Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Entirely Random and Not Related to Anything

I just walked by a woman in the library who was wearing a Tshirt with "10 ways to make love without having sex" listed on the back. I could only see the top five, which included "Talking openly about your feelings with each other," "Going out for a meal together," and "Just cuddling." (This last seems to me to be the first step on a slippery slope.) What I want to know is, does the shirt get progressively dirtier and more ironic, or is it straight-up? I can only walk past this woman so many times, though: she's starting to think I'm wierd.

The other day I put on one of those Putumayo CDs of African music for kids while I chauffered Urp and Rabbit around town. A song came on I knew: Jambo Bwana, which is a very popular Kenyan song, sung in Swahili. I got all excited and happy, remembering being on holiday on Lamu island and hearing little kids singing, and remembering my Kenyan family teaching it to me. I had a little moment there, as I drove down I-80 with two kids in car seats--I was singing away in Swahili, hearing the palm trees rustle and the music playing at the Mombasa train station, thinking how happy I was I still knew four lines of Swahili and how cool it would be to take my kids to live in Kenya for a few years (maybe the Tall Doctor and I could teach medicine or something). So I was in my own little world, when the Rabbit called out imperiously from the back seat: "You don't sing!" which is a favorite pronouncement of his and means he wants to hear the actual CD music and not Mama or Daddy's rendition thereof. Why do I think this won't be the last time he'll take the wind out of my dorky Mama sails?

Urp went down for his nap, then Rabbit went down for his...then Urp woke up. I messed around trying to get him back to sleep, but he was having none of it. So we went down to the basement for one of his favorite treats: watching the laundry go around in the dryer. ( He is RIVITED by this, takes it very seriously, sits there on a shred of carpet rolling an old paint roller back and forth and contemplating the zen koan that is his daddy's underwear in the dryer. ) After a while I realized there was a lot of grunting going on, so I hightailed it over to him and did my Poop Chant: I hold him up under the arms with his feet on the floor so he can push, and I chant, "You can do it! You can do it! Poop! Poop!" while he busies himself filling his diaper. Today it was very successful. Also redolent.

One day after my last whiny post, I sat down next to a young woman in Walgreen's to wait for prescriptions. They called her name, but when she stood up they told her--"We just wanted to make sure you were here; we're mixing it now." Which of course means they're mixing something pediatric. She threw me a look and I made a sympathetic face, and she said, "At least this is the first time they've gotten sick." "Kids?" says I. "Triplets," she says. "Three months old." Apparently they were 3, 4, and 5 pounds at birth, which is AMAZING for triplets. They're home now, and you could kind of see that she was sitting in Walgreens alone, stunned to be alone, savoring the silence. I withdraw anything I said before about being tired.

I start work tomorrow. I have to wear real clothes for the first time in over three years, and I don't think I have any. I just built up my cool-running-mama wardrobe (summer) and my cool-fleece-wearing-mama supplies (winter). I do not have any confidence-inspiring-professional-woman clothes left from my previous life, certainly none I wouldn't mind getting blood on. (My new job requires street clothes for providers , though I was hoping for scrubs). I may have to borrow my husband's clothes.

Wish me luck...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rationing My Valuable Anxiety

This is a photo of a naked baby, which is one of the most cheerful-making things I know. It's supposed to offset all the whining about my feeling as tired as I did when I was pregnant.

Though really, I'm not pregnant. I KNOW I'm not, and don't ask me how I know, because you don't want the details and I don't want to give them to you. I mean, my mother reads this site. But trust me, that's not the issue here. The issue is, I am so tired my bones ache. I have bags under my eyes like Grandma Moses jonesing for her next heroin fix. My feet hurt when they hit the floor, as though they're telling me, "Get back in bed, idiot!" And my nouns have all fled in terror, rendering my speech unintelligeable.

Now, I know that none of you understand what I'm talking about. I know none of you have had kids, or experience fatigue of any sort, and I know none of you ever slog through your days and weeks balanced on a knife-edge of sleeplessness. I know none of you ever work when you have colds or coughs, or get out of bed when you don't want to, or suck it up and do the job when really what you need is a week in the tub with People magazine. I do understand that I'm the only one who suffers from these problems, and so I'll be nice and keep discussion of them to a minimum.

I'll just say this: it's interesting learning which pains are healthy growing pains and which are "Hey the jig is just about up" pains. For instance, for all my kvetching, I do like that I can do, oh, about three hundred more things in a day than I ever thought possible. I like that when I was wrangling both boys alone at a party the other day a friend said, "Does it make you feel frantic, trying to juggle both?" and I could honestly say, "It makes me tired, but I'm not as freaked as I was six months ago." I like that I know how tired I can get and still function, and that the knowledge has taken away a lot of the fear I used to have about "I can't do this forever!" (I mean, I've done it for a while now, and I'm not dead, so that's got to be good, right?) I like that I have to conserve energy, which means rationing my valuable anxiety: I try to use it for actual situations I have to deal with rather than squandering it recklessly on the anticipated, conditional scenarios I am so good at creating ceaselessly in my head. And I like that sometimes I can feel my endurance getting stronger and my patience stretching and growing. "Patient endurance attaineth to all things," says Julian of Norwich. So dare we hope said endurance pertaineth to, like, kindergarten?

Sometimes we do dare hope. MOST of the time, of course, my patience snaps like bad elastic, because did I tell you how tired I am? (It's the fatigue which is fault, you understand, not my personality or self-control or anything). Other times, the whole thing just plain sucks. Which I want to point out to the infuriating people who say, 'Oh, just wait until they're teenagers," or some other such bullshit: "Um, hey," I want to say, "remember when you had to carry the twenty-pounder on your hip all day long, and nurse him all night, while finding his brother's trains under the couch and reading his brother stories and wiping everyone's nose? Remember the incessant-ness when you couldn't complete a thought, let alone unload the dishwasher? OK, think back,and QUIT BEING SO CONDESCENDING!" (I'm digressing here because all the parents have just dropped their kids off for freshman year, so we've gotten a lot of, 'Oh, enjoy it, it goes so fast" comments when we've been out with the kids the last week or two.)

There's a story at Harvard that a freshman once turned in a paper a day late with the excuse that he wasn't feeling very well. "My friend," the professor is reported to have said, "it would behoove you to remember that most of the great deeds of history were performed by people who weren't feeling very well at the time." I chant this to myself daily. I know you're not tired, of course, but just in case you ever DO get a little fatigued, you could chant it too.

Oh, and in other breaking news....I finished draft FOUR of my novel on Friday!! Now I can be anxious about whether my agent will like it, be able to sell it, etc, etc, etc. I think to distract myself I'll go look at the naked baby, who is currently plastering himself with teething biscuit and watching Baby Einstein (yes, I put my infant in front of videos so I can blog: if you ever feel guilty about your mothering, just come on over here, where we divert children with television, feed them cookies [sometimes for dinner] and spend entire days lounging around in our pajamas).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Watch Out, Cedar Rapids: Nurse Ratchett Is On The Case

So I'm starting work next week, and it's been three years since I last worked in an ER, and I confess I've begun spending more and more time frantically casting around for information, any information, which I can dredge up from the long-dormant area of my cerebral cortex marked "Medicine," and use to convince myself that I am not actually as big a clinical loser as I feel like I am. And while useful information--like the pediatric dosing for Bactrim, or the criteria for diagnosing Left Anterior Hemiblock on EKG, or the indications for using vertical mattress sutures as opposed to interrupted ones--isn't exactly leaping to the fore, random bits of useless knowledge ARE. A sample:

1. In the Worst Smell contest, vomited old blood narrowly beats out gangrene.
2. When asking someone how much he drinks, it's advisable to aim high, i.e. "So, Mr. Hardscrabble, do you drink, what, about a liter of vodka a day? Case of beer?" Then he can say, "Hell, no; just a twelve-pack." He saves his dignity and you get your accurate information and everybody's happy.
3. Never say anything like "Uh-0h," as this tends to discourage the patient. Once I was stitching away on the sole of someone's anesthetized foot and I dropped the needle and murmured, "Oops," more in annoyance than alarm. But the patient sat bolt upright and said, "What's 'Oops'? Don't say 'Oops'!" You know, in retrospect, I see her point.
4. When you've been hauling ass through a swamp of patients for what feels like years, and you finally get to a patient who's been waiting four hours and is mad as hell, and the first words out of her mouth are, "I don't know what's wrong with you people: you need twice as many doctors around here," your best bet is to say, in your heartiest tones, "I couldn't agree more."
5. If the patient comes in for "pain," has an uncheckable problem like a headache or stomach pain, and asks for a particular narcotic by name and dose, it's a poor prognostic sign.
6. Go under chaos, not over it. If you pretend to be calm, you might fool even yourself. And at least you might bring the deibel level in your immediate vicinity down a notch or two, which is convenient if you're trying to listen to lung sounds while all hell is breaking loose around you.
7. Speaking of which...if your pediatric patient is screaming, you can get a good listen to the inspiratory lung sounds when he pauses to take a breath.
8. When in doubt, the answer is always AIRWAY.
9. Kids compensate, compensate, compensate...then crash. Be suspicious. When I worked on the Rez, one family brought in a six month old because "she's constipated." "When was the last time she pooped?" I said, as they unwrapped her from many layers of concealing blankets. "Oh, today," the mother said, "but she's grunting all the time, so we figure she's trying to poop." She removed the last blanket. The child was blue around the mouth and her chest was sucking in and out so hard that her neck and stomach muscles were getting in on the act. She was grunting because she was struggling to breathe. I hollered for the pediatrician, who intubated her and called Lifeflight. She survived.
10. What's routine to you, the provider, can be scary as hell to the patient. To you, it's a basic, unexciting admission for Rule-Out Sepsis in a two month old. For Mom, her baby's on the receiving end of an IV and a lumbar puncture and is BEING ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL. Be kind. (I've been on both sides of this scenario, and I can't imagine how frightening it would have been if I hadn't known what was going on.)

So do you think that's enough to keep Cedar Rapids healthy? Stay tuned....

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Biology Department Puts One Over On Us

School is in full swing, and the streets are crowded with women undergrads in uniform. Actually, it's not a uniform so much as a dress code. You have to color your hair in alternting honey and butterscotch stripes, and put it up in a loose, high ponytail with strands hanging artfully around your face (Goes without saying that you have long hair--no such thing as a Tri-Delt with a buzz cut). You must have a tan, which you will maintain year-round at one of the numerous tanning parlors in town. You must wear foundation, eyeliner, blush, mascara, and lipstick every time you leave the house, and your toenails must be manicured (but chartreuse is right out). You must have a very small, shiny purse with a handle which JUST fits over your shoulder, so the purse dangles in your armpit. You must have a cell phone attached to your ear, or failing that, an iPod mini.

As for clothes, think Juicy Couture meets Iowa Sweats: cropped T-shirts, bosomy halter tops, and those remarkable jersey culottes with the roll-down waistbands which make all but the very boniest butts look like two racoons fighting in a bag. Alternately you may opt for Iowa ass-shorts or, on cooler days, low-rise jeans with flying buttresses of hip fat above the waist band. Your footwear of choice is always flip-flops, except on Friday and Saturday nights.

As I ponder the dress code, a thought strikes me. Yes, I may definitely be onto something. I think all the female undergraduates here ARE ACTUALLY THE SAME PERSON. Yes! They're cloning in the Biology Department! How typically, modestly Iowan of them to keep quiet about the fact that they've cloned an entire student body!

Somebody call Stockholm.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Today I rejoice to post that two hundred very pale students in short-shorts and tank tops (girls) or basketball shorts and no shirts (boys) are carrying brass and goose-stepping in formation on the field across from our house, pausing only to pump their fists in the air and yell, in unison, "HEY LET"S GO HAWKS!". It's August, and The Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band is back in town.

Now, some of you may not live in towns with Big Ten football schools in their midsts, and so you may be forgiven for thinking, "Colleges have marching bands? Isn't that something high school students do badly in Texas?" Oh no, as I discovered two years ago when we bought our house and the realtor said, "Now, you do know that the band practices down the street." "No problem," said I, envisioning once a week practices with some dorky boys from East Side High honking trombones. I thought nothing of it. Until the last week of August, when I found out the realtor had meant the BAND. THE band. THE BAND.

Two weeks into August, a tractor-trailer painted bright gold and bearing the legend, "HOW "BOUT THEM HAWKEYES!" parked itself on the field. Huh? I said, and the Tall Doctor, who after all is from Iowa, explained that Herky the Hawk is the school mascot. Three weeks into August, a scaffolding appeared, bearing a platform from which one could conduct large numbers of people, and a small machine chugged around the field laying white lines which essentially turned it into a football field. One week before school started, our street filled up with cars at eight in the morning, and young people holding instrument cases of varying sizes streamed past our house on foot. Clearly something was up.

The Tall Doctor and I ventured out to investigate later in the morning, holding the Rabbit, who at that point was seven months old. All the cars had the special black-and-gold school license plates, with slogans like "TWLR GRL," "HWKIMB," and "TUBAGOD." And out on the field, literally hundreds (OK, two hundred) of kids were walking in a huge square with everything from piccolos to tubas held high. (The Drum Corps, which sort of lives in a world of its own, practices separately down by the river most of the time, and thank God for that.) A youngish guy was standing atop the scaffolding banging on a rhythm block and calling out instructions, and everyone was working really hard in the steaming, nasty, white-skied August Iowa sun, and turning bright pink.

The Tall Doctor and I were impressed. They sure took their tryouts seriously, we told each other. A young woman was twirling a baton on the edge of the field, and when she stopped to drink water we asked her, "So, are these band try-outs?" She drew herself up, glared at us, and said proudly, "THIS is the Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band at practice!" "Oh," said we, suitably chastened. "Wow."

Wow indeed. After that one week in August during which they practice every day, they simmer down to daily practices from 3:30-5:30, plus all the games. After two seasons of close observation I can report they walk through formations on Tuesday, practice the music standing still on Wednesday, and put it all together Thursday. Fridays they're often heading for away games, and Monday they have off. Also after two seasons, I can sing you the Iowa Fight Song any way you want: I know the piccolo part, the tuba part, the drum solo, and everything in between. So does the Rabbit, and I expect the Urplet to follow suit this fall.

As you can see, we're working on the If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em principle here. I feel we owe them that, because they delight me so--I mean, you haven't lived until you've seen twenty overweight girls in Iowa ass-shorts stepping sideways in formation and playing the piccolo part for a Les Miz medley (and you really haven't lived until you've heard "On My Own" played by a 200 piece brass band). Plus, they have those big ol' white fur hats with chin straps to go with their uniforms. And they amuse my kids by the hour (the Rabbit likes to march alongside the tuba section), and they're just so earnest, and they're all stunningly nerdy, which I can completely relate to, being a stunningly earnest nerd myself. So I've come to love THE BAND.

Which is kind of a surprise, because I'm a) from New England, b) went to a high school which didn't have a football team (who needs football when you have soccer and field hockey?), let alone a band, c) went to a college with an adjective for a mascot and a football team better ignored and so d) find school spirit unfathomable. Ditto the un-ironic wearing of band uniforms, the waving of fists in the air, and the painting of trailers with "HOW 'BOUT THEM HAWKEYES" slogans. It's so Midwestern, you know? And the band is so LOUD! (And yes, I know half this post is in capital letters, but that's because it's about A BIG TEN BRASS BAND!) And things like Drum Corps and Twirling aren't really music and sports, you know? But the thing is, these kids work so hard, for so long, and they get really good during the season (the Fight Song was sounding TIGHT by the end of November last year, let me tell you), and they're out there every day and I imagine they're not shooting heroin on their downtime, because how would you lug a Sousaphone around with blown veins in your arms, and so I really can't find it in my snobby, snotty little ironized East Coast heart to patronize them (much). They're out there working hard in the sun and getting good at something. OK, it's the Iowa Fight Song, but still...I should do so much. So HEY LET'S GO HAWKS! Or at least, good luck to you, THE IOWA HAWKEYE MARCHING BAND. We'll be dancing on the sidelines of the practice field, my two year old and I.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tout Est Propre aux Etats Unis

Let me explain how a nurse from Mali came to be vacuuming my floor...

This is Indielou, a nurse who runs a clinic and vaccination program in and around Keyes, in Mali (I wrote about him in a recent post). The Tall Doctor and I and a few other folks, namely a dentist and his wife who are also from Iowa, work with him through The Luke Society (I know, I'm repeating myself, but just in case you're joining our program in progress...), which supports indigenous medical professionals who've set up programs in their own countries but who need money, equipment, encouragement, and prayer from medical professionals in the US. Last week, Indielou came to the States for a Luke Society conference, and then spent a few days with us, and on the second morning of his visit, the Rabbit brought a large plastic dump truck full of dirt into the house, and proceeded to dump it. When the Tall Doctor got out vacuum, Indielou wanted to try it, so here he is, providing support and encouragement to medical professionals in the US by cleaning up their kid's mess.

He cleaned up a lot of things while he was here, actually, chief among them my French. I'd been really apprehensive about his visit for a number of reasons (I'm embarrassed by our relative affluence; I'm not a good put-meals-on-the-table hostess; I wasn't sure what kind of schedule would be fun/interesting for him; I felt like basically we should sell everything we have and just give him money for his clinic; etc etc) but it was my French, or lack thereof, which had me worried the most. Indielou doesn't speak English, and the Tall Doctor, the Tall Dentist, and the Dentist's Wife don't speak French. So I was going to have to do the translating, and my French, learned twenty years ago in school and never put to use in any Francophone country, was definitely not going to be up to the job. I had visions of my stammering, getting tongue tied, and giving up, and the visit devolving into forty-eight hours of silence.

But Indielou was way too gracious and well-spoken and kind to let that happen. He arrived with the Tall Dentist and the Dentist's Wife, who had driven him from the conference, at about ten on Sunday night, and it was immediately apparent that 1) he was exhausted and just needed to go to bed, and 2) it would All Be OK. He figured out within a few sentences that I was a bust with compound-complex sentences and abstract discussions, and so he just kept his beautiful, liquid, Parisian-accented French simple for me, and waded patiently through my syntactical swamps until he knew what I was trying to say. And then he told me how to say it properly, which anyone who's ever learned a language will know is absolutely invaluable. And we did fine.

There's so much to write about, of course, that this will take a few posts, but suffice it to say that when I asked him what he liked about the States, he said the way everything's clean and squared away, no trash and dust in the streets, and when I asked him what he found strange or off-putting about the States, he said the fractured families and the waste (cars, electricity, etc). He played with the kids (he has two the same age, whom he's seen ten days out of the last nine months because his clinic is eight hours over impossible roads from where his family lives, and he has no car), patiently trailed through the university hospital for a tour (the Rabbit riding happily on his shoulders), ate something advertising itself as Jamaican Jerk Chicken and pronounced it good when we took him out to lunch, selected footwear for his family when we took him to the mall (Tevas for everyone), got a little wigged at the mall itself (I mean, can you imagine? It's grotesque, the contrast with Mali), picked out some medical equipment at a local supplier, and ate supper with a toddler bouncing on and off his lap at our house. Throughout, he was a light, warm, kind presence in our house, and where if I had been he I would have wanted to rant about the contrast with Mali (where to start, really?), he just answered my questions patiently and let the elephant of his circumstances vs. ours sit unbothered in the drawing room.

As is always the case, I learned and received more from him than he possibly could have from us. (I know, this is a very earnest post, but jeez, try being flip about this stuff). I peppered him with incredibly poorly phrased and ungrammatical questions and learned about all kinds of things. The main problems they have at his clinic, which are common to all tropical areas: malaria, respiratory infections, measles outbreaks, eye infections, and skin infections. Some AIDS, but not a lot. The general opinion in Mali about the war in Iraq: it's the oil, stupid. The number of firsts for him on this trip: first view of the ocean (in Accra), first view of the States, first view of a traffic jam (Chicago's always good for one of those). And a million other things. I kept waiting for awkwardness, for silences and strangeness, but he was so relaxed that we were all relaxed, and hey, my French was so bad that it was always good for a laugh.

And the Rabbit thought it was great. Well, after we'd established that it was OK for me to speak French; the first time I did, he said, "Hey! You don't say that!" But by the time Indielou left the Rabbit had mastered, "Merci," "Bonjour," and "banco," (dirt, as in the kind you load into your dump truck and pour on the rug). The Urplet didn't like it so much--he's teething like a hound, and very sensitive to atmosphere in general, so my rushing around like a madwoman trying to hostess, cook, child-wrangle, translate, and keep the whole show on the road didn't go over so well with him. But he did like sitting in the crook of Indielou's arm, so that was all right.

By the time everybody left I was crazy tired, as was the Tall Doctor (and, I suspect, Indielou), but that was OK, you know? The whole time was impossible, but that was OK too. More than OK. I guess you could even say it was blessed.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

My Mahayana Is A Bust

I keep thinking this parent gig would be easier if I could figure out the correct ratios for the following:

1. Structure: Chaos.

I would like to say I maintain a household with regular mealtimes, naptimes, and playtimes, where the kids feel confident and secure day to day because they know what comes next, yet where innovation ("I'm building a wonderful Christmas Tree," said the Rabbit the other day, piling his books up high) is also welcome, and where there's always room for one more (place at the table, story before bed, etc). And on some days, we sort of manage it. More often, I veer wildly from rigid to random: the poor Urplet thinks his car seat is his crib, for instance, because he's always being forced to take his morning nap there while the Rabbit pursues enriching toddler activities (i.e. wreaking havoc at the library train table). And I hate to admit how often the Rabbit eats his dinner while sitting on the sofa watching his daily ration of Thomas the Tank Engine video. I have yet to figure out when to say, "No, really, I am making a command Mama decision here and this is how things are going to work in this household right now," and when to say, "Oh, the hell with it; let's sit on the kitchen floor and eat ice cream out of the carton." Because sometimes I really do have to make things happen and structure the world around here, and sometimes I really need to, as Anne Lamott says, take my sticky fingers off the controls.

The only thing I've figured out so far is that no one approach works for every occasion. The better part of valor (or wisdom?) seems to be to have underlying goals/principles/ideals, and then try to be smart, or at least observant, about applying them in any given situation on any given day, factoring in amounts of sleep needed/gotten by the members of the household, the saturation point of a size-three Huggies diaper, the heat index in Iowa City, and a zillion other variables. Sounds good, right? Ha--but can I DO it? (Answer: not usually, no.)

2. Confrontation: Distraction (aka Surveiller or Punir?)

Now that the Rabbit is, as he will tell you proudly, "Twoandahalf," we run into situations where rules need to be made/kept/enforced, etc. OK, I'm willing to weather a few tantrums to ensure I don't raise a societal scourge, but I also want to recognize the times when it would be best, or at least kinder, to go with mercy over justice. In other words, I wish I knew better when to push the point and when to finesse it.

Case in point: the ubiquitous train table at the library. The Rabbit, recently returned from three weeks with the grandparents, is having a hell of a time adjusting to playmates again, and is grabbing trains left and right. I spend a few minutes first gently coaching, then intermittently remonstrating, but it's not working. A time out ensues when he grabs one train too many. But then when he returns from his exile the problem just seems to be getting worse. Finally I catch on and remove him and say, "Do you think you can share, or do we need to go somewhere else?" and the kid, who is smarter than I, says,
"Somewhere else." So we go over to the toy farmyard, and everything's fine. (No problems sharing plastic horses, apparently).

Thing is, I'm always doing these long dances like the one I just described. Not if he's pushing someone or about to do a swan dive off the porch or sit on his brother, obviously--no, I'm talking about those indefinite, ill-defined situations when I don't want to crush him flat with discipline if what he needs is redirection or hugging, but I also don't want to be one of those dumb, fluttery, ineffective mothers who engenders a parent-ignoring kid either. Hmm.

3. Selfless: Selfish.

I of course want to be all that my children want and need--patient, kind, strong, smart, funny, interested, detached in the right ways, involved, you name it. I (also of course) am NOT all they need and want. Here's where it gets down to the nitty-gritty: how much do I stretch myself, push myself, give of myself more than I ever thought possible, and how much do I acknowledge my human faults and weaknesses and make allowance for them?

Harvard didn't prepare me for this question. Yale didn't either. A course entitled What To Do When You Fail At A Crucial Juncture never showed up on any course schedule I ever got. And yet that's the course I need. Because since the Rabbit's birth I have discovered, to my grief, that if I persist in pretending to be perfect (THAT course was always on offer in the Ivy League), I will be a bad mother. If I do not make allowances for my own impatience, anger, selfishness and pride, then they will be sure to rise up and flatten me and my child. If I pretend these ripe and juicy vices aren't there in me, they flourish. Pride says, "Sure you can do it all," and so I pooh-pooh my husband's suggestion that we get more babysitting--and then proceed to go out of my mind with stay-at-home craziness, and take it out on the kids until it becomes obvious that I really, really, really need to go back to work part-time, even if that means I won't live up to my self-imposed ideal of motherhood.

If, on the other hand, I can summon all my humility (there's, like, one ounce somewhere in the back of my spiritual fridge, kind of green and moldy but with a still-valid Use By date) and say to my husband, "Help. I need help. You have to take the baby before I COMPLETELY LOSE IT with his crying," things will go better for all concerned. If I can admit my anger, I can at least plan to turn away before I ignite with wrath, even if I can't manage the soft answer. If I can acknowledge my truly epochal irritability, I can at least apologize for it.

None of these are perfect solutions; hell, they're not really solutions at all. They're just preliminary sketchings for the map of my faults which my children are helping me draw up. Because those faults are land mines, and I don't want my kids stepping on them if I can help it. So part of loving my children involves my mapping my inner landscape in a way I never have had to before, and let me tell you, the terrain is pretty scary. Even if I can give them a map, I still worry a lot about their safe passage.

So every week I go take the course entitled We Acknowledge and Bewail Our Manifold Sins and Wickednesses, and that helps. I couldn't do it without that, actually. I keep waiting for the week when Almighty God, He will say, "What? You did WHAT? I'm shocked! This comes as a complete surprise! Out with you! If I'd known that, I never would have lifted a finger for you!" But so far that hasn't happened, and He remains strangely unsurprised by all I have to report.

Thank God.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ek, Do, Tin, Char, Panch

Today on the playground a nice-looking daddy with two boys approximately my boys' ages (i.e two and a half and tiny), was pushing his older boy in the swings. Rabbit demanded to be pushed on the neighboring swing, so I duly pushed, while rolling Urplet's stroller back and forth with my foot to keep his mild murmurs of protest from escalating to demonic yells. Then Rabbit noticed that the nice-looking daddy was holding his little boy's swing and counting, then letting it go, so of course HE wanted the same thing. But the daddy was counting in Japanese (I only know this because my mother speaks Japanese and I can count to five in said language. And say "ekemasho," which I think translates loosely as "Get your asses in the car NOW, kids!") The following interchange ensued.

Rabbit: Mama count.
Me: OK. One, two--
Rabbit: No Mama, you count FUNNY!
Me: OK. Um...ichi, ni, san--
Rabbit: No, you count funny different!
Me: Oh. Aaah (racking my brains)...ek, do, tin, char, panch..
Rabbit: (satisfied shriek)
Nice-looking Daddy: What language is that?
Me: Hindi. Kind of.
Rabbit: Mama count AGAIN!
Me: I'm not sure I--
Nice-looking Daddy: Uno, dos, tres, quatro.
Me: Thanks. I was running out of languages.
Rabbit: AGAIN!

Between us, the nice-looking Daddy and I managed to count to five in German, French, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Japanese, and American Sign Language. And everybody was happy: the kids because they got lots of gobbledegook with their swinging, and the parents because we got to show off for each other. I left the playground feeling like a total loser, though: I mean, do I really have to play Can You Top This on the swingset, for crying out loud? Am I that desperate?

Apparently the answer is yes. Oy, vey (ooh, look, another language!)

To Drive or Not to Drive?

So, we're scheduled to go to a conference on international medical missions tomorrow, and what we can't decide is, do we all cram in the car and drive the twelve hours roundtrip, or does The Tall Doctor take Rabbit and go and leave me with Urplet, or what? Help, people: I need advice.

Here's the plot. We work with a project called
  • The Luke Society
  • , which partners medical professionals in the States with medical professionals in developing countries who've set up their own projects and now need help with funding, equipment, support, etc. The Tall Doctor and I and a few other doctors and dentists work with a nurse in Mali who began with a motorcycle and a gas-powered refrigerator full of vaccines and now runs several clinics in towns all over the sub-Saharan region around Keyes (get out a map: I didn't know where it was either!). He's done amazing work with community health--training volunteers, setting up education programs, getting vaccines out to far-flung villages--and now he's coming to a Luke Society conference in the States, along with all the other country directors from programs in Ecuador, Belize, Ghana, Uganda, India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Mexico, and a dozen other countries. There wil be two days of sessions, then Mali Nurse will come back to Iowa City with The Tall Doctor and stay with us for a day or two. Then he'll go back to Chicago and fly home to Mali, and we'll return to business as usual here, with our well-stocked pharmacies and air-conditioned clinics.

    So the issue isn't seeing Mali Nurse; he's coming to our house. The issue is, do I drag me and the infant to the conference? I mean, I want to be the kind of family who does these things: unintimidated by logistics, with children who are acclimated to hotels and car trips and meeting new people. (We are actually hoping to remove ourselves and said children overseas for a few years, when they're old enough to, like, speak). And I want to go to the conference because I love overseas medicine (I decided to become a nurse while jolting through rural Kenya in the back of a Land Rover, on my way to a child health monitoring session with a primary care project) and I miss it and I would like to meet these people who are doing amazing things in difficult places. But...but...but...we just got back from a big trip, and I'm exhausted, and I will be going to Mali later this year anyway if plans hold, and the baby is very young, and we have a lot of time to be the Family Von Trapp of medicine later when the kids get older. So would it be OK, I ask myself, to stay home and prepare for Mali Nurse's coming? Or is that giving in? I'm always going on about how I miss being elsewhere--so shouldn't I just say the hell with it and go? Or can I take a deep breath and be where I am in my life right now and stay home alone with fat infant for forty-eight hours and relaaaaax? I mean, The Tall Doctor will be holding up our end (or holding it down?) at the conference no matter what I do...but that's the thing: what do I do?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

    And in a different drift, the Rabbit announced this morning, "The Urplet's a baby. Babies are pink. I'm a big boy. Big boys are brown." Which, given that the Rabbit has the coloring of a pirate from the Spanish Main, and the Urplet is so fair he could be from Lapland, was a pretty accurate observation.

    Monday, August 01, 2005

    We're Baaack (to be said in spooky tones, as in "They're Here..")

    No more mornings at the beach, or afternoons in the lagoon; no more gallops across well-loved meadows or elephants in the park (more on that later). Nope: no more of that. We're back in Iowa.

    But oh, we did have fun! First, there were the grandparents, whom the Rabbit loves intensely (as do I). They toted hefty babies, read Winnie the Pooh, took the Urplet for long walks in his stroller, and sang all the songs to the Urplet and the Rabbit which I loved as a child. My father also invented a method for getting the Urplet to sleep, which involved tucking him (Urplet) in the crook of his (Grandfather's) arm and jiggling him until he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. And even more than the practical, logistical stuff, the grandparents and grandchildren's mutual joy in each other's company reminded me, the often-down-in-the-dumps, always-down-in-the-trenches, perspectiveless mother that I am, that love is logarithmic and increases more than three-fold with three generations.

    Then there were the surprises, like the day the Rabbit and I rode the commuter rail to a nearby town and my mother and the Urplet met us there with the car and we all walked down to the wharf and got ice cream and looked at what my mother described to the Rabbit as "an old-fashioned ship" (i.e. one of those beautiful tall ships from--when? I don't even know). And the day I found the perfect big white canvas beach hat with periwinkle trim, which made me feel like a movie star and cost almost nothing. And the day we went down to the park and found a circus there, complete with elephants.

    This was good. There's a spit of land jutting out into the town harbor, and it houses a playground and a bandstand and several docks and a big field where carnivals and baseball games can happen. So one evening we went down and lo and behold, there was a proper, red and gold striped big top circus tent, and a proper little circus! The Rabbit and I bought our (obscenely overpriced) tickets, and I bought him a (equally overpriced) inflatable plastic snake on which he'd set his heart, and we crowded onto the stands with every other kid and parent in town and watched a lady in a gold lame leotard, gold tail coat, gold top hat, and knee-high gold boots act as ringmaster for a most excellent and hilarious and flea-bitten circus, complete with Jack Russells jumping through hoops and riding miniature ponies, clowns, a trampoline act during which the clown's pants fell down in mid-somersault (on purpose, a trick which must have been hard as hell to do), and a juggler who kept dropping things (not on purpose). The Rabbit took it all in wide-eyed, then decided he'd had enough , rather to my relief, and we wandered out to watch the elephants.

    They were rocking and dozing, as elephants do, in a pen outside their trailer (which was to your average horse trailer as a Mack Truck is to a Mini Cooper), and the Rabbit ate the strawberry slush he'd conned me into buying him and stood and watched, solemnly. He was so small and they were so big, and they were all so unself-conscious, eating their respective snacks (grass, hay, slush) and enjoying their evenings. It was all quite serious, as befits any encounter with elephants. In Nepal I met some elephants at a national park, and when I asked their names, their mahouts told us that after the elephants were born their birthdates were sent to an astrologer in Kathmandu who cast their horoscopes and scried their names. So these are not animals to be trifled with. And to my pleasure, the Rabbit didn't trifle, but regarded and pondered. At length the elephants swayed around to the front of the trailer and at the suggestion of their handlers, lay down and received hose baths. (To cool off? To get cleaned up for the second act of the show? I never found out). I was entranced, but the Rabbit was pretty much over it by then and wandered off to the playground a few yards away. So I sat on a bench on the playground and watched the sun set over the harbor, the toddlers, and the elephants. I was tired, I was a little apprehensive about getting the Rabbit back home without a fight, I was worried that the Urplet was wearing my mother out, but those were just the usual worry-tracks which always play in my mind. Mostly, I just enjoyed the fact that today I'd come to the park expecting a usual play session, and instead had found a circus, ladies in spangled tights, and two blase elephants forking up hay and getting sluiced down with high-pressure hoses. It's good when that happens, you know?