Gabriel turns Two: Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Post-Operative Sex

Survival rates for medical couples and partners where both people are in graduate school are not great. Add three little kids to the mix, and it's not surprising that many marriages go flat as Saturday morning pancakes. But after a week of bitter herbs and tears and just making it through another day, we are having Saturday morning pancakes and we are smiling. After a week of rearranging internal organs and trying to establish a new breathing rhythm amidst a freshly irregular schedule, we are together for the weekend and the Sabbath was peaceful and erotic. Let's just say, for a married couple comprised of one half-Jew and a half-East Asian Gentile, we were good Jews. God is one. We are one. And I'm so glad.

An hour later the pancakes are either being digested in our stomachs or going down the drain. I'm convulsing in tears. More scheduling bad news and it's delivered to my on my day off from medical school prison. I hate this. Of course hating it won't do any good. I own a book called Suffering is Optional, and I'm reminded that I can either resent my life, myself and my husband for being what we are, or I can take one day, as it is and allow it to be -- and maybe then what IS will be somehow beautiful and helpful and Good.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Med School Wife Day 3

My babysitter has a saying, applied broadly to any situation she simply can't stand: "This isn't working for me." Variations include, "That doesn't work for me," "This just doesn't work for me," And "That isn't gonna work for me."

Which would describe how I feel today about my husband's medical education, which takes him randomly away from me, our family and any sense of a normal life rhythm, and makes him go to random locations to do and watch random stuff that's supposed to help him be a good doctor someday. Screw it. I am a creative person, and I can think of lots of saner ways to make qualified physicians than to haze them.

David thought the time away would be compensated for by his happiness overflowing upon return to the homefront; but the last few days he's been drained as pasta noodles before the sauce. This sucks. An unqualified sucks. With the qualification that I am being forced to develop competencies I would not otherwise find myself discovering in the dim light of hopeful necessity.

Sunday Worst: Parent-Child Privilege

Dropping my five-year-old daughter at camp for her second day, a counselor leaned into me and said, "Just want you to know we LOVE her. She's so great. We just love her." I smiled politely, replying, "I'm so glad," and walked away shaking my head in bemusement.

The morning had not gone especially well. Phrases like, "No!" "Well I don't caaare," and "I don't haaave to" and "I hate you. You don't love me." were the standard conversational fare from the time Nika woke up to the time I dropped her off at Camp Hoover. This scenario is rather typical. My daughter is complimented on a regular basis for her polite manners and cooperative spirit in public settings or in the homes of new friends. Yet with those who know and love her best, my girl tests up the wazoo. I know she's turning out okay. She feels safe enough to test her burgeoning independence and free will with those who love her no matter what, but she's equipped to go out into the world with a loving spirit and saavy attitude.

So why try to bring God our best on Sundays? Why not instead exercise the parent-child privilege of bringing God our WORST on Sundays? Our most defiant stomps and talk-backs, our hugest heresies. Our looming doubts, rebellious clothes -- in fact everything that needs to be brought to the light, understood, validated, and directed positively.

After all, if our kids get to do it to us, why not take advantage of the parent-child privilege with the Greatest Parent of all? If even an anxious, egocentric, over-intellectualizing, impatient mother like me gives it her best shot, I'm betting my Parent (and yours) surely can handle our worst and channel it grace-fully to bring out our best.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Med School Wife

I thought it was significant that two days before my husband began his first rotation -- obgyn, by the way -- I was hit on by Neil Diamond. A middle-aged, slide-show creating, window-washing not-Neil Diamond, Neil Diamond, who by his own admission can't really sing. "I have other talents," he says to me from his table, kitty-corner from me at Panera Bread. Neil Diamond is not the first middle-aged man to make advances toward men this week, and I am not accustomed to being flirted with so obviously by me, and in particular the graying ex-hippy crowd. I could be insulted -- after all, do I really suddenly look that much older after kid number three? But I choose to be more optimistic and assume that it's God's little grace: a reminder that I've still "got it" whatever "it" is, right at a time I'm prone to be insecure. As in, right before my husband is about to start vocationally sticking his hands up other people's vaginas, and interacting with pretty, starry-eyed nurses on a daily basis.

Yesterday was the first real vagina to be examined medically by my husband. It belonged to a live model, or standardized patient, who taught the incoming 3rd year medical students -- on herself.

"It was just like doing it on the mannequin" David said when he came home. David is sweet, kind and professional. I believe him. But damn, it still weirds me out. I felt so relieved when he reminded me that he wore gloves, meaning that he did not actually touch her.

Today David mostly watched ultrasounds. "Seeing those little babies was so bajoo" he said.

My day consisted largely of watching slightly older babies, who, though certainly Bajoo, fabulous, are hardly the silent little miracles that dance on ultrasounds screens. Gabriel hugs Avriana with robust affection, and then yanks at her hair tufts with a gigantic grin. Avriana grimaces in pain. She is quiet around her rambunctious siblings, but when we are alone with the changing pad, or sharing some minutes in bed before the day officially begins, she coos and speaks with the intention and enthusiasm of a woman who has discovered that both God and alien life forms inhabit other worlds covered in green.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Smashing Red Strollers

I took the babies out today, to give David some time to chill and rest. Nika stayed home and listened to her Frog and Toad CD.

The younger your babies, I've discovered, the nicer people seem to become toward you, as though you have vicarious become irresistably cute and delicious. And when you have a luscious toddler boy with long hair, eyelashes to match and a precious infant little girl strapped side by side in a smashing new red double stroller, people are so helpful and kind, there's no end to the good things it's possible to imagine. Even world peace.

Yes, I received more help today than ever before. Women and men ran to open double doors; I never had to wait a second for assistance, it was as though help dropped straught from heaven traveling at angelic lightspeed. The cashier forgot to charge me for my lip gloss and gave it to me for free, simply because I told him it would make my day. "That's all you needed to say," he smiled. A few moments later, the same gentlemen leapt to hold open the doors, after the lip gloss set up the store alarm. Apparently its bar code apparently didn't know proper ettiquet toward a woman with adorable his and hers babies nestled in a red double stroller.

In the parking lot, a middle-aged woman noticed me struggling to collapse the damn double red stroller without smashing it, and finished the job for me, as though she were assisting Ghandi with his heaviest luggage. This nice person even loading the dainty bohemoth stroller into the trunk of my Prius. I thanked her profusely, and she acted like it was no big deal.

On days like this it's genuinely easy to imagine a beautiful world full of peaceful communities with lots of chubby babies every spring and plenty of "aunties" and "grandpas" to provide the necessary hands to keep parents sane, so that they do not kill one another or start a war with the neighboring tribe at work or abroad.

So why don't I get this same kind of help when I travel with my older child and the big baby, which is really a more daunting challenge in many respects? Why are older children more likely to inspire annoyance, whereas teeny babies inspire wonder and altruistic goodness?

No wonder we all want to go back to being babies sometimes.

What might it take to see each human treasure for the precious miracle she is?

Thursday, June 14, 2007


When was the last time I did a cartwheel? If you asked me that question any time before tonight my answer would have been, "Ages ago. I can't remember. Those were days long gone when I did carthweels on freshly cut grass and ballet performances in the grocery aisles."

A person has to have a certain amount of lifegiving abandon and positive carelessness to do a cartwheel. It is not something the overly inhibited or hopelessly depressed are inclined to do, really. And so seeing as yesterday and this morning I found myself in a rather bad way with myself, I marched said self out the door after the kids' bedtime and wondered happily around my neighborhood until I found a suitable spot in full view of several condo complexes and a commonly trafficked street. Pondering my decision, knowing what I was about to do -- in public -- and felt a thrill better than dirty sex or getting a new blog comment or buying fresh books, or great clothes.

I cartwheeled.

Upon landing, m inner thigh muscle pulled slightly, reminding me that I am an adult. I smiled and thanked God for everything, and especially for the beautiful day that saw me do a cartwheel. I marched myself home, satisfied, limping mildly and ready to go back to being a grownup for a little while. A good thing too, because when I could hear my infant daughter screaming for me from the foyer.

Maybe I'll do another cartwheel tomorrow before the kids get up.

Adventures and Coming Home

I arrived home from vacation last night. This year, the adventure included David, myself, the swimming pool, the beach, three young children, a mother ambivalently committed to a dysfunctional marriage (the first leg of the journey) followed up during the second leg by an ex-husband who is a self-proclaimed ex scumbag and current chronic car key-loser, a stealth bottomless blender and a beautiful oceanfront view.

There were good times and bad times and we proved not only that we can (sort of) successfully travel with little kids and strange family, but also why many people don't. I will focus on the good times.

Before my former spouse arrived to celebrate Nika's birthday with us, David, Nika, Gabe, Avriana and I played Family Feud hosted by our resort; it was great fun! We also happened to win, which was cool, and our family went way with five frisbees -- red, blue and purple.

Everyone meandered along the boardwalk in various constituencies. Sometimes Nika held my hand while Daddydad/Uncle Mike chased Gabriel, and David carried Avriana. Or David pushed Nika in the stroller with Gabe sitting on Nika's lap, while Avriana snuggled into my neck. And sometimes I followed Gabe as he trotted in zig zags in whichever direction called his name, pointing out boats, dogs and rocks.

For Nika's birthday, she climbed to the top of a lighthouse. Or rather her Daddydad carried her. David and I relaxed and played while Gabriel and Avriana slept. In the afternoon, all six of us made Ice Cream Sundays and bracelets in the Fun Zone of our hotel, followed by cake and candles on little plates covertly donated by the staff from the Ozone Grill upstairs.

David and I ate a cute restaraunt next to the marina, which served the best chicken quesadillas. For desert, we ordered chocolate cake, which came decadently splashed with swirls of chocolate sauce and twirlets of whipped cream. "It looks beautiful,"I said to our waiter. "I tried to make it look a little pretty for you," he replied with a shy, mexican accent. After dinner we opted out of Casino land.

Walking along the evening beach, we marveled at crabs melting into sand under the night sky.

Nika had a blast swimming with Mom and Dad in the pool; Gabriel loved the boats and anytime we got to "go go go," and Avriana loved everything except the car. She spent the last twenty minutes of the homeward drive illegally sleeping in my lap while David drove with the care of a professional seamstress. We past two police cars and thanked God for the cover of darkness, and the hope of new light in the morning.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Using God for your life or Using your life for God?

Being open-minded sometimes blurs the line between Christian faith and Self-helpy, be-good-feel-good-do-good religion. For someone who doesn't claim much certaintly about the bible, dogma or what it means to be "saved", what is the difference between worshipping the God of Jesus and embracing New Age Spirituality?

It's all about God.

Or it's all about Us.

Put differently, it's a matter arranging magnetic poetry on a cosmic refrigerator, ordering the words that reflect why God is important in our lives. Simply: are we using God for our lives or using our lives for God?

Pocono: The Tacky-but-fun Galleria at Split Rock

The poconos: A remote vacation spot just hours away from the most densely populated places in America: New Jersey and NYC.

We stayed at the Galleria, a somewhat tacky, semi-run down, pretty nice timeshare complex situated on Lake Harmony. Nika and I did mother-daughter mini-golfing, and later Nana and the rest of the gang joined in for an informal game, in which Nika "helped" everyone's ball get to its desired hole. The lake was calm and uncrowded, and we ooed over a family of the most adorable ducks and ducklings known to creation.

Gabriel loved being lifted in the air and tossed on the couch; so did Nika. But Gabriel's favorite activity was opening and closing the microwave door. Second best, he loved riding slow, then zooming fast down the hallways in the cheap second-hand stroller that has held my three children at different times, and also at the same time on occasion. Gabe's favorite words are currently "baby" and "go go go."

My mother gave David and I permission to be kids again in the evenings -- a freedom which led to a quick pool splash after hours, a sunset walk, a swing built for two (well not really, but it was fun swinging together anyway,) and a rigorous game of ping pong, in which I decidedly lost, except that David's smile was so winning.

Avriana woke up for the sunrise every morning -- at four am. She's lucky she's adorable and perfect.

On our last day, a DJ played reggae music and we ate pizza. Nika played with a butterfly and skip-danced along the sand, while Gabriel chased boats and Avriana slept under her blue-jean baseball cap.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Atlantic City Sirens

We're in Atlantic City. Our first night sandwiching quality family time between billboards of half naked women and lights glowing in the shape of TRUMP. Our hotel sponsors activities like T-shirt painting, scavenger hunts and adult romantic swims. It's all on the weekly schedule.

"What's that sound?" I murmer in an annoyed tone, to my half-asleep husband.

"Sounds like someone set off the fire alarm."

"Can you call the front desk and see if someone's going to turn it off soon?"

"Brring brrring."

"I guess it's real."


"That's what they say."

Attempting to wake Nika is like pouring sustained effort into awakening a bear deep in hibernation. I try anyway. A slight, irritated groan was her best response to me shouting, "Fire Alarm" straight into her sleeping little ear. So I strap on my Baby Bjorn, put Baby Avriana inside, hoist Gabriel onto my hip and watch my husband heave Nika into his arms. Just one day shy of five, Nika is big.

We walk down five flights of stairs. Some people had to walk down thirty-two. Later found out, someone walked from the top down carrying a small baby. People mill around the lobby; grandmas in nighties, probably just finished gambling away a nice retirement; college kids chase each other with a water bottle; middle-aged people meander in tight clothing; a man on crutches complains; an east Asian couple with a baby, the mom clearly pregnant sit and wait.

The firefighters tromp casually around in their cool rigs; I figure this can't be a big, major fire, but I hope there's at least a tiny fire where no one gets hurt to warrant this late-night outing with the kids.

Nika wiggles like a worm in David's arms. Avriana sleeps. Gabe nuzzles her head, and eventually makes friends with the east Asian baby.

Apparently, it was a kitchen fire.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Vacation: day 2

We are at Lake Harmony, staying at Split Rock Resort. It's fancy in some ways, especially the semi-tacky lobby, yet certain things are falling apart and a little lacking in aesthetics. But we have plenty of beds, stuff to cook with and most of all, everybody in our family! Poor Gabe locked himself the adjacent room yesterday and we had to call security; my little guy was huddled in a corner in despair. Fortunately, it took all of thirty seconds upon his release into my arms before he was streaking down the hall, buck naked, laughing (the whole incident occurred right after bath.)

Nika and Gabe each got a sporty new toy car yesterday, and today Nika begged to buy me bought me a BMW convertable as a "surprise," so I could drive up the "mountain" aka the couch with her and the other cars. Of course she wanted to outfit Dad and Avriana with their own toy vehicles too, but a line had to be drawn somewhere, didn't it? Well I might have thought the idea was cute: a whole family of toy cars. But David drew the line, which was sort of refreshing since sometimes I end up playing "bad cop" as I am slightly less patient than my lover.

This morning we all scooted our cars across the coffee table in a goofy game of Catch and Crash That Car, and then everyone danced to disco party music, except Avriana who wisely looked on with furrowed brow at her crazy family.

It's drizzling, but we're going to venture out and take the shuttle bus to the lake this afternoon, if Nika can overcome her petrifying fear of getting a splinter at the beach.