Can this child learn emotional awareness?

When I talk to surgeons and other trauma care providers about burnout, I tell them that the first step avoiding the emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment characteristic of burnout is to be emotionally aware. I make my audience stare at an empty black slide and ponder their emotions to explore how those emotions are impacting their impression of their day, their reaction to my talk, their distractions.

By the end of the talk, most in the audience know that the surgeon who flips out and throws things in the OR is not emotionally aware. The surgeon who goes home and gets into a fight with his/her spouse over some totally minor household to-do item because he/she had a long day and someone died and the work to-do list is getting out of hand is not emotionally aware. The surgeon who turns to alcohol or drugs to get through his/her days/nights is not emotionally aware.

And it occurred to me, as I was still reeling from and strategizing about what to do about our son’s recent behavioral issues, that my 8 year old has no emotional awareness. Whether it’s about brushing his teeth before going to bed, or wearing long pants when the temperature is below freezing, or losing a board game to his sister, anger and frustration drive his immediate response. Though the response is the opposite when he is excited about something, the effect is the same. His boisterous enthusiasm about getting picked to use the iPad in class, or lining up to see the neighborhood haunted house, or getting the gift on the top of his wish list under the tree on Christmas morning results in disrespectful acting out.

Whether he behaves like an angry petulant child or a boisterous obstreperous child, his emotions, in the absence of any emotional awareness, are driving him. I say “he behaves” rather than “he is” because I am convinced that he’s a balanced kid on the inside. He just needs to become emotionally aware and behave in a way that is safer and more socially acceptable. So here is what we have done as parents to move toward a more emotionally aware child.

We don’t ignore the minor transgressions. It’s easy as parents to zone out on the cacophony of kids. But now, when we hear a cupboard slam (because his favorite cereal is out) or perceive a wrecking ball to a lego structure (because it just wasn’t coming together the way he wants), we remind him that this is the kind of behavior we are now discouraging. If he learns to manage his emotions with the little things, he will be more like to do it with the big things.

We are talking a lot more about feelings. When he acts out or appears as if he is about the act out, we bring him to a full stop and have him verbalize what he is feeling, what is driving him. Often he does not know, but having him pause is helpful. And if he can put his finger on it, giving him the chance to bounce his feelings off of us validates his emotions while reigning in his destructive responses.

Now that he is aware that he has a physical response when he is frustrated or disappointed or angry he can work on ways to contain he outward behaviors. We have taught him how to slow down and take deep cleansing breaths when he feels his emotions getting the best of him. If we are near, his slow deep breathes are enveloped by a giant loving bear hug. If we are far, he squeezes a stress ball which he can find in his back back, or desk at school, or in various places in our home.

While these reactions in the moment are important, our son needs to learn a more constant sense of emotional awareness. Therefore, we are finding calming activities which had been increasingly absent as he grew into boyhood. My son now spends much more time coloring “adult” coloring books, working through origami, sewing, crocheting, balloon sculptures, and gimping. He was forced into these activities nearly full time during a 34 day period of “house arrest” following his misbehavior on the eve of Halloween. Putting his hands to work in a quiet, non-competitive way has been incredibly effective in allowing him to remain calmer, more centered, more contemplative when his is back to playing with his buddies.

Meanwhile, our newest adjust is practicing mindfulness and meditation via several apps we are currently sampling. It’s been 3 months since the epic transgression leading to our son’s loss of Trick or Treating. We are proud of his progress so far. We are proud of our progress as parents of a child who can, in fact, learn emotional awareness.

We are simultaneously monitoring our own emotional awareness with higher acuity. Whether the stressors are at work, or from a spousal disagreement, or related to raising an 8 year old, we are hyperaware that how we manifest our anger or frustrations influences what our child feels is acceptable. Therefore, we are challenging ourselves more than ever before not to fly off the handle but rather to be the kind of emotionally aware, present parents our rambunctious young man deserves.

 

 

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Sometimes being a parent is hard (aka we took away trick or treating)

I am sitting here on a plane crying. I just don’t feel like leaving my son today. 

He is 8 years old. He is generally a good child. He does well in school. He devours books. He enjoys math. He is just as likely to break into dance as he is to play.  He is obsessed with all sports and loves memorizing stats and reading biographies of famous athletes past and present. 

He studied every detail of Roberto Clemente’s life story and picked this as his Halloween costume. He was so excited for weeks as each piece of the costume arrived. 

My son is outgoing  and has always been the boisterous one in the crowd. He has lots of friends. So of course he was over the moon excited to go out with them in his costume last night. 

Whatever our criticisms of Halloween may be (it’s a made up holiday, it encourages unhealthy eating, it exemplifies our society’s socioeconomic divides, getting dressed up in costume is just stupid…) the thrill of kids on this day (before they hit the sugar feuled meltdown anyway) is a joy for parents to witness. 

And last night my husband and I had to deny my son that experience. He will grow up some day and may read this and so I will be purposely vague on details here. And I know he already feels so bad.  But, suffice it to say that his behavior the last few weeks in terms of respecting others has been deficient. The poor boy feels terrible afterward each incident buy can’t seem stop it from happening in the first place. We have had three episodes of disrespectful behavior in as many weeks. 

Despite his obvious remorse for his most recent transgression, we couldn’t just let life go on as usual. He needed to be sternly punished. So we took away trick or treating. He sobbed in his room for hours leading up to the evening. He paced the yard while all the other kids came to trick or treat at our door. It was a tough night for him though he finally did settle down to enjoy a neighborhood party we hosted afterwards. Still the heartbreak in his eyes when the other kids were trading their candy was hard to witness. 

It was so hard to stick to our guns yesterday.  And today, when I walked by his open door and saw his uncovered pillow since he had taken off the pillow case first thing yesterday morning for his candy bag, I just lost it. Now I was the one sobbing while he was calm and introspective this morning. 

Today, he did not seem mad at us anymore. He expressed understanding of why we did what we did and what he needs to work on in the coming days, weeks, and months to regain our trust. But my heart was still breaking for having robbed him of that stupid made up experience that would have made him fat and rotted his teeth. 

It was an appropriate punishment but I still feel awful. As I fly away with the poor guy in seat 21B wondering why I am sobbing, I feel awful that my typically rambunctious yet sweet boy is acting out. I feel worse that I won’t be spending the next few days with him to help him sort through his feelings and strategize about how to behave better from now on.   

Whatever parenting pride I had yesterday that we stuck to our guns and rendered a swift and appropriate punishment is gone now, replaced by the emotional pain of a really hard moment in tough love parenting. Hoping this feeling and my son’s misbehavior will be a thing of the past soon.  

  

Musings of a Surgeon Mom with a Febrile Child

Oh poor thing. She has a fever. Look at her. Wet rag curled up on the couch already because she was too congested to sleep while supine. 

Yikes. I contemplate regular life in medical terms. Did that happen?!

Crap! It’s 6:30AM. I am already late for work. Ugh. Why did a choose a career that will forever me no sleeping in?!

But I should probably acknowledge my poor sweet sick baby before a run out.

Huh? Interesting the fever has knocked the tween angst right out of her. No attitude whatsoever. Just a sweet but needy girl.

{feeling her forehead}

Oh no. She’s on fire. Brain is probably too hot to mount an attitude. Now I feel bad for liking her lack of attitude for that moment.

I should probably take her temp. Wow this infrared thing is so cool! I wish they had this when I was a kid. I hated keeping quiet with a thermometer under my tongue.

Keeping quiet is not one of my strengths which paradoxically might have ended up being a strength in my career.

Eek. Her temp is 103.7. What’s that in Celsius again? I can’t actually process information in Farenheit anymore. It must be close to 39. 

Anyway, I should engage with my sick child before I tend to that career. Maybe she needs some anti-pyretics. Thank god we know about Reye’s Syndrome now. I am sure I took aspirin as a kid.

Whatever. I am an adult surgeon. Why am I thinking of Reye’s Syndrome right now? We don’t even have any ASA in the house. Thankfully no one is old enough and our arteries are presumably clean enough to hold off on cardio protection for the moment. 

“Hey. How are you feeling?”

“Awful.”

“Where does it hurt?”

“Everywhere.”

Crap. I hate viral fevers. Right lower quadrant pain and I could help my baby. There would be a clear solution and in a day or two she would be as good as new. 

I was about the same age when my appy came out. I have a gigantic scar now what with the hypertrophic scar tissue and the pregnancies stretching my skill. Damn babies. She has lighter skin than I do so maybe it won’t happen to her. And she’d have a much smaller scar now since there is laparoscopy. 

But it doesn’t matter since clearly she does not have an appy. I do love doing appys. Such fun little cases for the most. People typically feel better after surgery than worse. Definitely feel good surgery. 

But no my kid can’t be fixed with surgery today. Instead she has that full body malaise that comes with viral fevers. That I have been hit by a truck feeling. 

Well, actually come to think of it, I fix people who have been hit by trucks too. No help here too. 

So bummed. Cannot fix my sad, to sick to mount an attitude kid today. 

And, I can’t even stay with her today.  Nope instead I need to run out that door to tend to other humans instead of tending the one I gestated for well over 9 months. Yeah. She was giving me tween push back from the womb in retrospect. 

It’s a good thing I have a dedicated lead parent to snuggle her today. To call the school today. To tell his boss he can’t make it in because his child is ill. 

Not something I can do today. Or tomorrow.  Or any day this week. 

Crap I better not get sick now that I touched her. I cannot get sick. Not this week. Too much to do. I am on call. It will be a disaster if I have to work in viral turmoil. Sure I have rounded and operated with IVs in and snuggled with biohazard bags and emesis basins in between trauma activations. But really this week I need not acquire this viral illness. I. Just. Can. Not. 

Crap I am late. 

“Bye. I love you. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

{A tear runs down my right cheek.}

Lead parent sent me this photo of her later in the day. Still on the couch. Finally able to snooze. My poor sick baby who I didn’t help today. 

 

1 (usually growing) reason why every single man in America should care about maternity leave

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You all have prostates.

Seriously.  But let me explain further to those people who simply can not fathom as to how a woman could dare ask for maternity leave and expect her other team members to “pick up her slack, because she chose to get pregnant”.  (yep, check the comments section on my last post here, pretty entertaining, in fact!)

Life happens to everyone.

If my profession as a trauma surgeon has taught me nothing else, it has taught me this.

“Life happens to everyone,” and unfortunately, a lot of “life” isn’t pleasant.  Car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, broken legs, and ill family members are just a few examples of life situations that happen to everyone, whether or not you have a uterus.  And guess what they all have in common?  A need for time off of work.

Now, the distinct disadvantage here is that women usually need a set block of time off for maternity leave that seems relatively long (to some, at least) and at an age where they are usually young and healthy, but let me tell you gentlemen, people are going to be covering for YOU when your prostates need to come out and your coronary artery needs a stent.  No, you may not need 12 weeks all at once, but, between doctor’s appointments, procedures, recovery, and complications, or at some other point in time in your life, you are going to need significant time off of work, with your partners/coworkers/etc. chipping in and helping out.  And, oftentimes without the 6 month’s notice that your pregnant colleague is able to give.  And guess what else?  That is OKAY.  That is what life is about – building relationships and working in teams to get the job done, even if someone is having a bad day, a stroke, or a baby.

Oh, and just as an FYI, let’s just say you break your leg while skiing and you need at least 6 weeks off of work… I don’t think people will judge you and say that went skiing and break your leg – accidents happen.  So being judgmental and saying that every woman chooses to get pregnant is pretty inane.  You chose to go skiing, she chose to have sex. Get over it.

Maternity leave = family leave. (Or, hopefully will equal family leave at some point soon in the future.)

I have to admit, I was blown away by the responses I received on our blog, through FaceBook, Twitter, and even my own personal email from my last post.  Women from all walks of life shared their stories, and overall, as Americans, and as humans, we should both be encouraged and appalled.  Some female physicians wrote how supportive their partners were, but as a group, would have to sneak around HR to get her time off.  Some women went back to work in less than one week to preserve their family’s income and sometimes their job.  Office administrators refusing to allow 15 minutes breaks for new moms to pump breastmilk.  A new mom, forced to use a surrogate, being allowed zero time off because she wasn’t actually birthing the baby herself.  The stories unfortunately go on and on.

Yet, the stories of finding support from male coworkers was encouraging.  And, I do think most men and women without children also, absolutely see the value in family leave – whether it is paternity, maternity, sick leave for themselves or to care for an ailing family member.  Bottom line, every single one of us is going to need time off of work, expected or unexpected, and we are all are going to have to rely on each other, and a system to help us out.  Unfortunately, for most of us, that system does not yet exist… and at the end of the day, we can do this better – for ourselves, and each other.

Fantasies of a Busy Surgeon Mom

 

  1. Driving past runners donning their night gear just shy of 6am as I head into work, I think, “I would love to be hitting the pavement every morning before work. My days always go better if they begin with run.” Alas, I just can’t make myself do it and be ready for work on time. And, after 12-16 hour days (when I am not on call, 26-40 hours when I am) I am usually too tired and hungry to get it together after work.  Embed from Getty Images
  2. Looking at this month’s calendar and seeing the school curriculum night this Wednesday and dinner with visiting professor next Wednesday and kids’ activities past 7:30pm every Mon/Tue/Thu/Fri, I muse “Wouldn’t it be great to actually go do that couple’s rock climbing class or attend the cheese making workshop one of these nights?” Between work, kids, and work-related travel the idea of making it out, just the two of us, at least twice a month has completely fallen by the wayside. Embed from Getty Images
  3. Seeing all the pictures of fabulous girls’ nights marching along my Facebook feed I contemplate “I would love to go for mani/pedis or finally try paint night with the girls.” Unfortunately, ‘the girls’ don’t exist in my life. Alas, a group of women (heck, even just one woman) in my age range with similar interests, who get(s) me, would love to hang out with me, and have/has a schedule that allows for regular get togethers with me just don’t/doesn’t exist in my life. Embed from Getty Images
  4. Waking up, yet again, in a little pool of drool on the couch with the DVR at the end of the show, I think to myself “I wonder what it’s like to not fall asleep during a much anticipated episode of a binge-watchable series or the football game or the Emmys…” Unfortunately, with my chronic sleep deficit putting me in a semi-recumbant position for any period of time soon leads to a slumber, mind you not a restful slumber just one that will subsequently mess up any hope I have of regaining a reasonable sleep wake cycle. Embed from Getty Images
  5. Having another frustrating call with my father about a health issue I think to myself “I would really like to be one of those children who goes to appointments with their aging parents.” I do my best but often work gets in the way (as it also does for my own doctor and dentist visits). So much gets lost in the translation between me, my parents, and their healthcare providers that I suspect that it leads to more stress and anxiety among all of us and the benefit of me having purposely settled near my family is lost. Embed from Getty Images

To be sure there are ways to overcome to all of these issues. My adult life has essentially been a series of work arounds to fit it all in. Some days I succeed and other days I just fantasize about what it would be like to not have to put so much mental energy into these work arounds so I could just let life unfold with me being the socializing, fitness buff, present mother, attentive daughter, and effective TV watcher that I dream of being.

“I am definitely the arm candy, but she isn’t my sugar mama!” Confessions of a doctor’s husband.

This post is written by a anonymous member of the Brotherhood of the Doctoring Wives aka someone who is awesome enough and crazy enough to married to a fellow female physician.  Hope you all enjoy!

A few weeks ago, my wife and I received an invitation to THE premier charity event in our city.  The invitation made it quite clear to wear your most formal attire, guys wear tuxes with tails and women wear cocktail dresses.  When we looked closer at the invitation, the envelope was addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. ___”.  My wife quickly pointed out in her raised voice, “YOU ARE NOT THE DOCTOR!”  I rebutted even quicker, “Well, I’m sure as HELL NOT the MRS. EITHER!”  All too often, assumptions are made when there is a doctor in the family that the title belongs to the husband.  These minor assumptions, while we are able to joke and laugh about them, can be very irritating and offensive to both the husband and wife.  While I’m happily married to a physician, many do not realize the heavy burdens physicians and their spouses take on personally as a result of their profession, regardless of gender. As my wife would say it, “The struggle is real.”

My wife and I started dating as undergraduate students, so I’ve been there with her through every step – studying for the MCAT, medical school, internship, residency, and now private practice. Looking back, the last fifteen years have seemed to fly by, but at the time, the struggles of balancing marriage with medicine made some days feel like a lifetime.

On the outside looking in, a person might assume this couple has it all.  We are both highly motivated, goal-oriented people with successful careers. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Economics and earned my MBA while working full time in the banking industry. I even was recently named a Top Forty Under 40 by the local Business Journal. However, it can be difficult to balance my own career aspirations with the time and geographical restraints of my wife’s occupation. Each milestone in her profession seemed to produce a new set of challenges, both personally and professionally, for us as well as for my own life’s ambitions.

Although medical school presented a social scene where medical talk and jokes predominated (Um, no, I DON’T Want to hear about all those foreign objects you have retrieved from a variety of orifices, thanks) which make me lightheaded by the way, I thought things would even out once she was a resident. However, that process presented its own challenges. Match Day occurs in late March, and this is when medical students find out where they will be spending the next 3 – 7 years of their lives in residency. No, they don’t really get to choose – they make a ranking list, the programs make a list of the students they want, it gets plugged into a computer, and voila, “Here’s your future!” Well, because of no knowing where we would be living until 3 months ahead of time was stressful to say the least. The year leading up to Match Day essentially meant I had to put my career on hold. I was going to have to find a new job, and I had no idea where it was going to be! To whom and where was I going to send my resume if I couldn’t even tell them if I was actually going to be moving there or not?  Oh, and let’s get married right in the middle of this…Find a job in 3 months or not be able to support my new wife? Yeah, no biggie. Luckily, I had job contacts in the city where she matched, and my job transition was as seamless as I could have ever hoped.

Sweet! Match Day – check, Wedding – check, new job – check, new house – check – all downhill from here… or so I thought… until July 1 came. Then I realized I was the most wrong I believe I have ever been.

July 1… a day of infamy in academic medicine. When medical students become doctors… the beginning of residency. As a man, one of the hardest things is to have a crying wife. 1. Probably because it’s my fault and 2. Because if it isn’t my fault, I can’t fix it. After my wife’s first 24 hour shift as an intern…. Well, let’s just say it ended with a migraine and sitting in the bathtub sobbing. Alright, I tell myself, here I go, I’m now a husband, not just a boyfriend, “I got this”.  I take a deep breath, channel my inner Lou Holtz, and give her a rousing pep talk worthy of a Super Bowl Halftime. Yeah, well, needless to say, that $hit didn’t work. And, I’m pretty sure I might have made it worse. That night, after she went to sleep, I remember distinctly sitting on the couch and mistakenly (again) thinking, “Okay, although my Lou Holtz impersonation might need some work, first shift is done, it’s gonna get better now.” Yep, you guessed it… wrong again.

One of worst fights of our marriage happened soon after.  We had just moved into our new house. I was setting up the stereo system in our new home and realized there was no way for me to hide the wires to my massive speakers.  Yes, remember those old speakers – the bigger the better.  My wife didn’t want our home to look tacky with exposed wires.  Well guess what, I didn’t care.  I rarely got to see my wife, and when I did, I swear she had been replaced by a human version of Grumpy Cat. Although I am well aware of the old saying, “Choose your battles carefully”, I just didn’t care. The frustrations of a resident’s spouse had taken on a life of its own. The pressures of getting married, moving to a new state, purchasing our first house, starting a new job, my wife starting her job as a resident and all of its resultant stresses just led to my breaking point. I huffed and puffed and cussed and pouted. Yeah I know, over some speakers. Anyways, that was one of those moments l should have just stepped away from and realized how stupid the whole situation was.  However, that’s what residency does to a young married couple.  It puts pressure upon pressure upon pressure until one day, someone breaks.  In this case it was me.

The strains medicine has on a relationship are not for the faint of heart. Company parties missed, birthdays “rescheduled”, and holidays spent alone. Our very first Christmas together was spent with me sitting on the couch all day watching movies… by myself… while she worked non-stop. It was one lonely Christmas. I knew I had to build a network of reinforcements. So not long after this, we adopted the smartest and coolest pound puppy ever and I quickly became friends with the other resident’s husbands. Thankfully my wife belongs to a specialty with a lot of other physicians with male spouses, I know that is not always the case – I feel for you Surgeon Spouses! Anyways, we became the brotherhood of lonely spouses and started going out for beers once a week to share best practices on how to deal with our tired, over-worked, stress-out wives.

Oh, remember those medical school jokes that I never got?  Well, it got worse in residency. I actually tried to inject my own humor in these social settings.  Each year, the director of the program would throw four social gatherings a year for prospective residency students.  The decision for a top candidate to come to the program is not only for the soon-to-be physician, but also the spouse; therefore, the spouses got the invite as well.  The program is extremely competitive so all interviewees are on their top notch behavior.  However, we, the brotherhood, we realized pretty quickly (after a few mishaps involving the bashing of other people’s football teams) we were such a minor part of the social gathering that we had t-shirts made up for these events which read – “Insignificant Others” on the front with a caduceus and on the back “Not A Resident”.  We wanted all prospective residents to know not to waste their time talking to the people that had no bearing on whether they got into the program or not.  It worked so well, that all the attending spouses wanted a shirt as well.  We all wore them to the rest of the social gatherings. If you would like one as well, just let me know… I’ll hook you up.

Although residency was four years of working crazy hours, not seeing each other for weeks at a time, and a general cloud of stress hanging over our heads at all times, we pushed through and now were ready to get started on our real life together.  By this time, I was smart enough to realize how bad this was potentially going to suck.  We were going to have to move… again…right in the heart of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And let’s not forget, I’m a banker.  Jobs in the financial services industry were almost non-existent.  I had worked my entire career to get to this point and now I was possibly looking at being a stay-at-home dad to a dog.  This would be the worst possible outcome for someone who loves the thrill of working towards a goal and reaching new milestones in life.  Fortunately, I had great mentors and found a great job. But again, I was starting over… again. And starting over in your career is tough enough the first time… This was now going to be my 3rd job in 5 years. You continuously have to prove yourself and build relationships from scratch.

Today, my wife and I are quite settled in at our jobs, our home, and normal routines. She still works odd hours, but I sleep quite comfortably through her pager going off in the middle of the night or when she has to leave at 2am to deliver a baby. I frequently get a shocked reaction that I didn’t even know she had left in the middle of the night and come back. Many people are astonished about her crazy schedule or how we balance our lives and calendars together, but it’s normal to us now. Compared to the craziness of the first ten years of our relationship, this is a piece of cake.

I have found there are many benefits to being married to a doctor, but I guarantee you the benefits are vastly different from what an outsider might think.  In fact, the financial implications that are routinely made aka I have a “Sugar Momma”, I find to be insulting and degrading. Although I know I am piece of insanely sweet arm candy, I hold my own, peeps. I make my own money, have my own successful career, and my own identity. This is one of those implications that is just as irritating as getting a piece of mail addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. -”.

I am a better man for being married to a physician.  I have a wife that pushes herself each and every day which makes me want to do the same.  When you have a partner at home that pushes you emotionally, spiritually, and physically (yes, she does crossfit and has run a marathon), then you become automatically better yourself.

I wouldn’t trade the years with my wife for anything in the world, and I am a better man for being married to a physician.  She is my best friend and I love her dearly. The stresses medicine place on a relationship are real… both for the doctor and the spouse.  I am proud of her accomplishments and to be called a physician’s husband.  I hope the next time you see your doctor, you have a better understanding of what it took for them AND their families to wear that long white coat and the sacrifices they make for your better health.  And for any budding members of the brotherhood, a few pieces of advice:

  1. Buy some stock in Ben & Jerrys or become a part owner in a winery. In other words, unless your wife’s tear ducts have been surgically removed, tears are likely going to be involved, and at the very least, stress is going to be involved… And YOU need to have a strategy that probably doesn’t involve channeling a college football coach. Figure out how to best to reassure, soothe, and encourage your wife.
  2. Prepare your dog house… because you will probably be spending some time in it. While you are trying to achieve #1, you will mess up, and you both need to return to your corners and give each other some space. So, you might as well deck out your space with some nice speakers, for example. Which leads me to #3…
  3. Channel your inner boxing champion. You don’t see prize fighters going at it without sleep, adequate food, or preparation. Not fighting is not reality, and just leads to a lot of baggage later. Learn how and when to fight – and right after she is finishing up working 30 hours in a row is not going to lead to a good performance by anyone.
  4. Brotherhood, Unite!  Fighting off loneliness is the key to success, and building a good support system is a huge part of this. And this is sometimes easier said than done, it is still commonplace for the majority of physician spouses to be female… we are in the minority, and finding similarly situated guys can be difficult. But with a little effort, you will find us. We are out there, and we are growing in numbers.
  5. The backseat is the best place to makeout, in my opinion. In other words, your career, hobbies, and sometimes your life will be taking a back seat to medicine at times. But as stated above, the backseat isn’t always a bad place to be. And, you need to understand that being in the backseat does not mean you are unimportant or that your wife doesn’t value you, your career, hobbies, etc.
  6. Join AA. Okay you don’t really have to do this, but the point is to take step 1. Admit the problem. Not that having a spouse in residency is a “problem” per se, but recognizing that you both are going to be stressed, unhappy, and lonely sometimes (or a lot) helps you prepare and recognize when you, or your spouse, have reached the breaking point.

My Kids Have Hijacked My Weekends

There is a high level alert going on in our household these days. What’s terrorizing me, you ask?

My kids’ activities.

I recall the time BK (before kids) when my time off of work was my time. Time to plan and to do (or to not). Sometimes I just spent all day in my pjs if I was lucky enough to have a weekend off. No agenda. Just a day away from the frenetic pace that  was the hallmark of my day job (and my night job and my weekend job!).

IMG_4007Then came the kids. Okay, it was work when they were infants. They had to be fed and diapered and generally kept alive. But their needs were simple and if I didn’t need to be in to be at work on a Sunday, I could sip a cup of coffee and read the Times while the baby (and later the toddler and the baby) were in my proximity. I kept them from sticking a fork in an outlet but essentially got IMG_4006to do my own, grown-up thing that made me happy. And when everyone was old enough, I was even lucky enough to sleep past 8am–a true luxury for a surgeon.

No longer true. Every weekend is now consumed by my kids activities.

Whether it’s 8am baseball practice or a 9am Field Hockey tournament over an hour away, forget sleeping in even though no one is awaiting a soggy overnight diaper change. Then mid-day rolls around and there is likely a dance show, a classmate’s birthday party, and another practice that vie for my kids’ time. And they don’t drive yet.

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IMG_3656We are forced to divide and conquer (thus separating me from my awesome husband who I actually like to spend time with when I am off). We are forced to eat in the car on the run when there just isn’t enough time between activities to sit down to a meal. We guzzle gallons upon gallons of gas going to and fro from event to event, some of which are on opposite sides of the state.

I can’t remember the last time I had an unscheduled weekend for myself. I struggle trying find time to get together with friends who are experiencing the same level of terror in their homes. I literally have gone years without seeing friends who live in the same very small state because with our kids we just don’t have time to be with anyone else on the weekends. In fact, I was so pleased with myself heading into this weekend. I managed to arrange both a work outing on Friday and a Sunday BBQ with my Ragnar van mates. I planned this as soon as the call schedule came out. And wouldn’t you know, out comes the email that the make-up baseball game starts a half hour before the work event and the playoff coincides exactly with Ragnar reunion.

Aaaaaaaaaargh!

My kids have hijacked my weekends and it’s infuriating. I want to support their interests (trust me I’m no Tiger mom; other than encouraging physical activity and retaining some cultural interests these kids a choosing to over-extend themselves with extra-curriculars and parties and playdates) but I can’t say I would shed a tear if they up and quit dance or ball or hockey.

Well maybe I would. If my kids end up too unidimensional to get into college then they’ll have nowhere to go after high school and I really need to get my weekends back.

Dear GAP: Stop torturing Moms

Dear GAP and GAPKids executive,

I am not sure if you are a male or a female, or whether or not you have children.  Since that is the case, I would like to share with you a little bit about the shopping experience you have created for mothers.

I work outside the home as a full-time trauma surgeon.  Therefore, I do most of my shopping online (and also because you have better sales online that your stores do not honor, but that’s a whole other story).  Anyways, well, a month or so ago, I needed to go into one of your GAPKids stores with my almost 3 year old to try on some clothes, and see what sizes I would need for the summer.  I planned this shopping trip out – brought toys, the requisite iPad, limited his fluid intake that morning to prevent a “clean-up on aisle 4” moment, and even timed the trip so as not to interfere with his nap.  I found some items on sale, and joined the line to purchase them.

And that is where it all went downhill.  The young mother in front of me stepped up to the cashier, juggling a clearly unhappy baby, a stroller with a carseat attached, her diaper bag, and other shopping bags.  As she places her items onto the counter, and attempts to calm her infant, the salesperson asks, “Will you be using your GAP card today?”.  The mother replies “No, thank you”.  The whimpering has now turned to outright crying, and the sales lady asks again (before even beginning to ready or ring this poor woman’s purchases) “Would you like to open an account today?”  This mother, clearly frustrated, replies again, “NO thank you.”  The screeching then turned into all out red-faced bawling interspersed with moments of silence required for the small human to regain its breath.  The volume of the crying then requires the salesperson to actually raise her voice to be heard over the probably hungry and forced to breastfeed in a bathroom baby (sorry, that’s another story)  in order to launch into the spiel on “Don’t you want to save x percent on your purchase today, and here are all of the benefits of the card, blah blah.”  This mother, who is much more patient than I, as she is juggling her bags, her hungry baby, and her stroller, replies “NO!”

Then, and only then, does the salesperson begin to ring her purchases.  This wasn’t even happening to me, and I was beyond irritated.

Throughout this, my almost 3 year old starts to get antsy, and is upset by the wailing baby.  So, after watching this interchange, I figure I could bypass the credit card crap, get my purchases, and be out the door before Niagara Falls suddenly appears from my kid’s shorts and onto your floor.

I ready myself.  I step up to the plate, place my purchases on the counter.  The salesperson begins, “Will you be using your GAP Card today?”  I respond, “No, and no I don’t want to open one, and yes I am aware of all of its benefits, Thank you.”  Polite, but firm.  In my head, I’m like, “SCORE!”.  But yet, I underestimated my opponent.  She responds, “Oh, well I’ve never had someone do that before.”  In my head I reply, “Oh, well I’ve never watched someone torture a baby before”, but instead I just simply smile and begin to de-hanger the clothing I want to purchase as a hint to move this along.  Yet again, I have underestimated her.  She then says, “Have you ever worked in retail?”.  And since I in fact have, at 3 different clothing stores during college, I respond in the affirmative.  “Well,” she says, “Then you understand – we get in trouble if we don’t ask all these questions and say these things.”  Although I am lucky enough to have not worked for a company that requires the torment of their customers, I didn’t respond to this insane comment other than to simply smile and bite my tongue in half.

So here is where I am going to break it down for you, GAP executive.

Moms are the ones doing the shopping for their infants and young children.  Moms represent a more than 2 TRILLION dollar market.  The vast majority of the time, moms bring their children with them to shop.

There is no running in and out of a store when you are shopping with your children.  Shopping with young children is like shopping with ticking time bombs… filled with tears, pee, poop, breast milk and/or formula… which at any moment could explode and send bodily fluids onto any and every possible surface.  Shopping with young children is like a military expedition with a ticking time bomb: There are checklists to confirm supplies; timing of naps, feedings, and potty sessions are carefully considered; local nursing and bathroom facilities have to be identified… and God forbid, the iPad isn’t fully charged.

So why are you making it more difficult for us?  Why are you slowing down the checkout process?  Why are you ignoring your customers who are juggling at least 5 humans and/or objects at once?  And WHY are your employees getting in “trouble” if they don’t harass and harangue us?

You are not the only clothing store with fashionable clothing for children.  But you are the only store in which the checkout process is slowed in order to harass the customers.  I’m not sure what your marketing plan is, but this doesn’t work.  Trust me, moms would be way more enthusiastic about a rewards program.  Just ask Gymboree or Carter’s – I think they are doing pretty okay financially.

I don’t need to be bullied into getting your credit card.  Guess what?  If I want it, I will gladly sign up for it, and don’t need to be talked into it.  And when I say “No”, guess what?  I mean it.  You guys are worse than my 3 year at listening… but at least I can put him in a time out for making me repeat myself.

In closing, please re-think your checkout process.  Please put yourselves in our shoes, your customers with offspring.  I think you can do this better.

Sincerely,

A non-GAP card holding customer

“The World Ain’t All Sunshine and Rainbows, Sweetie.”

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“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky Balboa

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I have written before about how I think we over-coddle our kids these days, always making them feel like winners even when all they are is a solid mediocre. It’s rare these days for our children to feel like they did anything less than come in first; so, the sucker punch of not winning, when you tried really hard and truly, deeply thought you deserved to win, is a totally unfamiliar feeling.

Recently, my 11 year old daughter and her tween ethnic dance group participated in a competition. These girls practiced on their own well in excess of what the teacher demanded. They propped each other up. They were ready to hit is out of the park on the day of the show. And you know what? They did. It was a well-coordinated symphony of smiles and movement with pops of color in an eye-pleasing fashion. It was truly a joy to watch.

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The girls were the last in their age group and genre to perform so when they hit the final dazzling pose of the dance I thought for sure they were going to win. But they did not. They didn’t even place. Everyone, girls and parents alike, was very disappointed. Like many, I was not sure why the girls didn’t win and it did bug me. So I said to my daughter in the aftermath of the dance competition, “That sucks but you practiced a ton, did a great job, and should be proud of that and move on.”

Personally, I thought this was a parenting highlight for me.

Someday my kid might not get into Harvard and she will be disappointed. She may not ever know the algorithm of the admissions committee but I want her to be proud of the accomplishments that gave her the feeling that she was competitive enough to apply. Someday the guy she has a crush on may end up dating another girl and she will be disappointed. She may not ever know what he saw in the other girl that she lacks but I want her to know that she is charming and beautiful and worthy of so many boys’ interests. Someday my adult daughter will apply for a job and walk away from the interviewing thinking she nailed it. But she still might not get the job.

Sometimes no matter how great and amazing and talented we are, we don’t get chosen. Occasionally, it is because we actually think we are better or more competitive than we really are; but, more often there is just an idiosyncratic way that these things play out in they eyes of those doing the choosing whether or not the choosers are utilizing strict guidelines.  In the weeks after the competition, I have silently followed along as a number of other parents a launched an email trail of their disappointment. The initial disappointment brimmed into anger and then to demands to know what the judging criteria were, what the ethnicities of the judges were (in case they could bias the results), etc. There is a draft letter now that is presumably being sent to the leadership of the organization that hosted the event.

I get the disappointment but I don’t get the zeal to defend the girls’ honor so to speak. I have no idea if the other girls feel that same way as their parents. But, I do know that I don’t want my daughter to expect her parents to get into fighting mode whenever things play out in a way that doesn’t go her way because it’s a life skill to know when to move on. And, while I do want her to be brave enough to fight the fight when warranted (think Civil Rights Movement, Marriage Equality….,) I don’t want her to get worked up in a tizzy every single time things don’t go the way she was hoping.  Life is simply too short to be in fighting mode that often. Rather I want her to learn to be proud of the interest, and the effort, and the lessons learned from each and every experience whether or not she walks away with a championship ribbon.

If we don’t let our kids experience disappointment and maybe even occasional heartache–fair or unfair– they will always believe that life is all sunshine and rainbows. I hope I am raising my kid to weather the clouds and storms that will surely occasionally cast a shadow on her adult life so that she can be resilient and keep moving forward. “That’s how winning is done.”

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available at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/386746686722545123/

How many surgeons does it take to make one badass trauma mama?

I started writing a blog post over a year ago entitled “The sisterhood of the surgeon moms;” but because I am a “crazy-time” surgeon mom I never got around to finishing it. 

The inspiration for the would-be blog post were two of my best friends. I came to know them through the profession but over years they have come to mean so much more to me than just professional colleagues. They. Are truly like sisters to me. Like those raised in the same home would “just get it,” these two pals just get what it’s like to be me: juggling personal fulfillment with professional ambition. We could could simply talk for hours about the the serious, and the frivolous, and everything in between. 

We laugh together. We cry together. We mock each other relentlessly. We call each other out on our bullshit moments. We support each other with research projects, curbside consults, parenting tips, and marital advice. My sisterhood post was going to tell you about one of those really great talks we got to have in person late one night at a trauma meeting. Oh well. 

Today we had a virtual talk. Texting back and forth on subjects of mutual interest. In our reparte we discovered that on this Sunday between the three of us real life trauma mamas we made one badass one. 

One of us was at a national meeting of leaders in organized surgery = improving our profession

One of us was on call in between trauma activations = tending to the injured and saving lives

One of us had the luxury of a Sunday off and was spending it on a mommy-daughter date = being a good mom

I recently gave a talk on burnout. (I will share it soon on the blog, promise!) Among the strategies I urged the audience to adopt were: 

Finding what makes you whole outside of work and family obligations (no matter how joyful you may think going to work and nurturing a family- whether a family of two or twenty- may be) 

Connecting with humans whether for work or for pleasure or for the goals of tending to family (even though scheduling alone time is also a necessity) 

I realized today that connecting with these two amazing friends is part of what makes me whole and between us we make one badass trauma mama.