Merry

Yesterday, I asked my husband what was on his agenda for work and he responded that it was a “thinking day”. A day to reflect on strategy, innovation, next steps. To be honest, it sounded glorious. A whole day to just think about something unrelated to the home.

Right now, I am enjoying a bit of quiet, thinking time. My oldest three children are with our nanny and my youngest is taking a nap with me, in the carrier. I have decided to return to work next month and am feeling incredibly conflicted about that. On one hand, I really miss working (I’m a physician). I miss my patients, I miss my colleagues, I miss teaching, I miss having adult conversations and I miss being able to THINK – about diagnoses, patient messages, treatment options, research, etc. On the other hand, the flexibility of my maternity leave has been a godsend – especially during this incredibly tumultuous year. In the morning, I don’t have to wake up before the children do to get ready for work. I can let them wake me up, sit with them while I drink my cup of coffee, stay in my pajamas and play. With school closed during this holiday break, we have even less obligations since I am not rushing to get the kids out the door in the morning. This flexibility allows me to be available at the drop of a hat when the school calls because someone is sick and needs to be picked up. If we didn’t get to errands on the weekends, I can run them any day of the week. I can take the kids to appointments whenever they need to go. Honestly, the flexibility is what I will miss the most. Even though my schedule is incredibly forgiving for full-time work, it is still a schedule. It is not easy for me to cancel a full day of patients because I hate letting my patients down (especially when they may have waited months for an appointment) and I hate creating more work for my colleagues and administrative staff.

I have really cherished the time I’ve been able to spend at home with my children this year. 2020 has been an incredibly unpredictable year and, at times, incredibly challenging. But I feel so fortunate to have had this time, and I will hold on to these memories as I transition back to work in the new year. One lesson I’ve learned is that quality is much better than quantity. When I have been home all day with the children, it is impossible to have fun activities planned all day long and to engage with them fully at every moment (especially when there is cleaning to be done, food to be cooked, etc). I feel confident that I can still incorporate a significant amount of quality time with each child when I return to work.

So I will spend these next few weeks cherishing each additional unburdened minute with them and reflecting on how to incorporate more of that time into a busier future. And I will also be looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy – for myself – through my career.

Gratitude

If you had asked me this time last year what 2020 would bring, I would have never predicted any of this. A global pandemic, working from home, our children out of school for months, wearing an N95 and face shield to see each and every patient, Zoom classes for a 4 and a 5 year old, walking around downtown wearing a mask, a scarcity of paper towels and hand sanitizer, not seeing our families for months…it seems surreal reading those words back, even though they are things that actually happened (and are happening) this year.

Someone shared this image with me today and it seemed so fitting to read on Thanksgiving Eve. As an adult, I recognize that this holiday is not the idyllic pilgrim/Native American bonding fest that I learned about in school. It also wasn’t a huge holiday in our home. We were immigrants, my parents disliked turkey and I was a vegetarian, so we only really started celebrating when my younger brother was in school because he found out that all of his friends were eating turkey! But through the years we have come to define this holiday on our own terms. At the very beginning of our relationship, my husband and I celebrated at his aunt’s home, a family tradition for them and my first introduction to the extended family. We would drive or take a bus to see our families. Once we moved out West, we enjoyed a number of Friendsgiving festivities, since the holiday break always seemed too short to fly out East.

This year, we will be celebrating alone as a new family of 6. We are ordering a traditional Thanksgiving meal, because the thought of cooking with four little ones running around and no one to entertain them is too much. We’ll surprise the kids with gratitude lists – a compilation of why their parents and siblings are grateful for them. We’ll watch the Macy’s Day Parade, run our own Turkey Trot (a 1 or 2 mile loop around the neighborhood) and choose toys to donate to a local school district. I feel more fortunate than ever to have created this sweet full nuclear family during this incredibly tumultuous year.

While compiling photos for our 2020 photo book, I began to see our adventures this year in a different light. So many photos of the local park, where we went for days upon days upon days, because it was close to home and had bike trails and few people – the place where our then 1 year old learned to ride his strider bike like a champ. Photos of us walking, biking and scooting around the neighborhood – devising different routes to spice things up. The countless workbooks and crafts we coordinated for the kids to do – so many pictures of them gathered around the dining room table working on one thing or another. The forts and pillow creations and countless games of “lava”. The bounce house we finally caved and bought, and how when the wildfires were raging we set it up in our living room to get the wiggles out. The summer weekends spent in an isolated area of the beach, the kids first venturing timidly to the water and then donning wetsuits and bodyboards so confidently that we had to move them to a beach that was safer for little ones to swim in. Reimagining birthdays – photos of home decor, cakes, presents. The time we celebrated the birthday of two stuffed animals in our home just to have an activity for the weekend (also learning that stuffed animals are now called “stuffies”). The boys spending most of the day half-naked in the backyard, doing all sorts of water play and venturing over to the “hot side” of the house to have their picnic lunch. A first day of school photo in front of a laptop and a white board when our oldest child’s school launched a virtual curriculum at the start of the year. So many great memories that warm my heart.

Like most hard things, the photos show only the good times. Missing from them is the fear as COVID-19 spread to our community. The uncertainty at the hospital – when do we wear masks? How do we screen patients? Will we run out of PPE? Seeing patients while pregnant, hoping I wouldn’t get sick. Coming home and showering immediately before allowing the kids to come close to me. The disappointment as we canceled trip after trip – wiping away tears when our children cried to see their grandparents. The fear of having to go to the ED postpartum and worrying about exposing my 3 day old to COVID. My oldest saying “I’m so sick of coronavirus. I’m tired of hand sanitizer and wearing masks. I wish things could go back to normal.” The weight of trying to make everything okay for your kids, when things in the world were so far from okay.

But we have been lucky. We have not gotten sick. Our parents have not gotten sick. My husband and I still have our jobs. We have not suffered financially. Two of our children are able to attend school in person. I am immensely grateful for all of that and more.

So this Thanksgiving, I am choosing to reflect on the positive notes in those photos. Years from now, that is ultimately what I will remember the most. A special time when all 5 (and then 6) of us were able to be safe at home together. No school, working from home, then maternity and paternity leave. A special time to bond while our children were young and wanted to spend time with us. My goal for the next few weeks, in anticipation of returning to work, is to enjoy these moments as much as possible. As difficult as they can be sometimes, I know that I will miss them immensely when they are gone.

Distance

Today, while I was tidying up our bedroom, my 20 month old reached into a bathroom drawer and pulled out a bag my mom keeps at our house filled with essential toiletries. My parents (and in-laws) live across the country, but my mom used to (pre-COVID) visit frequently. To avoid buying new toiletries whenever she arrived, we started keeping a bag for her so that it would always be ready for the next trip.

My heart was heavy when I saw that bag. Who knows when the next trip will be? We canceled our trip last month as well as the upcoming one in July. She canceled her trip in June. The big unknown is August. Will she come out for this baby’s birth? She has been such an integral part of each child’s early days that I have no idea how we will handle it alone. And if school doesn’t open in the fall, how will we handle a newborn and a 2 year old while homeschooling a preschooler and kindergartener?

There are so many things to worry about. If she travels, are we putting her at risk for getting COVID? Would she need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival? Would she be stuck here for the second surge of this pandemic? What if my father gets sick and she is unable to be there right away (and would she need to quarantine upon arrival)? Is she at higher risk of getting COVID around my kids than she would be at home?

Of course I want her to be here, but I also feel that it would be a selfish request. We’ll talk more about it as the date draws closer, but I’m going to prepare for the newborn days without her.

This pandemic has highlighted the distance between us. My husband and I have lived away from our families throughout the entirety of our 13 year relationship. We moved to California a decade ago. There have been times when it felt farther than others, but we always knew we were a (relatively) short flight away from home and our families. COVID-19 has changed everything. Flying feels so risky and it seems silly to endeavor it when we are so carefully sheltering in place in every other respect. I don’t see this changing any time soon, and the prediction is that this is going to last months to years. My hope is that our families stay healthy during this time, but I also recognize that we don’t have limitless years left with our parents and it is such a shame to missing out on time when they are well and able to enjoy their grandchildren.

So much to be sad about during this unprecedented time. For now, I’m going to keep my mom’s toiletry bag tucked in the bathroom drawer, hoping that her next trip is not too far away.