Taking Aim

Battleship communications tower

Let go of the anger and the hurt so it does not destroy you, too.

Big, fat tears welled up in her eyes and spilled over, running down her cheeks. Her voice changed as she tried to talk around the lump in her throat. 

“But mommy, I’m going to miss all of my friends! Jackie and Bennet and Katie and all of my teachers…”

I wrapped my arms around her even tighter.

“I know, bug-a-boo, but we don’t know if your school is going to be there much longer and we need a plan B for just in case.”

“I miss my principal!” she wailed.

Changing schools at the start of a school year is hard. I remembered. But doing it suddenly like this mid year was going to be that much worse.

My son wiped tears from his wet face. “I am really going to miss my teachers.”

“I know, hon.”

You need to show a more charitable response.

They gutted the school in front of the kids. During class the teachers had to take down all of the wall and window decor. Furniture was moved. Locks were changed. The beloved principal was fired without warning while she was on vacation celebrating her wedding anniversary.

They’d promised nothing would change for the first year. It was November. Not even three months in.

Parents showed up and cussed out the new owner’s representatives. I rescheduled some patients and went up there myself to check on my own kids, to check on the teachers. Hollow eyed, people wandered about and spoke in hushed tones, shellshocked. 

Be a good steward, not just of your money, but also of your love. Give freely…

There were rumors teachers were being fired or resigning.

“I’m here for the kids. I will stick it out for the rest of the year no matter what. I can take a beating when it comes to those kids if need be. If THEY will let me…”

Meanwhile, the new owners refused to communicate with the parents or the teachers. The kids were left in a scary limbo. Friends were pulled out of classes and transferred to other schools with no opportunity to say goodbye.

Choose to show love when it is least expected.

I could not sleep. When I did sleep it was fitfully, dreaming nightmares that they were taking the kids and not letting us have them back.

The nightmare has been running for four days now in my brain, and it won’t shut off. I am struggling with what my response should be. The brain does crazy things under stress. How do you express that much anger, hurt, and betrayal in a sane way so that the person who did it can really understand? 

Would they understand?

Let my love for them show through you.

We tried out a new church because I will be transferring my kids to an Episcopal school and I wanted them to understand chapel. 

“Mom, why are they kneeling?”

“Mom, why did they take the book out into the aisle to read from it instead of up on the platform?”

“Why did he touch my forehead?”

It was part of the adventure. New church. New school. I found there was comfort in the symbolism and ritual.

“Come up to the front and get one of these crosses for your family then get one of these envelopes with $5 in it and use that this week to show kindness to someone else in a bold and daring way. Don’t just stick it into the Salvation Army donation bucket. DO something with it.”

And then I knew.

My response… 

Do something unexpected.
“It is not your fault what the new owners did to the kids and the parents and the staff. It was wrong, though, and I cannot keep my kids in this school. I do want you to know that I wish you luck as you try to repair the damage done to the relationships here. It is going to be a long road back.” I handed the new director a small gift bought with that $5 and gave her a hug. 

And then I walked away. 

Forever.

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Music to My Ears

River in the fall

“Your son has a lovely boy soprano voice. I would like for him to sing a solo at the Christmas program….”

“Mom! I get to sing! In front of everyone. She said I have a gift!” He beamed as he scrambled into his seat. 

I reread the note several times over the rest of the evening. My kid is special! Isn’t that what every parent longs to hear? And yet there was part of me that felt sad. Music might very well be the thing that takes him away from me. 

He is so brave, getting up in front of people to put himself on display like that. I would have been paralyzed by the prospect at his age. 

“You know there are boys choirs that travel all over the world,” I offered tentatively, imagining his sweet face singing Ave Maria on television. 

He loves music so much. He is playing piano in second grade at the level I was at when I was in junior high. It comes naturally to him somehow.

“I want to share my gift, Mom, but I don’t want to be away from you and dad.” He started to tear up. “I like being with my family…”

More than anything else, more than hearing that someone thinks my child has the voice of an angel, what I am most proud of is that my kid feels loved enough that he wants to hang with his family. 

He will spread his wings and fly off soon enough but he knows that he will always have a safe place to come back to. Well. At least until he turns 18. That is how I know that all of the difficult choices and sacrifices I have made are worth something. 

My kid feels whole.

That is the best gift of all. 

Thursday Thoughts From the Throne

Bones at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC
At first I told myself I would NOT write a grumbly post-Halloween post. I held off for a good whole week and a few days but here I am on the toilet stewing about it still and so I feel compelled to just spill my guts, literally and figuratively…

In case you were ever unsure, an adult taking their dog trick or treating is NOT cute if the adult is collecting candy, not wearing a costume, and there are no kids around. If you are an adult who does this, stop. Go ahead and dress up your dog or pup or hamster or whatever pet you can coax into a costume without getting your eyes clawed out and feel free to take a walk through the neighborhood. Show off. Just don’t go begging for candy. 

Second, rollling an infant around in a stroller asking for candy is on par with the pet thing. Sure, they are cute. Feel free to walk around and show them off. But trying to roll a stroller up my front steps is dangerous and we both know that bag of snickers and gobstoppers is not for anyone but you. Buy your own damn candy!

Kids with two bags collecting for a mysterious “ill” sibling…. yeah. If your brother really got sick and you want to do something truly noble, share your own candy half and half. THAT demonstrates love and sacrifice and I won’t be left wondering if that sibling really exists or not as you giggle while walking away with your two heavily laden bags.

And lastly, if you are a kid who shows up at the end of the night when my candy is running low, you may very well end up with a sucker or a box of Nerds because that is all I have left. You don’t like that? Don’t throw the candy on the ground and mutter some expletive as you storm off. I just gave out over 2,000 pieces of candy and you not liking the fact that I am out of chocolate reflects poorly on you, not me.

Ah…. Now that feels better!

Thursday Thoughts From the Throne #5

Mission door in San Antonio

I have been pondering this from the toilet for a long time now:

You know what I hate? Items that have what they are emblazoned upon them. Like a pillow that has “pillow” in huge letters written across it. Or a towel that says, “towel”. Granted, before I have enough coffee to clear my sleep deprived brain, towelling off with my pillow after a hot shower is not entirely implausible…. but still. Seems like if I *did* do something like that I would kind of deserve the subsequent damp bedding, you know?

So every morning I blow dry my hair while standing bent over in front of a cream colored canvas “hamper” hamper. I am compelled to roll my eyes at it every morning, although the “hamper” hamper certainly never seems to appear to have its feelings hurt. The effect of eye rolling is dulled somewhat when done upside down. 

I surely do hate the thing and yet principle dictates that I cannot just toss it out until it wears out. I needed something collapsible and lightweight for lugging large amounts of laundry downstairs (I only do laundry once a week because….laundry) and it was the only option at the time at the local Target store. Mind you, the purchase was made before an Amazon Prime membership opened up a whole new fabulous world of shopping variety delivered to my front doorstep at the touch of a screen. Wicker is cute but it is expensive, heavier, and it dang sure does not last long with repeated trips up and down stairs but you know what? Cream colored canvas “hamper” hampers apparently DO last.

For years. 

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Feel free to join in with your own Thoughts From the Throne. Steve Still Standing did, of sorts. Check it out

And since apparently Thursdays are door days all over the blogosphere, I decided to throw in a door for your viewing enjoyment.

Missing Out

IMG_1621
“Why can’t I go?” I held the paper clutched to my chest. I’d earned a trip to a church summer camp for free. My ticket out of my own little hell for two weeks. I needed this. Never had I been allowed to go to camp. Up to that point I had been led to believe it was a money issue.

Please let her say yes, God. Please, please make her say yes. I promise to go to South America to do mission work when I grow up if you will just let me have this one thing!

My mother stood silently, her face turned away. 

“Mom! Why won’t you answer me?”

Her body stiffened. 

Finally, her back still turned to me, she answered:

“Because I never got to do something like that.” 

And then it dawned on me. My mother, my own mother, was jealous of me. Jealous of this opportunity. Was there more to it? Probably. But there was an undercurrent of envy and that was what I latched onto.

I judged her harshly.

How can you be jealous of your own daughter? What kind of person does that make you?

It struck me yesterday, listening to my son and daughter practicing on the piano, that I am envious of them. I am jealous that they get the opportunity to have piano lessons from a real teacher. I am jealous of my son’s spelling and math ability, how easily music comes to him. I am jealous of my daughter’s artistic creativity, her ability to easily make friends, and her extensive glitter pen collection. What I could have done with even a couple of those glitter pens back in the day… 

Even now I don’t understand all of the reason behind my mother’s refusal but I did learn an important lesson. I learned I could survive without church camp. I also learned, and a great big wave of relief washes over me even now when I think about it, that God did not *want* me to serve as a missionary in South America. 

Whew.

So where am I going with all of this?

Envy was a surprising emotion to recognize in myself and I find it embarrassing to admit. It snuck up on me. Since I am not a particularly unique person and I am living on this planet with billions of other not so unique people, I expect this means that other parents also experience jealousy when it comes to their kids. I wonder how many?

We all want to believe that we are somehow better than our parents, though, don’t we? 

And yet we aren’t.

I expect that maybe even more than my kids’ glitter pens and the piano lessons that I am most jealous of their youth…. those unexplored futures, the potential looming ahead of them. I wonder if this is simply because I am an older parent, or if younger parents feel this acutely, too.

Ultimately, I don’t intend for jealousy to motivate my saying “no” to things in the future… except maybe if my daughter wants to go out for cheerleading.

Thursday Thoughts From The Throne #3

Black and white Gerber daisies

The nice thing about your loved one continuing to ignore your advice about going to the ER for their severe right lower quadrant abdominal pain until their appendix eventually ruptures is that in a few weeks when it is clear they will live and the post op pain subsides (you have to be nice to them until then) you will have ammunition to use for the rest of their life… if you are the kind of person who does that sort of thing.

*wink*

Cirrhosis 

Laundry room, Ellis Island hospital

He sat silently weeping in the corner. His hand shook terribly as he reached up to wipe his eyes. Misery was etched across his face.

“You didn’t stay at the treatment center.” He had not even lasted a day. “What happened?”

“My wife cried so hard when she left me there. I couldn’t stand it.”

“What about an outpatient center? A day program?”

“Maybe,” he said, noncommittal.

Each visit, fewer family members came until finally it was just him. 

Alone.

And each visit there was less of him. His body was swollen and bloated, faded. A once strong man, now made a shadow. It was hard to stand by and watch. Not as hard as living it, though, I was sure. How he could continue to do this to himself was a testament to the power of addiction.

“You’re going to die.”

“I know.” Then he smiled. “This is the one way I can kill myself and the family still gets the life insurance payout…”

To The Rock Star…

Radio City Music Hall in New York City

“Don’t tell Dad I broke the plate, OK?”

“But it was an accident, sweetheart.”

“I know he won’t be mad but I still don’t want him to know.”

He cares what you think about him.

“Mom, I miss dad.”

“He’ll be back before you know it.”

“Can we set a place for him at the table even though he isn’t here?”

“Sure!”

Your presence is missed when you are away.

“Mom, I let her have the rest of my Gatorade even though I really wanted it.”

“Because she wanted it, too?”

“Yeah. It was the right thing to do.”

He is paying attention to the example you set.

So… thank you. Thank you for being such a great dad!

A touch of tenderness

This is a wonderful post about the importance of touch in life and death. Please pop over and read it if you have not done so already.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The Cathedral by Rodin.

My son gleefully squeezed harder at the knotted muscle in my shoulder, with a ‘Now I’ve got you’ as I groaned in agony. We have established and agreed that he has a slightly sadistic tendency where I am concerned. It may have something to do with my knack of getting just the right spot on the painful muscles as we got his body working again. Day after painful day, for months on end. So now it is payback… and he appears to enjoy it. He still manages to lay the blame squarely on my aching shoulders, muttering something that sounds vaguely like ‘hereditary’.

He is a little more squeamish than I. His face screws up in horror as my wrist bones crunch back into place when he applies traction. It is, however, nice to regain freedom of movement occasionally. So I make him do it…

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The Cost of Protection

Carved flowers on a Victorian tombstone.
There have been several times over my career that I have had to step in to protect a patient from their family. Each and every time it gets nasty. It takes a certain kind of person to abuse their child or to molest a mentally challenged adult or neglect an elderly person to the point they have maggots in their wounds. Those kinds of people fight and they fight dirty.

I marvel at how some attorneys can look at the facts of a situation and defend it by attacking and terrorizing the physician who had to make the call. It is exhausting and terrifying and can leave you questioning yourself and your judgement throughout the process:

Surprise subpoenas summoning you to appear in court in 60 minutes, requiring you to cancel all of your afternoon clinic appointments at the last minute.

Threats of lawsuits.

Antagonist depositions. 

Lies and accusations made publically.  

Nothing in medical school prepares you for this sort of thing. Physicians have malpractice insurance but this is not malpractice. There is no one to walk you through it unless you hire your own expensive attorney.

Eventually you are vindicated but not before your life is made a holy living hell. It takes a toll on your family and friends as well, as you cannot discuss it with anyone else. The process can drag on for months or even years.

You are isolated and alone.

Fortunately, all of my experiences have been before social media. I have seen, of late, some unbelievably ugly online attacks made on physicians who are only doing their duty and trying to protect the vulnerable. It appalls me how quick the rest of the world is to jump onto the hate the doctor bandwagon when they do not know the whole story. Physicians are not allowed to defend themselves due to privacy laws. The rest of the world will never know the whole story.

What some people seem to forget is that our role as physicians is to assess the situation and make a recommendation. We are required by law to report suspected abuse. We are not omniscient super humans and maybe we don’t always get it right. All we can do is our best. In the end is up to the courts to decide guilt or innocence. 

The price we pay to do so is often very, very high….