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Sunday, August 25, 2013
Me: “We need to get rid of some books.”
Husband: “We need to get more bookshelves.”
I am in the midst of moving again, as I have done every few years for my whole life. My husband and I try to keep our earthly possessions to a minimum, but we both have a weakness for books. We’re the children of librarians, after all. We do give some books away, but not as fast as we acquire them. We run a great risk of expanding our collection every time we set foot in a thrift store or second-hand book shop.
Though not strictly adherent to a Dewey Decimal system, our books are organized thematically. I was reminded of this as we packed up the Tolkien shelf, the Jeeves and Wooster, the foreign language section (I will get back to you one day, Marcel Pagnol!), the travel guides to places we have been or desire to go, the shelf of gifts from various mentors. The Bible, Qu’ran, Bhagavad Gita, and other religious texts coexist peacefully. They complement the science shelves, dominated by medicine and natural history, the writings of Oliver Sacks and Steven Jay Gould, and books about quantum theory, cartography, astronomy, marine biology, anthropology.
I check out and return a lot of fiction to my local library but enjoy having copies of the ones I love most. These include my favorite novels (Heart of Darkness, the Name of the Rose), favorite sci-fi/fantasy (you expand my mind, Gene Wolfe), favorite short stories (by Jorge Luis Borges and Flannery O’Connor), and favorite collections of poetry (Donald Hall’s Without: the only book to ever make me tear up in a café). We have a growing set of children’s books as well, some that Baby is ready for now and many more that we look forward to sharing with him when he is able to read books without eating them.
We have moved into our new place now and most of the books are still in boxes. It would be sensible to leave them in storage, since we will probably move again in a year, when we finally make the transition from renting to owning a house of our own. But if we leave the shelves empty, we will be even more tempted by the library book sale.
In the meantime, we will work on instilling Baby with a proper love of books. He enjoys turning the pages of his board books and gnawing on their corners. On weekend days, he seems to like me reading to him from whatever I happen to be reading for myself. He learned all about probability and prediction from The Signal and the Noise and was fascinated by Bhutan in Beyond the Earth and the Sky. He is currently being inspired by Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. At night, he will get his own books for bedtime. His current favorite is Brown Bear. He is growing up in a technological age, but hopefully will also develop an appreciation for physical books and the creativity they represent.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
I had my first Mother’s Day last month and now it is my husband’s turn for his first Father’s Day. He gets to spend it at home with Baby while Mama works all weekend at the hospital. That is basically the story of our lives. I am one of many mothers-in-medicine whose careers are made possibly by supportive partners.
This arrangement is challenging at times, but allows Baby to develop a special bond with his Daddy. It is wonderful to see Baby’s entire face light up (often with a happy dance as well) when he sees Daddy come into a room or hears his voice.
Although Daddy can’t breastfeed, he has other unique duties. He is the designated solid food giver. Baby sits on Daddy’s lap for dinner time and puts his little hand on Daddy’s big hand to help guide the spoon. With his superior upper body strength, he is the baby flyer and bouncer and car-seat carrier. He is better at lowering sleepy Baby smoothly into his bed.
I love watching them play together and laugh at each other. I am looking forward to seeing how their relationship evolves as Baby grows up. I am so thankful that he will have such a strong male role model: a man who is kind, smart, generous, patient, respectful. A man who can coordinate biomedical research and manage multi-site databases, and also cook, bake, and do laundry. I wish every little boy – and little girl – could have a daddy like that.
I am also thankful for the father figures in my life, who will be grandfather figures to him. I am blessed with an amazing dad of my own, a fabulous godfather, and a number of male mentors. Each one can play a special role in Baby’s life too.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Baby doesn’t know it’s Mother’s Day. He is only 5 months old with no concept of calendars. He has started saying “mama”, but he seems to use it to mean “hungry”. He knows I am his primary food source. He has a lot to learn, but he has also done a surprising amount of teaching. In particular, he has given me a new understanding of the quality of time.
I have always been a big fan of to-do lists. I enjoy crossing off as many boxes as possible in the course of a day. This was especially essential during residency, when I had an overwhelming number of tasks to prioritize and accomplish. I have been busy since then too (though less frantically so). Each day has its set of check boxes related to following up on patient care, planning teaching sessions, analyzing data, writing papers. My sense of fulfillment has been tied to these lists. When I make progress through them, I feel efficient, well-organized, and productive.
During maternity leave, my entire pattern changed. There were no finite tasks. You can’t put “feed the baby” or “change the diaper” on a to-do list. You will just have to do it again in 2 hours. It is a constant cycle of repeating chores. I had very little evidence of what I was accomplishing and plenty of what I was not (failing to clean the house, for instance).
I had to change my perspective. It was not about what I was doing but how I was being. Baby was well taken care of, we were together, and that was enough.
Now that I am back at work, I have it both ways. During work time, I cross things off the to-do list. During family time, I do my best to put the list away and focus on the constants of feeding, playing, and cuddling. Instead of finite tasks, there is a long-term investment in Baby’s health, happiness, and well-being.
Baby may not understand exactly what “mama” means yet, but he is getting to know me. He turns toward my voice and tracks me as I walk around a room. Best of all, he grins ecstatically when he sees me again after any absence (even as short as waking up from a nap). This bond is more fulfilling than any check box on a list of accomplishments.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Sunday, April 28, 2013
I have let this blog lapse a bit over the past few months. If you recall that my last post was about having a baby, you will be able to guess why. With the competing demands of being a new mama and going back to work full-time after 8 weeks of leave, something had to give.
I have been inspired to get back to it though, after attending the national meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine. SGIM meetings are inspiring in many ways. It’s exciting to be able to share research, hear about innovations in medical education and practice, and be with colleagues from around the U.S. and across the world. These are people who care deeply about patients. They strive to connect with individuals in meaningful ways and also reform healthcare systems, reduce disparities, and promote social justice. It’s great to be immersed in that kind of vision and energy.
During the meeting, I took part in a writing workshop. Amidst the bustle of a packed schedule, it gave me a refreshing moment of quiet and reflection and a chance to meet others who are interested in narrative medicine. We were able to share some very powerful stories of healing. It reminded me of the value of this kind of sharing, not only in person but also on a wider scale through blogs.
So, I am back and I invite you to rejoin me.