Thursday, October 5, 2017

Life Lessons From a Pediatrician (or Why I'm Glad I Still Take My Son to the Baby Doc)

I took my son to the pediatrician today and got more than I bargained for.

So did he - other than the three unexpected immunizations. 

My son needed a sports physical for track so it was just a routine visit. I commented as we sat in the colorful “Wave” waiting room with the tiny chairs, giant fish tank and cartoons on the TV that maybe it was time to move up to a “big person doctor.” (He agreed, but said he’d miss the fish tank.)

After the obligatory height, weight and medical history check by the nurse, Dr. Akerele came in to perform the physical. He was certainly personable, obviously intelligent and extremely observant. He asked all the basic health questions while quickly developing a rapport with my son, so much so that soon they were talking about school, friends, girls, teenager things, family relationships and even the future.

It's so interesting to stand back and listen to another adult ask my son about his future. I know he doesn’t have it all planned out – he’s 16, for God’s sake – but I’m always curious as to what he’s thinking – or if he's thinking – about life after high school. Right now, at least. Anyone with kids knows that the flavor of the month can change from fireman to astronaut to teacher to pilot to underwater welder pretty quickly.

Right now my son says he wants to go into coding or music production. Having an older son who expressed interest in the latter, I feel as if I know something about what it entails to have music production as a life choice, and it’s a tough one. Coding, while a safe bet and potentially money-making, is pretty cutthroat and honestly not something I see my youngest doing day in and day out based on his personality and interests – but that’s not for me to decide, necessarily.

However, this concern was further validated when I talked to one of my good IT friends at work about what my son should be doing now to test the coding waters. “I suggested he dabble with some programs or games on the Internet,” I said, “just for fun to see if he likes it. I found a bunch of websites that I gave him but he hasn’t done anything with them.” His reply was, “If he’s truly interested in coding, he’d be dabbling in it right now. He’d be creating websites or trying to hack into some computer system. If he’s not doing that, chances are that interest is going to be short-lived.”

True or not, he had a point. I know many people find their callings by accident, or midlife, or later in life. But I would suspect that many had an inkling through their personalities and interests as to what they might do. Me? That was easy. I wrote a lot. Always. No-brainer. The kids who tended to every bump and bruise became doctors and nurses. The artists became graphic designers. And the computer geeks? Well, they did coding.

I know that’s stereotypical in some respects and obviously not true for all people but I’m speaking in generalities. If my son wants to learn to code, that’s great. I just get the feeling that it’s not going to be something he’s going to love long-term.

But I digress. The point of all this is to say that my son got quite an education today from a man who is obviously very smart and successful, but has had his share of hardships and has attained his success by hard work and lots of mistakes. And as successful as he seems to be right now, it sounds like he’s only getting started.

I’m going to fail miserably at trying to reiterate everything he said to my son, but basically, he showed him two sides of the coin: those who work hard for what they want and those who simply expect to get it. Those who push the boundaries and those who stay within them. Those who live their passion, and those who just get through to 5:00.

Other than the first one about expecting to get what you want, there are no wrong ways to be. Obviously he is a man who pushes boundaries. Already with a medical degree, he is now attending school again to learn to code; not because he wants to know how to code, but so he can understand it and talk to the individuals who will be helping him develop a revolutionary new healthcare app he’s working on. He and his brother have been in countless ventures together over the course of their lifetime, and told my son, “You know how many times we failed? Ninety-five. But that’s the only way we learned.”

My son, of course, wants to be rich so he can have all the expensive things. Doc told him, “It’s OK to want to be rich. But desire to be the kind of rich where you are successful four-fold: you’ve taken care of yourself, you’ve provided for your family, you’ve helped someone else and you’ve made the world a better place.” For instance, he said, “You’re interested in music. Find a way that musicians in third world countries can record and upload their music – share their music with the rest of the world.”

“If rich is your goal,” he said, “you’re going to have to think outside the box. You’re going to want to be the one who pays yourself versus getting paid. Do you want be your own boss or do you want someone else to build an empire on your bones?” (I’m not sure how I feel about what he said but I truly love the line about “building an empire on your bones” so I included it.)

Regardless of my opinion of everything this man said, I was transfixed by his speech. Here was a guy who wasn’t just talking the talk – he was walking the walk as well. He wasn’t telling my son what to do – he was telling him, based on his knowledge and experience, what he would have to do to reach the goals he had just vocalized. And my son was listening.

I was all in until he said, “…and you don’t necessarily have to go to school…”

Um … hey, doc. Ixnay on the no oolschay.

I’ve heard this opinion before, and I know to some extent it’s true. But having had one son not attend college because he “didn’t need it” and watching him struggle now, I really, really, really want my other son to attend if not college, a trade school. I believe in that very strongly.

I said as much and was relieved that the doc backed up his statement by saying that a four-year university wasn’t always necessary (as well as financially possible or reasonable) and that a community college or trade school could be a consideration. He told him, “If you want to go into coding, don’t major in it. Major in Business. Go to a community college for the first two years and get your core classes in business. Save that $40,000 a year. Finish up your coding at a university – a good university – as a minor, and you’ll know that, but you’ll also have a business degree that you'll use no matter what you go into, and also have it to fall back on if coding isn’t working out or paying the bills.”

He mentioned a relative of his who took over his dad’s plumbing business. “These guys attend trade school and make good money – there’s always a need. He took over dad’s business, expanded it to corporate plumbing and HVAC and is now extremely successful.”

Trade, business, entrepreneur. Nobody’s building an empire on his bones.

Doc mentioned that it was too bad that many people were not doing what they loved as their career. I told him I was doing what I loved, but unfortunately, the money never has been, never is and never will be there for me. He admitted that that was the case for some careers, and that other times, sacrifices for family and kids came into play. That must be my triple whammy right there, I said.

But in speaking about passions, I thought about mine –writing. Sure, I like my job, and I get to write every day. But my happy place isn’t in a cubicle in a building writing everything I’m told – it’s in an upstairs nook of an old house overlooking a quiet street typing up my fourth self-help or non-fiction book. It’s going into small bookstores for a reading or a signing and having people tell me that I helped them. It’s learning from those people and using them as inspiration and information to write more and more.

Is that my passion? Yes. Is that something I could have done five, 10 or 20 years ago? And jeopardize my own financial stability and time with my kids? No. In the future? Never say never.

But here was this man, this doctor, who didn’t know my son any more than his chart – and who wasn’t ME – telling him to grab the world by the balls while he can. I know I was listening – I think my son was, too. I hope it makes him think. I hope he takes it to heart. I hope when we are discussing college visits and his plans for the future that he remembers today – not only as he takes a step toward his future but in every step he takes from now on. What he thinks he wants is going to change so many times between now and, well, a long time. I want him to know he has options. I want him to know he can dream – but I also want him to know that the dreamers are also the workers – and he needs to be a worker.

Doc told my son it's important to learn from others - to find a mentor to talk to and to ask for guidance. This is something I always wanted for my oldest so it was everything I could do to not get on my knees and beg this guy to be my son's muse. But I resisted, thinking I'd talk with my son later about this conversation to see if it impacted him as much as it did me.

Our appointment was scheduled before school this morning, and my son was over an hour and a half late getting back. I honestly can’t imagine time more well spent, and I want to thank Dr. Akerele for stepping up – for being my son’s mentor – for telling it to him straight – and hopefully giving him some food for thought as he continues to dream and work toward his own life and his own future.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Stand Up, for God's Sake

I'm just going to say it. It is my opinion that every American should stand at attention with hand over heart when the National Anthem is played. This includes politicians (ahem ... Mr. Trump,) football players, fans, and ever American with the ability to stand.

Beyond disappointed in these Packers players.
I bet Vince Lombardi would not approve.
Now before you freak out, I get freedom of speech. I get that the rationale behind kneeling (or sitting - ???) is apparently NOT supposed to reflect disrespect, but to protest - to make a statement - against inequality, oppression and any other of the many issue America has right now. It gets attention. I won't deny it's started conversations and brought awareness to our issues. But that doesn't make it right in my eyes.

Before you disagree and tell me how wrong I am, because I know there are very vehement opinions on either side, just take a moment and read this from the Smithsonian.

On a rainy September 13, 1814, British warships sent a downpour of shells and rockets onto Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, relentlessly pounding the American fort for 25 hours. The bombardment, known as the Battle of Baltimore, came only weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury and the President's house. It was another chapter in the ongoing War of 1812.

A week earlier, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old American lawyer, had boarded the flagship of the British fleet on the Chesapeake Bay in hopes of persuading the British to release a friend who had recently been arrested. Key's tactics were successful, but because he and his companions had gained knowledge of the impending attack on Baltimore, the British did not let them go. They allowed the Americans to return to their own vessel but continued guarding them. Under their scrutiny, Key watched on September 13 as the barrage of Fort McHenry began eight miles away.

"It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone," Key wrote later. But when darkness arrived, Key saw only red erupting in the night sky. Given the scale of the attack, he was certain the British would win. The hours passed slowly, but in the clearing smoke of "the dawn's early light" on September 14, he saw the American flag—not the British Union Jack—flying over the fort, announcing an American victory.

Key put his thoughts on paper while still on board the ship, setting his words to the tune of a popular English song. His brother-in-law, commander of a militia at Fort McHenry, read Key's work and had it distributed under the name "Defence of Fort M'Henry." The Baltimore Patriot newspaper soon printed it, and within weeks, Key's poem, now called "The Star-Spangled Banner," appeared in print across the country, immortalizing his words—and forever naming the flag it celebrated.

Nearly two centuries later, the flag that inspired Key still survives, though fragile and worn by the years. To preserve this American icon, experts at the National Museum of American History recently completed an eight-year conservation treatment with funds from Polo Ralph Lauren, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Congress. And when the museum reopens in summer 2008, the Star-Spangled Banner will be its centerpiece, displayed in its own state-of-the-art gallery.

"The Star-Spangled Banner is a symbol of American history that ranks with the Statue of Liberty and the Charters of Freedom," says Brent D. Glass, the museum's director. "The fact that it has been entrusted to the National Museum of American History is an honor."

See, it's the AMERICAN FLAG. It doesn't stand for oppression and hatred and inequality. It stands for unity and patriotism and courage and integrity and pride. Maybe we don't have all of that right now, but taking a knee, or worse yet, sitting down in front of this sacred symbol - in my opinion - is disrespectful to those who fought, in battle or in the courtroom or in Independence Hall where the Constitution was signed.

Stand up. Stand up and put your hand over your heart and be thankful for what our ancestors did for this country. You want to make change? Write some letters. Organize some rallies. Send some messages to our leaders and put the pressure on. And if you're already doing some of this outside of your kneeling protest, then for God's sake, stand up for what you're doing and for what you believe in.

It's the least we can do for this tattered flag and this broken country. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Regrets .. I've had (more than) a few ...

Everybody has regrets.

"Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption."

See? Even Frank Sinatra. But he only had a few, and didn't feel like they were worth bringing up, even in a 4-1/2 minute song.

I have regrets. More than a few. And at times, the thought of them nearly paralyzes me. It usually starts like this: I think of something I wish I hadn't done ... and I ponder and obsess on that awhile, then that usually begets another regret ... and another ... and by the time I'm done I've regretted myself into a hole of shame and deprecation.

I've thought about this blog and writing everything I'm feeling, and how any comments made would probably be something like, "The past doesn't have an eraser." "Learn from your mistakes and move on." "The mistakes you made yesterday helped shape the person you are today." "Learn to forgive yourself." "Regrets are nothing more than wasted thoughts." "Regrets are life lessons."

Yeah, I know all this. But here's the deal. We all have regrets - you can't say you don't. They exist, to quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, "deep down in places you don't talk about at parties." You can frost them with inspirational sayings and positive thinking and claims that you did what you thought you should do at the time (which of course is very true at times, but doesn't qualify to push it out of the "regret" category), but they're still just icing that cake you hate because you had it at the worst birthday party of your childhood.

Many people can overcome regrets to a point by finding a place for them to occupy so deep down inside of them that there's so much other shit on top they'll never see the light of day. For me, they hang out pretty close to the surface. I don't know if I'm supposed to get over them, or they're supposed to go away at some point, or if they are simply my punishment for making bad decisions and fucking up. Maybe they're God's way of keeping us humble - letting us know that we can sit here and think we are awesome people and good Christians and wow aren't we just the all that and a bag of chips but really we are ignorant humans who (for some) think we are the end-all-be-all.

Yeah, you're gonna regret that.

I'd love to be one of those who lies on my deathbed saying I have no regrets. If you can do that on yours, more power to you. Maybe I'll figure out how to get there one day. But right now, I kind of see that as saying your shit doesn't stink. "Everything I did worked out the way it was supposed to be, regardless of any bad decision I made on my part." Plus I don't want to lie on a deathbed. I want to go quick. Real quick.

That leads me to my biggest regret. In the grand scheme of things, I have some that are of greater consequence; in fact, most of them I'd say were more impactful on how I lived my life or the effect it had on others. Regardless, the fact that I left my mother's side a half an hour before she passed away is something for which I will never, ever forgive myself. I can sit here and say that I wanted to make sure my dad got home because there was a snowstorm. I can say that I had to pick up my kid from his friend's house because I didn't want him spending the night out again. I can say I was tired and had been there by her side most of the day. It is of absolutely no comfort. I relive that night over and over and over and over in my brain. She had all the signs of being very close to dying. I hesitated before I left. My dad almost turned around in the snowstorm to go back to her after I sent him on his way. We left at 10:30 pm. She died at 11:08. And not only do I have to live with the fact that I wasn't there,  my dad has to live with it as well, and I have to live with the fact that he has to live with it. If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed. I would have stayed.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have been nicer to my little brother when I was little. I blame myself for some of the problems he had growing up, and probably for the distant relationship we have now. You can tell me not to blame myself, but I know I am to blame. So why would I not? If I had it to do all over again, I would have been less of a bitch to my parents when they moved to Peoria when I was 13 and hating my life. Sure, I was immature and selfish and unhappy. Why is that an excuse to be such a shit to your parents who are in the same boat as you?

If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited to go to college, or stuck it out at my first one, or gone somewhere different. I hate having to explain that I went to four colleges and feel dishonest when someone asks where I went to school and I only mention the one I graduated from because I'm embarrassed at my immaturity, indecisiveness and stupidity during my college years.

I certainly would have broken up with the completely self-absorbed high school boyfriend who I made the catalyst of my inane decisions my freshman year of college. And to that end, if I had it to do all over again, I would have much more faith in myself so that I would never, ever allow my life to be ruled by a man. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't settle no matter how high I was told my expectations were. I wouldn't think that a man's hopes and dreams were bigger or more important than mine. I would have listened to my intuition and not turned a blind eye to my feelings of insignificance, tendencies to watch everything I said or did or my uneasy suspicions of emotional infidelity.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have done the marriage thing differently. I don't think I'm the type of person who should be married, but an overall regret of mine is that I have always done what I "should" do because I could never really come to terms with the fact that I'm the kind of person who lives life a little less mainstream than others. And I always thought that what I wanted to do was selfish if it meant infringing on someone else's plan (like my parents' plan for me and college) or dream (like my ex-husband's flying career).

I can't say I regret getting married simply because I have two amazing sons who I am completely convinced God wanted me to have - these two specifically - even though I doubt my prowess as a mother. But I regret how I did the marriage thing, despite the specific advice from my mother on how to have a successful one. I regret how my marriage ended because of words not said, actions not done and emotions not taken into account because at some point I just wanted it all to go away so I could start over. How many times have I begged for a re-do in life?

I regret a lot of my relationships, or poor excuses for them. Again, I did what I thought I should be doing, but in the end could never emotionally commit for one reason or another, so I bolted - sometimes without notice or explanation. Because it's hard to explain something you don't understand yourself. Not an excuse; much so a regret. Then there was the relationship that went on much too long because I had become a shadow of myself. I regret letting that go on way past its expiration date, for dragging my kids to another city, for not accepting and doing something about the fact that he was still emotionally invested in someone else, and for allowing myself to be deprioritized by him and by myself. I look back on that and wonder how I could have had so little self worth to allow myself to put up with all that shit - and to put my children through it as well.

I regret the decision I made to move into the school district I did. This is one of those things where I thought I was making the right choice, but I still think if I would have had a little more time to think it through and do my research versus being under the gun, I would have made a better decision that could have more positively affected the lives of my kids as well as my own mental health. I regret not staying in an area where my kids already had friends, and I had friends, and we all knew each other. I haven't had that since I moved back here, and I think it would have made the difference in a lot of respects.

So unlike Mr. Sinatra, I have a lot of regrets. Regrets of things I have done, and regrets of things I didn't do. I have regrets about things that probably haven't even happened yet. And yes, I'm sure many of you have them as well; some of them much bigger and life-altering than the ones I've listed here. Some of you are able to find a place to put them so you can go on living your daily lives without these compunctions filling your mind like a stopped-up toilet.

I wish I could, but I can't. I just can't. A part of me wishes I could go back in time and change how I reacted to things; the other part of me would like to take some sort of pill that would make me forget they ever happened so I can have some peace. I just want peace with myself. Forgiving myself I'm sure is the "answer", but to me, forgiving myself doesn't do much for the others involved. I'm sure my mom doesn't want me to obsess over not being there when she died; my kids may or may not wish they were at a different school or living in a different part of town; past (short) relationships have probably all but forgotten my name and the longer ones are probably pretty relieved, as is my ex-husband - for dodging that bullet he could have been married to for the rest of his life.

What can I do? Again, probably not forgive myself. Probably not forget. All I CAN do is try to slow down and THINK and make better decisions so I don't add on to my laundry list of things I hate myself for - or regret, I should say.

Oh, and fun facts about the Sinatra song mentioned earlier: Paul Anka changed the words to this originally French song to be about a man looking back fondly on a life he lived on his own terms. Sinatra hated the song because he thought it was "self-serving and indulgent".

Trump danced to this song with Melania the night of his inauguration.

Bet Sinatra has more regrets than we first thought.