Monday, November 28, 2005

What To Do When It Gets Cold (And You're A Cat)

We have two cats, Yellow and Varmint. They are vain, so they've chosen to have me reveal their real names here, and they are, respectively, a fat orange shorthaired neutered male, and a slim fluffy pink neutered male. They are also no help at all around the house. Often, when I'm juggling two very heavy boys, a saucepan of burning macaroni, a telephone, and a buzzing oven timer, I look up to find them lying on the couch in comfortable heaps, radiating contentment with their lots. They also like to stretch out luxuriously on the down comforter in the morning just as I'm girding my loins to heave myself out of bed. Or they curl up before the fire and blink at me as I zip up my coat to go to work on a rainy November afternoon. In other words, they're useless and they flaunt it.

In fact, Varmint has reached new lows of uselessness today. It got cold and windy and misty and rainy this afternoon, and yet Varmint was begging to go out. So I let him out. Then I turned around and found him looking in the window with his ears flattened and his eyes slitted. So I let him in. Then I turned around and found him staring back out the window, woefully. So I let him out. Then I turned around and found him looking in the window with his ears flattened and his eyes slitted. So I let him in. Then I turned around...and this went on for five more rounds. I counted. By the end, the Rabbit was letting him in and out by himself. And no, I'm not entirely sure to whom that last pronoun refers.

Now I ask you, can you honestly say you had more fun that that this evening?

Friday, November 25, 2005

My Hero

I was going to write about how incredible it feels to have a peaceful, quiet house for three days, a house in which nothing moves unless I move it, a house where I can (and do) sit for hours just listening to the sound of no sound and feeling myself relax until I'm calm as a pond. I was going to go on and on about how much I missed the boys for the first fifteen minutes, and how after that I sat on the sofa in the sunshine for an hour, and how after THAT I kind of came to and realized that I felt like myself for the first time in over a year. (Apparently I am still in here somewhere--I'm just in hiding, waiting for the storm of young children to pass.) I was going to write about how doing one thing at a time and taking as much time as I want over it feels delicious, and about how sleeping for many uninterrupted hours leaves my brain feeling like it's floating on a cloud, soft and cushy and with a great view. You know the way you feel when you stand up after a good massage and discover that there's more SPACE in your body? Well, after three days alone, there's more space in my mind. And that's even with ten hours in the ER every day.

So yeah, I was going to write about all that, and about how I'm going to have to play some mind games to get ready for the moment tomorrow when the boys come in the door, and about how my goodness, husbands take up a lot of mental as well as physical space. But instead, I want to write about The Rabbit and his finest hour.

On the phone today, The Tall Doctor told me that yesterday the whole Tall Dutch Tribe had gone to church, and afterwards, in the chaos of coffee hour, he'd noticed a troop of small boys playing in the corner. Rabbit wandered over, and presently The Tall Doctor saw that a bigger kid, maybe five or six, was making a game out of roughousing the smaller kids so they fell over. The little kids didn't like it, and one little boy with Down's Syndrome was clearly very unhappy. Before TTD could get over there to do something, he saw the big kid approach the kid with Down's again. Only this time, The Rabbit interposed himself, drew himself up to his full height (which left him staring at the big kid's bellybutton) and commanded, "YOU BE GENTLE!" The kid backed off, bemused, but tried it again a few minutes later, whereupon The Rabbit did it again. And again. Every time the big kid tried to bully someone, Rabbit put himself between the kid, who was twice his size, and the victim and ordered the bully to "BE GENTLE!". And finally the bully tired of it and went away.

I cannot think of anything my son could have done which would make me prouder.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Things For Which I Will Be Giving Thanks

One of the fun little extras about working in health care is that people persist in getting sick on Christmas and New Year's and Thanksgiving and on beautiful Saturdays in July, and someone must be at the hospital to welcome them. So when you sign up to be a doctor or a nurse or an aide or a radiology tech or anything else even tangentially health-care-related, you sign up for a lifetime of holiday call.

Sometimes it's just a flat bummer, and there's no way around it. I remember one year when I left the Winter Ball in Boston--a real ball, with gowns and dancing and lots of champagne; you can imagine how often I participate in activities like THAT--at 3 am, slept two hours, then arose at 0-dark-hundred and drove two hours out Route 2 to my job in western Mass, and spent eight hours seeing patients. What I hadn't counted on was that if you're drunk at 3 am, you're not as sober as you'd like to be by the time you start doing Pap smears at 8 am. Be advised: facing a crotch when you're hung over/still buzzed is a very, very bad idea.

At other times, the whole working-holidays thing is just part of the job. You sit around the ER or do your rounds in the hospital, and almost no one's there, and the nurses and families have all brought cookies, and there's a general air of relaxation and license, and it's almost fun. You're working, but not, and it's OK, and you know that you're putting in your time so that when the next holiday comes along, someone else will be doing the dirty work and you'll be home with the turkey, or the presents, or the barbeque, or whatever.

And on yet other occasions, working the holidays is just grand. Consider: in two days my husband will be packing both boys and innumerable belongings of the diaper/stroller/Pack'n Play variety into the Subaru and heading SIX HOURS down the highway to his parents house, where he and the boys will mix with about forty other Tall Dutch People for three days. The house will be full to bursting, most of the occupants will be under twelve, the food will go heavy on the macaroni and mashed potatoes from a box, and the two bathrooms will expire from overuse at some point in the proceedings. And me? I will be working ten hour shifts in the ER on Thursday and Friday. I will see my patients, come home, go to bed, and SLEEP ALL FUCKING NIGHT! ALL NIGHT! TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW! FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NINE MONTHS! I haven't had more than four hours consecutive sleep in over a year, what with the final pregnancy stages and Urplet's non-sleeping sleep habits, and I am more than willing to spend Thanksgiving assessing gallbladder attacks in the ER if it wins me three days of peace and two nights of sleep.

And I'm not even mentioning missing the Blond Child Rally that is Thanksgiving with the Tall Dutch People. I'm just going to let you infer whatever you want about that. Though now that I think of it, perhaps I should have milked this post for sympathy--oh poor me, working Thanksgiving without my family, blah blah blah. Thing is, I think you'd see through it in, oh, twenty seconds. So I just relapsed into honesty and sloth in equal proportions, which pretty much sums up my blogging anyway!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

One More Time

I bought a new wedding ring the other day. It's my third. The first one came off when I was swimming in a cold lake last summer; the second I had made and when it didn't come out right I ended up having the jeweler buy it back for the gold. So now we're on number three. The Tall Doctor maintains the whole situation is a Freudian farce, to which I say that if it is, at least I get points for fighting back--I mean, my subconscious may be conspiring to rid me of rings, but every time it succeeds, my conciousness promptly goes out and buys another. So there.

The current ring is a nice, plain, gold band. I thought about funky (chunky designs; quotations in cool writing), I thought about artsy (hammered gold from the Sundance Catalog), I thought about stones (a sprinkle of tiny diamonds set in the band). But in the end, I decided that a wedding ring, like wedding vows, is best kept simple, because all the variations have been done, most of them are bad, and besides, who knows whether flights of fancy or elaboration will be relevent in one, or ten, or forty years. So I have me a gold band, fairly wide because I have long thin fingers which look like Gollum's if I wear delicate rings.

Et pendent que j'y pense, while I was wandering through online jewelry catalogues, I found a wedding ring made to look like The One Ring from the Lord of the Rings, threatening runic inscriptions and all. Now THAT'S a romantic set of sentiments.

The Mordor-esque ring did make me think, though, that buying a wedding ring when you've been married five years is rather different from buying one before the wedding. More threatening. You're not back in Hobbiton, kicking back and smoking pipeweed and contemplating the journey now. No, after five years you're pretty much out of the Shire. You're wet, you're tired, you're muddy, Gandolf hasn't shown up at The Prancing Pony like he said he would, and it all feels a little chaotic. Maybe you've even run into a few Black Riders.

OK, enough with the metaphor (and they heave a sigh of relief). But still, when you go to buy that wedding ring before you're married, romance is in the air; the relationship is shiny, pretty to look at, built for two. After five years, the relationship is a little dented, maybe has a few scratches along the sides, has lost its shine. Also, that relationshiip built for two? Now not so much. Add two boys, two cats who used to be boys until we cut their balls off, a house, extended families--the relationship is bulgier now. Or, to look at it another way, more commodious.

In any case, going to buy a ring when you know all this strikes me as being just as foolhardy and brave as buying one the first time around, though for different reasons. The first time, you're committing to the unknown and you're full of excitement and trepidation. And hope; don't forget the hope. The second time around, you're recommitting to the KNOWN, which is infinitely more terrifying, and you're full of dogged perseverence and exhaustion and preoccupation. All of which are so very romantic. But you buy that puppy anyway, and when you put it on you remember that this whole deal started with a relationship built for two, and that the two founding members are in fact still around, and maybe you should pay attention to that. And to the hope: don't forget the hope.

I had a lovely ending all thought out here, but it's kind of dissipated because The Tall Doctor, who is lying beside me in bed, has been reading me long selections from Shelby Foote's history of the Civil War at rather frequent intervals, and I keep losing my train of thought. So my lyrical post on wedding rings and the mutations of romance over time has been somewhat de-lyricized by my actual spouse's actual presence.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Wanderlust Cedar Rapids Can't Satisfy

Every time I go to work, I pass a billboard for Northwest Airlines with the legend "No Wanderlust We Can't Satisfy," above a picture of a jet taking off. Right after the billboard, I take the hospital exit and drive a few blocks through an uninspired industrial area of Cedar Rapids until I get to "my" hospital. I park in one of the spots that are reserved for ER staff (unless it's a bazaar day; sometimes the hospital has Christmas sales and such, featuring hand-knitted Santa toilet-paper covers, and then no space is sacred; a parking spot could say, "Reserved for Life-Saving Urgent Trauma Surgery," and the little old ladies would still park their Plymouths there)--any way, I park in the lot, then walk under the huge neon "Trauma Service" sign and past the ambulance bay and punch in my code for the back entrance. Then I change into so-flattering Smurf scrubs and go to ground in the ER for ten hours. And Northwest Airlines has, once again, completely failed to satisfy my wanderlust.

That damn billboard makes me think, though. Usually I just imagine where I'd like to be wandering to--the Seychelles, Burma, the Great Barrier Reef, Lamu, Kerala, and the Alps are currently favorite daydreams--but last Friday I started to think about wanderlust I'd chosen not to satisfy even when I had the chance. Specifically, I thought about the time shortly after my marriage when Doctors Without Borders called me for a nine month stint in Afghanistan--and I said no.

Was I crazy? Sometimes I think so. Let's be honest--I almost always think so. How could I turn them down? After all, I was married but my husband wasn't freaked by the idea of my leaving for a while, and I had a job on the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD which wasn't exactly career-enhancing, and I didn't have any children, and I'd always, always wanted to work for MSF. But when it came down to it that time, I did some hard thinking. I had spent the last eighteen months mostly overseas--a year of it working in a hospital across the street from the Ganges in Bihar, which is India's poorest state, and the rest of the time traveling in Nepal and (go figure) Europe. And what I'd learned was that if I wanted to actually do some of that proverbial and elusive good that everyone, me included, always talks about on application essays (and check out for a hilarious riff on THAT), I needed to understand the culture I was working in. I needed to go somewhere and stay a while, long enough to get a clue about what worked and what didn't in a particular country/situation/hospital. MSF would have given me a chance to do some of that, for sure, but the thing was, I was already working a job where I was needed, on the Rez. Leaving my patients there to go adventuring abroad would have been more about excitement for me than actually practicing effective medicine, because I had put in years already on the Rez, I knew how it worked, and I had a large patient population who were "mine," for whom I was primarily responsible. Chucking that didn't feel right to me. I'd already left them to go to India, and they'd been waiting for me when I got back, and I just didn't see taking off a year later so I could have a cooler resume and better stories to tell. So I stayed a while longer, and probably accomplished very little, but at least I got good at working the system to get people referrals for gastric bypass surgery.

On the other hand--what was I thinking?

Anyway, so now I'm in Cedar Rapids, driving past my billboard every week, and every time I see it I have to work through that decision all over again. And I think I did the right thing at the time, but I'll tell you what: next time MSF calls, say in twenty years after the kids are through college? I'm going, and I'm taking Northwest Airlines.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Grandmother Used To Be This Tall

My mother's been here for a week and it's been wonderful. She arrived wearing her usual uniform of Talbot's raincoat, tidy tweed skirt, crisp blouse, and pumps, putting all the other grandmothers on the flight to shame (no painted kittens on sweatsuits for her!), and since then she's been a tireless, light, warm presence in the house. Urplet and the Rabbit worship her, my husband loves her, I adore her, and also she does all the laundry while she's here. And cooks. And polishes all the silver--seriously! I find her in the kitchen with rubber gloves on her tiny little paws, and she says, "Oh, I was just touching up those bowls of yours," and the amazing thing is, there is no implied criticism whatsoever in her voice or actions. Seriously! She's just doing those extra things she knows I'll never get done, and she knows I'm grateful, and I know she knows, and I think I'll stop there because this sentence is getting quickly out of control. We've had a lot of fun with her here, though. We all got into stitches the other day because we were marking off everyone's height on the wall--first her, then me, then David, so the boys aren't the only one's being measured. My mother is four feet eleven and three-quarter inches, so we marked that off and wrote, "Grandmother is this tall." Then it struck us that she used to be five-one, so we marked that off too, and wrote, 'Grandmother used to be this tall." Which tickled us until we couldn't stop laughing; I don't even know why. But there it is, on the kitchen wall for as long as we have the house.

She leaves tomorrow and I'll miss her. Having her here makes me realize how adrift many of us who live far from our families really are once we have children--or even before we do. In my twenties I was more than happy to be adrift, and still, I'd like to drift a little more than I do. But I'd also like to feel that net of family around me; I'd like not to get up every morning and kiss The Tall Doctor goodbye and face the day with my two boys essentially alone. I'd like my family to be part of my family (oh yes, THAT makes sense, but you know what I mean). I'd like my boys to have a warm and gracious presence near them often, who is wiser and more detached than I am. I'd like to be part of a mosaic, instead of scrabbling around trying to create one from scratch myself for my kids.

Ah, well. I suppose isolation is the seamy underbelly of mobility. Still, sometimes I think about moving closer to home, to the mountains and the sea, to the towns and traditions I understand in my bones. I think about having the family I was given and the family I've helped make all in one place. I know it wouldn't be easy, but I think in some ways it would feel more natural than subjecting my children to unadulterated me out here on the prairie where even the landscape is alien.

In other words, I think what I'm saying is, I want my mommy!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Full Moon Rising

It's only Friday morning and already things are getting wild around here. People are mooning; people are being mooned. Given the signs, we anticipate a classic college weekend, complete with neighborhood-disturbing yelling, heavy-duty milk drinking, and 2 am. partying.

I am getting too old for this.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Metaphor Makes Itself

On one of my recent expeditions to Chez Target (it rhymes if you pronounce it right: try it and see. Now, wasn't that fun and satisfying?), I found something I'd always vaguely wanted but hadn't been sure existed: namely, a white dry-erase board with a calendar layout and colored markers. (This, of course, is why Target makes so much fucking money: they carry all the things which we have always vaguely wanted but have't bothered to buy until Hey! There they are! Right in front of us in Aisle Seven, and so what if we're really here to buy underpants! Now that we see the shower curtain liner we've been needing, and that cute light switch decorator for the baby's room, and that Isaac Mizrahi suede skirt for 14. 95, we realize how much we've needed them, so while we're here and all....!) Anyway, now I have my board, and have carried out my long-held dream of having a family datebook on the kitchen wall, with all the activities for various family members neatly logged in different colors. We have orange for The Tall Doctor, magenta for me, and teal for the boys. We used to have chartreuse for Urp and yellow for Rabbit, but they ran dry. The picture shows you why.

And as for the titular metaphor? Well, they were always admonishing us to Show Not Tell, so...yeah. You get the (no pun intended) picture.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Thank you, Olivia

No, the cat's name is not Olivia. This is Varmint, and he's pissed because the people have made him wear a hat. And really, can you blame him?

This post is not about Varmint, though. It's about yesterday when Rabbit and I were walking through the park near our house just as dusk was drawing in. The streetlights had come on, and windows glowed in the houses around the park, and oak leaves rustled invitingly underfoot. Rabbit swished along in the leaves, kicking, and I stood waiting for him. He looked up. "I love you anyway," he said.

It's a line from "Olivia," that book about the pig. Her mother tells her, "You wear me out, but I love you anyway," and Olivia replies, "I love you anyway too." Which has always made me laugh, but from now on will make me want to cheer, because it will remind me of the first time my son spontaneously told me he loves me. I of course told him I loved him anyway too (about eighty-five times because it was so delicious to hear him say it back) and now it's become our good-night ritual, our little call-and-response as I leave the room.

All of which is cute and blogworthy, but which begs the question: how come my son, at three, has access to truths which I have yet to master at thirty-eight? How did he know that the only way we can love each other is in spite of ourselves; in spite of our faults, our failures, our frailties, and our fuck-ups? How did he know that true love means loving someone not BECAUSE you know her but DESPITE your knowing her? How did he know, at three, that love and forgiveness must be forever and inextricably intertwined in every family? How did he know that the particular way he's chosen to tell me he loves me is exactly the way I need to hear it? And who knew that when you mix a children's book, a child, and an autumn evening, you end up with Grace?

And why am I surprised?