Friday, May 25, 2012

Mother and Child Reunion

The mothers are pestering me. It’s a May thing, I guess.  No, not mine.  And no, surprisingly not  the crazy suburban ones that “man” the carpool line. And certainly not the overbearing Time magazine nipple-toting-a-college-freshman types. 

It’s those pesky Alma Maters.

They really know how to wear you down. Like real mothers, they have cornered the market on guilt.  Thanks, Moms.

In the past six months I have been hounded with emails, free Continuing Medical Education, hints on hotels, free child care, free concerts but surprisingly no free champagne like they handed out at the actual graduation. And, of course, hints on donations. Despite all the swag, I will not be going to my 25th Medical School reunion this weekend and doubt I will be attending the 30th College one next year.  Instead I will be co-hosting a local informal college one this fall. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to the Med School one, but life has gotten very complicated and it is just not the time.  It’s too bad, too, since I wonder if the old house I lived in on Benevolent and Brooks street is still standing despite its many negligent student tenants in the last 25 years.

It's those physical campuses that I miss most. Both wonderful academic havens/heavens under old growth trees. 

I loved my first real apartment in Providence.  It was an old carved-up Victorian .  A probable firetrap, but who really cared?  In your early twenties, you are invincible. Uninsurable too. And it was cheap. Only $295/month, which included utilities. How I got it, I have yet to figure out. I have benefitted so infrequently by dumb luck.  I think the housing department took pity on me as I flew out for a weekend and had exactly 48 hours to land housing.  The previous occupant was a sociology grad student, I remember, who commented disparagingly on how “I almost went to Chicago but the neighborhood was soooo bad.”  It was my first taste of Ivy League elitism. Nice.

Please don’t diss one of my ‘hoods, sista.

But, thank you for the extra keys!

I had the biggest air conditioner the window could hold and despite my concern for energy conservation, that baby was on continuously for all of those hot and humid Rhode Island summers.  The lights, too, I left on, even when I was in the library studying, or on-call as a student or my senior year job as a Surgical Assistant at Rhode Island Hospital or the Miriam Hospital. Such a rebel.

I had my cat there too. Mr. Cat was my near constant collegiate companion. Although I have had many cats after him, he will always be remembered for his grumpy behavior, his disdain for dormitory life and dormitory life's disdain for him, and of course his love of Chicken McNuggets. No wonder one of his co-morbid conditions was pancreatitis.

I used to love walking in that old College Hill neighborhood, too. The apartment was right next to the college radio station.  It was great as they discarded many vinyl “demos” in the large bin in the back.  And yes, I still have them in my LP collection. Down on Brooks to do laundry, down the hill to the old IGA with my squeaky shopping cart since I didn’t have a car until I pleaded with my Dad that taking two buses at 5am to get to Pawtucket alone wasn’t exactly safe. I loved those stately old Victorians perched above natural stone walls.  I loved walking to the old Med School building on Waterman or to Rhode Island Hospital over the river on cool nights, passing the amazing smells of a local Portuguese bakery.

I used to love walking in Hyde Park too. Many times I had to, since I missed the damn shuttle bus.  I would always go up 57th, then cross over to Woodlawn where other stately mansions graced the neat streets.  I would cross over to the park on 55th and see the many dogs playing in the field (my favorites were two yellow lab brothers, Bill and Henry), then to “Monoxide Towers” as an old resident head used to name the twin modern buildings that bisected the street.  Then it was home to a Grand Dame of an old hotel, a little seedy and smelly with scores of adolescents but still home.

I will have to visit, or revisit both soon. For real next time- not just in my head.

Instead I will focus my sites on an informal local college reunion in the fall.  It will satisfy a certain curiosity that everyone has as people age.  Do the people look the same?  Do they act the same?  Do they have interesting careers? Whom did they marry?  Did they have kids? 

And of course: Are they 500 pounds? I can’t hide my curiosity and I need all the incentive I can get to exercise and eat right.

Besides, medical school was a different beast.  You didn’t really live with those people.  Sure many of us were on-call together or studied together but you were older, and more focused. Right. The question I have with many of them is: Are they still dangerous?

So as I set my sites on the Fall Reunion and miss the festivities “under the elms” of either College Hill or Hyde Park, I will think fondly of my school days, on those beautiful campuses, whether it be on the East Side or of the Quads, the Gothic Architecture or the Early American Brick, libraries open 24 hours a day, the often odd but forever charming students and old Grand Dame of hotels or a fire-trap Victorians so long ago.

the course of a lifetime runs
over and over again.......

There will be other reunions. I am aiming for my fiftieth college in 2033 and med school in 2037.  Time to continue to exercise, eat right and finally lead a stress-free life.

It's only a motion away....

Friday, May 18, 2012

The History Lesson

“I got a 96 on that history paper, Mom”  my eldest told me in the car the other day.  She writes so many papers for her AP History class I had no idea which one she was referring to. 

"Out of what?”  I skeptically replied.  I am an eternal devil’s advocate. 

“Out of a hundred, jeez”.  Although I couldn't look right at her,  I could just sense the eye rolling.

We were on an especially twisted road near her school with many blind curves, so I wasn't really paying attention.

Minutes passed.  I concentrated on my driving and she clearly concentrated on something else.

“You know, it was the one I interviewed you for.”

It was a good thing there was a red light ahead because I needed the stop. It's actually a very long light at the intersection of Greenspring Valley Road and Greenspring Avenue.  The locals are annoyed by it but the tourists to the local horse farms need the extra two minutes to figure out why they would name two intersecting streets the same name. The intersection is close to about five schools too.  Maybe I'm not the only parent in the area who needs that long light to collect thoughts at pick-up time.

“Really?” I answered, feeling as proud of myself as I was of her.

Am I the only one who still feels like they should be getting good grades in life?

“The other girls interviewed a lot of grandparents about their war stories.  I think Ms. G got bored with that. Ms. G liked my topic.  She said it was the most original.”

Her assignment was to write a paper about a significant event in US History and then interview a relative or friend on how that event changed their lives.  Most girls wrote about various wars.  Those lucky enough to have surviving grandparents from  WWII, the Korean War or  unlucky enough to have parents who experienced the Vietnam War or the more current Middle East conflicts wrote and interviewed a relative about the event.  We, unfortunately, do not have anyone who have survived any of these conflicts in our immediate family.  Nor do we have statesmen, politicians, or any American movers or shakers in the family that would be willing to talk to her.

She chose to write about the development of the personal computer and the Internet.  

I thought it was clever of her since both had radically changed all of our lives, and rather peacefully I might add too.

In the interview I regaled on my plight as a college student, not even having my own typewriter and having to go to the library to pay 25 cents per 15 minutes to type papers, always with liquid paper close at hand.  I was tempted to say I had to walk to campus without shoes too but that was pushing it.

I revealed my only college experience with computers was having to deal with (and it was a big deal) old DEC20s for Elementary Statistics and generating reams of perforated paper to calculate means, medians, P values, etc.,  something we can do today in milliseconds and without destroying an entire forest.

I spoke of playing one of the first computer games in college called "Adventure" (also called Colossus Cave) and amazing a then Business School boyfriend on how far I could get.

I told of having to write papers or do research in college or med school and having to use the first Medline system in a library to look up original papers. 

I remembered how the hospital of my residency in Chicago was way ahead of its time in the late 1980’s by having a computer ordering system.

On how her father and I shared an email on AOL when “Electronic mail”  was first widely used and how hesitant people were to use it, always backing it up with paper copies.

I explained how everyone thought the computer universe would end in Y2K and how the nation and the world braced itself for the electronic Armageddon that wasn’t.

I also referred to Thomas Friedman’s work The World is Flat. One of Friedman's premises is that the rise of personal computers throughout the world contributed greatly to the globalization of markets and information.

And, of course, how "Google" has become everyone's peripheral brain.

I was on a roll.

I was surprised that she used my interview verbatim.

Teenagers. They surprise you sometimes.  Sometimes you realize that you can surprise them too.

I shake my head, sigh, then smile.

And I feel to be a cog in something turning.....

Thanks Joni. Yet another Joni I need to be thankful for.

Sometimes we forget our place in history. And we all have one.

That reminder was the best history lesson of all.

Now if only my eldest would take my advice about Physics.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Not-So-Secret Garden

The late spring sun does me a favor by staying up until 8:13pm tonight. This is my time in the sun.  Time after dinner when the table is cleared, plates rinsed and stacked into the overloaded dishwasher, animals fed and children readying the kitchen table for a long night of study.

It's time to pull up weeds that have sprouted over the course of a few days of heavy downpours.  To don gloves as to spare my hands the hard to scrub dirt under my fingernails.  To exercise rambunctious dogs that have been kept house bound all day, their noses brown from digging for invisible treasure in the indulgent suburban lawn.

I am often serenaded on these nights.  Years ago it was by my eldest practicing piano on our used upright in the family room. Now it’s by neighbors’ children who have taken up trumpets and saxophones adding a horn section to the ensemble of cardinals, blue jays, robins and toads singing at dusk.  It’s easy to get lost in this concert hall.  My neighbors’ lilacs add a sweet perfume.  Occasionally, bats flutter in the sky. But the tomatoes need to be planted, the spinach weeded, tall asparagus ferns tied as to not fall over, container cucumbers staked and compost piled to recycle the mess.

When the utilitarian back is  done, the decorative front needs to be tended. The overgrown bushes need trimming, daffodil stalks need to stay up a bit longer to feed the bulbs for next years' yellow show and my “zombie geraniums” need to be mixed with some new store-bought ones. Not all of these zombies come back to life after a winter in the garage. But they aren’t scary. It’s the price of their replacements that is truly frightening, but I  need a full spectrum billboard to enhance the starkness of this black and white house.

And those digger bees.  A swarm of busy ones have encamped in my front lawn.  They tell me they are not dangerous but who really wants to challenge that?  I steer clear of them, as to not provoke their wrath. If only the dogs would be so wise.

It’s dark now.  There are no streetlights like those of my urban youth that signaled when it was time to go inside. The sun is my guide now and when the only thing I can see of my black Labrador is her reflective collar, I know I am finished.

Time to go in. Enough reflecting. The light is gone.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother Nature : The Ride

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before.  The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new.  ~Rajneesh

More than weather had changed that day.  It was a shift of my world axis. A Freaky Friday moment without the earthquake but certainly with a test of G forces.

It was the summer of 1995 and Chicago had suffered through the worst heat wave on record.  For more than two weeks the temperatures had soared to 100ºF or more.  People were dying and rumor had it they were using the refrigerator trucks from the “Taste of Chicago” festival as temporary morgues.

And I thought I was suffering having to wear pantyhose in that heat and being 39 weeks pregnant.

I had a very uneventful pregnancy. A tram ride on a sunny day. I will spare you the details.  I laugh at pictures now of celebrities on magazine covers baring all including bellies swollen with child.  It's TMZ in a carnival mirror. It's about the only thing we haven't seen with Lindsay Lohan too. They look outwardly beautiful (with lots of Photoshop) but yet they are distorted.  Perhaps beauty the way Mother Nature intended it, irregular yet real. Personally, I felt swollen yet full, ripe yet satisfied.  Mentally I always felt like I had a purpose, yet now physically I did too.  It’s an odd sensation, although it’s one that I gladly paid the admission fee three times.

In last few weeks of the pregnancy, I mirrored that triple H weather.  I was hot, bothered, swollen, and sweaty.  I, like most Chicagoans, couldn’t get comfortable.  The occasional breaks to put up my feet were quite temporary, like a small thunderstorm that just makes the humidity even worse and doesn't alleviate the pressure with any permanence.  I was still working, seeing patients, although I was often tempted to say, especially to the younger patients, “If you feel bad with your hangnail, I will trade you my ankles.”

That Monday was like any other.  Seeing patients, writing notes, hospital rounds, and phone calls.  But that night, I couldn’t sleep.  It was an innate restlessness; a disquiet in the night. A child awaiting the flight to Disney the next morning. An edginess that you just can’t shake nor escape.  Nature intended this purpose and your psyche just had to go along for the ride.

I thought it best not to go to the office that day.  I called in, rightly saying that I think the baby might come soon, due date be damned.  Never content to just sit down for more than five seconds, I went shopping.  I had an primal need to keep moving, maybe to buy things, maybe to make things- fabric - food - although the real thing I had made was yet to be revealed. I remember driving around, stop and go,  to the South side, North side and even to the West side, in the near bumper car driving in the city.  It was a sub-manic episode with me going to stores but not really buying anything.  We had take-out that night. I don’t think I ate a thing.

Sleep was a distant possibility.  I  felt the need to walk although difficult when you live in a townhouse with steep stairs, cluttered with baby things and it was now dark. Clearly a Fun House near Fullerton.

So I watched TV.  Did laundry.  Folded. Put away. Cleaned the kitchen- no floors for fear bending down and not getting up.  Played with the cats.  Read.  Played with the cats some more.  Tried to lie down.  Got up again. Walked around. Finally at 4am I couldn’t take it the pinball game anymore and was driven to the hospital in a teeming thunderstorm.

I was in the giving part of this receiving line although I really wanted to bark orders at non- existent subordinates. It's hard not to be your own obstetrician, if you were ever one to begin with. The roller coaster started now and the epidural made damn sure I was belted in tightly.  I surrendered to the laws of nature. 

The baby came with her unexpected shock of blond hair.  It was Freaky Friday. 

No actually Freaky Wednesday.  

Suddenly I was the mother.

I remember the obstetrician saying “Well that was easy, will we see you next year?”

Did the buy-one-get-one-free coupon at this amusement park have a one year expiration date?

It was closing time and I had to go home.  Outside the weather had suddenly become cold.  The storm brought a much needed cold front. The next morning when discharged, I was freezing in my summer maternity clothes and worried that the new baby didn’t have enough blankets. 

Fall had come that September 20th and the change of weather ushered in a new season, a new baby and a new mother. 

That was the happiest Mother’s Day of my life. No need for a flower-filled Spring day. 

I repeated the ride in a snowy November just 13 months later. 

(True Story. Who knew the obstetrician ran a fortune telling booth?)

And again in a brisk but colorful October years later.

And the thrill, in all sorts of weather, has never stopped.