Brief thoughts on parenting and how children will stab you in the f*cking heart…

I’m realizing this month that it’s the 10th anniversary of my foray into the blogosphere. I started to write a sweet little post about the topic that really started it all. My children. I had so many sweet, lovely things to say about my love for them and the amazing experience of watching them grow over the last ten years…

..and then I got an email from TD’s teacher that she’s in trouble because she and some other children buried another kid’s hat during recess. I can’t even wrap my mind around what she was thinking.

What the hell? What the bloody hell?

To be continued

crazy mom.gif

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On that personal statement…

I wanted to get a chance to get back to the blog all weekend, but was distracted by mothering and wife-ing. Twitter was a flitter at the end of last week with discussion of what faculty look for in a personal statement. At the beginning of it all seems to be this tweet…

…quickly followed by another lamenting the number of personal statements a senior faculty member reads about dying grandmothers.

Now, I have to confess the dirty little secret that I have had the same feelings of “why” while reading personal statements. That said, my discomfort doesn’t come from a place of contempt for these young people’s experiences. It comes from the uncomfortable repetition that comes from reading these statements and realizing that students feel obligated or expected to convince faculty that they are promising young scientists because of early life experiences.  That they have to convince us that their passion comes from the traumatic or formative experiences they’ve had from cradle. This expectation is coming from somewhere and I think we all owe it to our students (PhD and professional school candidates) to communicate that they are not obligated to tell us about these experiences.

crying mariahIt puts pressure on people of color and underrepresented scientists, in particular, to create a competitive trauma narrative – to create a story of overcoming the odds. It’s cruel to ask people who already experience discrimination to put on a performance of their trauma for the purpose of joining a club.  Beyond that, it puts the evaluator in an unfortunate place. Was my experience important, meaningful, or traumatic enough to convince someone that I want to dedicate my life to this? As an evaluator, I am absolutely, completely unqualified to determine this and I don’t want to be in the position to compare trauma. This is particularly important when the group doing the evaluating is fairly homogeneous. How do you judge the impact of trauma from people whose lives you don’t really understand?

And what if your drive to attend graduate or professional school wasn’t informed by an early life or trauma experience? As I have written about before, I was raised in East Los Angeles in a very impoverished neighborhood, lived with my immigrant grandparents for a spell, and my mother was a drug addict who died right after I went to college. This may have influenced who I became as a person, but no part of that experience influenced my desire to attend graduate school. This is my personal history and I am under no obligation to share it with people who are giving it only the most superficial attention.  I went to graduate school because I was living with my soon-to-be husband and he wanted to go to graduate school. I was working as a clinical researcher for a pharmaceutical company and figured if I got a PhD, I could advance in the industry. I thought I could make a little more money and further my career. Am I a terrible person because I didn’t want to selflessly find the cure for drug addiction or study the social challenges that Latino immigrants face? Do I lack motivation?

I remember, when I was a girl, my grandmother would sometimes get a “feeling” and that feeling was not to be ignored. In her spirit, I’ll preface this next bit by saying that admissions to graduate school are still largely determined by people who get a “feeling” about an applicant.

What do I look for in personal statements? I want to know what people have been doing in the most recent few years. Using scientist as an example, how have you figured out what a scientist really does? Have you really done some career discernment? Maybe you worked in a lab, but maybe not. If you didn’t, how do you know what you’re getting yourself in to? It’s good to follow your dreams, but would it still be a dream if you knew that it frequently means wading through shit? How have you used your recent experiences to your advantage? What did you learn from them? What skills did you get that you think are applicable to your future career? Did you do something and stick with it in a meaningful way?  Finally, how did you make something better? I was once so tickled by a student who told me a story about how she was doing volunteer work in a facility and realized that she could decrease the distance patients had to travel if they moved the wheelchair station.**  The facility implemented that change. I liked the fact that she wasn’t satisfied to be a cog in a machine or clock volunteer hours. She wanted to improve.

But, the best thing that a student can do when applying is to show their statements to as many people as possible. In some ways, the interactions on Twitter were a blessing because they were a window into the conversations that faculty are having behind closed doors. It might not feel good, and it may be offensive, but it means that there are people who feel this way and they are still the gatekeepers. Show your statement to as many faculty as will agree to read it and ask their opinion. Don’t try to convince them of why your statement is good. Just listen. The response you’ll get is likely the response you’d get if you were submitting your application to them. At the end of the day, the meritocracy is still really a club and gaining admission to the club means knowing the members.

golf gif

**Not the real details of the story, of course.

These May Be Dark Times, But There Are Still Puppies…

I feel as though my previous post may have been a bit dark, although these have been a particularly dark few months for issues that are important to professional women. I want to stand on the top of the highest point of my great state (which admittedly would not be a feat to climb) and yell, “Now to you see what we’ve been telling you?!?!”

Problem is, I don’t see these issues as tremendously complicated at all. For years (a decade in a few months) I’ve been saying, best bet is to leave the women who work for you, that you mentor, or that you serve in some way, alone. If you’re shocked by all of these recent allegations or surprised by the number of #metoo stories popping up in your feeds, where have you been? Problem is, people (and by people, I mean mostly some members of 50% of the population) can’t just sit and be still. They can’t just sit and listen. And of course, we have to hear about the poor men, and I damned near lost my mind when I woke up to find someone drawing a comparison between Roy Moore and poor Jerry Lee Lewis and his wrecked career…

Jerry Lee Lewis?!?! Fifteen hours later and I am still salty that someone thinks that Jerry Lee Lewis suffered any kind of real consequence of marrying a 13 year old child. He went through an unpopular spell, but seven wives, $15 million, and an induction into the hall of fame later, that guy’s just fine. He was a tremendously popular country music star in the ’70s and the south welcomed him right back. Why am I so bent over Jerry Lee Lewis? Because it’s laughable to insinuate that powerful men suffer any kind of real, long-lasting consequence of their action. Not that I am wishing suffering on anyone, mind you. I’d be ok if we could all just communally pink swear to knock it off. Chasing teenage girls is predator behavior, even for Elvis.

I’ve been a bit engrossed by things, but in the last month, there have also been happy happenings in the Strange household. Right around the time that Strange Mom got sick, I started to get the fever. I got the fever for the first time about twelve years ago and, nine months later, Little I showed up. I got the fever again seven years ago and Tiny Diva arrived. A few months ago I started to get the fever again, but I looked at Strange and I and realized, we’re too damned old to be feverish. If we had a Strange Tot , Strange would have to work until he died and my dusty gonads are not in the prime condition they were when I started blogging a decade ago. There is no logical reason for us to make people, other than the fever. So, I got an IUD and tried to shut down the fever.

But, the fever didn’t quit and I didn’t know what was coming over me.  Everything in my head and most things in my heart told me that giving in to the fever would be a horrible idea and that it would not make me happy in the long-term. I think it came from feelings that Strange and I will never share that part of our lives. It was sort of a faux fever. Thankfully, Strange’s son gave me a diversion when he started talking about a dog. He’s a kid who plays his cards very, very close to his chest but in July we visited my aunt and her family. My aunt has four dogs and Strange’s son looked like he was in heaven. He started talking again recently about how his “life-long dream” has been to have a dog.

When he started talking about dogs again, I started having dreams about a Jack Russell Powter1Terrier that we had before Little I was born. He had been my brother’s dog and my father wanted to get rid of him when my brother went to college. My brother freaked out and we got a dog. By all objective criteria, this dog was the world’s worst dog, but I loved him. One night, after a particularly vivid dream about this dog, I googled Jack Russell and that pretty much sealed my fate. The google algorithm had my number and Jack Russells started showing up on every web page I clicked. Then google went too far and petfinder images started showing up in ad spaces, including an ad for a tiny Jack Russell named Powter. To cut to the chase, Powter is not a google star any longer. She’s now living the dream in the middle of the corn and playing regular games of fetch with Tiny Diva.

And, I have to tell you, I am nuts about this dog. Local friends ask about the dog and all I can say is “Dude.” Just “dude,” over and over. I only took a couple of weeks of maternity leave for each of the I-kids, but I might need at least a year off for this dog. She’s a five to nine year old rescue from Missouri. She had a little sob story about how her former owners kept getting arrested for selling drugs and she’d end up roaming the mean streets, evading the long arm of the law. The funny thing is, I took a friend with us when we met her. Not to judge the dog, but to judge Strange’s reaction to the dog. I wanted to make sure he was really alright with getting a dog and that I wasn’t setting myself up on the path toward divorce #2. By that point, his son and I had already joined Team Dog and I had lost all objectivity.

She’s been good for us. She’s sweet and playful and good with the kids. Powter came with a little note from her “foster home” that said she didn’t particularly like men.  It must be that she didn’t like the men where she was because, although I was the captain of Team Dog, the dog prefers Strange. She follows him around, waits for him at the door, and sits next to him at night. The foster people said she’d likely attach to whoever feeds her. Fifty bowls or kibbles ‘n bits later, I can tell you that’s not true.  This dog has bonded with IMG_3416Strange in a serious way.

Judging from the evidence, I think it might be mutual.

 

On the End of 2017…

The end of 2017 has been the weirdest stretch of time I have ever experienced. Nothing constant. Just ups and downs. Strange’s mother had her stroke, went on hospice and died five days later. His condo in his former town has an offer on it, so we may be able to think about buying our own home together someday.  We made plans to meet his father and stepmother in a nearby city, and then his father ended up in the hospital with a flare of his COPD.  He was treated, ended up leaving the hospital, but when we got home Strange developed new afib and was cardioverted in the middle of the night in the emergency room.

I just can’t remember a time in my life when the world felt so unsettled and at odds with itself. This week I’ve heard several of the organizations I am affiliated with professionally say that they are committed to increasing the diversity of their membership, but I’m also watching the women around me struggle toward tenure. Women who have all of the accolades and accomplishments their male colleagues have, except for one long, dangly one. My closest friend here was easily wooed away to industry.  In so many ways, there are as many barriers today as there ever were before.

And I’m struck by how, at nearly 40, it is so much  more difficult to make female friends than it used to be.  There just aren’t as many of us around, compared to 20 or 30 year old women, unless you venture out beyond the ivory tower.

The End of Life in Black and White

The last 48 hours have been a fire hose of experiences. Strange Mom arrived on Tuesday and I have been struggling on the steep learning curve of care-giving. I’m quickly learning that 24 hour care-giving has very few similarities to providing medical treatment. There are medications to manage, but there are also basic needs to provide for and comfort to give. And these things have to be provided to someone who is dealing with their own emotional consequences of the changes they’re experiencing. I had a flash of a thought before Strange Mom arrived that it would be a bit like caring for an infant, but as Potnia Theron wrote in her own post, it is nothing at all like caring for an infant. I’m grateful to Potnia for articulating that so beautifully.

In the mean time, I have been checking Facebook much more frequently than I ever had. Reading about my brothers’ exploits and looking at pictures of my baby cousins. Someone tagged me in the sort of social media “challenge” that I would normally roll my eyes at, but somehow now feels timely. The challenge is to post seven black and white photos over seven days, without explanation. This experience has been so foreign for me, and so unexpected, that I thought I might use the opportunity to record what is happen. If only for my own reflections. I’ve been sharing them to Instagram, but I will also post them here for those who follow me here. The instructions of the “challenge” say to post to the photos without explanation. I named the photos, but I’d like to eventually write a little about how I was feeling when I took the pictures. I’ve posted three days of picture so far.

Day 1 – Anticipation

Anticipation

Day 2 – Respite

Respite

Day 3 – Fulfillment

Fulfillment

Dealing in the Dead of the Night

hospital bedI woke up about an hour ago to the sound of Strange and his mother snoring in perfect unison. He’s in the bedroom and she is semi-reclined in a hospital bed in the living room. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch next to her. I woke up an hour ago to find that she’s removed all of her blankets and completely disrobed. Naked as the day she was born.

When I last blogged, we were in deep conflict with the hospital over what to do with Strange Mom. Leaving her in Florida wasn’t an option. Their proposed options were signing her out AMA or a plane trip to our home that they quoted at $30K+. The conflict got worse before it got better, and then ended suddenly Saturday evening. The plane trip didn’t actually cost $30K. The Saturday social worker had called and it only cost $14K. That was well within the $15K budget we had set aside for her emergencies. Fast forward to Tuesday and she’s lying naked, in a hospital bed, in my living room. I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with my mother-in-law before this, and now our relationship consists of her lying naked in my living room while I lie (clothed) on the couch next to her.

I’m lucky to be navigating this all with a physician husband, but also shaken. We’re both educated, and he works in healthcare, and I have felt like I can barely figure out what’s happening at any given moment. All of the adrenaline and cortisol and stress of  getting her here crashed suddenly this afternoon as we sat at the kitchen table with the hospice nurse, waiting for my mother in law’s arrival. In the void, it left the reality of having her here. She’ll need to be cleaned and fed and medicated around the clock. The nurses will visit three times a week. Some people will also come and play her music, a chaplain will visit, and there’s a health aide who will also stop by. They’ll call me to make appointments. Medicare will cover all of the supplies we’ll need for her to die in our home and the hospice nurse left us with more narcotics than I have ever seen in my life. What is not covered in our county, is non-home hospice. This came as a surprise to us this afternoon after being told over and over that Medicare covers hospice. Turns out, care in a residential hospice facility will cost less than a nursing home, but more than I make in a month. I can only chuckle to myself at my own naivete. For years, I’ve been writing about the intersection of family and science. For years, a common refrain among the people that read my blog has been the difficulty of paying for child care on a junior scientist’s salary.   Child care seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of elder care.

This means some very difficult conversations to come in La Casa de Strange because Strange Mom literally has $2 to her name. We’re blessed with a decent income, but we also have five children. Two of those children are in college, two are in daycare and we have another home that we’re trying to sell in another town. Can we squeeze the money out of our budget to also pay for in patient hospice? Whose salary can we afford to do without? Who’s career is the least likely to be impacted if they took leave to care for Strange Mom?

And what the hell am I going to do if she poops?

The Dangerous Non-Overlap Between End of Life and Liability

Last Thursday while we were in a meeting, Strange received a call from the hospital in the town where his mother lives. She had been found unconscious in her home, laying for an unclear amount of time in her own urine. The exterminator that found her called 911 and she was transported to the emergency department. I’m laying out the record of what happened next both to document for myself that I am not crazy and to outline the critical importance of communicating your end of life wishes with your family.

Strange is an only child and Strange Mom is not married. Life with Strange Mom had been difficult lately, mainly because of her absolute refusal to have these types of discussions. At 85, there was a significant probability that she would face an end of life issue in the near future. She wanted desperately to maintain the status quo. We had hints that she had begun to decline, but she refused to discuss her finances or her wishes. The best information we had was based on a single conversation they had a few years ago – if there was a chance she could recover, she wanted all heroic measures in the world performed. If there wasn’t a chance she could recover to write poetry, that was the end. In the last few days we’ve been able to get a beginning sense of how bad her financial situation is. She is deeply, deeply in debt and has $58 in liquid assets. Once her creditors are paid, there will likely be no equity in her home.

Strange Mom’s stroke has been absolutely devastating. An extremely large portion of the left side of her brain is affected. She cannot speak. Up until recently she could not swallow, and now can only manage small bites of pudding. The areas of her brain that are important for information processing and understanding are severely damaged. She can’t follow directions. Her motor function on her right side is severely limited. She cannot care for herself, she cannot toilet, and she cannot move in her bed.  In the ICU, her neurologist said, “We want to be sure that she doesn’t have another stroke?” After the neurologist left, Strange asked, “Why would another stroke be bad? This is horrible?”

After several painful, painful conversations, we developed come clarity that she would not have wanted to live like this. As Strange puts it, she was a woman of language. To not be able to communicate would have been unpalatable to her. Given the severity of her other symptoms, and the fact that she would have needed a percutaneous endoscopic gastromy tube, in order to support adequate nutrition, Strange decided that palliative care was the best route for her, with the long term goal of moving to a hospice setting. With that in mind, we decided on the following goals:

  • She should be made and kept comfortable
  • It would be ideal to have her with her family at the end of her life, where she would be cared for and not alone.

Now, knowing that there was a storm brewing on the horizon, we had set aside some money to deal with Strange Mom’s final affairs and to transport our family to her town for a funeral.  Before we left the hospital on Monday, we had a positive conversation with the palliative care team about transporting her to Iowa to be with us. We could care for her in our home until she became a hospice candidate, and then she would move to residential hospice. Because her family would be around her and wouldn’t have to travel, we could use a large portion of the money we had set aside for her final arrangements to fund her transport. When we left, the doctor shook our hands, said he understood the plan, and that we should even call his cell if he could help.

A few hours later, the tone of things changed.

Talking to the case manager, she asked if we had considered that there was a non-zero possibility that she would die in transport. I was puzzled. She’s going to hospice. There’s a non-zero possibility that she will die soon anyway. Wouldn’t she want to be with her grand kids if she had the possibility?

Since Monday, the hospital has gone largely dark, with the exception of a couple of intense conversations with the doctor and case manager. In yesterday’s conversation, the doctor reiterated that it was possible that she could die in the transport. We asked, “Are you telling us that her condition has severely deteriorated? Is she medically unstable?” “No, just that it’s a long uncomfortable trip in a car and it’s a possibility.”

She’s immobilized in a bed, sitting in a diaper, with hospice as an end goal, anyway. If we could help her to see her family, isn’t it worth an uncomfortable car ride?

They recommended an air transport, for more than $30,000 if we wanted to bring her home. We can squeak together the money for the ambulance. There’s no way we have $30,000+ for an air flight and neither does she. During the conversation, it became clear that there was an underlying factor that the hospital was considering. The doctor mentioned that his “hands are tied” and that “risk management” was involved.  Today, the palliative care nurse said specifically, “Her doctor is worried that you’ll sue if she dies in transport.”

Fast forward to this afternoon when we had another conversation with the doctor and case manager. The doctor remarked that he did “not believe that it is in her best interest to travel by ambulance.” But, it’s not clear to us why, other than it’s uncomfortable. The solution from the case worker is that we have a choice between a 1) $30,000+ air flight and 2) signing her out AMA and arranging transport on our own.  We asked why she can’t go directly to hospice. Because she doesn’t have an end of life symptom yet that must be managed.

I can’t convey in a blog post how upsetting I found our conversation. I asked over and over, “If you’re telling me that she is so unstable that she can’t be transported because she will likely die, please give us another option.” The case worker kept repeating that our only options are to sign her out AMA or put her on an airplane.  I kept repeating that it wasn’t clear to me that the suggestion that we sign her out AMA was because the doctor truly didn’t agree with our plan and thought there was a high probability she’d die, or because they were afraid of the liability in case she died.

Their other suggestion was to discharge her to a long term care facility, which is only covered by her Medicare if she is going for rehab. We want her to have comfort measures, not intense rehab. Medicare won’t pay for comfort care in a skilled nursing facility and we don’t have $243/day plus the cost of her final arrangements and travel for our family. Neither does she.

They suggested that we move her home, but her home is not receptive to her return and she has no coverage for home health comfort care.

So, the only option that we have on Friday afternoon is to leave her in the hospital.  And that’s where we stand…

That 70s Diet – An Update on Day #2

If anyone ever suggests that our mother and grandmothers weren’t super heroes, you need to punch that person in the mouth. Cooking with gelatin is really, really hard.

bowie gif

Today’s random draw from the 1970’s diet deck was a “gelatin cheese mold.” I have been reading a lot about gelatin this week, in an effort to not make last week’s mistakes resulting in wet dog smell, again. Turns out, if you leave gelatin sitting in the cold liquid it “blooms” and then you only have to lightly heat the liquid in order to dissolve it. It was seriously magical.

But, I still don’t have my liquid to gelatin ratio right, so when I turned my mold over, it didn’t give me a delightfully wiggly, fruity, cheesey, layered delight. I got something that looked like the aftermath of botched liposuction.

mold fail

Everyone in the family proclaimed that it is delicious, but I am not satisfied with my failure to mold gelatin. I’m a scientist, after all, and I cannot rest until I know the special secret to adding diet soda to fruity gelatin without having it fall apart.

The 70’s diet plan may also be proving a challenge my marriage. The other night, I was trying to see if an odd pot lid would fit a mismatched pot. Strange came up from behind and declared in his all-knowing baritone, “You know, when I have that challenge I usually just put a piece of foil over the top of the pot.” He was nearly stabbed with a wooden spoon.

Tonight when my fluted mold collapsed in a sadness pile he uttered, “Gelatin really takes longet to set than you might think.”

Well, gelatin and Strange be damned!! I’m not going to let the 70’s diet plan get me down!!!! I’ll be back with the recipe when I can figure out the mysteries of gelatin.