Trust That They’ll Grow

Yes, there are still piles of dirty snow in parking lots and the shadiest corners of yards. And it did snow again this week, a wintry mix that was more wintry than mix. But it’s as clear as the antihistamines flying off the pharmacy shelves: Spring is here, even in Boston.

The kids have noticed all our bulbs coming up in the garden; they’ve even mangled some of them (see The Sweetest Nature post from two weeks ago!). From that experience came books and discussions about spring and plants. Nana had had the kids participate in the creation of her veggie garden last year, so they remembered about seeds, and dirt, and sun, and water…

So last Thursday when I picked up the kids from school, I asked them what they wanted to do for fun. We usually do something, like, go to the library, the donut shop, the playground… I ran down our list of options, and I threw in: the garden store. They jumped at that. So, off to the local “garden store”, which was the nearest big-box hardware store with a garden section.

Right near the entrance was a massive display of seed packets, and at 99 cents a packet, I let the kids go a bit nuts. It was so funny the things that caught their attention: purple cabbage, rainbow carrots, ornamental gourds, hot peppers, beets, lavender, turnips, every kind of tomato, peas, sunflowers, watermelon, long beans, chives, scallions, and on and on.

I’ve never grown seedlings, and thank goodness the big box store caters to enthusiastic newbies. Right next to the seeds was a display of inexpensive seedling starter kits: “mini-greenhouses”, basically plastic trays, each with 72 compartments filled with dehydrated growing medium, with a clear plastic cover. Into the cart went four kits. The kids fairly sprinted to the checkout, and we were home with our afternoon project well before dinner.

It was freezing out, as usual, so we took the project into the kitchen. We spread the seed packets out on the floor, lined up the trays, and Mommy read the directions. Within a minute we were pouring water on the growing medium, and within five we were planting seeds.

They stuck with it for far longer than I had predicted. Yes, they argued about what to plant next and who got to open the seed packet and how to plant the seeds et cetera. Plenty of seeds ended up on the floor. Something got the cats’ attention, like catnip, and they persistently nosed in and poked around. But overall, it was a fun time, and everything got planted and labeled and watered.

I wasn’t quite sure where to put the kits. I ended up placing them on our radiator covers, the ones under windows. The heat was still on, and I worried that the dirt would dry out and the seeds would cook. But I placed the clear plastic covers on each tray and trusted that something would grow.

The next evening, only twenty-four hours after planting, in the midst of the rush of coming home and eating and trying to get the kids upstairs to their bath, Babygirl lifted one of the condensation- fogged covers and exclaimed:

“There’s a pink plant growing!” She pointed with wonder at one dark pink tendril gently looping up from the dirt.

Beets!

From then on, every time we checked, there were new and wonderful things happening, all kinds of varied color shoots and leaves poking, curving, stretching up… The kids were excited, but I was even more excited.

Now, a week later, I’ve had to remove the covers, as the long beans, watermelons, peas and gourds are so tall. We need to start hardening them so they can be planted, so I took the trays off the heaters, and tomorrow, we’ll set them outside during the day. It’s supposed to be in the sixties….

Hopefully, our seedlings will make it from the warmth and safety of the living room to the raw New England springtime, and beyond. I got online and ordered a cedar above-ground garden frame. We have way, way more plants than the four-by-eight garden will hold, so Nana will have an assortment of seedlings too choose from for her backyard garden. And if any local friends/ neighbors are reading: Wanna plant a garden?

 

The kids picked out lots and lots of seeds.

The kids picked out lots and lots of seeds.

Our seedlings are growing gangbusters!

Our seedlings are growing gangbusters!

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A Teaching Moment (Latest MiM Post)

My most recent post at Mothers In Medicine: An essay on the current underrepresentation of women doctors in medical education, myself included… and few words about Doc McStuffins.

A Teaching Moment

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“Cherish Every Moment” of Parenting? (Sharing a wonderful essay)

A beautiful post from Lara Friedenfelds, that I’ll likely read over several times:

“Cherish Every Moment” of Parenting?

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The Sweetest Nature

It was Tuesday evening, and we were in the family tag-team process of clearing and cleaning supper dishes/ preparing kids’ lunches/ picking up toys/ herding kids upstairs to the bath. Hubby and I had both come home from work on the later side, and my mother could only drop the kids off once we were home, and everyone had to eat something, so…. It was pretty late to be just starting the bedtime routine. Like, seven- thirty-ish.

Babyboy had brought a bundle of sticks into the house when he came in, so as we all headed up the stairs, I opened the front door to throw them out into the yard. But, as soon as I opened the door, one of our cats darted out. I held the door open in an attempt to grab the sneaky kitty.. .But then, the kids darted out.

“Look at the green plants!” exclaimed Babygirl. There is a dense cluster of daffodil greens just beginning to poke through the dirt in the garden by our front steps.

It wasn’t that cold; by this heinous winter’s standards, it was pretty nice out. Babygirl and Babyboy crouched over the mound of little green spears in wonder. Meantime, I chased the cat.

When I came back with the furry felon in hand, I found Babyboy pulling up the daffodils!

“No! Oh no don’t do that! You’re hurting the plants! They won’t grow if you pull them up, honey, they won’t grow into pretty flowers!” My shrill tone alarmed Babyboy, who had had no understanding that he was mauling what would become a gorgeous yellow bouquet. He froze for a few moments, staring at the ripped greens on the ground at his feet. Then, he jumped up and ran inside the house.

I thought I had traumatized him, so after I got Babygirl back inside, I went looking for him, calling out “It’s okay, honey, It’s okay, you didn’t mean to hurt the flowers! I know you didn’t!”

He came trotting around the corner from the kitchen, with a plastic bowl and a tablespoon. He ran past me to the front door, which I had closed again.

“Open the door, Mommy,” he pleaded, holding up his bowl and spoon. “Please, Mommy, we can plant them here. I can put dirt in this bowl and plant them here. Then they will grow.” He was so genuinely excited and sincere. My heart melted.

This is why, at almost eight o’clock on a cool March weeknight evening, you could see me and the kids crouched by the garden, working quietly. Babyboy spooned snow-damp earth into the little blue bowl. He and Babygirl picked up the torn shoots, one by one, and stuck them into the dirt, carefully mounding it around so that they were were standing upright.

Babyboy placed the bowl on the front stoop and proudly declared “See Mommy, we planted them in there. The plants are okay. They will grow.”

Oh, so, so sweet. Of course, ever since, I’ve been wondering what I’m going to tell him when he finds that the little green shoots  have become shriveled and brown; how to soften the blow, that they couldn’t be saved. How can I begin to teach these kids about the nature of… nature? Things grow, things die… It all requires time, and patience…

I’m thinking we’ll buy some seeds, plant them in little pots, and grow them in the kitchen, so the kids can experience the whole process. We’ll all get a little dirty. We’ll grow a few hardy herbs and things that can be transplanted outside when it gets warm.

So, so sweet.

 

 

 

 

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When Your Autistic Kid Is Different: Is It Okay?

Our town held an Easter Egg party today. Of course, this being Boston, it’s snowing heavily, so the event was held inside. Hubby had offered to give me protected time so I could exercise and study, and I took that offer and ran with it. Literally, as he and the kids pulled out of the driveway, I went running.

I love running in inclement weather. I feel like a female Rocky Balboa. I had my high-energy music mix going, and I was running to the beat, feeling totally badass….

Then, Hubby called. “It’s not going so well,” he said, sounding defeated. Babyboy was refusing to even enter the hall where all the festivities were going on: face painting, arts and crafts, photos with the Easter Bunny. Instead, he was rolling around on the ground in the foyer. Some friends of ours who were there with their own child were watching Babygirl in the great hall, but Hubby felt bad about it.

I was about a mile and a half away… I suggested to Hubby that he grab some drawing paper and crayons and let Babyboy color in the hallway, and meantime, I ran over. I mean, I ran.

Yes, the place was loud and absolutely packed with families. With the heavy snowfall outside it felt like a crowded ski lodge on a school holiday weekend.

But, it wasn’t that big of a disaster. Babygirl and her little friend were having a great time; luckily, and thank God, his parents are good friends of ours and lovely people. Meantime, the ladies working the event in the foyer let Babyboy pick out a bunch of Easter eggs with prizes inside.

When Babygirl came out of the hall wearing cardboard ears and with her face painted bunny, Babyboy didn’t act sad. He wasn’t feeling left out. He got eggs with prizes.

When we left, Hubby said we should have known it wouldn’t go well for Babyboy, and maybe not brought him. My feeling was, he had an okay time, in his own way. So, he hung out in the foyer and did his own thing. He still left with eggs, and he didn’t seem upset.

We want him to become educated, employed, and a productive member of society. We want him to live up to his potential, and to be self-assured and happy.

Should we try harder to assimilate him, work towards more socialization, push his boundaries? If let him be on the periphery of parties, at the edges of events, will we be somehow stunting his development?

I believe we can only go so far with an autistic kid. He’s going to be different from most other kids. But if he’s happy, can we just let him be?

Interested to know what thoughts people have.

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Drowning In The Air: When Hospice Would Have Helped

This week was completely devoted to an Internal Medicine review course. My whole schedule was blocked, and I rode the train into town each morning to sit in a lecture room, sip tea, and soak up the knowledge.

It’s been wonderful to sit and be a student again. But, towards the end of this morning’s lectures, I started spacing out. Speakers were speaking and I kept losing track of what they were saying. I think my brain is full. All the rest of the day, my mind wandered. I wasn’t worrying about work or home; rather, I was remembering a handful of past cases.

The talk that spurred the memories was about hospice and palliative care. I’m a fan of both, but I feel like it’s much harder to get patients to either than it should be. Very unfortunately, I’ve seen and been a part of some not very good hospital deaths….

Well over twenty years ago*, I was volunteering in a hospital emergency room. I was an eager pre-med. The ambulance brought in this guy. He was old but not that old, barrel-chested, sitting up and leaning forward, hands clamped on the edges of the gurney, gasping. He was repeating, over and over: “Oh God. Oh God. I’m not ready. I’m not ready. Help me. Help me. Oh God. Oh God.” His face was blueish. He had oxygen on, but it wasn’t making a difference. The emergency attending flipped his chart shut and said, “This guy’s a no-code. Let’s get the family in to say goodbye and get him some morphine already.”

In those years, I lived for doctor TV shows and soaps, and in all of them, everything happens in the emergency room. Patients and families hang out in those Hollywood-spacious rooms forever. Diagnoses and prognoses are made, babies are born, affairs are had, drama happens, and people die with much fanfare. Of course we know that’s all a load of bull. Right?

Well, this guy went out like a TV show. He was some Italian patriarch, dying of emphysema. I can’t help but think that someone in The Family had it in for him, because this was a slow, torturous spectacle. No less than about twenty people paraded through that room to say goodbye, and him all the while gasping: “Oh God. Oh God. I’m not ready. I’m not ready. Help me. Help me.” But the calling hour went on and on, solemn-faced folks shuffling through, and no one seemed upset that he was drowning in the air.

At some point the ER doc got close enough, and the guy’s hand shot out. He grabbed the ER doc by the collar and hoarsely commanded, “Get me the goddamned respirator.” Some flurry of confusion ensued, with family and ER staff all in a tizzy. But the guy said, clear as day, “I changed my mind. Get me the goddamned machine.”

So anesthesia was STAT paged and the ICU staff descended upon the Italian patriarch, who was intubated and sedated, never to awaken again.

The whole scene came back to me during this hospice/palliative care talk, when the speaker asked us, “If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness with a limited life span, would you want to be referred to palliative care and hospice right away?” The whole room of about two hundred practicing physicians nodded affirmative. Hell, yeah. Give me enough morphine, and let me stay home. 

The speaker strongly recommended that we all read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal. I cannot wait to read this, but I’m holding off until after I pass the boards. It will be a treat. I keep hearing about it and reading excerpts and I think it’s going to be an excellent read.

Has anyone read this? And, if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness with a limited life span, would you want to be referred to palliative care and hospice right away?

 

A book to read: http://atulgawande.com/book/being-mortal/

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*These old cases are true. These are from literally two decades ago. Any identifying information has been long forgotten, as well as some details; my imagination has filled some of this in. I trained in five different states and innumerable hospitals, and I’m not particularly worried that anyone will recognize themselves or their family members.

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Can we just stay home?

It’s been a long work and school week. Today, Saturday, I figured we’d be taking the kids somewhere fun, like the aquarium or a museum. So when the cat jumped on my head at dawn, I went downstairs, got myself some coffee, and studied. I’ve got my medicine boards in a month, and I’m cramming; I wanted to get it out of the way before family time.

But when the kids woke up, they didn’t want to go anywhere. Hubby and I threw out ideas: all of the cultural options, and then even, the pizza shop? the donut shop? the wildlife zoo?…. the grocery store?

Babygirl was a grumpy sleepyhead and just wanted to sit in my lap with all of her stuffed animals in her arms. Babyboy never looked up from his legos, and never changed his answer:

“I want to stay here and play. Can we stay home?”

Well, okay then.

Both kids are in school five days a week, and this is their first full week without a snow day or a holiday in ages. Yes, it’s preschool, but it’s actually pretty impressive, the work they do. Babyboy’s on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) in his Special Ed classroom, including speech and occupational therapy. We know they work him, because he’s made such amazing progress. He loves his teachers, he’s engaged; his eye contact, speech, and transitioning are all majorly improved. Potty training, not so much, but hey, we’ll work on that.

Babygirl’s private daycare has a curriculum; at her orientation, I flipped through the colorful spiral-bound tome with wonder. Like, are you kidding me? No. Every day her teachers email us a photographic review of her class activities and projects, usually based around the same educational theme. This week was the five senses. It’s awesome.

These guys deserve days of nothing but play. Typically, if we’re going to be in, I have some activities or crafts planned. Today, nada. My head’s tied up with exam review questions.

So, Hubby decided it was the perfect day to make sauce. Mid-morning, he headed out to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients for his mom’s famous tomato sauce with braciole and meatballs. Braciole is thin meat rolled with a pesto of sorts, tied up and browned then slow-cooked in the sauce until it’s falling apart. The meatballs cook in there too, and that’s where the sauce gets all its flavor. Babyboy helped with the prep, but Hubby and I spent most of the day on this project. That, and taking turns with the kids, playing referee, putting Legos together, reading books, or finding shows on Netflix.

Hubby, Babyboy and I ate meatballs for dinner, all of us at the kitchen counter: Babyboy standing on a chair, Hubby and I leaning with our glasses of wine. Babygirl refused to try any. She has never eaten meat, ever. Nor tomato sauce. Nor pasta, for that matter… She roamed, alternately painting and nibbling chunks of apple and goldfish crackers. We figure, she’s growing and developing normally, so, let her be.

Bathtime/ bedtime was the usual melee. A gazillion books. Can we read one more Dr. Seuss book? Just one more? 

Finally, the kids are asleep. The sauce is done, an amazing tribute to Grandma S’s original recipe. I’m brain-fried, and can’t answer another clinical question.

And that was our Saturday home.

 

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