Fatherless

Rose window example, San Antonio

“Can you tell me anything about your father’s medical history?”

“No. I don’t know him.” He shrugged as if it was no big deal but his voice said otherwise. 

Next patient…. 

“What about your father’s medical history?”

She scrunched up her face. “I think he’s still alive? I don’t know for sure. I never knew him.”

Next patient…

“So your mother is alive and has diabetes. Do you know anything about your father?”

“I’m not in contact with him.” The disdain came across loud and clear in her voice. “I hope he’s dead.”

If fathers ever think they don’t matter, they should sit in my seat and listen to the pain they can generate even when they are not there.

The Scales

Communicating effectively with others is the key to success. I want my son to get comfortable speaking in front of others so this year I encouraged him to enter a speech competition through his school. 

He worked hard on it.

As parents we all suffer from delusions of grandeur regarding our clearly exceptional progeny but between the two of us, I had no expectations that he was going to win. I just wanted him to participate. I was fully prepared to just celebrate the achievement of his participation.

But then? He was given a red ribbon with “Excellent” emblazoned across it in gold letters. 

At first I was overjoyed. In my day, a red ribbon meant that you placed second. Excellent meant that you did pretty damn good.

Did he really do so well? 

During our practice he struggled with speaking too fast and was not making good eye contact. Was it possible that he listened to me? That he took my advice to heart? To be honest, that would have meant more to me than the ribbon itself.

Eventually I was given his judging forms. There were three judges. Apparently in this private school league they only score as Good, Excellent, or Superior and the kids are not ranked into places at all. Color of the ribbon? Yeah. Meaningless.

WTF?

Two out of the three judges gave my son a Good. Only one gave him an Excellent. From the judges’ notes, he fidgeted, stumbled, had to be prompted, and did not make eye contact. They gave him an Excellent ribbon for that. We worked on all of those things but it was his first competition and he is a first grader so I am not surprised or embarrassed or upset with his performance. I am so very proud that he was brave enough to get up there in front of strangers.

But how can I reinforce to my son that hard work pays off when mediocrity gets him an Excellent rating and a red ribbon? How can I make the point that he should listen to his mama’s advice about eye contact? How can I help him work through rejection and loosing and the unfairness of life while in the safety of childhood before he becomes a fragile adult who is devastated by the realization that the world does not in fact hand out participation trophies? And what about how this demoralizes and minimizes the kids who really did perform exceptionally well? They deserve to feel the full glory of their achievements, don’t they?

I just don’t understand. 

Traveling Through Time

Facade of Mission San Jose in San Antonio
I was not an only child, no matter how hard I prayed for God to take away my siblings. We did not have a lot of money so when we went on vacation all of us were crammed together into tight quarters in the family car. We slept on the floor with family/friends or in sleazy motels (think roaches and cigarette burned coverlets) and survived on McDonalds (you could get a sack of five burgers for five dollars). If we were super lucky, we got to take my grandpa’s motor home and ate hot dogs every day unless it was too wet for a fire, in which case we got spaghetti. 

Oh, there was bickering. Lots and lots of bickering…

Stop poking me!

Mo-ooommmmm! She’s looking at me again!

He’s breathing on me! Make him stop breathing!!!!

My father had a government job and my mother was a stay at home mom. As such, when we went on trips over the summer it was for 2-3 weeks at a time. I travelled all over the US learning things. I don’t think there is a place with educational merit in the continental United States that I have not visited except for things in the state of New York which I was told was “the den of sin and iniquity and the home of  those damn Yankees”. I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty something fierce but as far as my parents were concerned NYC in particular was not worth our time. 

I saw the VLA (Very Large Array) radio telescope years before the movie Contact made it famous. I learned about hydrology from the huge scale mock up of the San Francisco Bay Area complete with working wave maker built in the 1950’s by the Corps of Engineers. I learned about the Civil War at Gettysburg and Texas independence at the Alamo and Washington on the Brazos and fossil dating from Dinosaur Valley and the Petrified Forest. 

There were the obvious places like Yellowstone and Glacier and Mesa Verde. The contrasts of natural and man-made, like the arches in Utah and The Arch in St. Louis. And the obscure, like the Helium monument in Amarillo and what is left of Route 66 (no one cared about that back then).

I have so many good memories of those trips. For all of the bad my parents may or may not have done, they did get one thing right… those family trips. 

Well. Except for New York.

So now, as I am weighing an expensive trip to Disney World with my kids vs a cheap road trip with them somewhere more… interesting, I think about my own childhood. I have the means to make my kids’ dreams come true, if I wanted to, but do I really want to? I never did see Disney World but I think I ended up with something even more magical, an understanding and appreciation of where I came from… my own history and the history of others. That is what I want to pass on. 

So maybe Disney World is better left in our dreams and our imagination?

The Longest Ride

Columns on Alamo facade in San Antonio
“MOMMY! He hit me!!!” she wailed.

“No I didn’t!” he hissed back.

They both start hitting each other.

The elevator is full of men and women dressed in suits for some conference or another. Some turn and stare. Some laugh. Some pointedly avoid making eye contact. 

23 floors.

Just when you think they are old enough to get along in public, they prove you wrong. 

Siblings.

Because no one knows how to get under your skin quite like a brother or sister.

Chimera

Small white flower bloom

I read the chromosomal analysis.

Partial trisomy of sex chromosome… mosaicism…

Well. What was that going to mean? I needed an answer before I called this baby’s mom. She had been waiting anxiously throughout her pregnancy after the initial testing had showed a probable genetic anomaly. Mosaics are tricky. Some cells are normal. Some are not. The end result can vary. I searched everywhere at my disposal professionally. 

Nothing. 

So then I turned to Google. 

“Likely no developmental delays. No fertility issues. Phenotypically normal appearance.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was still sending them to genetics but I wanted to be able to reassure the family if I could. It had been a very emotional pregnancy.

And since then I have been thinking about this more and more.

Now that OB/Gyns are offering, and sometimes pushing, these more advanced genetic tests during pregnancy I wonder what it is going to mean for the babies as they grow up. We would have never known there was an issue genetically for this child 10 years ago. We just would not care. They would have grown up as a “normal” child. Now this kiddo will have “sex chromosome anomaly” hanging around their neck for the rest of their life. 

Is more information really better? Just because we can do something… should we?

Maybe not.

A Discourse on Intercourse

Philadelphia building

“Doc, I just want her to have sex with me. I come home after working hard and I want to make love to my wife but she’s not interested.”

I went into my usual discussion about wooing and foreplay and questions about their relationship but I was getting nowhere fast. It always feels incredibly silly for me to be giving anyone marriage advice, as if I have everything figured out, but here I was. Again. 

“Wait. Don’t you work out of town all week?”

He shrugged. “Yeah. So?”

“Look, you and she have four kids under the age of eight and five out of seven days out of any given week she is a single parent also working a full time job. You come home Friday night and want to get busy when she is exhausted and really just wants to finally get some good sleep? That is not math that is going to add up.”

“Can’t you just give her a pill?”

“Uh, no.”

“Then can you tell her she needs to lose some weight? Start exercising?”

I looked over at her, sitting silently in the corner. She was not obese. She sure did tired. She rolled her eyes.

“Tell you what, here is the name and contact info for a good marriage counselor…”

Checking Out

Thorns of a Mesquite tree

“How is your day?” the cashier asked as he scanned the items one by one in slow motion. He looked to be in his late 20’s. The middle aged woman ahead of me wore a dark pants suit and looked to be in a hurry. It appeared there would be pasta for dinner in her house tonight.

My kids would love spaghetti and meatballs…

“Just fine. You?” She murmured politely as she pulled out her wallet.

“Terrible! It has been a terrible day. I woke up this morning to a text from my parents saying they are raising my rent. How can they do that? Raising the rent?!?!!!?! I live in their house! How DARE they?”

He went on to rant for several minutes about how he was just going to have to find somewhere else else to live and it was not fair. What, were they trying to get him to leave?

The woman stood awkwardly waiting on the receipt. He waved it around for emphasis as he told his story, effectively holding her hostage. Eventually she cleared her throat and held out her hand, offering no sympathy. Finally he handed the paper over. She grabbed the plastic sack and practically ran out of the store.

“How’s your day going?” he asked me as the scanner bleeped my few items.

“Just fine,” I said, stopping there.

Shaving cream.

Toothpaste.

Socks.

Awkward silence.

“I guess they do want me to move out, huh?” He looked crestfallen.

“Yeah. Probably.”

Sharpies

Interior dome at the Vatican
What is it about Sharpies, those black permanent marker, that makes them so attractive to kids?!?!!??!

We have dozens and dozens of regular (washable) markers in every shape, size, and color you could imagine…. including black. But what marker do they just *have* to use? 

The dang Sharpies, for crying out loud.

Is it the smell? That pungent chemical smell that you can get high off of? The satisfyingly wide, dark line it draws? The squeak you get when dragging the tip across some surfaces? Maybe it’s the permanence. The danger.

Well, I sure wish I knew.

Soft Scrub with bleach will take it off of countertops. But old hardwood floors? Bathroom tile grout? Matte finish walls? FABRIC? 

It isn’t that they are going around marking up everything simply to mark it up. It’s just that when you are excitedly drawing a race car onto a giant cardboard box from Amazon, things happen…. And apparently, it is far more fun to be drawing such things on boxes camped out in the bathroom while mom is distracted addressing oncall patient concerns.

I probably don’t beat them enough.

Monochromatic is Problematic

Boy looking out from a bridge at a world of black and white.
I hit print on the office visit summary.

“Doc, where do your kids go to school?” she asked casually.

I told her where and then explained that I was looking for a new place as they were outgrowing their current school. She mentioned where her kids attended, saying I should look into it.

“It’s strong academically and it is a multicultural place: Indian, Muslim, white, black…”

Yes.

That is what I want. I want my kids to grow up understanding other cultures, not being afraid of them. 

I come from a long long of white trash, the kind of people the US government once wanted to keep out. My grandmother was a Polish immigrant. The rest of me is comprised of little bits from all over the world. Read American history. Over the years it has been the Chinese, the Irish, Polish, the Italians, Jews, Mexicans, Japanese, Catholics, among others, who have been feared, blocked, and vilified. They were stealing jobs, destroying the language and culture, threatening Protestantism…. it was always something. Who among any of us can say we do not have any immigrant blood running through our veins? 

It is the height of arrogance. 

We are too good for the likes of you. 

This is what the Third Reich said about Jews and gypsies and homosexuals. Keeping them out was not good enough. No. Why stop there? Kill them all.

We are forgetting, aren’t we? The survivors are dying and their voices are lost. 

So here I am. Just one little voice but I am telling you and everyone who will listen that I cannot be forced to fear or hate and as such, I do NOT support the current immigration ban. It does not make me feel safer. It makes me more afraid. 

Afraid for our future.

Show Off

My son finished his piano solo at the Christmas program. Oh Little Town of Bethleham. He played every note perfectly. I was so dang proud of him! I stopped the video I was taking with my smartphone so I could clap like a crazy woman. I *might* have even shouted, “You are so frickin’ awesome!” 

All of the other kids took a bow or curtsied while the audience clapped politely. My son? He paused right there at center stage, a slow grin spreading across his face. And then? 

He dabbed. 

Yes, the boy dabbed. In the middle of the church auditorium in front of hundreds of people, he dabbed. Dabbing, the weird dance move that appears as if you are sneezing at the same time as you are trying to fly off like a super hero.

People laughed. They screamed. They cried. Some whistled. One woman fainted. Strangers were giving him high fives and knuckles as he sauntered back to his seat. Every single boy that followed after him on stage also dabbed at the end of their performance.

And so I was left wondering how on earth did I end up with a cool kid? I was never that cool. I was so square I couldn’t even dream of being that cool. I am still terribly uncool, even in adulthood. Especially in adulthood….