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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The OB/GYN Secret Sister Society

Below is a personal essay I wrote recently, but was never published.  I chose to put it into today's blog because of an upcoming appointment where I always feel the way I described below.  Let me know if you have ever felt the same...

 Strangers are truly the common denominator of our daily existence, and while we train our children to avoid them, as adults, our interactions amongst them are inevitable, if not routine.  However, there are those moments when we are profoundly affected by those strangers whom we may never even speak too, but, whose lives appear to parallel our own.  

It began as a silent code of understanding amongst the pregnant women in the OB/GYN waiting room; we were strangers with a palpable connection.   As our stomachs grew bigger from month to month, it was like some secret sisterhood where big bellies and overactive bladders were a rite of passage.  Overall, I was in love with being pregnant, along with my muted waiting room sisters rallying beside me. 

 When I wasn’t probing some pregnancy magazine, or preening over my round circumference, I would furtively take stock of the women who did not fit the criteria of my imaginary society.  These were the visibly older women.  I tried to look away because I didn’t want anything to dampen my joy; they were a shadowing presence to me.  I often wondered how they felt sitting in that office as each young; soon- to- be mother brushed past them or accidentally bumped their stomachs into their chairs and then giggled at their clumsy bigness.  How did those older women feel? Did they wish for their youth again or were they grateful that this stage of their lives was over?   Perhaps they couldn’t, or may have chosen not to have children at all, or suffered in a way that no mother wishes on another.

I would shake my head as if to physically dislodge the thoughts from my head.  I didn’t want to think about them anymore.  I wanted to return to my own beautiful world of cute maternity outfits, and baby names.  I would instinctively put my hand over stomach to feel a kick, or some kind of movement that would jolt me back to the world of the fertile.

After my daughter was born, I briefly saw my silent “sisters” at my six -week check-up.  Like finishing a marathon with a soundless cheering section, they glanced at my post -partum belly, warmly ogled my newborn and smiled their silent sister admiration.  Occasionally, one would speak to ask, “How old?”  With my official “motherhood diploma”, the bittersweet task of leaving my silent sister cocoon to join the real world of parenting was at hand.  

The pregnancy magazines with radiant women on their covers, along with my idyllic visions of motherhood now collided with sleep deprived thoughts and fears. The reality of it all sent an alarming jolt through my body, or perhaps it was just the office door hitting me from behind because now I had a hulking stroller that I couldn’t even maneuver properly.   Nevertheless, despite my new reality, I knew that I would eventually return to my silent sisters in just a few years time.

I did indeed return to them four years later, wearing badges of honor and battle scars, (at this point, I snorted at the magazines with glowing women on their covers) and while I still relished the idea of my secret society, I now found my gaze lingering around the non-members.  Somehow, they didn’t appear as old this time.  As I neared age forty with baby number two, the nagging reality of this being my last pregnancy forced me to scrutinize these women more carefully.  They were visibly only in their fifties and sixties and in the scheme of life, not that much older than me. I shook my head like a horse shooing flies to dispel the image of me being on the u“other side.”  I didn’t want to be there yet, but motherhood had taught me early on that life was like a stuck gas pedal.  The image was now a fast forward looming presence.

As I continued to go for yearly exams over the next four years, and witness the anxious fathers and the big bellies, I still felt oddly attached, like an amputee with a phantom limb.  The sensation was still there even though I was done having children.  Somewhere in my consciousness, I convinced myself that even though my children were no longer infants, and I was forty-four, I was still part of the society because I could have another one if I wanted, but simply chose not too.  I could make that decision on my own without nature making the decision for me.    

The shift happened this past year when my long-time OB left the practice.   On my first encounter with the new doctor, she asked me, “Why are you here today?”  I just looked at her blankly.  My trusted doctor along with all of my fruitful history of childbearing was gone, leaving me to cope with this next phase of my life, and then it hit me-I would truly never be an active member of my secret society again.

 I swallowed, trying to fight back the lump in my throat and said, “I am here for maintenance. I am a very boring patient.”  She laughed, “Well, I like boring.”  After the exam, the doctor directed me to the waiting room for some paperwork.  The issue of AARP next to Pregnancy magazine mocked me from the table.  The big-bellied women had emptied out and I was grateful.  I sat across from a woman who I surmised was in her late fifties; she smiled warmly at me, but, held her gaze a fraction of a second too long.  I smiled back, and I undoubtedly knew.  I had just been welcomed into a new secret society.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bad Hair Days and Wednesdays Always Get Me Down

Allow me to wallow in a vain, aesthetic and self-absorbed fashion.  See, after a week or so of dealing with the ravaging effects of eczema on my child’s entire body along with multiple phone calls from the camp nurse and derm appointments (where I get yet another prescription for toxic steroid cream). Not to mention the sleepless nights full of worry that the kids will make fun of my son and it will affect his social standing throughout life because he is constantly scratching from head to toe.   Sigh….I guess I just needed a day to vent on a purely, mundane, yet quintessentially mood altering, phenomenon that I like to term…Hair Menopause. 

Hair menopause is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s the day you wake up and no matter what you do; you are just having the worst hair day, which catapults you into a physical and mental spiral, practically altering your every action.  This phenomenon doesn’t discriminate either.  It affects the rich and famous, (male and/or female) as well as the general- public.  You know who you are (even though you would rather not admit it). 

The day usually entails full on mirror preening with the hopes of finding some kind of hair salvation (similar to checking the fridge, even though you know there’s nothing in there you want, you secretly hope something will magically appear when you open it for the umpteenth time).   It’s a day that uses inordinate and exhaustive amounts of time, brushing, changing the bangs from side to side, putting it up, taking it down, spraying, etc…  Store front windows are your enemy, the blow dryer mocks you when you pick it up as if to say…”seriously, girlfriend, why even bother?” Yup, this is the day I am having.

I know it’s vain, and that in the scheme of life, truly it is just a blip on my radar screen of life.  I mean the world is ridiculously complicated these days with more bad news each passing day and here I am lamenting my follicle failures.  Sure, it seems trite, but in a surreal way, I guess I look at it as a coping mechanism.  Eventually, my hair will get the hang of things, the weather will calm down, and suffice to say, so will my hair.  I know I have neglected it lately, and that not washing the chlorine out of it right away has only compounded my manic mane.  It’s an easy problem to fix.  One I can solve. One that doesn’t require a doctor’s care or cream, and will eventually resolve itself.  It’s a problem that I ultimately have control over, unlike my son’s skin, or unrest in the world.    

Friday, July 8, 2011

There's a Toothache in My Heart

A very well known and loved Rabbi, Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, (who incidentally was one of the many Rabbis who participated in my wedding), used this phrase, there’s a toothache in my heart, when refering to a friend and colleague who had fallen from grace…enough said.  The saying struck me as so poignant and descriptive because we all know how brutal toothache’s can be, and that is exactly how it feels in our hearts when we are saddened or deeply troubled about something.

At exactly 12:30 today, I have an emergency dentist appointment.  I have no idea what’s wrong but I see stars everytime I eat or drink something cold, or for that matter, room temperature.  I have to warm yogurt or fruit on the right side of my mouth before I can even think about using the left side.  It’s brutal, it hurts, and boy am I annoyed.   The pain has been consistent, persistent and at times excrutiating.  Ari asked me if it was going to fall out as he wiggled his own at the breakfast table.  “I certainly hope not, sweetie…that shouldn’t happen to grown-up teeth.”   I told him.  “I hope not.” I mumbled to myself.  There is no doubt about it…toothaches are wicked.

The pain in my tooth is nothing compared to the pain in my heart when my sweet Ari, suffers not only with multiple food allergies, but severe eczema as well.  The eczema seems to take on a life of its own in the summertime, especially with the oppressive heat and humidity, and today was no different. The nurse at camp mentioned how sorry she felt for him because he is in there everyday for the incessant scratching that has completely ravaged his skin.  For those who suffer from the eczema affliction…I feel for you.  My son is covered with it and will probably have to take oral steroid for a few days just to get it to calm down.  We slather him like a greased pig morning, noon and night.  Benadryl, Zyrtec, topical steroid, caladryl, Aquaphor and Cetaphil are frequently used items in our home.  We have bottles/tablets of Benadryl in practically every area of the house like you would have tissue boxes in every room. 

The nurse also mentioned how the counselor thinks that Ari is just doing it for attention. Hmmmmmmm.  The nurse assured him that he is truly suffering.  I can’t blame the counselor, I mean what do I expect of a 17 year old kid who doesn’t understand the situation and has to take the itchy kid to the nurse several times a day.  I get it.  I suppose I was like that too at that age. But, it pains me that my son truly does suffer,is such a good sport about it and still that’s not enough to warrant a little sympathy.  Nevermind that Ari can’t eat the food at the camp BBQ and has to bring his own lunch.  He can’t even eat the potato chips because they come out of a big and could potentially be contaminated with some kind of allergic residue.  Yet, Ari remains a steadfast trooper and while I am thankful for that, the persistent toothache in my heart never goes away.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From Chick-Lit to Social Awareness: The Books We Read and What They Say About Us

I am the first to admit that reading a book is more of a luxury these days than a reality.  It ranks at the bottom of my priority list…what a shame, because I love to read. Unfortunately, after the dinner dishes are cleared and the kitchen tidied, no sooner do the nighttime rituals begin with showers and other assorted bedtime antics.  Then, there is still work to be done like lunches, errant laundry, camp bags and if there is any energy remaining… a half-hearted workout.  By the time I get to bed, reading is secondary and I’m usually falling asleep with the book propped up on my chest, until the magical reading elf living in my house finds me in a comatose state, places a bookmark in the book, removes my glasses and turns out the light.  Sadly, my elf does a lot of business travel, so more often than not, I wake up at 3:00 a.m. with my glasses askew, my page lost, and the light glaringly bright.

Since my attention span is very short (usually around 15 minutes or so), I really cannot read anything with an extensive plot or too many details, which is why I have been leaning toward…chick lit.  It’s relatively easy and light and the plots aren’t too twisty or dramatic.  Basically, if I lost my place, I could pretty much find my spot or figure out the ending on my own.  It’s kind of like a soap opera.  You can abandon a soap opera for weeks, return to it, and pretty much assume that nothing much has changed.  Everyone is still beautiful, someone cheated on his or her spouse in some remote lake house in a storm, a baby was switched at birth, and some evil protagonist continues to plot someone’s demise or financial downfall. 

I’m not sure what chick-lit says about me as a person, or maybe I do.  It says I am bored and restless; I need to read something a bit more meaningful.  Perhaps I was subconsciously tired of stories about women’s husbands leaving them for younger models, which ultimately leads to the wife’s epiphany and renewed sense of purpose followed by a relationship with a younger man herself, only to wooed by the man who originally dumped her in the first place. PHEW!  No, I started to tire of these cookie cutter plots and without even realizing it, changed my course. 

The first book I read, was entitled, Kabul Beauty School.  It’s a memoir of an American hairdresser, who decides to open her own beauty school in post-Taliban Afghanistan.   The book follows many of her students in their quest to make a life for themselves in a country that doesn’t treat women as a number one priority…to say the least.  This book on two levels fascinated me.  The women’s stories of abuse, rape, domestic violence and other atrocities were incredibly sad and heroic and the pains they took to get to this school were nothing short of amazing.  The second thing was the woman who created the school and the hoops, red tape, trials and tribulations she endured to make this dream a reality.  A woman who was a hairdresser, with marital problems  and a family of her own, no connections, and very little funding took on this monumental task and basically changed the lives of women in need.

Again, I didn’t even realize what I was doing but each visit to the library resulted in a book about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Another book entitled Veil of Roses…kind of chick lit, but on a different level.  An Iranian woman gets a 3-month visa to the States, but in order to stay, she needs to find a husband in that short span of time or back she goes.  It was an entertaining story; however, what struck me the most was her descriptions of the liberties we as Americans take for granted.  Things like sitting outdoors at a Starbucks in mixed company.  The fact that we can wear what we want no matter how exposed; it’s still our choice.  Things that are seemingly commonplace to us, are indeed a luxury or even more telling, a liberty to someone else.

The next book I inadvertently picked out also told a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  This book was entitled Global Girlfriend.  Here is a story of an ordinary stay home-mom with a social-work background (like me) who wants to make a true difference in people’s lives.  She starts a fair-trade company in her basement with a $2000 tax credit and grows it into a million dollar business that helps sustain women’s incomes, dignity, and families across the globe.  Again, the women’s stories are brutal and so brave.  People who have absolutely nothing and have endured ravages of war, poverty and violence find a way through crafting with whatever resources that are available, in order to sustain themselves and their families.   These women live in remote villages at the far ends of the earth, slums, trash dumps, and yet somehow find some kind of sustainable skill that becomes marketable.  Amazing.  Amazing. Amazing.     What’s more is that it becomes evident in this book that truly, small gestures and efforts can positively affect other people.

So, why my switch from chick lit to social awareness? I mean I could have switched to historical fiction or mystery.  Nevertheless, I have a few theories.  First, it is so hard not to be affected by all the suffering we see on T.V.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice of it all and to excuse ourselves by saying, “I am just one person, what can I do?”  But, truly, these books made me realize that one person can indeed make a notable difference.  I guess I haven’t been feeding the social action part of my soul lately.  Moreover, I feel somewhat of a hypocrite especially when preaching the value of charity to the kids, insisting they put aside some of their hard earned chore money for that purpose.  I am riding on their coattails, taking the credit for teaching them what to do, but not necessarily doing it myself.

Secondly, I have been feeling weary about what the future holds for me and what kind of mark I can ultimately make.  Sure, I do some freelance writing, but deep down I know there is something extraordinary just waiting for me.  Maybe there’s a book writing in my future, or some kind of social advocacy, or both, who knows? I admit that I have felt stymied simply out of fear.  Fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of time wasted. 

At the very least, I have been drawn to these books because they represent those who didn’t let fear get in their way of doing extraordinary things.  I’m not sure if I will ever be a person who does extraordinary things, perhaps, I can start doing ordinary things, small gestures that do make a difference to myself, and ultimately to those around me.  Maybe I will start buying fair-trade coffee because now I truly understand its implications.  Or, work on a project with the kids to do something meaningful with the money they have collected.  Maybe, I will have more patience when I have to explain food allergies for the millionth time to someone who doesn’t get it until they actually do get it.  I could volunteer more, reach out, make a purchase (other than coffee) that could benefit others.  When I look at it in smaller, manageable chunks it doesn’t seem as daunting. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Top Ten Things I Hate About Summer

My husband tells me that I always talk out of both sides of my mouth, and he’s right.  I try to see both sides of the coin so to speak, probably due to my social work background.  I like to look at the whole situation by breaking it down into its comparative parts so as not to be too judgmental.  So, in the spirit of fairness and justice I have decided to add The Top Ten Things I Hate About Summer, (to provide an objective and well -rounded view from yesterdays post) because along with everything else, even summer has two sides to it.   Have a great July 4th weekend!

Top Ten Things I Hate About Summer

1.       The mosquitoes seem to gather for a master chef convention with me as the main course.

2.       People who are even more bizarre than usual, seem to use Wal-Mart as their summer headquarters.

3.       Eczema-This plague just keeps on afflicting-especially in the summer! 

4.       Exorbitant water bills due to extra showers, and increased pool laundry.

5.       Don’t even get me started about my hair.

6.       Bathing suit phobias are very real and magnified.  Scary.

7.       T.V’s fall lineup begins, which only reminds you that summer is almost over.

8.       Summer is not exactly lazy or hazy when you’re a grownup!

9.       Earlier daylight means earlier wake-ups by smaller members of the household.

10.   Vacation….is a relative term.