Wednesday, April 16, 2014


As we all know, life has a way of coming at us in waves and sometimes all the extraneous things must be let go of, so all effort can be focused on not being swept out to sea.  After all that effort, it feels wonderful to surface again.

Last Friday, I took my anesthesia oral boards. Should I pass, this will have been my last exam and I can finally be board certified. There are people who just sail through the stress and preparation of the exams. I am not one of those people. Every thing surrounding this exam overwhelmed me. It crept into every aspect of my life. I couldn't focus on family activities. I was overwhelmed with small tasks, such as meal preparation and cleaning. I didn't sleep well for weeks.

I didn't use to be like this. I'm not sure if it's due to being a little bit older and not having the mental resilience of a 20 year old. Maybe the last decade of accumuated stress and sleep deprivation has impaired my coping mechanisms. As an undergraduate, I scheduled my MCAT exam on the same day as I was supposed to be moved out of my apartment, which was the weekend after I finished spring semester finals. I don't remember being overwhelmed by this or thinking it was a bad idea. I just did it. Everything got done and there was no crying.

The last few months were completely different. Showering suddenly felt like a huge drain on my energy reserves. I scaled back family meals to be all easy to prepare items, but sometimes even putting frozen burritos in the oven felt overwhelmingly taxing.

One of the questions I was asked frequently when I interviewed for residency was "How do you cope with stress?" I'm not sure the answer I gave then, but it was probably like vague and standard like doing outdoor activities, spending time with my family, or doing yoga. My answer definitely was with how I deal with stress now, which is shutting myself in my closet with a bag of chocolates while having a good cry and avoiding real responsibility.

The oral board exam itself was horrid. I was warned before hand that I would feel terrible when the exam was over and to prepare myself for that. Even with that heads up, how bad I felt afterwards was unexpected. It's one thing to sit in front of a computer, doing multiple choice questions, knowing that the answer is somewhere in on the screen, and if I'm unsure I can always come back and readdress the question. It is quite another thing to sit in front of two ABA physicians, getting grilled about multiple aspects of diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing complication management, and have all my professional shortcomings laid out in front of me, like a murder scene where my education and training is the victim.

I have moments, even now, days after the exam, where a wave of panic engulfs me as I think about the possibility of failing and having to do the whole process again.

But for now, it is done and there is nothing to do except breathe in, breathe out, reenter my daily life, and wait the six weeks for the result.

Add to all this, Hubster is in the most challenging portion of dental school. He frequently is in the lab until late at night, sometimes coming home for dinner and then returning to school and working long past when the children have gone to bed. He's tired and stressed.

In the past, one of us as always had the energy reserves to pick up the slack when the other was overwhelmed. These last few months, with both us pushed all out. The loose ends have just been left loose. The house plants wilted and the floors went uncleaned and there were more fast food meals than anyone wants to admit.

But just as winter is finally leaving and spring is starting to show herself, hopefully this is also a time for me to start fresh, leaving all the stress behind.

It's nice to be back.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When You Don't Have a Village

We've all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child.

Sitting with my girl friends at brunch a few weekends ago, I listened to a few of them that have children talk about the support they have raising their children. Occasionally, they had to create that village on their own with a great deal of monetary expense. Regardless of the method, the fact remained: they had a village.

I don't have a village. I have Hubster and I have me.

I'm not saying that we have done everything on our own. That would be selfish and naive to assume that we have been and are completely self sufficient. My mother watched Bug on a daily basis for a few months after he was born while I continued my college degree. We had a few family members help out with child care in the past. We've had some friends take the boys for the day when we've had school closures. We've had people we could swap baby sitting with. We've had a day cares and after school programs that we trust and have done wonderful jobs providing care for our children while we continued our education and gone to work.

But, because of course there's a but...But I've never felt that there was someone else who was in this with us. Hubster and I have scrambled and agonized and worked for every bit of it.  While we have been able to find people to help out, there isn't anyone invested or dedicated to making sure we are successful. From the very beginning, it has felt that it was Hubster and I together against the world.

Usually it feels that things are day to day. Much the way too many people live paycheck to paycheck, we live alarm clock to alarm clock, only one fever, one cough, one episode of diarrhea, one injury, one snow day, away from chaos. Each bout of illness uncoils our tightly wound plans. Who should stay home, who stayed on last time, how long is the child going to be sick from school? With very limited sick time available, each day required at home amount to significant consequences. If Hubster misses a day, he potentially could have to repeat an entire section of school. If I miss a day, I don't get paid. Even small things, like late starts or early outs for school can cause feelings of panic. Doctor's appointments and recreational outings are planned months in advance.

Each day is a tight rope walk without a safety net.

Recently, I had to use a sick day at work because my children had a snow day at school. Hubster had covered that last two days that required someone at home and it was my turn. Upon returning to work the following day, I was berated for calling in sick due to a lack of child care. I was told that I should have arrangements for emergency back up child care. My only response was to ask the person if they were volunteering.

It took us a long time to find the child care circumstances we have now. My children spent a year and a half on the wait list for their elementary school's before and after school program, and we used a nanny during that time (accruing more debt to afford the nanny.) I started looking at day cares for Duck when I was 10 weeks pregnant; we finally received a spot in a day care when he was 3 months old.  It was hard to find regular child care. Emergency child care?  Seriously?

My nearest family member lives 2000 miles away. All my friends work or have their own busy house holds to take care of. There is no one to just drop things and suddenly be available when the schools close or the baby has a fever. There's just us.

And do you know what?  I don't resent anyone for this. I don't resent my family for living far away. After all, we are the ones who moved to Iowa to continue my training. My parents give me emotional support and words of encouragement. I'm not expecting them to drop what they have going on in their lives to come and help out with my kids. I don't resent my friends who do have their safety net, their village, helping them out on a daily basis.

I've made all these decisions.

There are plenty of hypotheticals that would fix all my problems.  I could have opted at any time to not work. But after 4 years of medical school and 4 years of residency and thousands of dollars in student loans, I'm pretty pot-committed to my career. And I'm finally at a point where my hours are more reasonable, my income more secure, and the options for my family are opening up. Also, if I didn't work, it would have been impossible for Hubster to go back to school and go to dental school. If I had chosen to not work, we would most likely have spent another 10 years in a miserable apartment in a bad neighborhood, scraping by on a paycheck to paycheck existence. Because that's what we were doing before all this.

I could have always opted to not have children. That's one way to deal with child care. However, it is just not possible for me to look at my three boys and regret them in any way.

So what do you do when you don't have a village?

Here's what I do, sans village:

I continue with my tight rope walking routine, carefully balancing multiple schedules, and juggling any balls that get thrown my way.

I continue to worry daily if I am adequately covering all the bases, if my children are getting enough attention, if I'm living a well balanced life, if I'm staying on top of the things, if I'm remembering to come up for air.

And eventually, I start to notice exactly how amazing my children, how they are normal and happy and well adjusted and adored and loved. I start to stop caring what other standards people have set for how my schedule is supposed to run, how my house is supposed to look, how my life is supposed to be. We do what works for us.

It's hard. It's a lot of work. But I just want anyone else out there, anyone else who is villageless, who knows that feeling of you against the world, that it's completely doable.

I'm okay. The kids are okay. And that's what matters.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Monkey, Version 1.14

Dear Monkey,

The last couple months can be summarized by the two statements I hear from you the most.

"You are the meanest mommy ever!"

"Can I be your koala bear forever?"

There are moments of the days that I think we will never be friends again. When the littlest request on my end elicits screams and stomps and tongues being stuck out on your end. Where nothing calms you down and you think that everyone is trying to be mean to you on purpose. The last few months have seen a great deal of time spent in time out and a great deal of privileges revoked. Each time, it breaks my heart. Seeing you upset makes me upset. I know that you aren't trying to give me a hard time, but that you are having a hard time and I need to do a better job to recognize what is so difficult for you and how to respond to your needs better.

But even so, I love you too much to let you scream at me, call me mean and stupid, and slam doors. So, yes my darling, despite how much I just want us to have fun, when you act like that you will find that you are not allowed to play Mario Galaxy or Minecraft or stay up a little after bedtime.

But just as suddenly as these storms come blowing through our home, the sun shines. You usually bounce out of bed, happily declaring that you absolutely woke up on the right side of the bed. You play with Duck and ask to help. You volunteered to help Daddy with the laundry because then "it would be done faster." You grab at my legs and say you are my koala bear. (Even if Bug then corrects you and says that koalas aren't bears.)

You dance wildly, sing at the top of your lungs, ask for snuggles, build time machines out of boxes, wrestle with anyone in reach, get your heart broken over any unkind work, shrug off bruises and scratches.

We have good days and bad moments, but no matter what, the answer is always the same.

The answer is yes. You can be my koala bear forever.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bug, Version 1.14

Dear Bug,
I know I say this every letter, but we continue to venture into uncharted territory with each passing day. As you rapidly approached adolescence, I find that so many of the skills and approaches that served me so well through your infancy and early childhood are no longer relevant, no longer helpful. You are so much more independent, so much more reserved. Tickling and cuddling and time outs are not longer applicable.
Sitting at the dinner table kitty corner from you, I often wonder where this long limbed person came from. There are glimpses of my baby there, but I'm having to look harder each day to see them.
Don't let my nostalgia for your babyhood mislead you in anyway that I'm not still wildly in love with the child you still are. You show such thoughtfulness, such dedication, such independence. I'm so proud of you.
This last year has seen a lot of changes. A year ago, you would still let me hug and kiss you at home, as long as it wasn't in front of people. Now, you shrug of my hugs. A year ago, you enjoyed sharing a room with your brother. Now, you are constantly asking when the basement will be done so you can have your own space. A year ago, we did much of your homework together. Now, you do everything on your own.
There are still many things that are the same. We still read together each night. This might be because I'm so insistent on it, but at least you are still willing to sit by me and listen to Harry Potter or Lemony Snickett. Your dad thinks it's only a matter of time before you refuse this, but I'm going to continue on with my dream that we will be reading books together until you move out. You still love to play games as a family.
You are much more observant that I give you credit for. You ask about stories on the news, you have me watch a video on child slave labor in the chocolate industry, you discussed Nelson Mandela with us at dinner. You want to join in your parents' conversations.
I'm trying very hard to treat you as the growing, maturing person you are. It's not that I want you to remain a baby, or even a small boy (well, a small part of me wants that). It's just that you're growing so very very fast. I look around for my little boy and instead there is you, past shoulder height, hair styled just so. And sometimes I'm not sure what to do.
So I'll start with the things that haven't changed. I'll just keep loving you.
I'll read to you, make you eat your vegetables and clean your room, embarrass you just enough and respect the boundaries you are setting. And every day, I'll keep telling you how proud I am to be your mother.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

14 Months

At 14 months old, Duck...

Is able to get into most cabinets, necessitating more advanced child locks.
Has four teeth
Signs a few words (more, all done, milk, stop) and says a few (daddy, there)
Will not say mama
Sometimes sleeps through the nights. Other times, not so much
Dances anytime he hears music
Sucks his two fingers without any end in sight
Is starting to scribble on things
Does everything he can to keep up with his older brothers
Loves bath time, blueberries, Friday morning story time at the library, and sliding.
Dislikes bananas, getting dressed, and brushing his teeth.

He's still so small, but this yelling, dancing, mess making, ball throwing, absolutely charming boy is not my newborn anymore. We've entered toddlerhood and are holding on for what promises to be a wild ride.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Now I'm a Chess Parent

I’m typing away in a junior high cafeteria. A place I thought I would never be again. Granted, I’m not being teased for my thrift store clothes, my bad self-altered haircut, or my towering 13 year old height. But I’m still a ball of nerves, unable to relax fully as I sit at a corner table next to the window.

I’m here watching my boys compete in a chess tournament.

I’d like to say that this started a few months ago. I glimpsed a flier on the bulletin board at the public library as I was wrestling Duck back into his coat after “Books and Babies.” The flier stated there was a free chess tournament for grades 3-6 the next weekend. This excluded Monkey, but would be perfect for Bug. 

It actually started years before that. The boys playing chess with each other in the early mornings (before they were driving each other crazy). Friendly competitions at the after school program. Family chess games on cold winter evenings stretching back to my childhood.

Chess was just a little background noise in our family. That Saturday afternoon at the public library turned the medieval game into part of the soundtrack. Bug won second place in his age group.

Now, Bug and Monkey are competing. Monkey has earned his own second place trophy.

We’ve learned many things in the last few months.

We’ve learned about USCF memberships and ratings.

We’ve learned arithmetic chess notation, including Ne9# and O-O-O.

We’ve learned en passant.

We’ve learned the names of other chess families.

I’ve learned that I can’t watch my kids compete without feeling like I’m going to throw up.

I’ve learned that I’ll drive my kids hours to compete in state competitions.

I've learned we can spend evenings talking about developing the center and pushing pawns.

I've also learned that chess parents are crazy.

At tournaments, I’ve seen parents berating 10 year olds about failing to protect their rook. I’ve watched grade school children forced to review their move sheets in between matches to find out why they lost. I’ve watched lunch breaks spent practicing instead of eating pizza.  These parents are serious about this. And then there’s me, patting my boys on the shoulder and saying, “Have fun!”

Because that’s what I want this to be: fun. I want them to continue to learn things, but I want those things to be sportsmanship, critical thinking, perseverance, and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. I want them to learn to be good sports when they lose and good sports when they win. I don’t want my boys to brag about their USCF ratings or to expect disappointment from me if they fail to protect their rook.

So I’m going to continue to sit in middle school cafeterias and gyms, watching pawns and knights advancing over black and white squares, watching my children win and lose, and shaking hands of their opponents, regardless of the outcome. Actually, I'll be trying not to watch, because it makes me nervous.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The To Do List for 2014

I love making lists. I make lists for my day, for my week, for shopping, everything. Something thing I like even more that making the list? Crossing things off the list. I'm that person who will add things to the list that I've already done, just so I can cross them off.
That's a little part of the reason I love making New Year's resolutions. I love having my list for the whole year, of things I want to do, things I want to try.  And it's so satisfying to cross things off the list at the end of the year.
I know that making New Years resolutions gets a bad rap. People see it as a focusing on bad habits, or setting yourself up for failure. I don't care, I do it anyways.
I don't even call this list "Resolutions".  I call it "My Yearly To Do List."
And just like every other list, the fun is in making it, but the best part is crossing things off and looking back on how much I accomplished.
2013 was a difficult year and it was easy to get caught up in the daily feeling of how difficult everything felt.
But looking back over my 2013 To Do list, I feel less like the year was very hard and more like the year was very productive. 
Pass my written boards
Finish our basement
I did all those things except the basement. But whatever. The basement is still there and can be worked on this year.  Looking over this list is amazing to me. All those things seems insurmountable when the year started. I had never run at all, let alone a 5K. Now, I've logged over 70 miles of running. Boards seemed daunting, but I not only passed, but did very well. We didn't just take our boys to the ocean, we made amazing memories.
There is no where to go but up.
Now, it's time to get back to the good stuff and make a list.
2014 To Do:
1. Continue to run: my goal is at least three 5Ks and a 10K. I've invested in this and bought a treadmill so that even the frigid winter or the sweltering summer I know is coming won't give me excuses not to run. I don't have to set any PRs, even though I would love to.
2. Pass my oral boards in April. I'm dreading this test much more than the writtens, but I've got a great study partner. If I pass this, I'll be a fully board certified anesthesiologist, so this is kind of necessary.
3. Finish that basement. My parents are talking about visiting this summer and having them sleep on an air mattress in the nursery just doesn't sound pleasant. And Bug could also use his own room.
4. Start decreasing my screen time. This is a big one. I know that I've fallen into the trap of being on my phone or on the computer when I don't need to be and it's taking away from time I could be spending with my children. My goal is that when I get home from work, my phone is going to stay plugged in and unused until the boys go to bed. It's going to be a change. But it's needed.
5. Start a bullet journal. Because speaking of lists, this is like the mother of all lists and how to organize them. You can read all about it here. I'm hoping this helps me have fewer scraps of paper in my purse and coat pockets and be more organized in general.
There are lots of other things I want to do: drink more smoothies, hold a plank for 5 minutes, do push-ups daily, worry less about the mess in my house and more about fun with my kids, explore some more of the towns around where we live, plant herbs, get family pictures taken. And hopefully I will do all those things.

But I'm going to focus on my 5 main goals. And hopefully, when next January rolls around, I'll get to enjoy the wonderful feeling of checking them off.