Finding time to be me and not mom

Motherhood's a long road. Don't forget to get time to yourself!

I just got back from rehearsal with my choir — yes — choir. It’s been just under 5 years — essentially since the birth of little L, that I have not performed in choirs (or a cappella or musical theatre . .. you get the idea). But before then . . well, let’s say that doing choral music was a most essential part of my life, interrupted only by residency and then yes, bearing children. The two great commitments of my life that demanded no interruptions. Honestly, I can’t believe that so many years passed, and so quickly at that.

Lucky for me, I have the unflinching support of both my husband T and our fearless au pair M, who share none of my reservations of my leaving the kids without me on a Tuesday night.  They handle things beautifully and I came home from rehearsal today to find the house quiet and cool, and even though I tried to nuzzle up to the family to sleep I found myself sleepless — but fortuitously also with time to blog, which I always cast as a rarity in my life these days.

New moms – never fear, you will get time once again to be yourself and to explore your interests.  And it comes sooner than you think — for me it came even before Kindergarten, even though little L has commitments every day after school. (Can’t really believe that one already but there it is — art class Monday, swimming Tuesday, Soccer and Violin Wednesday . . with such a busy schedule we tried not to occupy the rest of the week!) Here are my tips for working moms if you can manage them:

  1. Remember your passions. Ever since I gave birth I’ve known little about how to use my free time effectively. Usually if I have a free 30 minutes I fall exhausted onto the couch, don’t turn on the TV because I don’t want to make time there, and then I set to rearranging something– like cleaning our cluttered office or filing papers or emptying dishes or doing laundry.  The next time you have that 30 minute break, take the time to think about what it is that you want to do with your time and prepare yourself mentally, so that the next time you have 30 minutes you can just get started with that interest. Start doing the research, contacting people you want to connect with to pursue these interests, so that you can get started with them sooner.
  2. Get help if you can. I’m not afraid to ask for help — from relatives, from my partner, and am fortunate to have someone helping in the household — which I realize is not always the case. But if you have a passion and want to make time from it, take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the everyday (which never end, spring into summer into fall into winter and back into spring again). Think about what the time commitment will be and what the gains will be, and then see if you can figure out a way to make it work.  There are times when I dread the schedule addition and hope all is well, but suddenly 1 week and then 2 and then more weeks pass that you are pursuing this commitment, and yes it can work!
  3. Make things easier for yourself. I’m an all-from-scratch kind of mama. I know, not always typical for us working moms, but I am starting to realize just how much I make things difficult for myself by demanding fresh cooked meals of myself for every day.  Not only does it make me exhausted, but if it takes a long time to get dinner on the table the kids get hungry bellies and there’s lots more to clean up afterward.  I compromise now by mixing up pre-prepared and home cooked stuff, maybe getting a prepared entree and making my own side veggies or salad from scratch, and as a family we are simplifying ingredients and meals.  Coming up with a plan and a repertoire also can help you all get on track regarding health.  We are all now on a health kick involving sticking to green veggies, brown rice or quinoa, egg white, and lean proteins, and light fruits. Sticking to this diet makes shopping much easier and makes it a lot easier to focus when preparing meals.
  4. Don’t guilt-trip yourself. In fact, enjoy and relish that time that you have alone away from work and as an adult pursuing your interest – or even your dreams. Do not be ashamed that you are taking 2 or (gasp) 3 hours to do something that you and you alone are interested in. Your kids will love you for it and you will be able to stay more sane in other aspects of your life if you can have your me-time.
  5. Be engaged with your family when you are at home. Getting time to myself during the week means that I also have to be fully engaged when I am at home with the family, being mom. This means even more hard work and focus while at home. But staying off the screens and focusing on interactions and the here and now with kids and partners and other family and friends means a lot of fulfillment. And I, a consistent multitasker — truly feel a balance and fullness of life on and off mom-duty.
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Loving the little notes when powered down

So in the last few minutes before I return home to my now powerless, sunlight and childhood energy-driven household, I just want to take a little time and be thankful for everything around me and all the things that losing a few days worth of electricity makes  me think about.

First, the bigger issues – like the fact that we are so fortunate to have loving communities around us and people who care for us and want to help out, and that we can extend this help to other people, that we have our health and well being and ability to help give this to others, that we have a Supreme Court that knows how to make the right decisions that support human rights. . . I could go on.  But this post will continue to be a stream of consciousness.

After a rather short but fierce thunderstorm on Tuesday night, we lost power for now what is going on three days.  Not quite sure why I picked Tuesday night to go grocery shopping, but as I stared out of the local Whole Foods, rapidly trying to pay my bill at the cash registered, I saw the sky go black and the winds pick up and what seemed like a river flow through the parking lot.  I paused for about 15 minutes and waited till the storm passed – to be interrupted by phone calls from my parents ordering me NOT to go outside and notifying me that my dad had picked up little L and they were waiting outside the house for the storm to die down. Of course, I immediately began to hear my son (terrified of the storm) screaming in the background,  that he had to go bathroom and hearing my dad rush him out of the car and into the house.

By the time I got home L was already changed into pajamas (having been drenched through his path outside) and I got to hear my mom tell the tale of her sitting on the porch with my daughter little R. They were prepared to watch the storm from there until they felt the winds picked up, so very quickly they rushed inside and slammed the door!  Exiting my car, I noticed that my already jungle-like mass of tomato plants was completely awry, though it mostly survived, and while we hadn’t lost any trees debris from large trees was everywhere, and I came to find that a large 2-foot thick diamter tree had fallen across one of the roads outside our development.

Major roads have been closed, no power many places, and lots of notifications from the power company that they’re working on the problem – but it was pretty big, I don’t begrudge them the delays! In the midst of it all we pretty much held it together. And I learned a few things – here are 10 of them.

1) It can be fun to live life without electricity: The kids enjoyed reading time and me entertaining them by plunking a Chopin Mazurka on the piano – about 1/10th of the speed and accuracy with which it probably should be played. And they loved playing outside and eating an endless supply of boiled hot dogs and rice this week.

2) Ice works: I stopped at the ice store Wednesday and picked up two enormous bags of ice and used my chemistry class memories to create an ice bath in the coolers, and ended up partially freezing some of my normally refrigerated items, my concoction worked so well.

3) Who needs electric lights when you’ve got the sun and candles? We slept and awoke with the cues of natural light, and opened the windows.  Hot nights since the wind wasn’t blowing but otherwise a very refreshing wakeup!  And I realized I don’t need the lights I turn on in the house nearly as much as I use them.

4) People really care: My parents and our au pair pitched in so much – helping with picking up the kids, washing dishes, dropoffs, etc.  And then yesterday, still lacking power, we were fortunate to have a former teacher of mine who is now a friend lend me a generator so that we could hook up the fridge and freezer again.  Lucky people we are – as a family together, all taking care of one another, and with loving people who helped us.

5) Coconut butter is awesome: For the past 4 days we’ve been breakfasting on bagels toasted over the stove in coconut butter. Totally yummy. You should try it.

6) Very thankful for indoor plumbing. Life would be very difficult without this!  Cold showers I don’t mind at all, so heat is not a necessity, but plumbing . . .

It’s all part of loving the little notes in life – something I remember from my time singing with the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum – my college choir. Our director Jim always told us to “love the little notes” and not let them get lost in the midst of the pieces we were singing.  Good advice which I continue to take, especially when I think of these trials that hopefully will not become more significant matters, nuzzle my kids and reach to grab their heads as I contemplate the joy of the moment, and get up each day to experience the magic again!

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Mrs. Mom takes a vacation

When was the first time that you were away from your kids?  After 4+  years of parenting, I am currently experiencing my first weekend away from both of my two young chickadees, and off at a conference in Chicago!  And guess what . . .  I miss them.

Amazing how it’s so easy to get enraptured in the professional connections that this conference affords and get to meet people doing so much and so actively within the medical community – and with the larger area of children’s health and well being – and then suddenly think of my 1 year old daughter squeaking “I yuv you” over the phone to me early this morning.

Can it be that she is experiencing a few days of life without her mommy, while mommy is pumping and saving up milk for the little one?  Is she enjoying her naps with daddy and bonding time . . just the two of them?  An overwhelming sense of both freedom and envy overtakes me as I think of her cuddly body and her smiles, and how I miss the musical adventurous storytelling of my son. Bet he is negotiating right now with his grandmother about how many books he will get to read for bedtime.

Strangely, this quick weekend jaunt which I thought would be quite lengthy turns out to be almost complete, and soon I will be gathering my son from his own Chicago visit and heading back home. What will the reunion be like?  How different my kids will be after this time of separation, brief though it may seem!

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Return of the [Digital] Native

A few weeks ago I returned from my first conference I have attended as a pediatrician.  What better way to spend this occasion than to attend the 2014 AAP ExperieNCE, the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.  My husband and kids joined me in sunny San Diego for this conference, and I was struck by how happy and engaged I would feel now experiencing pediatrics from a more macroscopic perspective – learning about politics and advocacy while continuing some of my general medical education, and networking with fascinating colleagues all the while. It was a fun experience.

After the conference, I joined T and the kids, who during my work trip were enjoying a seemingly endless parade of amusement park experiences. We decided this should culminate in a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. I had never been there and was excited to go, and I must admit – seeing my son run up to Pluto was pretty darn fun. But the experience gave me one major regret.


We weren’t going to go in – but the wait was barely five minutes and T really wanted to learn about the technology there.  I figured, hey, if we want to see it we might as well do so. Let’s go in and see what it’s all about. What I thought I’d see: a museum exhibit of Marvel comics with a few opportunities to meet characters, so why not.

And at first it was fairly interesting. On the top floor on which you enter, there were – as I expected – some Kinect-style videogames, futuristic driving simulators, and yes, some comic book characters. But after a glimpse into “driving” of the future, we descended down the steps to the first floor, where we saw the Microsoft “Dream Home.”

Stepping into this “Dream home” after being at the AAP Conference reminds me of the time I went to Vegas after visiting the Grand Canyon. Wholly disturbing.

Let me explain.

One of the highlights of the conference is getting a sense of the Academy’s agenda for the coming year – in the past major themes have been immunization, mental health, obesity, safe sleep for example – and become issues for which the Academy advocates in years to come. This year Early Childhood ages 0 to 5 took the stage, as pediatricians from around the country put in their word for advocating for children, investing in children, to make the early childhood experience a strong foundation in terms of health and literacy. Specifically, certain potential detractors from childhood health including toxic stress – or stressful childhood experiences – were addressed as issues that could not only affect the children, but could affect the generation descending from these children as well.

And let’s not forget the stresses that can be experienced by all children today in the form of screens. Pediatricians are very concerned that entertainment in the forms of near-constant access to screens could be very detrimental to our children’s brain development. Traditional learning happens in the 3-dimensional world, and the more we learn from the screen, potentially the fewer connections may be made in the complex recesses of our brain.  While technology is a terrifically cool phenomenon – who among us hasn’t marveled by the ease with which our children can get acquainted with the family iPads and start playing the so-called interactive games – it has its limitations. And while most of us understand that some time getting acquainted with the screen is important to thriving in the digital world, we are highly concerned about children’s attentions getting diverted, language development decreasing, and normal human interactions ever-moving to the sidelines.

So here I am, the average pediatrician, stepping into what Microsoft envisions to be my life in the future. The first thing I noticed? Screens. Screens EVERYWHERE.  5-6 screens as picture frames in each room for artwork which was simply backlit screen images. 10-20 screens holding family photographs and sitting atop a grand piano. An automatic grand piano that had its own screen with someone playing in the background, and the keys moving animatedly to the music. So much for screen-free living spaces.

Nobody was really sitting in these dimly lit caverns of rooms. They were simply these humming, buzzing, automated rooms that seemed to exist by themselves, barely even needing a person to navigate the interior.

Geez, I thought, with this as my competition, how will we as a profession be able to stress to families that screens are to be avoided? If each room has not zero, not one, but many screens, where do we even choose to look? And how do we live our lives so that we can see these screens adequately? In the darkness?  Will our dimly backlit screen-optimized Dream Homes do everything for us, even simulate our presence?

As I adjusted to my new environs, I wandered into a children’s bedroom, enabled with four bedtime stories ready to be told. Okay, I thought, as a cast member prepared to read us Walt Disney’s Peter Pan, one of my favorite Disney-fied tales.  T, the kids, and I sat down to watch as he invited some of the children to sit up near him in the pirate ship that was in the corner of the room.

As the gentleman began his story the entire room illuminated with screens – projections of video on the walls of the home, sparkles of lights of Tinkerbell, animatronic furniture, and loud music.  The disjointed storytelling, though animated and “entertaining,” was impossible to follow with so much going on around us.

While our kind reader encouraged the children to get engaged in the story, it didn’t really work.  I couldn’t help but notice my son gazing at one of the screens on the side of the room. He was mesmerized by a video clip of Peter Pan. The images had nothing to do with the lines of the story that the man was telling, nor did they relate to the music we were hearing. The other children were all focused on different things but there was no harmony here, simply fireworks of entertainment that failed to convey a thing. And the cacophony went on So. Darn. Fast.

It was when the cast member encouraged the kids to come up to shoot Wendy and Peter Pan down with the cannon that we took it as our cue to leave. My son – only 3 years old – wasn’t enjoying the noisiness of that part very much. And let’s face it, I was so overwhelmed by the spectacle that I was ready to leave. I had to get myself out of there before I started hyperventilating. Yes, I’m kind of a lame-o.  But I know myself and that show just wasn’t agreeing with me.

All this is to say – Pediatricians: I encourage you to go and see Innoventions. Learn more about what we’re up against when it comes to screens.  Parents: Do you believe it when they tell you this is the future?  How do you feel about it?


Posted in Pediatrics, Personal Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

My own little Doc McStuffins

Sometimes I can’t believe what a shrewd little thinker I have on my hands. Some things just can’t be taught.

My son, a three year old going on 30, has always been my cautious child. Childproofing was lost on him. What would possess a reasonable human being to put anything other than the occasional piece of chocolate into his mouth, anyway?

My daughter, on the other hand, has quite a varied appetite at the tender age of nine months. A renegade crawler who scours the floor for munchies, she enjoys lettuce, pieces of plastic bag, paper, leaves and stems, dirt, and pretty much any object she can find. No, a nine month old should not eat ANY of those things. She has taught me what a terrible job I have done childproofing.

So it is commonplace for me to bend down to inspect her mouth for unseemly items. The other day, not quite up to the task myself, I asked little L to look into his sister R’s mouth. Not expecting anything to happen, I continued finishing up my household task and was about to check it out myself, when,

“Mommy! I need a puff.”

“What, honey? A puff?”

“Yes, mommy, a puff,” and he held out his hand.

So I retrieved a crunchy oat puff from the pantry and placed it into his fingers. Gingerly he held it near Sister’s face.

“Open your mouth, Sister,” he instructed. “Open wide!” As the puff neared R’s lips I laughed to myself as I saw her jaw drop open with Laki peering expectantly into her mouth.

“Nothing in there, Mommy!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“Go ahead, L,” I said, “you can give her the puff now.”

And he happily fed her. And she happily ate. Methinks I’ve found a cheap and viable alternative to tongue depressors.

Posted in Baby, Humor, Pediatrics, Personal, Safety Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

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