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Archive for August, 2011

From an Unlikely Source

Monday, August 8th, 2011

I get lots of good parenting advice.  I get it from my parents and in-laws.  I get it from my friends.  I get it from books.  I get it from fellow bloggers.  And this past weekend I got it from an unlikely source.

While IEP napped GAP and I were watching an episode of Louis CK’s show.  For those who don’t know him, Louis CK is a stand-up comedian who also has a scripted show that portrays aspects of his real life.  It incorporates his role as a single dad, and his attempts to do right by his kids under imperfect circumstances.  As many comedians do, Louis CK has a bit of an edge.  But in one of his softer moments in the episode we were watching, he dispensed some terrific parenting advice.

After halving a mango along the sides of the pit to make a smoothie, he was left with a disc of mango with a good deal of edible fruit still attached to the pit.  The cameras followed him as he peeled it and stabbed a fork in one end, walked the treat into his dining room, and gave it to his older daughter who was doing her homework at the dining room table.  His younger daughter then promptly marched into the kitchen and declared, “I get a mango pop too!”

The dialogue that followed was fascinating.  He told her that he only had one mango.  She said that wasn’t fair, and that if her sister got a mango pop she should get one too.  He countered that she and her sister are two different people and can never be expected to get exactly the same things.  The logic that was burrowed in this heated conversation between a six-year-old and a grown man was ripe for dissection.  Her implied position was that parents are expected to treat their children equally, which he had not done.  His more explicit position was that she can’t go through life expecting everything to be exactly even all the time.  Fascinating though it was, it wasn’t the thing that grabbed me most.

In a moment that was a eloquent as it was surprising, Louis CK said to his daughter, “The only time you look into your neighbor’s bowl is to see if your neighbor has enough.  You never look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if he has more than you do.”  Even now I am stunned at the simple beauty and generous spirit of that statement.

For the moment, IEP is still an only child.  But that won’t be true for long.  He will get older.  His sense of justice will evolve.  And he (and his siblings) will compare themselves to each other as well as other kids they know at every turn.  I would guess that trying to explain to little kids that life isn’t fair is an often-futile exercise.  Trying to teach magnanimity at the same time seems like fool’s errand.  And yet this one simple sentence seems to convey all of it in one tidy little package.

The scene in the show ended with Louis CK abandoning his lesson out of frustration.  For whatever reason he decided it wasn’t worth the fight and gave his younger daughter a consolation prize of some sort.  (There was still only the one mango pop…)  I’m sure that I will have comparable moments as a mother – moments when the wide grassy path of completely equal treatment of my children will carry the day.  But I know there will be times when things don’t shake out with such balance.  When those situations arise I will do well to remember Louis CK’s approach to the “but that’s not fair” argument that will surely pour from my children’s mouths on many occasions.

You only look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if he has enough.  Words to live by for all of us, to be sure.

Vain Motivation

Friday, August 5th, 2011

I understand that as a general rule vanity is a bad thing.  It leads to shallowness and superficiality.  It begs us to care more about appearances than substance, both in ourselves and in other people.  However, I would wager that we all have at least a streak of it.

If you had a cup of coffee with my mother and asked her about me as a little girl I would put money on the likelihood of her telling you the story of my purple jumper.  It was corduroy and bright grape in color.  Apparently I was a big fan of it because when I stood in front of a full length mirror the words that spilled forth from my mouth were an unabashed,  “I so pretty!”  (This was evidently before I got the hang of verbs.)  I cannot tell you how many times that moment has been quoted.  And while I have gotten much more discrete in expressing my vanities over time, I still have the same penchant today for looking in the mirror and being happy with what I see.  I think we all do.

It is a commonly held belief that when we look good we feel good.  I’m no psychologist, but the annecdotal evidence of my own life tells me this premise is true.  When the haircut is new, and the makeup is fresh, and the shoes are just right, and the scales tell us what we want to hear we pretty much feel like we can conquer the world.  Or at least that particular day.

None of this has anything to do with the quality of our character or the state of our general health.  Yet I still say it matters.  And that is why I was a bit dismayed to read Ramona Braganza’s article on The Huffington Post telling me that I shouldn’t aim for a “Hollywood body.”  She writes:

What I can tell you, though, is that the key to successful weight-loss and toning is choosing the right motivation. When [celebrities] train they not only do it for their images and their careers, they do it for a greater motivation: They do it for themselves. [Jessica Alba] trains for her health knowing osteoporosis runs in her family. Halle [Berry] trains to keep her diabetes under control. … The right motivation is health-driven — not image-driven.

I understand Braganza’s premise.  For starters, most of us will never look like Halle Berry or Jessica Alba (or Matt Damon or Ryan Reynolds, if you’re a man).  So making a spcific person’s figure your end goal is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment.  Also, we have to want better bodies for ourselves.  We should want them so that we can chase our kids around, or enjoy puttering around our gardens, or carry our grandkids up a flight of stairs.  Of course we should want those things most.  But I’m here to cast a second vote in favor of old-fashioned vanity.

If looking at a picture of a perfectly toned celebrity helps me get myself to the gym after a long day at work, what’s the harm in that?  If the satisfaction of getting back into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe will help me make healthy choices when I sit down to a meal, why is that a problem?  If I floss my teeth each night, remove every speck of makeup before bed, exfoliate once a week, exercise regularly, monitor my diet, drink eight glasses of water a day, and sleep eight hours a night just for the satisfaction of looking into the mirror and seeing white teeth, glowing skin, toned muscles, and a well-rested face why can’t that be good enough?

I’ve been on a bit of a Kate Middleton kick lately. I find myself inspired by her lean physique and classic sense of style.  I know that I will never be 5′ 10″ tall.  I will never have her thick, lustrous curls cascading down my back.  And  I will never (woe is me) have a British accent.  Nevertheless, why shouldn’t I take that inspiration and use it for my own benefit?  I know my own limitations and have no intention of making myself miserable trying to become something I can never be.  But aspiration is an incredibly powerful motivator, and I take exception to Ms. Braganza’s premise that it shouldn’t be allowed to factor into our own process of making healthy decisions.

Being the best version of myself certainly requires attention to more than just my appearance.  And we should all be wary of the day that what’s within us begins to matter less than what’s on the surface.  But staying healthy is hard work, and if a little vanity helps us over the hump, then I say bring on the full-length mirror!

The Prenatal Trade Deadline

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This is a busy time of year for baseball fans.  The mid-season trade deadline passed on July 31st, although with some finagling teams can continue to execute trades until the end of this month.  It’s unnerving if your team loses a good player (as mine did…).  It’s exciting if your team picks one up.  Either way, at this time of year when the weather is hot and miserable, the season is feeling sluggish, and the postseason lineup is still debatable, the mid-season trade deadline injects a bit of excitement into the game.  And, in a strange episode of life imitating sports, I just made a swap of my own.

Yesterday, at 26 weeks and change into my second pregnancy, I switched to a new OB.

That single sentence represents a complex web of emotions for me.  It represents the frustration and anger I felt with my old OB.  It represents my disappointment at having to reconcile myself to the fact that I was in the wrong hands.  It represents the triumph of knowing that I took control of the situation and made the right decision for me and my baby.  And it represents the warmth and comfort of a friend who talked through my situation with me, recommended her OB without hesitation, and called her doctor’s office on my behalf to help ensure that I could get an appointment.

Being an adult is not always easy.  Actually, more times than not, it’s really difficult – especially if we want to do it well.  Confrontation, both of people and of situations, takes courage that can be hard to muster.  After the deal-breaker appointment with my old OB I sat with a pit in my stomach for five days without telling a soul as I came to grips with the change I needed to make.  I wrestled with myself, working hard to determine if my convictions were rooted in reason or prenatal hormones.  And eventually I knew that I had to do something very hard.

The act of leaving my old OB (whom I’d been with for 10 years and 1.5 pregnancies) was easy.  I didn’t even have to tell him my reasons if I didn’t want to.  All I had to do was sign a piece of paper releasing my records to my new doctor and be on my way.  But I didn’t want to do it that way.

My last appointment in his office was with another doctor in his practice (scheduled as such before I’d made the decision to leave).  Since my new doctor couldn’t get me in right away, I had to keep that last appointment, knowing that when I went in I likely wouldn’t see my own doctor unless it was in passing.  Aware that I might not have the opportunity for a verbal explanation, and fearing that I might dilute my feelings in a face-to-face encounter, I wrote a letter.  I hoped to give it to him myself, but he was out of the office and I had to leave it with his receptionist.

In it I told him the reasons for my transition to a new doctor – namely the fact that specific aspects of his treatment of my pregnancy made me question the quality of the care I was getting.  I told him in detail what he had done to make me doubt him.  And I told him that his actions were entirely preventable.  I told him that while I defended him after IEP’s fraught delivery, I didn’t intend to let something go wrong again just because I didn’t have the nerve to abandon a doctor who wasn’t giving me his full attention.

He hasn’t contacted me, and I’m not surprised.  Frankly, I don’t need him to.  What I need him to do is take my words to heart and consider whether he’s being the kind of doctor his patients deserve.  If my departure can solicit that kind of self-evaluation, then it’s worth it to me.

I’ve only had one appointment with her, but so far I like my new OB.  She had read my transferred records before seeing me.  She listened as I explained the circumstances behind my 26-week switch.  She asked pointed and astute questions about IEP’s delivery, and tried to assess (as best she could without having been there) why it was so problematic, and what we might do to prevent similar problems with my next delivery.  She was warm.  She was kind.  She seemed genuinely concerned about what I’d been through to this point.  And she seemed committed to giving me a better birth experience with my second delivery than I had with my first.

Being an adult is sometimes hard.  Doing it well is frequently hard.  But I’ve found in my life that I have more regrets about skirting confrontation than I do about facing it.  I have a son to raise.  And before too long I’ll have two.  I want them to see me be honest and forthright.  I want them to see me do things that are hard because they are right.  I want them to learn by example what it means not only to be a good adult, but to be a good human being.

No one wants to admit that a doctor they’ve been with for 10 years is asleep at the switch.  But I have a family to take care of.  And in this case, taking care of my son meant doing something hard even before he is born.  I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate it now.  But it represents a trend I hope to continue throughout my kids’ lives; a trend that I hope they will appreciate one day, provided I continue to do it right.

Say It with Casseroles

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Here in the blogging world we like to comfort each other with our words.  We try hard to turn phrases that convey the precise sentiment we’re feeling.  We try to evoke moods and meaning.  Most of the time we at least get close.  But I’m here to say that, as far as I’m concerned, when the going really gets tough nothing expresses care and concern like food.

I’m an old fashioned girl in many respects.  I insist on carrying cotton handkerchiefs, writing on monogrammed stationery, and sending thank you notes any time I’ve been an overnight guest in someone’s house.  GAP indulges and respects my traditional ways, but doesn’t typically share them.  So I tend to go it alone in this regard.  The one exception to this rule is taking food to people in times of need.

Last week the father of a casual friend of ours passed away unexpectedly.  As I read the brief update on Facebook I tried to think of what she must have been feeling; tried to put myself in her shoes; tried to come up with exactly the right words to send her way, offering peace and comfort.  I drew a blank.

Instead I sent her this note:

I wanted to touch base with you and see what your weekend looks like.  I’d like to drop off some food for you and J, but I don’t know when your dad’s funeral is scheduled or what other family plans you might have.  Can you let me know if there’s a time this weekend, or one evening next week when it would be convenient for me to stop by?

From there I went on to express my condolences, although briefly, because I knew that nothing I could say in an e-mail would matter as much as a meal on her doorstep.  Food says all the things that words can’t.  Food takes time.  Delivering it takes time.  Being willing to stay for a visit, or merely drop off the food and leave – depending on the emotional needs of the grieving person – takes nuance and consideration.  All these things combined offer, I believe, a much more compelling expression of sympathy and affection than nearly any string of words.

This whole situation reminded me of a scene in Eat, Pray, Love when Liz Gilbert discusses the differences between her approach to the world and that of her older sister.

“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”

Of course my one meal delivered yesterday afternoon falls far short of a year’s worth of coordinated deliveries, but I suppose the sentiment is the same.

I haven’t written this post to say that I get it right every time.  This approach has its drawbacks too.  I have a cousin out of state whose family is currently fighting one of the most hideous cancer battles I’ve ever seen, and short of one batch of macaroons, I haven’t been able to offer much.  So I certainly fall short more than I’d like.  But nine times out of ten I’ve found that I can be much more helpful with the gift of a meal than anything else I might have to offer.

Thus ends my little PSA.  The next time someone you know is in pain, I hope you’ll write them a little note (ideally on monogrammed stationery).  But what I really hope is that you’ll tape it to the top of a casserole dish, along with baking instructions, because your love and affection could hardly be better expressed.