Split second

This morning, we had a birthday party at a local playground. The kids were all 2-3 years old. I watched as other parents sat back and observed their kids playing while I chased after mine and made sure he didn’t hurt himself on the large play structure. “Why am I such a helicopter parent?” I wondered. It’s true – my husband and I tend to be very anxious, paranoid, and overprotective when it comes to our kids. As a disclaimer, I don’t think that there is a “right” or “wrong” parenting style. I would actually prefer to be more laid-back and relaxed about parenting, but it may be impossible for me.

In any case, at one point I thought to myself: “I think I can relax. I’m the only parent hovering over my child here. Let me take a step back and chat with some folks.” So I stepped a foot away from my son as he was climbing up a play ladder. One second later, he had tumbled to the ground 6 feet beneath him and had landed straight on his bottom. Shit.

I tried hard not to panic. He was crying and I scooped him and took him to a quiet area to evaluate him. “Can you feel my hands on your legs?” I asked. My heart was beating fast, imaging the worst-case scenario. “Yes,” he responded. Thank goodness. “Can you stand up and walk?”. He could. Phew. I watched him walk and wince in pain, touching his back. He was being a lot more cautious and didn’t want to play as much. I touched his spine, low back, tailbone, buttocks. “Does this hurt?” No, he said. But at first, it seemed like everything did hurt. He would start an activity and then reached down to touch his back. He was momentarily distracted by cupcakes, but then didn’t feel like playing anymore. “I’m tired, I don’t feel well…I want to go home.” Fuck.

I called our pediatrician’s advice line and it was recommended that I take him to Urgent Care. We stopped by our house first and I iced his back a bit. At that point, it seemed like he was climbing and running with less pain, so I second-guessed my logic for a minute. Still, there was no way I could live with myself if something was really wrong and I ignored it. So I took him in. At the urgent care, they have a playground in the waiting area. He climbed up the rope ladder, went down the slide, played on the seesaw. These people are going to think I’m crazy, I thought.

They didn’t say it, but the less than five minute evaluation spoke volumes. They palpated the affected areas – no pain. They asked him to walk – no pain. They asked him to run – fast, no pain. They lifted his legs up and down – no pain. “X-rays of the spine emit a lot of radiation,” the doctor said, “so I wouldn’t recommend it.” That’s all I needed to hear – we were out of there in no time.

I am still worried, of course. I think: what if he fractured his tailbone and the pain is worse when he wakes up from his nap? What if he ends up having a slipped disc/nerve injury/becomes paralyzed? I can’t help myself. Being in medicine, I see worst-case scenarios all of the time. People who didn’t have cancer until they did, were pain-free until they developed debilitating pain, lived normal lives until being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. So any time anything happens to my kids, I shift into worst-case scenario mode. It’s a terrible way to live.

In sum: I think that helicopter parenting is in my future for a good while longer.

What my nanny knows

For the past few weeks, whenever my husband and I would try to put our littlest pea down for a nap, he would point to his forearms. At first, we thought he was pointing at a mole, but this didn’t entirely make sense because he only has a mole on one arm.

After a few weeks, I pieced together that my nanny must be doing something to his forearms when she puts him to sleep. When I asked her, she told me that she uses her index and middle fingers to “walk” up his arms while singing a song. No wonder! He was probably like “What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know my routine!?”

When I was a first-time mom returning to work after maternity leave, not knowing these details pained me to the core. I would agonize over what was going on: how is our nanny/my mother/my mother-in-law putting him to sleep? Were they feeding him too little/too much milk?  Did they dress him in the correct pajamas? Were they sticking to the nap schedule? Were they careful while taking him on walks? And on and on and on. The mental load was exhausting!

But there were a bunch of little things too: what songs was he learning, what books was he reading, what words was he hearing over and over again? Our first nanny taught my son to refer to his bottle as “teta”. Now “teta” translates into “boob”. Although I speak Spanish, this term is culture-specific and not something we say. So for months we dealt with our son essentially screaming “BOOB!!!” every time he wanted a bottle. Fortunately, most people in the U.S. don’t speak Spanish, so it could have been worse. The point is: when you’re not with your child all day, you give up a certain degree of authority over what happens. This can be challenging for control freaks.

2.5 years in to having other people (family, nannies, “school”) care for our kids during work day hours, here’s with I’ve learned:

  1. Most of the details don’t matter. As long as your caregivers are adhering to the “big picture” rules, you can let the small things slide. In our case, we want our caregivers to be fully engaged with our kids – loving, patient, and kind. But we don’t need to micro-manage what happens during the day.
  2. Other people often do things better than you do – be open to suggestions! Having a variety of caregivers in our kids’ lives allows us to learn from people who have more experience than we do. Our kids benefit from different types of learning, play, and knowledge. In my opinion, this adds to their lives (and ours!).
  3. Having others care for your kids earlier in life may make later transitions easier. I have friends who are heartbroken because their children are starting kindergarten (which I imagine is so tough after 5 years of being their primary caregiver!). This transition may be less stressful for parents who had had their kids in day care, preschool, etc. on a full-time basis because the schedule doesn’t drastically change. Don’t get me wrong – it’s always hard to give up this autonomy, but if you had to do it once when you went back to work, you don’t have to worry as much about doing it later on.

Just okay

These two articles really resonated with me. One from today’s New York Times and another from a blog, written some time ago.

Am I okay with a mediocre life? All of my life I have been an overachiever. In fourth grade, we were assigned a state and we had to write a paper on that state by the end of the year. This was in the early days of the Internet. In order to write a paper, you actually had to go to the library, use the Dewey decimal system, find your books, take notes, and then write. I vividly recall freaking out in December because I was worried that my paper, due in May, would not be completed in time.

One of my earliest friends recalls a transportation presentation that I blew out of the park in sixth grade – she still talks about it to this day, and it is probably the only reason we became friends.

In eight grade, I swept the middle school award assembly – my name seemed to be called after every category. It was almost comical.

I could go on, but in sum: everything honors, AP classes, SATs, Ivy League, MCATs, medical school, matching into a competitive residency, academic practice.

And here I am today: a husband, two kids, a home of our own, great careers, good health. I’m happy, but I’m not sure if I should be wanting more. I see people around me opening up their own practices, starting their own companies, becoming Insta-famous, working as media experts, creating ground-breaking innovations, involved in amazing research, and on and on. It all looks and sounds great but sometimes the thought of it just makes me tired (it may be the thought but also highly likely that it’s the kids). I like my quiet life: quality time with family, taking great care of my patients, teaching residents and medical students, barebones social media presence, just trying to be better every day.

Is this enough? It sure feels like it, but does this mean that I am done being an overachiever? When is it okay to stop wanting more? For someone constantly in motion, when is it okay to stop and just be?

Early birds

My youngest woke up at 5am this morning. Ouch. I wouldn’t mind so much if he didn’t wake up early every single morning! I know what I should do (according to my sleep consultant): set the wake-up time for him (e.g. 7:00 am) and let him fuss until that time. Eventually, babies are supposed to learn that wake-up time is at X o’clock. Logically, this makes sense. If I go to him when he wakes up at 5:15am, 5:30am, etc., then I am rewarding him for waking up early (if I wake up early I get milk! cuddles! play!).

I have a hard time doing that, for no good reason really. But I think: if he slept from 7p-5a, that’s actually pretty good! Or: maybe he’s not tired. Or: maybe he’s just an early bird (before kids, I used to be an early riser). And most times I just can’t deal with the crying. In sum, I make a lot of excuses for him. I did the same with my first. He used to wake up 4:30a-5:30a! I would prep my walking/running gear the night before, wrap him up first thing in the morning, and set off for the park to let my husband sleep in a bit. Other times I would try to see whether he would fall asleep again (he was much better at doing so than my second, who never falls asleep once he’s up in the morning). And probably 70% of the time I’d make coffee and see what games we could play that involved my laying horizontally the entire time.

Two weeks ago, I tried to nip this early wake-up behavior in the bud. I had razor-sharp focus because we were awaiting a family visit and I knew that the kids would be sharing a room. Now, I can deal with one child up at 5a, but I do not want to deal with two children up at 5a, especially when one is a toddler and nothing is worse than a sleep-deprived toddler! So when my little guy woke up at 5a, I let him fuss until 6a. It was easy to do because I was so tired that I just kept drifting in and out of sleep. Lo and behold, the first night they were in the same room, he slept until 6:45a. But this slowly deteriorated to 6:30a…6:00a…5:45a…5:30a…5:15a…and, today, 5:00a. But I don’t have the courage to let him fuss in his brother’s room at 5:00a because, again, the horror of sleep-deprived toddlers.

I just keep holding out hope that this early-rising phase will soon come to an end. My first started “sleeping in” somewhere between 18-20 months, and he was a terrible sleeper. So this little guy, who sleeps better overall, should start sleeping in soon, right? Fingers crossed. Until then, I’ll keep drinking that coffee…

Magical thinking

Two months after my (now) husband and I met, we spent a weekend at a vegan B&B in Vermont. We went to a very crunchy college and I was still, at 3 years out, in a very crunchy phase of my life. There was a terrible winter storm that weekend, but we braved the drive. Once in Vermont, we encountered a small narrow bridge. On the other side of that bridge was a sharp turn. It was impossible to see what was approaching from around the bend. Since we had just met, I was still allowed to drive, and my husband was keeping his backseat driving in check. I said: “That’s a tiny bridge! The last thing we need is for a Hummer to come around that bend.” No less than 20 seconds later, a Hummer came around the bend to cross the bridge. I couldn’t believe it! My husband will say that this was just a coincidence, but I see it as an example of the magic that is all around us. I mean, what are the chances that at that exact moment a Hummer – of all cars! – would appear out of nowhere?