Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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In Which Pooh and Christopher Robin Reunite

Christopher Robin: “I’m not going to do Nothing anymore.”

Winnie the Pooh: “Never again?”

CR: “Well, not too much. They don’t let you.”

Toddlers rule the world. Seriously. Beth and I are watching the Man Cub and his tiny baby sister (“Pippy”, at least for now) as their parents take an afternoon to be the young couple that they are. A two year old is nothing but non-stop movement, all curiosity and instant gratification in a tiny bundle of Brownian Motion. There’s no sorta minding the toddler while you “get stuff done”, either. When it’s your turn on watch you are either on them like a hawk or you beg to be relieved of duty.

We are (mostly) blessed that our little guy is also quite bright and very verbal. It makes the time quite a bit more enjoyable while simultaneously taxing. “What is it?” pops out every 2 or 3 minutes, and every activity is preceded by an announcement–”I gotta do whatever”–and then accompanied by “play by play”. The announcements are quite handy in that they let you know where the next disaster is headed so that you can be ready to avert.

Having said all of this I am nothing short of astonished by how much more I am enjoying this stage than I did with my own kids. Don’t get me wrong, the sense of discovery and the unconditional love were there when my kids were toddlers for sure. The difference in the experience has everything to do with me: I have given myself permission to enjoy it this time. On Sundays now I muse whenever, whereas if I were a muser back then I would have tried to muse while on duty, an impossible task guaranteed to increase frustration and diminish the joy in both activities.

Therein lies the key, the gift of grandparenthood: you realize that you really do have a choice. If you are wise (or live with a wise spouse like I do) you give yourself permission to do what once upon a time felt like doing Nothing. It’s not, of course. Not for you and not for your little one. For you the gift is to re-live the wonder of discovery in a child while you witness the purity of the experience your grandchild is having. What your grandchild receives is you. All of you, all to themselves, for what feels like to them at the time like all the time in the world.

In the end the most fortunate among us are those who get to live in the chapter that A.A. Milne never wrote. The one in which Christopher Robin realizes that “he” has become “they”, and that it is only for him to decide that it is time for him to return to the Thousand Acre Wood. In the guise of his grandchild he will find that Pooh is still there, that he still loves Pooh and Pooh loves him. There to sit doing what “they” would call Nothing.

With his grandchild at his side, to sit together doing Everything.

 

Leaning Home on Mother’s Day (Sunday musings)

On one Sunday each year we celebrate the Hallmark Cards Mother’s Day. My work buddy Ken actually has it closer to the mark when he says that there are actually 363 Mother’s Days, the other two being Father’s Day and Ken’s birthday. While I love that sentiment we all know that a super-majority of mothers actually give a super-majority of their working hours to their kids, either directly or through the prism of worry while they (the mothers) are at work. There’s not much celebration going on there. For all of its gifts, motherhood the vocation is chockablock filled with hard work and worry.

In my day job a large percentage of my peers, especially my younger peers, are women who are also mothers. I have said (and written) that the pressures on these women is infinitely greater than that on those of us who are fathers because of the fundamentally different demands of what constitutes the minimal expected parental involvement of a mother. Heavy stuff. It is especially daunting to attempt to climb a career ladder that is in addition to what must be done just to do a good job each day in the office. To be a physician leader on the national level is to commit to countless days and nights away form home on top of those that are standard fare for a “regular doctor”. Face it, not a single dad in the same situation is ever asked how he feels about the stress of being away from his kids.

Not a single mom goes through a day without having multiple people ask them just that.

Listen, there’s just no easy answer to this dilemma. One need only look at the tragic epiphany Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had after losing her husband to an accident shortly after her book “Lean In” took every woman who ever worried or wondered about the cost of success to task was published. Ms. Sandberg was adamant that women had no choice but to compete on a level with men. Indeed, that it was their duty, for themselves and for all other women who would follow. She and her book were tone deaf to the realities of life outside the bubble in which every executive/professional was married to a wealthy entrepreneur and had nannies, housekeepers, and cooks. Single mothers, in particular, had trouble finding themselves in her philosophy. One leaned in without a thought to what one might be leaning OUT of.

Ms. Sandberg just published another book, “Plan B”, in which she deals with her grief at losing her husband. To her credit she also revisits her original thesis on what it means to be a mother as well as a woman who has the potential to reach the pinnacle of their respective careers. The pain of her realization of the time she could have spent with her husband and children but didn’t fairly drips off the page. It is truly heartbreaking. Although I was quite frankly repulsed by the arrogance of her first book I can find nothing but the deepest sympathy and sorrow that it took such a loss to open her eyes to what she now realized she’d been missing.

You can only lean in to one thing by leaning out of others. You can have it all I guess, just not all at once.

There is no right or wrong answer here my friends. Certainly no right or wrong answer that I would ever be presumptuous enough to offer, for sure. Only that each of us, mother or father, makes a decision about what it is that we have to do in our own little families. Those of us outside someone else’s family should simply be as understanding as we can possibly be, you know? I wish for Ms. Sandberg sake that she’d been a little more sympathetic before she was tragically forced to be empathetic to those folks who walk in different shoes. For my professional friends I simply wish for a few moments of thought so that they may make a conscious decision about the path they will take; a career will drive away with you if you don’t take the wheel.

Being a Mom is hard work. I’ve not seen anyone in my life work harder than my mother or my darling wife, both of whom stayed home with their children until the school years had passed. They, too, sacrificed, in their cases leaving careers behind, as did my sisters. By leaning out of the traditional workforce their choice was to lean in to their families. Men do that, too, you know, but that’s probably fodder for Father’s Day musings, right?

So for today let us all wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Sheryl Sandbergs out there, to all of my professional colleagues who are trying so hard to balance their professional potential with their desire to be the best moms they can be. Happy Mother’s Day to the moms who spend each hour of their day in the full-time pursuit of the being a mom, looking wistfully at careers that once held so much potential. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who wake up each day and go to sleep each night thinking and dreaming and hoping and worrying about your kids. That’s what moms do, no matter what else they also do, right?

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my Beth, mother to “The Heir”, “Lovely Daughter”, and “Lil’bingo”. We are the family that we are because you chose to be the mother you are.

Committing to a Memory

The White family is moving. Beth has declared that the “Netty Empsters” shall live in a one-level abode. Furthermore, she has decreed that said abode shall occupy ~50% of the land and air now taken up by the dwelling “White house” in which I’ve lived for 21 years. Let the purge begin!

The challenge is in part rather prosaic: what do I/we/you need? There’s really no doubt that there is plenty of extra around here. Plenty of stuff and clutter. Where, though, does one draw the line between necessary, desirable, and…I dunno…neither? Once the line is drawn where does one dispose of “neither”?

I’ve got two very real problems with this process, one understandable and one irrational and silly. The silly one: what if I pitch something, only to discover later that I wanted it? Or worse, NEEDED it? That really is just silly; anything I truly need will be obtainable in a pinch, and anything I think I want will likely be forgotten by my next meal. Yet however silly and however irrational, I still worry over that as I sift through stuff.

The understandable one is a little more poetic and has to do with the totems of my past, those little knickknacks that tease out an equally little smile each time I stumble across them. Even if “stumbling across them” only occurs during a purge. Pictures, yearbooks, trivial little souvenirs of trips and places mostly forgotten.

Only, not really.

It’s that tiny connection to an event or a place or a person, or all three, that I most fear losing. Is this irrational, too? Or worse, is this also silly? I don’t dwell in the past, mine or anyone’s really. I don’t really spend very much time there at all. Yet each of us has a little collection of memories–some real and some (like last week’s musings) just little lies that we choose to believe–that are bathed in a soft sunlight of something that could be called “happy”.

Perhaps it’s generational. Will my kids (and both of you other kids out there their age reading this) ever experience what my darling Beth and I did in our garage yesterday as time stood still, frozen again and again by a picture, a seashell, some trinket? I sure don’t know, but that doesn’t really help me as I sift through the delights and the detritus of a house filled with 21 years of Clan White, and the stored 32 years of memories that came before. The memories and their “triggers” rest in my hands at this moment, not among the electrons dancing across the internet to someday rest in a place that may never need purging.

The rational, actionable answer probably lies there: utilize the tech of the present to preserve the memories of the past. It’s different, though. It really is. Much like the difference between turning the pages of a real newspaper, one made of real paper, and swiping through the same sentences on the device of the moment. The words are the same and the information is transferred equally effectively, only not.

Physically clipping an article or a picture and then carefully husbanding that memory over time, physically, is both qualitatively and quantitatively different from clicking “save” to either Instapaper or Evernote. It takes so little effort to do that latter that there’s no commitment to the memory! I look at a photo on FB, often one of 100+ in an album, and it’s…different.

I think that’s it, really. Commitment. Each time I sift through “stuff”, be it photos or books or trinkets, I make a tiny little on-going commitment to a particular memory when that little trigger goes back in the box, and the box goes back in my house. I make a tiny little commitment to the people who were a part of that memory (usually without ever telling them), a commitment that I will continue to remember them, to remember when being with them made me happy.

Will it be the same for our SM-centric, cloud-connected younger generations? Will it be the same for me and for Mrs. bingo as we go forward, hopefully not done creating tiny memories that will one day elicit those same tiny smiles? Will something be there to prompt them or us to open those virtual boxes that store the trinkets, that store the memories?

I only know that today I am visited by memories, by the people who populate my past, as they compete for a place in my present, the survivors of this latest purge. The ones that still make me smile.