Thursday, January 14, 2010


Kindergarten. I had long, shiny hair. Which Mom had cut into a short, stylish shag - no doubt after too much twisted end-chewing, or on
e too many pieces of gum being cut out of it. Short = practical. And Mom only had so much time in the
morning - with four kids, a job, no spouse.

I can recall sitting on the bench seat of the
ily car, post-cut. We had gone to a 'real' hair cutting place. A beauty school, with rows of chairs.

Driving home, in our olive green (metallic brown?) Buick - just before the station wagon - I scootched across the brown pleather bench seat to the middle, to see my reflection in the rear-view mirror. I couldn't quite reconcile that She... was me.

Time has not adjusted that first impression. Pictures (and family movies) prove: it was awful.

On the day I came to school with new hair, the boy (Mike Rhodes! I remember, I remember!) wouldn't talk to me.

The last two to be picked up, every day, I approached Mike Rhodes (I think of the name like "Charlie Brown -" always to be said as one) on the stairs after school, where we waited for our (working) mothers.

"Remember me? You said I was your girlfriend!" (A word it took great courage to speak out loud.)

With visible distaste, and incredulity, he replied.. "What? I don''t even know you. MY girlfriend has LONG HAIR. You look like a BOY." And, if memory is correct, he then moved to a different stair.

And the moral, of course (since cautionary tales have those) is: Say nice things. People remember the mean stuff.


In 2000, a month after the birth of my first, I had no idea what I was doing.

My sister-in-law Kim, who had - at that time - a three-year-old and a one-year-old, seemed a seasoned professional. She had already seen through to the other side of potty training, first words, first steps.

Kim had, and has, a patient, disciplined approach to child-rearing. She is calm, laid back when she needs to be - and I have never seen her actually explode. (She cannot, I will disclose here, say the same about me.)

Kim introduced me to Dr. Denmark.

Both of her children had their first well-baby visits with Dr. Denmark, and she recommended I do the same.

Leila Denmark.

At the time, Leila was 101 years old. A practicing pediatrician, working out of her office, next to her home - in Alpharetta. Far outside the perimeter (OTP, as we say), on a sleepy street, with a giant oak in the yard.

You arrived at the office and entered, according to your need: sick children, well babies. Well babies got first attention. No appointments. $15/visit, pay cash at the desk. One person worked for her, as I recall.

Dr. Denmark took her role very seriously: showing generations of mothers how to trust themselves. She believed in the football hold for soothing fussy children. She taught that crying toughened lungs, and that coughs were to be resolved and not shut up. She felt cow's milk was dangerous and mother's milk was best.

She spent thirty minutes talking to me and my healthy baby - reassuring, and doling out time-honored wisdom. I towered over her, and she seemed the pillar of strength. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to appear capable. To win her approval.

She said, at the time, that we should all read less about raising children and spend more time raising them. She said to have clear boundaries, that babies didn't want to roam free - that children want limits. She felt strongly that you should never raise your voice or hand to your child, but that you should be attentive enough to not need to do either. She felt we should all, new parents, quit looking to books to tell us what to do and find quiet spaces to figure out our instincts, and follow them. "A cow knows what to do with a calf - certainly you can figure out what to do with your baby."

She was affirming, comforting, and direct. And she loved every minute of what she was doing.

My same son has been sick this week with a mysterious and somewhat gruesome virus that has left his lips, inside his mouth, and throat riddled with sores. He has had a fever for seven days. My primary care physician scolded me for taking him to urgent care. The urgent care physician gave him antibiotics that aren't doing anything discernible.

It appears to be running its course, and he is on the mend.

And out-of-pocket, this journey (and we have great insurance) has cost in excess of $200.

The doctors poked a little, prodded some. Gave some advice. The feeling was of work - their jobs, our efforts to get there. Insurance cards examined and processed. I was tired just going, and my son felt no more soothed by the words of doctors that went around him.

My son is sick. Our healthcare system is screwed up. And I miss Dr. Denmark - who I hear is still alive, in Athens. At 112.

So I was thinking about her today. Talking about her, to my friend Kelly, who said "I remember her! My Dad loves her! You should write about her."

And then the day took off. And all this work stuff happened. Work opportunities of the kind of work I did before. Pre-kids, pre-marriage. Event stuff where work and play all blurred. And being in the thick of it was fun.

And I chased the opportunities, and I agreed to complicated things that will take me away from here. For several weeks. For a Super Bowl. For a winter Olympics. And the idea is crazy. And the rush of being In It is enticing. And I questioned my decision, as a mother. And it looped back around to Leila, somehow, who said:

" Anything on earth you want to do is play. Anything on earth you have to do is work. Play will never kill you, work will. I never worked a day in my life." - Dr. Leila Denmark, who retired at 103, the world's longest-practicing pediatrician.

Now, of course she also said a lot about that your children coming first. And mine do. But right now - I also need to work my chops just a little. Do something different. Go somewhere other. And come back here. Thrilled - six or so weeks from now - to return. And they need to see me off. To do something I want. Something... interesting. (That will also pay some bills - here in the first month of unemployment.)

Of course, this all assumes Sebastian will be fine by next week. He will be. He will be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


There is so much happening right now - or not happening right now - in my world, near my world, that I am stunned and dumbstruck and accomplishing little.

I lost my job. My 'contract,' though there never was one. It was four years of well-paid month-to-month that ends - entirely expectedly - at the end of January. To get to that End, I have to travel to south Florida, where we lived for four years. I will go back there, and spend ten days ending, or facilitate others' taking over whatever it is I do.

The trip itself has elements I will embrace: there is the ocean, there are close friends, and my sister who is a friend. There are highways that are straight and traffic that is laughable (compared to here.) There are salty breezes and there are shells. And there will be quiet evenings alone, and loud evenings with too much wine and friends. And responsibilities that do not extend to small, demanding people.

Of course I don't want to go. Even with all that said. My life is here, my world is here, my people are here. My small people are my world. And the Big One is here - and he's still my best friend and the person with whom I most want to end my days.

I looked at bringing someone mid-trip. "Someone" meant Annabeth, because I will have just taken a short trip with Sebastian (DC this weekend, 4th grade trip - if he recovers from his current tenacious illness). She would fly, as an unaccompanied minor. But I looked, and it was - sadly - cost-prohibitive for someone on the cusp of losing nearly half of the household income. I didn't tell her.

Sunday night, not talking about any of this, Annabeth was a mess. Moving deftly between whiny and petulant and bossy and sullen, she finally stomped to bed. I went in to say goodnight. Asked her where this had come from, why she was so committed to such meanness.

She said, quite out-of-the-blue, "I don't want you to leave us." And she started sobbing. Softly, bravely, trying-not-to-ly into her pillow.

And I said, quite out of my own control, "how about you come visit? You fly, by yourself, to the beach, and come visit me? And we stay in a hotel? And we see the ocean and visit old friends?"

And she stopped crying. And it seemed well worth the $200+ I just committed to make it stop.