhill as it lurched back; sitting at the bar sipping a drink while HB stood transfixed by the string quartet for a full half hour. And I actually didn’t think much about work at all.

But I just found out that my assistant is getting an extra two weeks of maternity leave. I keep reminding myself that her baby probably needs her more than I do, but it doesn’t feel like he possibly could.

And yes, I am a bit compulsive about sun exposure, why do you ask?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rules to Blog By

Whether the original Trainwrecks site was harmless or evil (which I do NOT, NOT, NOT want to discuss—I’m very bored of that topic), it served one useful purpose for me: it gave me rules to blog by. Until its demise, I was a little afraid to check my “came from” stats, waiting for the day that the telltale “” would appear. So I scoured their site, looking for blog behaviors that were most likely to trigger a trainwreck pile-on. Some things weren’t too hard to avoid; I’m not about to run off with someone else’s spouse and brag about it, my pets are all neutered, and I’m not running any financial scams. Other things I wasn’t about to stop doing even if I was risking a trainwrecking; I wasn’t going to wean my toddler just because some people think extended nursing is disgusting, and I won’t say that my husband is anything but outrageously wonderful, because it’s the truth—but there were a few things that I thought might be good for me to keep in mind. Here are my Rules to Blog By:*
  1. Welcome dissent. Introducing a controversial topic without expecting readers to have some ideas that differ from my own would be foolish, and would deprive me of opportunities to have my own viewpoint evolve. This relates to the next rule:
  2. Never delete comments (unless they are dangerous—i.e., could reveal my identity, or consist of hate speech). Having dissenting comments deleted really ticks people off. (I haven’t yet been tempted to delete a comment I didn’t like, but I think I need to keep this rule in mind just in case.)
  3. Do not insult readers. If someone misunderstands me, I will err on the side of assuming that I phrased something poorly rather than that the person is stupid.
  4. Do not complain about something over and over, yet reject all suggestions for improving the situation. I admit this is occasionally hard to resist.
  5. Do not post pictures of your kids—unless they’re really, really cute. Obviously, I wrestle with this one.
  6. Do not brag about something under the pretense of complaining about it. For example, I should not say “The problem with having a child who is toilet-trained early is that they yell embarrassing things in public restrooms like ‘No touching the poop, Mama!’” If I’m going to brag about my child being toilet trained, I should just say “My kid poops on the potty, and that rocks.” Except that would violate the next rule, which is
  7. No talking about poop—unless you are funny enough to pull it off. Which I’m not. This last statement may look like a violation of the next rule, but it’s not.
  8. Don’t put yourself down in the hopes of having readers disagree with you. So please do not argue with me: I am not funny enough to tell a worthwhile poop story. If I am looking for validation, I will ask for it; if I get insults instead, I will remember my final rule:
  9. Don’t take it personally. A good rule to follow in life as well as in blogging, and hard in both worlds.
*Please note that I am NOT saying that all of these things are necessarily wrong, nor that everyone should follow my rules; these are simply the things that I might be tempted by and want to avoid.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What’s Got My Knickers In a Twist

As I alluded to previously, I’ve been a little stressed lately. The reasons are pretty boring, but just so that everyone knows it’s not you, it’s me, this is what has had me staying awake nights:
  • I have a new boss. I do not yet know if he will be a bad boss or a good one, but he’s new. I do know that he’s more focused on “the bottom line” than the prior boss, and this could work against me, because much of what I do—teach and mentor—is not accurately reflected on the bottom line.
  • My new boss likes to have 7 am meetings.
  • So far there have been two 7 am meetings at which my presence was requested. I was 20 minutes late to BOTH of them.
  • My assistant is out on maternity leave, right in the middle of a HUGE project, and her replacement is astonishingly helpless. Examples:
    • She does not know how to revise a Word document. I couldn’t figure out how she kept introducing new errors into documents I was giving her to correct until it dawned on me that she was retyping them.
    • She does not know how to find a “sent” email. She sent me an email announcing that there was a room change for a meeting. She did not tell anyone else about this room change. When someone asked where they were supposed to be, she asked me to send her the email she had sent me.
    • She does not know how to page anyone. If you dial the numbers for her, she does not even know that you should stay by the phone to wait for the call back.
  • And on and on. I am spending most of my time doing her job these days. This is not an exaggeration.

  • When I was expecting a rejuvenating couple of days last weekend, my in-laws showed up with—surprise!—my sister-in-law and her infant and her two-year-old in tow. Eight people, three of them under age three, in 1300 square feet, with one shower. Then the grandparents ditched everyone and went shoe shopping for hours. Somehow I spent most of my weekend babysitting the four-month-old.
  • Tuesday I broke out in an itchy rash from my neck to my ankles. It turned out to be a systemic reaction to an antibacterial ointment, but I spent a terrified couple of days thinking it was one of my antidepressants. (It was bacitracin, by the way, and about 30% of people who use it for any length of time can become allergic. Interesting fact: bacitracin got its name because it was originally isolated from a bacteria grown from a wound from a girl named Tracy.)
There’s more, but you get the gist. Some of it’s better already (this weekend is much more relaxing, and the rash is almost gone) and some of it will be better very soon (my assistant returns in two weeks), but if someone in cold-weather running gear runs past you in the next couple weeks muttering “Serenity Now,” it’s probably me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why Ask Why?

Humans are wired to constantly search for causes for (and solutions to) every problem. This is probably our most useful adaptation, but it can lead to certain difficulties, especially for doctors.

Take flu shots, for example. It has been shown conclusively that flu shots do not give you the flu. (They couldn’t give you the flu due to the way they’re designed, but people went and did studies on it anyway.) Yet there are many people out there who swear that flu shots give you the flu. Why?

Flu shots are given during cold and flu season. A certain number of people will come down with an upper respiratory infection in any given week. If one of those people happened to get their flu shot that week, it’s easy to see why they would assume that the shot was to blame. Forever after, they will attest that flu shots give you the flu—and will probably convince a few other people of the same. Trying to argue against this is nearly futile. I attempt a preemptive strike with every flu shot I give, telling them that the shot won’t fully protect them for about two weeks, so they could still catch the flu in that time, but I’m not sure how well this works.

Trying to bring on labor is another example. Studies have shown that NOTHING works to bring on labor, with the exception of the drugs used for formal induction in the medical setting. Castor oil? Doesn’t work. Having lots of sex? Doesn’t work. Scrubbing the floor on hands and knees? Doesn’t work. Nipple stimulation? Doesn’t work. Acupuncture? Doesn’t work. Ankle massage? Doesn’t work. Walking/jumping? Doesn’t work. Stripping the membranes? Doesn’t work. Primrose oil? Doesn’t work. Raspberry tea? Doesn’t work. And so on and so forth.

But wait! I can hear a lot of you (probably most of you) thinking. My doctor recommended having sex, and it worked for me! My best friend used castor oil, and it worked for her! My midwife swears that several of her patients have gone into labor after drinking raspberry tea! I know these things work!

But think about it. No matter what, every pregnant woman eventually goes into labor. And whatever thing she did just beforehand will always be credited with doing the trick. Therefore of course all of these things have “worked” for some people. But when they’ve been formally studied—having fifty pregnant women do nothing while another fifty twiddle their nipples, for instance—the rate at which they go into labor is exactly the same.*

Birth defects are yet another example. I was talking with a pregnant friend recently about how nutty everybody gets about pregnant women doing anything—taking medications, drinking coffee, having a little alcohol, lying on their backs. This hysteria seems to be getting worse and worse. Partly this is just part of the whole trend toward fetishizing pregnancy, I believe, but partly it’s because of the way birth defects occur. There are only a few things that are known to cause terrible birth defects—thalidomide, oral isotretinoin, and a couple other uncommon things—but even if you don’t have exposure to one of those, there is a 2-3% risk of major birth defects. And when one of these spontaneous defects happens, of course everyone starts wondering what caused it, and remembering every cold tablet and cup of coffee and hot bath they took during pregnancy. If you do a retrospective study looking at birth defects, the mothers of babies with defects always remember more exposures to everything than the mothers of healthy infants. But if you do a prospective study, following people through their pregnancies and documenting exposures, there’s no difference between those in which defects occur and those in which they don’t.

If something happens often enough—a colicky baby being fussy, for instance—it’s easier to figure out (by trying a lot of things that don’t consistently work) that nothing you do causes it or cures it, and it just needs to be waited out. Relatively rare things that can occur randomly (getting pregnant, birth defects, most cancers) or that inevitably end with time (pregnancy, a chest cold) are the things that really lend themselves to myth-making about causes and solutions.

The belief that every phenomenon can be explained and every problem solved is a wonderful thing much of the time. It’s great when someone with diabetes understands that eating carbohydrates causes their blood sugar to rise or that taking their medicine brings it under control. But it’s frustrating when someone can’t accept that doctors don’t have the solutions to everything. (The doctors who can’t accept that—and there are many—are even more frustrating.)

I wish I had a better way of explaining this to patients. Sometimes when people ask me “Why did I get this disease?” I’ll answer, “Just bad luck,” and they look at me like I’m crazy. I suppose if I were religious, I could answer, “Only God knows the reason,” but 1) I’m not, 2) my patients might not be either, and 3) even if they are, it could be an annoying thing to hear (“I’m sure God has a reason for why you had this miscarriage!”).

How do you deal with things that can’t be explained?

*UPDATE: OK, I should know better than to use an inflammatory example such as this. I say the following in a comment below, but I’ll add it here too: the induction of labor example was meant mostly as an example of a perfect setup for fallacious beliefs to take hold. Yes, there are studies here and there that suggest that a couple of these things might increase the odds a little bit of delivering earlier (though several of those studies were actually done in conjunction with oxytocin, so I’m not sure that you can count them). But having looked at the evidence, I’m standing by my assertion that none of those things is worth having anyone put themselves out in any way to do, because if they work at all, the effect is teeny-tiny. Remember, negative studies mostly don’t get published, so if there are a few weakly positive studies—or positive weak studies—chances are very good that there are at least a few unpublished negative studies.

I’m not saying that everyone should be induced medically by any means; I think too many people get induced as it is, and if we just waited until babies were done gestating we’d have fewer c-sections. I also think childbirth has been overmedicalized in general—I even think that the evidence supports the superiority of (supervised) homebirth in multiparous women. But the things that I see heavily pregnant women doing to try and bring on labor just seem miserable, and the amount of advice they get about it could give anyone a headache. (Which doesn’t help bring on labor either.)

And yes, I’m having a wretched day, and week for that matter.