Monday, December 28, 2009

When I Start Sounding Like This, Take Me Out Back

I’m not sure if anyone else will find this as funny as I do, but this is the Christmas email my mother received from her sister. My aunt has always tended to be a little bit … critical, and age has not mellowed her.

Date: December 27, 2009 10:12:36 PM
Subject: Nice Christmas

Our Christmas began on the Eve. Chris’s boys didn’t come until today so missed the dinner. Brittney’s boyfriend was with us plus the French exchange student, Julie. Only Dave’s family made it for the 5 p.m. church service. The rest were supposed to meet us at 6:30 at our house. (We gave them an extra hour and they were still late.) After doing stocking gifts and cocktail hour we went to the Vintage Press. We had a preordered dinner of cioppino. It was delicious but we later found out that Julie was allergic to shellfish and didn’t feel well after dinner.

We came back to the house for dessert and the tree. It was a fun night.

On Christmas Day we went up to Chris’s at 2PM. It was a beautiful day. Almost 70 degrees and clear. You could see the Sierras which were gorgeous. Elizabeth put on the same dinner we had at T’giving as Brittney wasn’t home then and wanted the same food. Brittney is something else. She is so self absorbed, I wonder how this new relationship is going to go. He’s quite handsome with the stubble chin look. During dinner I noticed him looking at his reflection in the window. He’s an attorney but not in a firm and does wills and trusts. He also has a day job which he never explained.

This a.m. we had breakfast with Dave’s family at the country club. Always enjoy hearing what’s going on with the kids. Jason was playing blackjack last night and says he won $120 but had been up to $500. He’s home for 3 weeks but hasn’t offered to earn any money from us doing odd jobs. Megan, who is always on his case, said she’d work for us.

We’re doing an open house on New Year
s for Jerry’s 75th from 11 to 2 at our house. There’s just too much going on to put on anything else. It’s not like he’s never had any recognition.

We had a note from Bob on their card but seems his 75th wasn’t too noteworthy.

Looking forward to hearing about your holiday. Love, Sis


You have any horrible relative holiday stories?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More Helpful Hints

How to Sleep Better Without Pills

This is by request. A disclaimer: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking over-the-counter sleep aids. Heck, I used to take Benadryl every day as a child during allergy season; it’s not like taking Seconal or something. And drinking alcohol before bed is much worse on your sleep patterns than these kinds of medications. However, there are some relatively easy tricks for sleeping better—with or without medications. Most people know that you should have a quiet, cool, dark, comfortable place to sleep. Here are a few things that you may not know: Don’t watch TV in bed, even if you think it lulls you to sleep. Don’t read in bed if you can’t sleep; get up and sit in a chair. Don’t toss and turn if you can’t sleep; get out of bed and do something boring for a while. If you have a snoring bed partner, get a white noise machine. If your problem is waking up in the middle of the night, trying going to bed a half hour later than usual. And here’s one that many people resist: cover up your clock or turn it to the wall so that you can’t tell what time it when you wake up in the middle of the night. If you check the time, you get anxious, and then you really can’t get back to sleep. Finally, if you are taking something to get to sleep every night and want to stop, you should go cold turkey and expect to have 3-4 rough nights before you’re back to normal.

How To Childproof on the Fly

Releasable zip ties. (I have no idea if that’s a good website, I was just too lazy to get a good picture of them myself.) Discovering these was like finding the internet, only less exciting. With a little imagination, you can use these to fashion a way to keep a toddler out of all kinds of things when you’re in a hotel room, visiting childfree friends, etc. I used to keep a pack of them in my suitcase. I still have one around the knobs of the liquor cabinet. (I figure anyone who’s too drunk to operate the release has probably had enough. There’s plenty of beer in the fridge if you’re that desperate.) They’re also good for managing computer cables, keys … make your own magic!

How To Connect Almost Anything to Almost Anything

Non-releasable zip ties. These made it possible for me to put baby gates on our impossibly narrow stairs (gates that lasted years and endured much abuse without failing, despite my husband’s initial skepticism), and they are astoundingly strong. They also facilitated one of my most ingenious solutions:

How To Keep From Losing Tiny Remote Controls

Is this not cool? You can use anything large and squishy. (Note: I do not advise using a cat. A particularly well-trained dog might suffice.) I started out with rubber bands, but for some reason children must put asunder what a rubber band hath joined together.

How To Put Eye Drops Into Uncooperative Eyes

Some of us could pour a shot of Jim Beam into our eyes, but some—e.g., many children, my husband—blink and squirm and freak out over one or two drops of anything. The trick is simple: lie on one’s back with eyes closed, put the drops in the corner of the eye (making a little pool), and then open the eyes. (Gratuitous doctor’s soapbox proclamation: Antibiotic drops for “pink eye”? 99 percent of the time useless—and occasionally allergic reaction-producing. I know we all grew up doing it, but almost all pink eye—especially if it’s bilateral—is viral, usually a cold virus. And it’s no more or less contagious than a cold.)

How To Stop a Nosebleed

You can find that here—an oldy but bloody goody.

How To Keep Cats from Jumping on Your Head To Wake Up and Feed Them

Cats can understand cause and effect, but only up to a point; too many steps in a process and their fuzzy little heads start to hurt. If upon arising you immediately feed them, they will learn to wake you up, and often in creative ways. If you separate getting up and filling the bowls by more than, say, two steps, they will eventually forget that the two occurrences might be connected.

And finally: a picture in which you can see my own personal stomach-sleeping-preventing bumper:

(Levitating child not included.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

DoctorMama’s Helpful Hints

I’ve been neglecting you. To make up for it, I’ve prepared a real treat for you: a whole bunch of helpful hints and ingenious solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had. If I could patent these, I would, but since I can’t, you’re getting them for free. You’re welcome.

How to Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach
Those of us who stomach sleep tend to get cricks in our necks and sore lower backs. If I spend more than a few minutes doing it, I get a back spasm so bad that I am unable to turn back over, and I’m left to struggle like an upside-down turtle. One solution I’d read about was to sleep with a long pillow next to you on the side you usually turn to. Good in theory, but unless your bed is next to the wall, you’ll just end up with a pillow on the floor. My brilliant solution? Tuck the pillow under the fitted sheet, creating a bumper. It won’t fall out, and when you turn over, you naturally sling your knee over it and stop halfway.

How to Keep a Toddler (or Drunk) from Falling Out of Bed
How to Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach above! It’s genius, I tell you.

How to Use Decongestant Nasal Spray Without Becoming Addicted
When you have a cold and can’t sleep because you can’t breathe through your nose, use decongestant spray in one nostril only. The next night, you can use it on the other side. Don’t use any during the day. You can keep this up indefinitely.

How to Quit Decongestant Nasal Spray
If you’re already addicted, quit using it on one side. Once that side is more or less back to normal, quit the other side.

How to Avoid Losing Your Child in a Crowd
Or rather, how to find your child after you’ve already lost them in a crowd. All you need is some masking tape and a marker. Put a strip of tape across the child’s upper back and write on it: IF FOUND CALL [cell number]. My son adds: tell your child to approach either a Person In Charge or someone who also has kids.

How to Clean Out a Stainless Steel Carafe or Thermos When You Can’t Reach Your Hand In
Put a Brillo™-type pad and some water in there, put the lid on, and shake it like a hurricane.

How to Fix Yellow Toenails
If you wear pink or red toenail polish, you may have noticed that they leave your toenails stained yellow. I searched for years for a cure, and finally discovered that the clear polishes that have names like Yellow Out actually work. Duh.

How to Keep Noisy Toys from Driving You Nuts
Put clear packing tape over the speaker holes. Several layers if necessary. Kids’ hearing is way better than ours; they don’t mind at all, and it makes life so much more bearable. (This trick is not my own invention; I learned from another cranky old parent.)

How to Keep Your Ice Cubes from Getting Smelly
Because I’m sorry, baking soda just doesn’t work. Charcoal odor absorbers, however, do. Drop one directly into your ice bin and voil√†.

How to Cure Diaper Rash Quickly and Cheaply
Most diaper rash is at least partly due to candida (yeast). Buy a (store-brand) tube of vaginal yeast cream (throw away the applicators that come with it). It’s good as prescription cream; clears it up in, like, 12 hours. Works on athlete’s foot, too. We call it Toe-Butt-Vagina Cream.

How to Stop Picking at Your Face (Or at Least Cut Down)
Put 25-watt light bulbs in your bathroom.

How to Soothe a Sore Throat
Suck on a baby aspirin. (Do NOT let children do this.)

How to Keep A Cat From Shredding Your Furniture (Besides Declawing)
Keep its front nails clipped. A regular nail clipper works fine. You’ll probably need a second person to do the cat holding, but it’s not as hard as you’d think—nothing like trying to pill a cat.

How to Get Children to Behave
I have no frickin idea.

Monday, August 24, 2009

O Soleus Mio (updated)

I have a rule of thumb for injuries/pain and running. To wit: if running doesn’t make something worse, go ahead and run.

I am at baseline a sore person (not a sorehead; it’s hard to offend me). At any given moment, at least two things will be hurting. Doing a rapid inventory right now, I’ve got: right acromioclavicular joint, low back, right elbow. Depending on the day, it can be my head, neck, shoulders, elbows, thumbs, upper back, lower back, knees, right ankle. I get out of bed in the morning feeling like the arthritic sloth I try to mimic when I set off on each run. I’m not sure if this is normal or not; I asked my husband if he typically has pain somewhere and he said no, which I’m inclined to believe since he’s a bit of a whiner like that and if something is hurting he lets me know about it, but I haven’t done a systematic survey of everyone I know. I don’t think this is particularly related to the passage of time; I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. I also don’t know if it’s because I have a low pain threshold. Past experience would suggest I’m not especially sensitive, but how can one ever really know? Mostly I’m used to it and will maybe pop a few ibuprofen tablets if something’s really bad.

One of the coolest things about running for me is that after a run, everything always hurts LESS.

But now I have been felled by my soleus. The left one. It’s ok for about three miles, and then WOW WOW WOW, does it hurt. I’m not sure what happened to it, although I have a sneaking suspicion it’s related to the fact that although I do very little in the way of stretching before running as evidence doesn’t seem to indicate that it does much for you, I have always done soleus/Achilles stretches simply because it feels right. And lately I’ve been skipping them. (An explanation — featuring a Spiderman action figure! — can be found here.)

All of which is to say, I’m taking my own advice and not running through this (honestly I don’t know if I could anyway), and it’s making me insane in the membrane.

However: I at least have some reason to believe that my knees are going to be a-okay when I’m ninety.

You sitting here reading this: is something always painful somewhere on your body?

UPDATE: Reassuring to know that I’m not alone in my aches & pains, though I’m sorry so many of us are in the club. (And no, I don't have any systemic disease process, fortunately.) I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m tender rather than sore — i.e., things hurt when I use them or push on them, usually not if I don’t bother them.

Re: my soleus. It seemed to be responding, albeit slowly, to decreasing my speed, distance, and frequency, plus new shoes, plus stretching, plus ice — BUT! then I got a chest cold, and am now on a program of unplanned rest. I’m actually happy that if I have to get these things, at least for once they happened together. (My rule of thumb for running when sick: sick above the neck: run; sick below the neck, rest.) So I hope it will be fine when I hit the road again, but I will remain in the dark as to which measures worked.

(Oh, and: the barefoot running thing? I dunno. The idea seems to crop up every now and again but never really catches on. Obviously one can’t run truly barefoot through the city, and while I’m sure those new foot-glove things are wildly sexy, they do change the position of your foot unless you’re naturally spread-toed, so I’m not so sure they really count as barefoot. Anyway I’m sticking with real shoes for the foreseeable future.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Running for the Schedule- and Sleep-Challenged

Elle, a new Emergency Medicine resident, recently asked me the following:

Please, can you tell me any advice to continue running during residency?

First, you have NO IDEA how much running helps when you’re a resident. It’s probably more beneficial for a resident, mile per mile, than almost anyone else. So you really have to. What you’ll have to give up on is rigid consistency. Get three runs in per week no matter what and no matter when. When you get home – whenever that is – just get those shoes on and get out there.

For example, when do you run? After work or before? How does it affect you at work if you ran before a shift?

I run after. Nothing chills me out after a hard day better than a run; it’s a beautiful thing. Before work, I don’t yet have any built up frustrations/worries/anger/etc., so a run feels a lot less useful. And: I am unbelievably stiff when I wake up, so running feels less good physically. A lot of people are morning runners, though, and they tell me that it gets them ready for the day. I think it’s something you just have to figure out on your own. If you can switch up, you’re lucky. When I had the odd night shift, I would run in the afternoon, and it felt fine.

When is sleep more important (because I'm sure my sleep-deprived mind will always think sleep is more important)?

Hmmmm. Well, I came up before duty-hour regulations, and I never could sleep well at the hospital, and I need a LOT of sleep, so I guess I’m qualified to say this: running always trumps sleep.

Should I adjust pace or length of run for sleep deprivation?


If I don't go at all, say during a rough 4 week rotation, at what percentage of my original distance/time should I be running once I get back to it?

Maggot, you are NEVER going to not run at all. That is NOT allowed. I ran even when I was on an ICU rotation, sleeping at the hospital every third night, having work weeks that regularly ran over 100 hours.

Ahem. Anyway. If there is something terrible that prevents you from running – bad chest colds do it for me – how quickly you bounce back will depend on your “base” – how long you’ve been running. If it’s years, you only need maybe one or two easy runs (i.e., even slower than usual) before you’re back to normal. If you’re a newbie, it might take you a week or two.

Can you comment on running after a night shift? If I wake up and run in the middle of the day, is that better than other times to run?

That depends. If you’re up one night and then back to day shifts, take a nap, then get up and run, then go to bed at a near-normal time. If you’re completely switching to night shifts, you’ll probably have to figure out whether you can completely reverse your days and nights and run accordingly, or if you have to fit running in at odd times, which is what I did.

Anyone have any other advice for the schedule- and/or sleep-challenged runner?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thick Water

What, really, is the point of having a sibling?

The other day I got a question I hadn’t heard in awhile: “Are you related to [semi-famous actress with the same slightly unusual last name as me]?” It’s a question I used to get a lot, back when she was popping up fairly regularly in well-known movies. Now she mostly does supporting work on TV, as happens to depressingly many actresses who get a little long in the tooth.

The answer is, yes and no. Here’s the story: my father became an officer in the Navy when he graduated from college, mostly to bug his parents, I think. While he was stationed stateside, he met a girl—let’s call her Joyce—who had gotten knocked up by a recruit. The knocker-upper said “oops” and shipped out, leaving Joyce with the ticket. So my father married her, and she gave birth to a child—let’s call her Annelise—who had my father listed on her birth certificate. It was a “real” marriage, as far as I know, and my father was Annelise’s father (as much as anyone in the late fifties who was in the Navy and shipped around the world was, which is probably not a lot). My grandparents were horrified, especially my grandmother, who was, to be honest, a real bitch. She was mean to Joyce and never treated Annelise as a grandchild.

Once my father was out of the Navy and hanging around for long enough for Joyce probably to figure out how difficult he could be, they divorced, and my father left the state. Annelise was about five years old. Eventually he knocked my mother up and married her. I always knew about Annelise—they told me I had a sister, my father would occasionally go visit her (and paid child support), and they said I’d meet her one day.

When I was five, my father fell off a mountain on his motorcycle and died. For awhile we knew what Annelise was up to because my father’s social security benefits were divided amongst all of us, but I never did get to meet her. Once the benefits were gone, I didn’t hear about her until I saw her name on the credits of a movie. Then pretty soon she seemed to be everywhere. My aunt wrote to her once, and Annelise wrote back, politely saying, essentially, your family was always mean to me and my mother, and now you want to know me? (My grandmother was mean to my mother, too, but Annelise never knew that.) When my grandparents died Annelise declined her share of the proceeds, which was rather nice of her, since it meant more for me and my brother and sister.

I’ve never met her, and she’s not genetically related to me. So, not my sister. But: we did have the same father, a father we both essentially lost at the same age. Does that make us sisters?

It’s not like my undisputed biological sister feels much like a sister either. We have met, of course, but we were almost six years apart and always very, very different:

boy haircuts
hanging with the geeks
traveling alone to Europe
flat chest and stringy hair
getting advanced degrees
My Sister
princess clothes
caught smoking at school
unprotected sex in Corvettes
buxom and extremely pretty
getting married
smoking, smoking, smoking
(It’s not like I wasn’t, um, experimenting, I just worked at hiding it rather than flaunting it, you know?)

She was always sure that I looked down on her for not being as intellectual as I was. And I really don’t think I did. (I looked down on the Corvette thing, because really? A Corvette?) In a lot of ways, I envied her. I envied her for not having had a father die (she was born after); I envied her bravado; I envied her looks; I envied her singing voice; I envied her seeming sureness about settling down. I also felt like since she was my sister, we HAD to be close. I spent years trying. I finally thought I had, around the time she adopted her son. We talked a lot, I visited her often, and I defended her to my mother during my sister’s divorce from her very nice husband. She was always kind of … bitchy, but I told myself that was a front for her insecurities.

Then my sister got the most obnoxious new husband you can imagine. A guy who the best thing you can say about him is, he doesn’t hit her … I think. A guy who, after they visited us, my unbelievably tolerant husband said, “That guy is never allowed in my house again.” But she looooooooves him. And seems to have morphed into his clone. She says mean things about everyone, she spends her evenings getting drunk on Bud Light and smoking, she keeps talk shows on her TV 24/7 … it’s like she’s working on making me look down on her. Which, well, now I do. We haven’t seen each other since shortly after their wedding four years ago. We speak once a year at Christmas.

So: My sister? We have the same mother, but the same father only genetically. Does that really make us sisters?

If my sister were left alone in the world and homeless, I would help her out. I’d feel obligated. But why? Why does a genetic tie mean anything? I have friends who would—and have—dropped everything to help me out in times of need. And I will always be willing to do the same for them. My stepfather? Even were he and my mother to divorce, he would be part of my family forever.

This is one reason I feel no guilt about not “giving” HB a sibling. There is no way I could guarantee him anything from a brother or sister. Let him find his true siblings as he goes along. In my experience, the majority of only children appreciated not having to share their parents, and an awful lot of people have siblings to whom they might as well not be related. (I haven’t really mentioned my brother. That’s perhaps an even more complicated story.)

How about you? How do you feel about your sibling(s) or lack thereof?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


When is one too old to run in just a jogging bra and shorts?

A. If you have to ask, you're probably too old.

B. Never! Rock on, Grandma.

C. Depends on what you're rocking.

D. As long as Madonna is still wearing a bustier.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I have a really good idea on how to make the world a better place: pass a law that car horns can only do a little short beep like the beep some cars do when they get locked. The only meaning of the long “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” is to say to another driver, “You’re a fucking idiot!” To which the response is almost invariably “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! No, YOU’RE the idiot!”

Which does not seem to serve any purpose other than to wake babies and rattle everyone else on the road. I mean really: if you’ve got enough time and a free hand to go “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!,” you must not actually be in danger, am I wrong? And if you’re not in danger, what’s the big deal?

This probably makes everyone suspicious that I am getting more than my fair share of the “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!,” which I don’t think I am, although how would I really know, since whenever I’m in the car I’m almost always the one driving, and the amount of “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” I get seems normal to me. (I will add that in over twenty years of driving, I have never even ONCE had a moving violation.) (I admit I have violated a few posts and parked cars. Not recently, though. Don’t blame me for that scratch.) (My Scion started out quite square; four years of street parking has whittled it into something more ovoid.)

Now, something about running. I keep forgetting to mention this:


Which is one of the reasons that you have to go no matter what.

Example: last week, after a hellish few days of:
  • HB vomiting in the bed
  • TH not vomiting, but lying around trying to look pitiful
  • broken washer
  • broken dryer (still not fixed)
  • multiple graduation-related events at night
and god knows what-all, I had no choice but to take HB with me in the dreaded running stroller if I wanted to get a run in.

First I had to lug the stroller up the basement stairs. Then I had to inflate the tires (with “help” from HB). Then I had to assemble the thing. Then I had to put all sorts of snacks in the pocket. Then I had to get dressed to run. Then … sudden torrential downpour wipes out the blue skies! So I’m like, maybe we shouldn’t go—by the time the rain lets up I’ll be too hungry, HB will be hellish on the ride, my shoulder hurts and I don’t want to push the stroller, etc. etc., whine, whine … but then I smacked myself in the face and off we went, once the rain let up enough to be able to see farther than 10 feet ahead of us.

And HB was an absolute ANGEL. A few quotes from him: “No, you don’t have to put the cover up, I like the rain—I’ll let you know if I need it!” At the 1.5 mile mark, as I turned the stroller around, not wanting to push my luck: “What are you doing? Let’s keep going!” On the way home, “Oh! Look at the rainbow!” “Listen to the birds!” “The flowers have all the colors of the rainbow!”

I was a little suspicious that he’d found a tablet of E on the ground somewhere, √† la Jude Law’s child (suuuuure, it wasn’t theirs! They just somehow got a really good look at it before she popped it in her mouth! But weren’t quick enough to stop her!). But the only thing he has ever found on the ground and put in his mouth is a cigarette.

It works the other way too. Some days the weather is gorgeous, you have all the time in the world, you’ve eaten just enough but not too much, your ipod is charged, you’re wearing your cute new shorts, and—somehow it sucks. But: it’s kind of like sex or pizza for guys: even if it’s bad, it’s still a run, and a run is better than no run.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How Time Inches Along!

HB will be turning five soon.

This is the place where every other parent on the planet adds, How did that happen? They say it goes fast, but it seems like just yesterday he was [born / playing peek-a-boo / taking his first steps / add your own heartwarming milestone here]!

I said to TH around the time HB turned four, “Do you understand what people are talking about when they say it goes fast?”

“Absolutely not,” he answered. “Every stage seems to last forever.”

My child has a Superman-like ability to slow time to a crawl, at least for his parents. It seems like I can feel every minute of every day of the past five years. Other people’s kids get older awfully fast; not mine.

This child just wears you down. He’s an Xtreme Child (as in Xtreme Sports). The other day he went to the park with my parents to play baseball. On the way home he decided he didn’t want to carry the bat home as he’d promised to do before they set out. An argument ensued; he flung the bat to the ground. My stepdad said, “Well, that’s okay, you can just leave it for someone else to find.”

HB did not carry the bat home. He kicked it home. The whole way.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Actually that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the really cool things about HB, in honor of his one-twentieth of a century.

I was raised with a WASPY horror of bragging (e.g., when I was in college my mother wouldn’t even tell people what school I was attending for fear it might sound like bragging. She would say, “Oh, she’s … in college … in another state …” I think some people may have thought I was in prison). So I try very hard to avoid it here, especially the kind of bragging where you’re like, “oh, it’s such a pain, having a child who can do physics at 3—it’s so embarrassing when he starts talking about the degree of the arc of his pee in the restroom!”

So this is a little hard for me, but I will try to do this straight, without HB-deprecation—aside from the tirade above, of course.
  • For a preschooler, he’s almost Buddhist in his non-attachment to material things. He doesn’t beg for toys in stores, he doesn’t seem to notice when obnoxious toys “disappear,” and he doesn’t get worked up when something is lost or broken.
  • He can read, and as far as I know taught himself to do so.
  • He’s agile. He’s in T-ball but doesn’t need the T, for instance.
  • He doesn’t mock others for their idiosyncracies. He’s great with special-needs kids.
  • He can make scrambled eggs by himself. Really.
  • He doesn’t pick his nose or bite his nails.
  • He doesn’t like TV.
  • He has no irrational fears—the dark, monsters, toilets, etc. do not worry him.
  • His pencil grip and scissor skills are excellent for his age, I am told.
  • He is affectionate.
  • His outfits make me smile every day.
Phew. That was actually really hard for me—I felt the need to asterisk almost every statement, David Foster Wallace-style. The past week or so has been especially rocky. But I am grateful for getting such an amazing kid, the time crawling notwithstanding. Probably one day I will even be grateful for how he slowed the passage of time.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

All’s Fair

Who knew that men’s legwear was such an organized movement? Not I, for one. The pro-men’s legwear contingent will be happy to hear that we gave a pair of tights to another boy in the class. (We asked permission first because we weren’t sure how traditional this kid’s parents might be.)

The whole discussion about gender “appropriate” clothing made me think about what goes on in our family; what messages might we be sending HB re: gender roles. And since I love lists, I made one.

Below are the main household/family duties and activities I could think of. I’ve highlighted the more traditionally female ones in pink (since we’re being traditional, you know) and the male ones in blue. I put an item in one person’s column if that person does it 70-100% of the time.


Work longer hours

Make more money
Power tools
Buying presents
Home repair/remodeling
Buying clothes for kid
Baking (with kid)

Work shorter hours
Make (slightly) less money
Assemble toys and furniture
Schlep kid to & from school
Stay home when kid is sick/has day off
Trips to playground etc.
Kid birthday parties
Clean cat box
We’re pretty even on bathtime, story reading, taking out trash, doctor’s visits, and getting the kid dressed and fed in the morning.

These divisions were never really spelled out, we just kind of fell into them, but we are both committed to being—or at least feeling—equitable. And either of us will do the things in the other person’s column if specifically asked to do so.

This list looks pretty reasonable to me—and I think we’re setting a gender-equal message to HB. I’m curious—what goes on in your family? Is it a struggle? Do you have to negotiate?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Finally: Jogging Strollers

Here are the questions I think you need to answer before dropping any serious change down on a jogging stroller:
  • Do you really need one? If you aren’t planning on logging serious hours on it, it may not be worth it. You can get usually get away with using one of those hybrid-type strollers. A lot of people also have a jogging stroller gathering dust in their basement—maybe you can borrow?

  • Will it ever be folded up? How small? This turned out to be the clincher for us; the only stroller that folded FLAT was the Dreamer Design, and since we have to haul our stroller up very narrow basement stairs every single time it’s used, that was our only option. I’m not sure if any other brand folds like that yet—we got ours five years ago. If you’re NEVER going to fold it, you will be able to spend less, since that’s the most expensive part of a stroller mechanism.

  • How far do you run? The farther you go, the more a slightly out-of-true stroller will bother you, and you might want a really good one. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter that much.

  • Where do you run? If it’s not over boulders or cobblestones, don’t worry about any fancy or extra shocks. They add weight and cost, and babies/kids usually enjoy the ride more if they’re jounced around a bit anyway.
Just about every jogging stroller comes with the same basic setup, but there are a couple of extra things that I couldn’t do without:
  • A truly adjustable sunshade—with the fixed ones, you inevitably end up needing some kind of complicated blanket-draping setup.

  • Enough room for clothes/snacks/drinks—unless you have the mellowest kid on the planet, you’ll need that stuff.
And finally, a piece of advice with older kids: Unless it’s an emergency, don’t ever get them out of the stroller until the end of the run, no matter how bad they get. Once they know it’s an option, it’s all over.

The floor is open for recommendations.

Monday, April 20, 2009

“My Son Wears Tights”—Good for Him! & “Too Old to Run?”—Absolutely Not!

A surprising (to me) number of people land on my website from the above queries, so I thought I’d make it easier by putting the answers to them right up there in the title. To expand:

Re: tights on boys. It makes me a little sad that anyone would feel the need to question this. Yes, my son wears colorful tights. This usually delights people, perhaps as seeing a court jester might. He is occasionally mocked for them by other kids. This concerns him not a bit, which makes me think that I do not need to worry much about him either being bullied or bowing to peer pressure. (Whether he will be pushing others to do the designer drugs of the 2020s remains to be seen. Some of the boys in his class have asked him if he could bring them some tights, too.) Wearing tights does not appear to be a sign of wishing to be a girl for my son, but if it were, I know that there would be nothing I could do about it except try to smooth his path to adulthood. I recently witnessed an 18 month old boy who was reaching for a doll be chastised by his mother because “that’s for girls! You’re a boy!” I guess I’m sheltered in my liberal world, but I didn’t realize this kind of thing still went on. Don’t people know that you can’t influence this stuff? That you’re only inducing shame?

Re: too old to run? If this guy can do it, you can too. (I surreptitiously snapped him when I was out running with my phone.) (No, I don’t ordinarily run with my phone. I was on call.) Most of the queries I see are from 50-somethings. All of my advice applies to everyone of any age, and anyway, 50-something is very young. Go to it, elderly maggots. (But maybe don’t do any triathlons.)

(Sorry, felt the need to rant. Strollers soon.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Making Friends

Just got back from Mexico, which was lovely, though the trip was a tad short because CERTAIN PEOPLE need to have their Saturdays free so as to take part in bike races. I shouldn’t complain, though, because I am probably the worst packer on earth and it took me almost the entire day Saturday to do it. Seriously, I’m outrageously bad at packing. I once left home on a long car trip and remembered everything except my birth control pills (ha! remember those?) and my wallet. I do now have a system: I have everything I could ever possibly want to pack on a list that I customize for each trip, and I am not allowed to tick off an item until it is actually resting inside the suitcase. Since I have to check off every solitary thing (e.g., “toiletries bag” doesn’t cut it: toothbrush, q-tips, brush—everything has its own little check box), the process is rather time-consuming. Also I tend to go off on hours-long tangents—no quart-size ziplocks for the plane? Target trip!

HB is becoming more and more tolerable on these trips. The main tantrum-inducing problem was that I neglected to pack tights (I didn’t forget—I just foolishly assumed that shorts alone would suffice in 85 degree weather), so when the one pair that he’d worn on the plane finally had to be washed before they wandered down to the beach under their own power he had NO TIGHTS TO WEAR TO DINNER, my god, you incompetent idiot. At least I remembered the nail polish so that I could give him touchups as needed.

At one point during our stay when HB wanted me to play in the pool with him but I preferred to drink another Dirty Monkey, I said, “Why don’t you make some friends?” (I’m not ordinarily prone to asking such asinine questions but reference Dirty Monkeys #1 and #2.) Next day, he spent three solid hours playing with a seriously drunk-plus-something-else-that looked-awfully-fun young woman from Manitoba who was sporting multiple homemade tattoos including a prominent “RIP” for her last boyfriend, severally equally homemade piercings, and a much older gentleman who was probably not her father. It was really very nice of her to lavish such attention on him, though we had to keep a rather close eye on them on account of the drowning risk (mainly hers). Afterwards HB said, “See, Mom, I did make a friend!” and spent the next day pretending to smoke cigarettes and demanding that I point out every “No Smoking” sign so that he could smile and insolently continue puffing away.

This wasn’t the post I started out to write—I meant to discuss jogging strollers—but now I’m out of time, so if you have any advice re that subject, get it ready for next time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Darwin's Baby

8 pounds 3 ounces, 22 inches, 22 hours labor, 1 c-section.
He's delectable.
She's delirious with that special combination of joy and I-thought-this-level-of-sleep-deprivation-was-fatal-but-I-guess-it-isn't-because-I'm-still-here-or-am-I?-ness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Run Slowly Forward, Maggots—No Springing Allowed

Well then. I think we have pretty clearly established that a LOT of you have slacked off in the winter months (Southern hemisphere readers excepted; bookmark this page and save my yelling at you for September). Since I failed at motivating you in the cold, I must lecture you about not getting all uppity in the warmth. Now that it’s light out in the evening, and balmy (or at least non-frigid) breezes are blowing, I see you all out there running like you think you know how to do it, in your cute pants and not-tight-enough bras (the women, that is—you men are in too-floppy shorts and shoes that should have been replaced two years ago).

SLOW DOWN. No, you cannot run that 10k in April or that half-marathon in May if you sat on your ass most of the winter. You will hurt yourselves, people! It’s not going to take you as long to get back into it as it did to start running, but you can’t just pick up where you left off. Check the Running sidebar if you need refreshing on the basics, and get back on that horse. Next winter, plan to suck it up. (Bloody snot? Bah! Par for the course. Use a humidifier at night.)

(BTW, Darwin is in a holding pattern, 2 days past her due date. I’ll keep you updated.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bitch, Doctor, or Normal?

There’s something I want to get off my chest, at the risk of offending some. It’s this: I really don’t like reading blog entries (or Facebook updates) about people being sick. Wait wait wait—I don’t mean terrible illnesses, or hilarious entries about horrendous plagues that necessitate HazMat cleanups, or updates on, say, surgical procedures that others are concerned about. I mean the “I have a cold / stomach bug,” “I still have a cold / stomach bug,” “I’m over my cold / stomach bug” entries.

Wait wait wait—I love you! I care that you’re not feeling well! I’m sure I’ve done it myself! I welcome your medical questions to me, truly! I thought your last entry about that awful situation was funny!—I just don’t like it when I’m expecting to read, well, something else and instead have to read about run-of-the-nose snot.

Is this because I’m

a) an unsympathetic bitch
b) a doctor or
c) normal?


Monday, February 23, 2009

This One Is Mostly About ME

First, about your comments on the previous post: I was highly amused but not surprised at the unwillingness of most of you to follow the instructions re: only one piece of advice. It’s good stuff, though. Pretty much all of it mirrors my discoveries, and are things I wish I’d known earlier.

Just a few of my favorites (and I have many):
  • Ice diapers (genius!) (Darwin wanted to know if a maxi pad would work as well?)
  • “And then I thought: if a goddamn monkey can do it, I sure as hell can.”
  • “NEVER EVER talk to a mother of an ‘easy’ baby. EVER!”
Dar’s initial reaction (she only recently found out I even have a blog): “I am speechless—and I love my moniker. The comments will be there a while right? I want access to them at 3:00 am when I am all bits and pieces.” She is deeply grateful.

Now, all about me. All this baby stuff got me thinking about—NO, not about having another one!—about my own childhood. Coincidentally, as I was cleaning up some files I discovered some old photos.

I’ve written before about how I didn’t like being a child—I found the powerlessness awful, and I had very few carefree experiences. But looking at these pictures, I was struck by how very unhappy I look in almost every one of them. See what you think:

This one is hilariously—oh, I don’t know the politically correct term, but let’s say underprivileged Caucasian:

This one I remember really liking, believe it or not (awkward age, anyone?):

The happy toddler in this one is my little sister; I’m the one huddled in the background:

“Playing” in front of our house:

My main pleasure in life at the time—and evidence of where HB gets his love of tight colorful outfits:

At my grandparents’:

About to perform in a play for a Medieval Renaissance festival (don’t I look festive?):

And finally, fun times at the beach:

My conclusions? I am happier than ever to be an adult, and I should worry less about HB’s childhood experiences, because it does get better.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Advice to a New Mother (Whose Own Mother is AWOL)

One of my best friends—let’s call her Darwin—is due to give birth to her first child (a son) in a couple of weeks. This pregnancy was the result of years of trying, a journey that featured an ugly ectopic and expensive IVF. Her mother, who is nutty but usually endearing (I’ve known her since I was about 12), decided that the birth of her only grandchild could not compete with an offer to travel to another country (where she will be mostly incommunicado) for four months. Dar is one of the most good-humored, stable people I know, and she’s incredibly tough (she endured an ovarian torsion with nothing but Tylenol and then had to have emergency surgery for it in her 8th week of this pregnancy, and she’s still walking a mile and a half to work and back every day), but she’s a little apprehensive about this whole new baby thing, and I think that having a newborn is an experience that can be smoothed by a little bit of reassurance from the battle-tested.

Here’s the assignment: for those of you who have some experience in this area, what was the ONE—choose only one!—most helpful piece of advice you received during this time (or if you received no helpful advice, what is the one piece of advice you have to offer)?

Keep it pithy—she’s too sleep-deprived at this point in her pregnancy to focus on long sentences—and I will depart from my policy of never deleting real comments if anyone leaves a horror story.

UPDATE: Check out the nursing basket Dar made based on the advice here:

Some serious nesting going on.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It May Be Frozen Over, But It Isn't Hell (It Just Feels That Way Sometimes)

One little cold snap, and you maggots all take cover? OK, maybe a few of you are on a treadmill in a warm gym somewhere, but I know there are a lot of you sitting in front of the computer eating cookies and whining about the cold.

Get your mewling asses out there. If little old ladies could wait for hours in the cold for the inauguration, you can bundle up and run for 30 freaking minutes.

After all, these days they can bring you back to life even after you freeze to death.

Just remember: synthetics, layering, a 20 dollar bill for emergencies, and maybe a toe tag (I bought one after nearly perishing under the wheels of a cell phone infested pickup truck).

Let’s hear some inspiring stories of your cold-weather running. If there’s a really good one, I’ll ship out another shirt – long sleeve this time.

Wimpy Changing of Subject!

How about some more “kids say the darndest things,” since it won me an award last time?

HB, bringing me the doll he calls his “little sister”: Criss-cross applesauce, sit down on the floor and close your eyes!

[I obediently sit cross-legged on the floor. HB lifts my shirt and tucks the doll under it.]

HB: OK, now, you’re going to feel something a little weird, but don’t worry, it’s just your va gina stretching as the baby is born! [Pulls the doll back out.]

Me: [muffled horrified laughter] Is everything okay?

HB: Oh sure. Your va gina is already going back to normal—look down! Now say, “What’s this white stuff in my breasts?”

Me: … what’s this … white stuff ... in my breasts?

HB: Did you forget? It’s milk! For the baby! Feed her!

I swear I haven’t been drilling him with inappropriately detailed info on where babies come from. Don’t all the books say to just answer the questions asked? Well, he asked how babies get out, and then he kept probing and probing and probing … and clearly remembered it all. At least he didn’t seem freaked out by it. He knows more about the process than some pregnant people.

Changing the subject yet again: I got this for my husband (the Pro version), and I’m astonished to report that it works—I no longer have the distasteful task of nagging him out of bed.

(I did respond more on the last post, if you want to look in the comments.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Problem with Lists (Updated)

A while back, I made mention of doctors’ dread of lists. Now, I love a good list. I make them all the time. For example, here is a list I made for one weekend day last month. (And I wonder why I feel pressed for time. The ones on the side, by the way, were the “possible if I magically morph into a superhero,” so I don’t feel too bad about all the blank boxes. I’m not sure why “side tables” merited an exclamation point, unless it was because I was unlikely to attend to them, as evidenced by the glaringly unchecked box next to that item. And yes, Aaron did come.)

I don’t mind most patient lists either. A list like this one is quite helpful.

But. A list like this one will give any clinician an overwhelming sense of being sucked into a vortex of negative energy. I have removed anything that might identify this patient in any way, but I will tell you that this patient is in their 20’s and is remarkably healthy, despite having had these symptoms for years.

Healthy, but not well. When you see a list like this, you know that you are about to embark upon one of the least satisfying clinical relationships in the world. Because this is a person who, for some reason, must be a Patient. This is a person who has no interest in being well, because they feel so rewarded by being sick. Why? I have no idea. Personally, I find being a Patient absolutely horrifying; I will deny that I need help until I am lying on the floor, and even then I’ll refuse to go to the ER.

Wanting to be a Patient has no relationship to how sick you are. I have one patient with a terrible neuromuscular condition who comes to my office on a ventilator, in a motorized wheelchair that he steers with the one finger he can still move a tiny bit. When I ask him how he’s doing, he has to wait for a puff from the vent to answer, “Great!” (I doubt my aversion to being a Patient would take me quite that far, but I like to think it would.)

It’s very hard not to take these list-writers by the shoulders, shake them, and shout “Get a life!” Maybe I should, because what I do—nod sympathetically, gently suggest exercise and possibly antidepressants, and try my best to avoid the unnecessary testing that will involve random false positive results that will then engender more testing—doesn’t seem to help much.

It seems a miserable kind of life, but then again, how would I know? Perhaps this feels like fun for them. Perhaps what they need is a Patient Theme Park: giant stuffed medical personnel walking around and giving injections, an MRI Tunnel (with Realistic Banging Noises!), a 24-Hour Urine Collection Log Slide, lots and lots of blood draw concession stands, a place to pose for overpriced photos of yourself that make it look like you’re intubated, and people hawking baseball caps emblazoned with Another Sufferer of A Really Rare Disease Whose Doctor Totally Dropped the Ball* and t-shirts that read I MAY LOOK FINE, BUT I KNOW MY BODY.

*Not that this does not ever happen, OF COURSE. I have dropped a few balls myself. However, most bad things will “declare themselves,” as we say; they get worse and become diagnosable. Not-bad things usually go away, and the less you test for, the better off you will be. As I teach my residents, “follow” is not a dirty word.

UPDATE: To all who are saddened/angered by this, let me say a few more things:
  • There are many, many crappy doctors, I know. Believe me, I know. I do not excuse any of them. They’ve messed me up too.
  • Most of us have had frightening, unexplainable symptoms at some time or another. That doesn’t make us Patients.
  • Yes, most people just want someone to listen carefully and, if appropriate, reassure. I love listening to people, watching them, finding out what it is that frightens them about their symptoms. I’m not talking about those people here. I’m not talking about you here.
  • There are a few diseases that have multiple seemingly unrelated symptoms that can be overlooked. I test for these where appropriate. That patient who wrote the list? Had had multiple tests already.
  • These folks can get sick too, and that’s frightening, because they do fall victim to the crying-wolf problem. It’s part of what makes them so tough as patients.
  • There are also, I am quite sure, many diseases that we cannot yet diagnose no matter how many tests we do. We doctors must remain humble about this.
  • And know this: if you’re suffering, I wish I could help you.

Friday, January 09, 2009

And In the Summer, He Wears Toenail Polish

Thanks for your wise counsel and perspectives. I’m feeling much better now (at least, as long as I don’t think too hard about another Tom Cruise in the making). I was also heartened by the result of the recent (and I am sure scientifically very accurate) Glamour poll of men: when offered the choice of being 6'2" with a 3-inch pen is or 5'2" with a 7-inch pen is, 68% chose the latter. I will not discuss my son’s package even on an anonymous blog, but I do not expect the former to be his fate.

I think my freakout was a combination of contemplating kindergarten starting next year and having a visit from Nana, who truly, truly believes that HB would be taller if we fed him more. But when I think about HB’s personality, he could not be more temperamentally impermeable to the taunts of others. For instance, these were his favorite holiday gift:

Yes, those are tights, and he has coveted them for a long time. He’s been making do with tight-ish long johns (always paired with colorful shorts), but has been begging for the real article. I had told him, “I will probably have to buy girls’ tights,” and he said, “Girls’ tights are fine!” Then a pause. “But not pink.” Another pause. “Hearts are okay though.”

This past Monday he wore them to preschool for the first time, and that night I asked him if people had liked them. “Oh yes,” he said. “Jacqueline and Emily said, ‘What are those?’ And I said, ‘tights,’ and they laughed together and said that only girls could wear tights.” Yet he said this in a quite gleeful way. “Did you tell them that wasn’t true?” I asked. “No,” he said as he wandered away. “A teacher did, though.” Then Tuesday he wore the second pair to school. Wednesday, he was upset that I hadn’t done the laundry yet so he could wear them again. Clearly, this is a kid to whom the only opinion of importance is his own. He reminds me a little of those tiny dogs who don’t know how small they are and run up and challenge gigantic Cujos—successfully.

(He says he likes the tights partly because they’re like his father’s cycling tights, but partly because they’re … “tight.” He has not worn regular pants since last year.)

(He does run around shooting things All. The. Time. with anything that could remotely be interpreted as a weapon, so I doubt the tights are an expression of gender confusion. Actually I know they’re not, because this kid is never confused about anything. If he wanted to be a girl, he’d be a girl, and nothing anyone could say would stop him.) (Not that I would try to stop him, FYI.)

(Click here for a picture of the toes.)