The easiest decision

graduation

Mom and me at medical school graduation in 2002

Almost four years ago now, I retired from medicine at age 37.  It feels like I should be saying this in front of a group to whom I’ve pledged anonymity.  “Hi, my name is Angie.  I’m a recovering physician.”

I’ve already told this story countless times to people whose responses range from confusion to concern, pity to envy.  I contemplated whether a public admission is even necessary, or is it simply more self-satisfying hubris?  The other day a friend sent me an essay written by a woman who had retired from medicine at 37.  I haven’t been able to read it–I think it’s something about wanting to get my own story out there before I become an accidental copycat.  So here goes!

The facts of the case are as follows:  I went to medical school straight out of college, where I met my future husband.  We then moved to Arizona where I completed a residency in pediatrics and practiced at a clinic for two years before we returned back to Wisconsin.  Then I joined the faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin and practiced as a pediatric hospitalist, taking care of kids ill enough to require hospitalization.  I flatter myself that I was pretty good at the job, and I especially enjoyed the teaching duties that came along with it.  I was doing well and had garnered some awards and leadership positions during my six years there. During this time we had two children, and we managed to hobble together a two-physician life with the help of nannies and family and luck.  I grew increasingly disenchanted with my work, and I assigned most of that feeling to the world of academics.  So I left and joined a local general pediatric clinic–the BEST clinic imaginable in all honesty.  Wonderful coworkers and patients, just really everything.  And I remained gnawingly unhappy.   And I retired.

I realize how lucky I was to have been able to indulge in contemplating my dissatisfied feelings, let alone acting on them.  Were I not married to someone bringing home a nice salary on his own, there’s no way I could have retired.  I would have been trapped by my student loans, which we only just recently paid off.  I totally get that I was lucky to even be able to see leaving medicine completely as a viable option.  But as soon as it reached that level of viability, my decision was simply.  It was getting to the point of not worrying about who I’d disappoint / what others would think / loss of identity that was the hard part.  After that, the decision was easy and the path forward clear.   And I have a lovely spouse who greeted my decision with “you only live once” and has never once made me feel guilty about it.

Since quitting medicine, every few months I’m contacted by a colleague from a past stage of my career.  They are generally going through some turmoil surrounding their medical life, and they want to talk it through.  I think they want my practical opinion and advice.  But I think that I also serve as a living worst case scenario–I quit the thing entirely and emerged intact.  It’s like they are wanting to touch the nail holes to confirm that I am, in fact, still alive;  wanting to prove to themselves that life after admitting disillusion with medicine is possible.  Awhile back yet another female medical colleague contacted me to hash through her moderate dissatisfaction with her medical career.  I had NO IDEA that was the purpose of our lunch date;  I didn’t see it coming from her.  Usually the calls I field are from women my age (for interestingly, all of the advice-seekers have been women).  However, this colleague is probably about 10 years my senior and childless.  Two of the most common denominators of the typical conversation were absent, and she is REALLY REALLY good.  I didn’t see it coming–either her malaise or need for my perspective.  Even the most stalwart have these moments, I’ve learned.  Medicine does that to a person. If she found use in my thoughts, then they are worth publishing.

Before I launch into my lessons, let me reiterate that the field of medicine remains a noble profession that is truly rewarding for many, my husband included.  His role as a physician is vital to his sense of self, as it is for so many of the best.  I simply wasn’t cut from that same cloth.  Further, I do not mean to discourage ANYONE who is truly called to that life and profession–for medicine is both.  I mean, instead, to allow space for anyone needing it to contemplate some of these Big Questions.

Here’s my thoughts about the process of entering medicine in general, at least in the U.S. system:

  1. Once a person has matriculated in medical school, there’s no looking back.  The competition to get in is so fierce, the classes are so rigorous, the peers so singularly focused.  There is no time–either literally or metaphorically–for a medical student to pause and query:  “is this path I’m on leading to a life that I really want?”  Which is too bad because…
  2. The degree of debt that most students take on to complete their medical training necessitates that they practice medicine for at least 20 years.  The repayment schedule is such that a move into a similarly-well paying entry-level position in another field is virtually impossible.
  3. Most 22-year-olds have no idea what they really want in 15 years, the time when the reality of life as a physician (following the years of schooling and residency) truly sets in.  It is challenging to try and introduce the topic of work life balance and delayed child bearing to this age group, especially when they are immersed in the culture of #1.

Here’s my lessons about myself in particular, with thanks to a particularly skilled therapist:

  1. I went to medical school because I was very good at school and had little confidence in anything else about myself.  Believe it or not, I fell rather thoughtlessly into the decision.
  2. I ignored many warning signs of my poor fit and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with them.  However…..
  3. I met my most important people through these life decisions and, therefore, wouldn’t change them for anything.
  4. Medicine is an especially difficult profession to emotionally manage if you are a people-pleaser by nature.  And paradoxically we pleasers make especially good providers.

If people are at all interested, I plan to break down in an occasionally amusing fashion some of those numbered items above.  It’s hard to admit things like this, but at least now I can go read that essay my friend shared with a clear conscience!

The morning drive

This morning while driving to the library, I turned right on a green light.  The opposing traffic was, appropriately, stopped at the light.  I would never have noticed this unremarkable fact, save for an unexpected movement that caught my eye.  The car at the front of the line waiting in the intersection was occupied by an older man in a sensible four door, gray sedan, a fact I noticed only when he began to open his driver’s side door. For a brief moment I considered the possibility of a Chinese Fire Drill-type situation involving his small fluffy dog in the passenger seat.  He didn’t get out though. He leaned out the door, hocked up a big loogie (official medical term), leaned back in pulling the door behind, and went on about his business.  And I was suddenly back to the front seat of Grandpa Bier’s car, on the way to St. Mary’s School.  

Grandpa Bier drove me and whatever of my siblings were at St. Mary’s to school every morning, except for when he and Grandma were in Florida. During that 6-8 week stretch we were forced to rely on my mother and were uniformly late.  Grandpa’s routine was strictly punctual, and after dropping us outside the doors at the bottom of the hill, he would go to mass.  If there was a Kindergartner in the mix that year, he’d hang around the parking lot and drive them home after the morning session.  If there weren’t, he’d go to the Janesville Oasis for a coffee. Years later my youngest brother, Patrick, recreated this scenario before heading to high school, and his morning coffee klatch somehow received recognition as an official high school club, The Breakfast Club.

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Sadly, neither the Janesville Oasis itself nor it’s iconic giant cow remain 


Anyway, the driving provided an invaluable service to my mother, his daughter-in-law.   I believe he maintained his presence as a morning fixture int he gravel driveway until mom started driving the kids to school herself.  This coincided with her return to the parochial school teaching force and swift ascent to the barely secular title “Sister Jan.”  When Grandpa drove, I always rode in the front seat because I was oldest and age restrictions played to part in seating assignments.  In fact, some of my happiest car memories as a grade school were spent perched on the armrest between two adults on the front bench seat.  But when Grandpa drove, I occupied shotgun an experience of intimate proximity and uniformly stony silence.

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Grandpa and Grandma Bier and me during my grade school glory.  Taken on the occasion of my first communion.

There was no idle chit chat in the morning drive;  apparently that was saved for coffee time.  Instead, Grandpa waged a years-long battle, attempted to secure a clear reception of WGN news out of Chicago.  He clearly entertained the belief that the static was not due to distance or broadcast strength.  Rather, it had something to do with the heating system.  This belief manifested as frequent shifts between gentle adjustments to the tuning dial and violent slams of the hot/cold control lever back and forth in an attempt to clarify what was never more than spotty reception at best.  He’d pause occasionally:  to retrieve a toothpick from the trim over the window, to yell at squirming miscreants (almost uniquely confined to  the time when we also drove our cousins to school, a.k.a, “The Karl and Tim Era,”), and expectoration.   Whenever we reached a stop sign or stoplight, he’d predictably open the door and produce a generous loogie, a sound that echoes clearly in my memory.  My dad figures that his prodigious phlegm production had something to do with his history as a smoker, a persona that I have no recollection of as he quit right around the time of my birth. Probably his slow decline into various stages of heart failure didn’t help much either.  

I don’t recall him every saying “have a good day” or “I love you”. His drop off procedure in front of St. Mary’s school was a thing of beauty, a no-nonsense slamming on of the brakes signalling that we’d better all bail and bail quickly before he lifted his foot again, distracted by his ongoing warfare with WGN radio.  We’d catch up with him later at mass, which we schoolchildren attended on Wednesdays.  We were encouraged to disperse among the regular attendees, a group of 20-30 mostly retirees.  For a good 15 years, Grandpa’s entourage included an ever-changing cast of characters with various shades of blonde hair and the Bier cheeks.  During the handshake of peace I’d get my hug and remember that, despite the strangely-punctuated silence of the car trip an hour or so ago, I was his Dolly.

 

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Show Choir: it’s a thing

A couple of weekends ago, I took the girls along with my mom to see a high school show choir performance.  What is show choir, you ask?  It’s a singing / dancing / costumed extravaganza the comprised the heart of my high school career.  This particular performance featured two groups from Janesville Craig high school and two from my show choir of record, Milton High School’s Choralation.  Since then, I’ve had all sorts of conflicting emotions;  indulge me while I  unpack a few of those items and shake out some universal truths.

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Milton Choralation:  ballad position, some things never change.

The show choir kids appeared to be the same as I remembered, but with perhaps slightly more modern hairstyles. While performing they were, as a group, emotive and in your face and completely guileless.  While audience-ing they were rapt, supportive, and locked in various stages of platonic and non-platonic embraces in the semi-darkened auditorium.  These were My People.  Whenever I counsel kids going through a tough peer time in school, I always emphasize the importance of finding Their People.  Their People may not be everyone else’s people, and Their People may not be the popular people. Worrisomely, Their People may not exist at their current school and they will have to hold out for the hope of finding Their People later on.  I suppose this is a version of the “it gets better” mantra. Fortunately, My People did exist, and they existed in show choir. We shared the need for the drama, the glitter, and the joy of creating something as a group that brought people to their feet and to tears.  All while spending inordinate amounts of time draped all over similarly minded people in countless auditoriums, gyms, buses and rehearsal rooms.  Finding one’s People should be somewhere in the Maslow Hierarchy;  oh wait there it is in the yellow band.  I knew I was right.

Maslow

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  Finding one’s People is somewhere in the yellow-green zone, I think.

 

As much as I’d like to think that I had no pretense about those being truly, honestly My People, that would be crediting my adolescent self with far more self confidence and self awareness than I actually possessed.  I had other People too, or should I say other versions of myself.  It was a small school, so many of these tribes necessarily overlapped–both for me and other.  In fact there was always drama about athletes’ schedules when they found themselves participating in the dramas, musicals, and show  choir competitions. I seem to recall a lot of soccer players in show choir… Anyway, there were other versions of myself, too, and the other big version of my high school self was the hyper-academic version.  There were plenty of smart, academically successful kids in the arts programs, as I recall.  However, for me academically successful was actually skewed to mean being The Best.  I found myself caught in the vicious spiral of “successful kid must do approved academically successful things with their life,” like take all of the hardest math classes and declare academically successful career plans.  I learned this lesson early on and it stuck.  So, these two versions of myself were somewhat at odds, at least in an adolescent mind longing for approval and success.  The one area that I could safely guarantee success was academics.  I still wonder, if I would have felt more successful in show choir, might I have been open to exploring other facets of my personality, those that thrived on things other than pure academic achievement and recognition?

But I wasn’t successful in show choir, at least not the way that I wanted to be.  Oh, I was successful–as the piano player.  I was, and still am, a dynamite choir accompanist.  Thanks to early piano instruction by a nun hell-bent on turning me into the next version of herself–a working church musician–I could play four staves of parts and switch between that and the accompaniment line, no problem.  But I wanted to sing and dance and wear frivolous shoes, which is no surprise to anyone that’s known me then or sense.  As I frequently reassure my eldest daughter, people like us with no filters are destined for a lifetime of memorable public displays.  I think I’m really nailing this parenting of a preteen thing, by the way.   But back to show choir—I tried out to be an on-stage performer twice, which is what I secretly, fervently desired. The first time I was passed over and gladly took the role of pianist just to get a seat at the proverbial table. But the second time? I was hurt to not be listed on the choir director’s door.  I had done OK in my audition. My voice was never going to be picked out for a solo, but I could carry a tune, and I could move. So why not me? I screwed up my 16 year old courage and confronted the choir director with that very question.  He basically said, it’s the piano or nothing. So I chose the piano again and didn’t audition a third time.  People told me that it was because he didn’t want to lose me as an accompanist, which makes sense logically, but since when do teenagers think logically?   I knew the real reason that I wasn’t chosen:  I wasn’t attractive enough to don the red sparkly dress, I was simply too horrid to look at.  My adult brain knows that this is simply ridiculous, but on some reptilian level, I think I still believe it.  So, my senior year, I knew all the steps, all the songs. When a girl unexpectedly left to move to another district, I was sure it was my chance, to be slotted into her emergently vacant spot.  I can’t remember if I offered the idea or just quietly hoped.  Probably the latter;  he cast someone else.  To make matters worse, the replacement then got to dance two numbers with my boyfriend.  Insult to injury.

Looking back on the whole thing as an adult, the lessons are almost trite in their obvious simplicity. I can see now how important it is to not push kids too hard toward who we believe / hope / wish Their People are.  And calm down, mother, you never overtly did that.  In fact, I actually remember you daring to disagree with Sister Mary, the St. Mary’s school principal, when I suggested in sixth grade that maybe I wanted to be a cosmetologist rather than a lawyer and she rebuked me.  That took guts, mom, she was scary, with her helmet of iron gray curls and sensible shoes.  Ultimately, thought, the Sister Marys of the world, coupled by a few rejections in other areas as recounted above, left me firmly seeking my future People in the camp of intense academics.  But that’s a story for another day.

In my opinion anyone who comes through high school and identifies those years as the best of their life?  Something’s dramatically wrong there.  The search for one’s yellow band on the Maslow Hierarchy shouldn’t be easy or complete by 18.   That being said, while far from my best years, those were good times.  For a time, I found My People. So, seeing the show choir was bittersweet.  But the sweet must have outweighed the bitter, because I’m currently composing an email to the Franklin high school choir director to see how I can help support this district’s fledgling show choir.  Because I know that some kids need that home for them and their people.

Snow Reverie

Two days ago it snowed, a light fluffy, non sticky snow, the stuff of bitter cold weather and bright clear skies.  Yesterday it blew, and the crisp edges of the driveway were blurred into little duney drifts.  Around town, those stretches of road with no windbreaks were heaped up with snow.  It was just the like snow on the stretch of County A starting just in front of my parents’ old house and heading east. It was a Bermuda Triangle-esque stretch of country road, where any bit of wind would sweep the snow off of the flat, plowed fields and send it racing across the prairie, to be caught and heaped up on the roadway.  We kids always thought that those swirling eddies of snow across the two lane road looked like the action of hockey players, racing and jostling across the ice.  Every winter, people heading east out of Janesville would be caught unawares by the treacherous stretch of windswept road just past the farmhouse, and they’d end up in the ditch.  Ours was the nearest house, and the drivers would inevitably end up at our back door, asking to use the phone, back in the day when cell phones weren’t a thing.  The kitchen phone was wall-mounted with a curly white cord that cold easily stretch into the unheated “back room” as we called it;  I know because perched on the washing machine was the only place that anyone could have a private conversation in the house. If mom was home alone with us kids, she’d make any single men make the call from the back room, with the door shut firmly between us and them, the white coil of cord mashed in the door jamb.  If there was a woman or kids however, a spot was generally cleared for them at the kitchen table.  One time, dad even gave the mom and kids donuts.  But that was a time that the mom was crying because she’d hit a farm dog in the road further up the way, not because of snow.

 

That swirly, windy, country snow would sometimes appear pink, as the debris from the silos filled with drying soybeans at the farm across the road would dust the top layers of it pink.  One winter the snow heaped up dirty  brown on the bottom, clean white next, and a pinkish layer on the top that looked for all the world like a cross section of the Neopolitan ice cream in the half-gallon box container in the freezer compartment of the house on County A.

A Flame in a Manger

 

For years my parents had been christening our one-acre front lawn with a set of those plastic Nativity figurines frequently seen huddled together during the holiday season.  When I was younger, the novelty of having a complete set—two lambs and a camel along with the full cast of characters including a shepherd—was enough to keep me feeling special.  As I got older I comforted myself that, because ours were vintage, displayed in a tasteful hay bale barn, and illuminated from above with a floodlight rather than garishly from within, my family had narrowly escaped being hopelessly tacky;  we instead rested firmly in the camp of whimsical nostalgia.  Regardless of the taste level, the annual appearance of the gang on the front lawn was something that provided a sense of continuity and, no matter the chaos going on inside, a sense that a certain Christmas serenity still reigned.

manger scene 1

I must have been photographing this particular moment, as only mom, dad, Katie, Louise and Pete are pictured.

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Louise with vintage (read–really old and chipped) Mary and Jesus.

It was my senior year of college that everything changed.  There were only a few days left of the term, and I slogged through finals with the promise that a comfortable, familiar Christmas on County A awaited me in a few short days.  Mom and I were wrapping up our once-weekly call that Sunday night when she offhandedly mentioned,

“Oh, and the Manger Scene burned down the other night.”

Coming as it did, across the phone line to my door room a couple hours’ drive away, my mother’s comment seemed even more incongruous.  True, we certainly did edit our traditional Sunday evening calls down to a skeletal minimum.  On my part, this was to spare her the details of the questionable choices that I was making during my last year of undergrad—a decision that she was more than happy to go along with.  This approach formed the crux of her parenting after age 12:  don’t ask any questions that you don’t want to know the answer to.  On her part, the lack of foreshadowing and leaving out of key details was more routine.  She never has been very good at foreshadowing things.  Dropped in your lap like an unexpected, squirming baby, her pronouncements were often without context and, similarly, without clear instructions on where to proceed next.  Luckily, it took very little to get her going, relating the story that now exists as a legend.

Apparently they’d gotten the manger scene set up a few days before.  It was a typical weekday night, and they were settled down in the family room for the evening.  A bright floodlight swept across the back of the family room as a sheriff’s vehicle swung into the gravel driveway.  They immediately assumed that this had something to do with the family’s newest driver, my sister Louise, who had already had one hit and run incident to her credit since getting her license in September.  (Fear not, the victim was the bumper of another car in the parking lot at dance).  They hustled to the kitchen door and stepped into the crisp, semi darkness of a winter night on the Wisconsin prairie.  The only light came from the manger scene, the dusk to dawn light having been ritually unscrewed to provide center-stage billing to the front lawn tableau.  The light seemed a bit brighter than usual however.  And and it was throwing off heat.  And crackling.

The nativity scene was completely engulfed in flames

The sheriff’s deputy exited his vehicle, glancing perplexedly from the Biblical inferno to my dad in his then-uniform grey hooded Janesville Fire Department sweatshirt.  Oh, have I forgotten to mention that he was the Janesville Fire Marshal at the time?  Must have slipped my mind.  The young deputy glanced nervously between the two and asked the only logical question:

“Sir, are you aware that you Christmas scene is on fire?”

An interesting question.  Perhaps my parents just were tired of that particular decoration and couldn’t see taking a trip to the dump.  Trash burning was not uncommon in the township, and who needs a burn barrel when you have a snow-covered front lawn as a fire ring?

His mind already reeling ahead to the implications of this very public display of the fire dangers inherent in Christmas light displays, dad wearily asked while rubbing at his furrowed brow, “Sheesh, please tell me that this hasn’t been called in.”  He was answered by the crackle of the deputy’s radio coming to life.  Oh, it had been called in.  And heavily discussed by all on duty firefighters that evening.  Dad told the deputy that he had things under control, no a hose truck wasn’t needed, and PLEASE don’t say any more than you need to about this on the radio.

As the deputy pulled away into the quiet night, dad wearily pulled on his barn boots and walked over to the fire.  He unplugged what proved to the be the inciting culprit:  a 50+ year old extension cord festooned at various points along its length with electrical tape.  Using a piece of scrap lumber he knocked the haybales apart, attempting to dissipate the the now roaring blaze.  Haybales really can go to town, once they get started.  They burned for several hours and smoldered into the night, long after my parents went to bed.  In the morning all that remained was a charred circle in the center of the lawn, melted plastic lumps marking the former positions of the holy family and their retinue.  Unfortunately it didn’t snow again for several weeks.  County A is a fairly heavily traveled road, and between the the dispatch radio and the road’s usual traffic, word of the incident spread quickly.  I think that dad took the ribbing in stride, and several poems commemorating the incident were delivered to the house, all set to familiar Christmas tunes.  The best was clearly “A Flame In a Manger.”

I didn’t quite believe my mother until I saw the evidence for myself.  And for those of you who have heard the story before, perhaps you didn’t believe it either.  But while dad put out the flames, mom had the foresight to document the proceedings for posterity.  Thanks mom!

Flame in a Manger

The next Christmas, mom went out and got a new set of figures at the Farm and Fleet, but things were never really the same.  The manger scene’s magical allure was diminished somehow.  One good thing, though, they didn’t need to purchase new wise men.  You see, the year of fire brother Patrick–he would have been around 8 at the time– had added some theatrical flair to the proceedings and was having the magi approach from the east, set to arrive on Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas.  Every morning he trudged across the acre-wide lawn in his boots and hauled the three statues several feet closer to the scene.  At the time of the fire, they were still far enough to the east to have been saved.  It took a couple of days for him to give up on the project, and for awhile the three plastic wise men were seen to be slowly approaching the burned patch of lawn little by little, inching their way through the blowing prairie winds toward the greasy plastic disc on the lawn of my childhood home.

 

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts

I love Halloween.  It’s the beginning of that frantic roller coaster ride that starts mid-October-ish with the need to turn on the furnace and burn apple spice scented things and continues through January 1.  While there are plenty of lists out there about how to make Halloween safer / more nutritious / more crafty / less sexy-costumified, I’m going to focus on how to do Trick or Treating right.  (This is a completely subjective list.  I’m married to someone whose idea of the right way to Trick or Treat involves getting back with the kids ASAP and changing into sweats to watch football).

  • DO yield to your children’s wishes in terms of costume complexity.  Did I really want to make a “tree” costume two weeks before my due date with the second child?  Absolutely not.  Did I do it?  Yes, because Halloween should be associated with fatigue, hot glue gun burns, and insanely cute pictures–not guilt.
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    You want to be a tree you say?  No problem.

    Now, the following year she wanted a $9.99 costume from Walgreens and I had to bite my tongue and let it happen.  The kid gets to drive the boat on the costume issue.  Here are a couple more of my greatest hits:

     

    Where did this ridiculous standard come from?  As with most things (at least according to my therapist) the blame lies squarely and wholly on my mother’s shoulders.  While I can sew straight lines from a pattern reasonable well, she can just make stuff up and it comes out looking great.  Mom would routinely wait until a couple of days before Halloween and begin taking requests from the five of us–and she delivered on ANYTHING. Between her mountains of scrap fabric, the refrigerator box housing previous years’ dance and Halloween costumes, and sheer ingenuity she created costumes including:  Minnie Mouse including padded shoe covers, Robin Hood, The Man in Black, Little Bo Peep, and Pepe Le Pew in addition to scores of witches, vampires and ghosts.  So whenever people suggest that I’m creative with costumes, I just roll my eyes.

  • DO dress your infant to toddler age child as a doll.  The caveat to the “kids drive the costume boat” rule outlined above is that this only applies once they are able to form really good full sentences.  Before that–they’re yours!  And kids as dolls are just too cute to pass up.  Their cheeks are so round and translucent for such a short period, that highlighting the fact through a well-timed doll costume is just too deliciously irresistible. 

    Like my mother, I went for Raggedy Ann.  Unlike my mother, I did NOT handmake my own yard wig in the days before You-tube tutorials were a thing.  Guys, she MADE UP her OWN version of a yarn wig.  I remember that she used leftover denim scraps for the underside skeleton of that red yarn wig I’m wearing above.  The woman is a technical genius.

  • If the baby is bald, DO take advantage of this with a costume highlighting the baldness.  We chose Shaolin Monk. 

    There are plenty of options however.  How about a Bruce Willis baby?  Mr. Clean?  Larry David?  Steve Harvey?  Rough time in her life Britney Spears?

  • DO NOT let Wisconsin weather be an excuse for staying inside.  Layer, layer, layer, and make sure that the headpiece at least gives a clue to the costume because chances are good that the rest won’t be seen at all.2011 November 035
  • DO let them trick or treat for as long as they want to.  This applies both to the day (a rule I find easier to apply since Jimmy is inevitably the one traversing the neighborhood in Wisconsin Halloweens) and over the years.  I will give out candy to anyone as long as they say “trick or treat” and are willing to let me identify their costume as “disaffected teenager.”
  • DO encourage a healthy sense of competition by opening a trading floor for the neighborhood children after trick or treating.

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    Cordani House Trading Floor after the opening bell, Halloween 2017

  • DO NOT insert yourself into this floor.  Despite the fact that my children will literally bicker about anything (example from today’s backseat:  does the “beginning of time” mean the beginning of the universe or when humans started keeping track of time?  Because this affects the argument about “most awesome since the beginning of time.), they will manage to both create and enforce their own set of rules and norms in this bartering system.  DO NOT be tempted to suggest that their trade of 6 fun size Butterfingers for a full size Hershey is dumb because nobody really likes Hershey.  You will be met with a look of utter disdain and exasperation.  Stay upstairs with the adult beverages.
  • DO dress up yourself.  DO NOT worry about how silly you look.  I find great delight in dressing up for Halloween, and  I think I come by this honestly, given my family history.  Check out this snapshot of my Grandma on the right from 1946:
    Halloween 1946

    Ann (Recchia) Yench, Philip Yench, Nell (Yench) Cousin, a.k.a., “Grandma”

    I’m fairly certain that whatever is happening to her right is completely inappropriate by modern standards, but it certainly lends a certain devil-may-care attitude to the whole scene.  My mother also still enjoys dressing up, and 10 points for whoever can name her spirit-animal as whom she dresses every Halloween.  Hint:  she is a teacher, and it’s a book character…

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    For those curious, yes, I believe she made this yarn wig too.  If you could see her stockings, they’re striped…

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Grandma and the girls before getting lost on the way to the school Fall Festival and having to wait for help outside the car in this getup.

  • DO NOT let work keep you from dressing up.  Now, as pediatrician, it was perhaps somewhat easier for me to justify wearing a full costume to work.  However, I did not let concern for my patients’ literary fears affect my choices, as evidenced as two favorites that, yes, I wore to work:  Evil Queen and Dolores Umbridge.

 

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The year that I was senior resident during Halloween and “encouraged” the team to dress up as characters from Grease.  I can’t figure out why the reviews from my students were never higher…

  • DO let them eat the candy til they puke on Trick or Treat night.  It’s one night a year and provides a real sensory lesson on the notion of gluttony.   That whole consume-til-you-puke phenomenon is why I can no longer partake of either banana chips or Bailey’s.

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    Natalie, Halloween 2007.  FYI, no evidence of candy desensitization as of yet

Anatomy: Part II

The second in a continuing series of potentially awkward anatomical conversations while driving.

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She was about five when my cut-and-dried eldest asked, “Mom, whose body has more parts, boys or girls?”

As usual, I wondered just where this was going.  She could easily be wondering about ponytails and accessory nipples, right?  Or, she could be talking about who wears more jewelry or generally has more piercings?  Fingers crossed…”What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, you have a nose, two eyes, two ears…parts,” she replied, verbally rolling her eyes.  I took a quick glance in the rear view mirror and confirmed that the eye-roll was more than just verbal.

“Oh, are you wondering about potty parts?” I asked, once again chastising myself for adopting this non-progressive naming convention.  She nodded, giving me a look usually seen when I attempted to explain something painfully obvious to Jimmy.  I needed to adjust that rear view mirror.   “OK, how about I get a book that has drawings of all of the body parts, boys and girls, with labels and diagrams?”  I asked.

Jan 2008 037

She’s shown a preference for dense, medical texts from a surprisingly early age.

My practical, level-headed eldest replied, “Oh, yes, that would be very helpful.  Thank you,” and returned to her drawing.  Lucky for me, such a nicely line-drawn book of Just The Facts does in fact exist and was quickly reserved at the library.  A couple of days later, attempting to sensitively and privately go through said book, she caught sight of her 3 year old sister down the hall.  Despite my admonitions to keep this “just between us,” the book was clearly too good not to share.  “Hey, get in here!  You love this kind of stuff!” she hollered.

So, yeah, we own our own copy now.