My Target Guardian Angel

I like to think of myself as someone who generally has her sh*t together. Someone who is skilled at multitasking, who keeps her cool when things get stressful. Which is how I found myself at Target last week staring at one cart full of children squirting poop and tears and another piled high with cartons of diapers and wipes. Oh, and three huge containers of animal crackers mixed in there for good measure.

My plan had seemed foolproof. (Okay, at the very least, doable.) Feeling too guilty to have a huge order of mega-packs of diapers shipped when there was a store nearby and I had a day off from work, I had placed my order online and selected in-store pickup. The next day, I loaded up my sons, two-year-old Bean and three-month-old Teeny, both freshly fed and changed, and headed out. Bean’s naptime still loomed a good two hours away and Teeny usually snoozes happily on and off throughout the day, so conditions seemed ripe for success.

All went smoothly as we circled the store to grab a few small items and made our way through the checkout line. We headed over to customer service and the guy behind the counter pulled up our record then wheeled out a shopping cart filled with large boxes. He eyed the cart I was pushing, the main section of which held Teeny in his infant carrier and the front section of which held Bean. “Do you need help?” he asked halfheartedly, as I started loading the boxes underneath. I waved him back toward the counter where other customers had begun to line up because, I figured, I’ve got this.

The tipping point was when I tried to snug two of the containers of animal crackers in the front with Bean. He didn’t want to share his space – in fact, he suddenly wanted out of the cart right now – and began to whine, which escalated quickly to a wail. Teeny, who had woken up a few aisles back but until now had remained quiet, decided that he, too, was done with this expedition and would prefer to be held and fed. It was around this time that he also let out a poop explosion that not only blasted out of his onesie but, as I would later discover, puddled into the carrier, soaking the seat cushion and dripping through the cracks to the coat the plastic base.

I tried firmness and then bribery with Bean, trying to coax him into letting me stuff several items in the seat beside him as I simultaneously tried to shove another carton of diapers onto the shelf below. I’ll just squish everything together, I thought, as the boys’ cries continued to escalate. It will be fine, I reasoned, with less and less conviction.

“Can I help you?” a new voice asked. I looked up to see a petite woman eyeing our situation with concern.

“Oh no, it’s all right,” I said, waving a hand at the general chaos before me. “We’ll be fine.”

She frowned. “There’s no way you’re going to fit all of that. Here, I’ll wheel the other cart out to your car.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, only if there’s nothing else that you need to do.”

“Only return a pair of shoes,” she said, “and I can do that after I help you.”

I sighed. The boys’ chorus continued. I acquiesced.

“I remember having young kids,” she said as we headed out to the parking lot.

I wanted to explain that it’s not usually like this. That during residency I resuscitated babies while swollen from belly to ankles as I carried my own; that I managed the ICU with no in-house fellow or attending. That I pride myself in working full time, raising my kids, and keeping our house and lives in order. That complications and multitasking are kind of my thing. And yet as we wheeled our way down one row of cars, stopping so that I could survey the lot in search of my vehicle, realizing only after I spotted it that I driven my husband’s car and not my own (and moments after that that while I was now searching for the correct model of car, the one I was currently steering us towards wasn’t actually ours), I felt like my sh*t couldn’t be less together. I hurried along, willing this interaction to end so I could return to at least pretending to be a competent parent and adult.

We parked the carts once we reached the right car, and I hustled the boys into their seats, promising Bean that he could have some animal crackers if he would just wait a moment longer. I began loading boxes into the trunk, praying that the woman wouldn’t notice that we were also barely going to be able to fit everything in the car around the clutter already there and wondering from which of my sons the scent of stool was now wafting.

As I thanked her, perhaps too hurriedly, the woman paused and held my gaze. “This was my random act of kindness.”

I must have given her my best What, now? look because she quickly pressed on. “One of my friends just lost a baby. Her other friends and I are doing random acts of kindness this week as a tribute.”

I don’t know what I said next. I’m not even sure what I felt. I know that the woman wished us well and that, sitting in the parking lot with the air conditioning blasting, no longer in a hurry, I ate animal crackers with Bean. I stripped Teeny down, sopping up the poop as well as I could but also knowing that whatever I missed could be washed out later. I nursed him until he calmed and then buckled him back into his seat. I drove my boys home. And I hugged them hard.

*Cross-posting with Mothers in Medicine

The Hunger Games: my article for JAMA

It took two years of writing drafts, editing, setting them aside and then starting over, but I was finally able to capture the stress and guilt I experienced when I had trouble nursing my first son and the ways it affected my practice as a pediatrician. It appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. You can read it here.

Keeping Kids Safe in Summer

I’m so pleased to have an article I wrote appear in the Huffington Post! But more importantly, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to spread the word about how dangerous it is to leave a child (or pet!) unattended in the car for ANY length of time, and how this happens by accident more often than you’d think. Here’s my article, plus one that appeared today and contains some great tips on prevention.

 

New Blogging Gig!

I’m thrilled to have been chosen to join the blogging team over at Mothers in Medicine for the next year. I’ve guest-posted for them before, but recently they put out a call for official bloggers for the site and I answered and was selected! I’ll post links on The Growth Curve to everything I post over there, but in the meantime, check out some of the thoughtful posts by my co-bloggers: http://www.mothersinmedicine.com/?m=1

Should the star of my life star in my writing?

Lately my husband has been sending me a lot of articles discussing the use – or careful avoidance of – the Internet and social media by parents for the sharing of photos of their children. Most of the articles are written by people who have made a conscious decision to minimize their children’s exposure to the online public, some simply by limiting the number of pictures they post and by strengthening their privacy settings, others by establishing password-access-only sites to share pictures with close friends and family, and, in one case, by registering a URL, email address, and Facebook account in the child’s name, to be handed owe to him or her at such time as the parents deem appropriate.  I have not yet come across any articles encouraging the opposite, go-ahead-and-share-away philosophy, which I suppose makes sense since that approach seems to be the norm.

I will admit that I share photos of my son on Facebook.  There was the initial birth announcement featuring a shot from the delivery room. I keep an album of the photos we take each month, him propped in the same chair with his stuffed elephant nearby for comparison. Is he in my profile image?  Yes.  Other than that, I don’t post very often, but does it really make a difference given that I’m posting at all? In terms of preserving his privacy and waiting until he is of an age to give consent, or at least assent, to the sharing of his identity and image, is it an all or nothing phenomenon?

This really brings up a bigger question for me – what about my writing? How does one manage privacy concerns when writing about one’s family? My husband figures frequently in my work, and although I never delve into deep dark family secrets or share anything overly private, he is always my first reader and I give him full veto power over any piece that involves him. (He has yet to exercise that power.)

But now there is my son. One simple solution would be to not write about him until he is older and can grant permission, but he is such a huge part of my life, and already has such a great influence on all of the things that I process through my writing – my work as a pediatrics resident, the balance between career responsibilities and family life, and of course the joys and challenges of motherhood – that avoiding mention of him feels impossible and counterproductive.

Protecting our subjects’ privacy, especially when those subjects are patients, is a topic that features frequently at conferences in the medical humanities. The general consensus seems to be that the writer should try to gain the subject’s permission and, barring that, alter any information that might make the individual identifiable to someone who knows him or her.

Thus far, I have taken a similar approach in writing about my baby. I never use his first name, and handily his last name is different from my own.  Nothing that I share pertains to his appearance, health, or any other aspect of his life thus far that he could conceivably in the future wish to keep private. The question looms as to whether he will be upset one day that I have written about him at all. That’s something that I can’t predict. I can only hope that he will understand how essential the act of writing is to his mother’s well being and that he will know that I have made every decision with the intent to protect him.

How do other writers feel about including their children in their writing? Do you avoid it, embrace it, or strive for some middle ground?