Not Anymore

This year, we have received many compliments from friends, neighbors, and teachers about how our children behave. We are told that they are kind, they listen, they are creative and thoughtful, they are calm and patient. Compliments like this fill my heart to overflowing and I’m so appreciative of people who go out of their way to make me feel good about my parenting skills.

I have to say this about how we go about our lives. We, as parents, make sure that kindness, thoughtfulness, and creativity are the foundations upon which we build everything else.

But also, as parents, we make sure we don’t put up with any behavior which affronts our standards or doesn’t meet the mark of what we would expect of a common, decent human being. I am convinced that our unwavering strictness when it comes to a common, decent standard has made our children the wonderful people they are turning out to be.

That being said, we find it very hard (impossible) to tolerate the behavior of adults that falls below what we would expect of our own children.

For me to stand down in the face of behavior that falls far below any common, decent standard, is tantamount to going against every fiber of what I believe to be true, and right, and good.

My children are a product of my husband and me. And if my kids are valued and appreciated for exceeding expectations, then I and my husband need to be equally valued for our approach to parenting, and life in general.

We are a family of strong people. I’m proud of the strong family that we’ve created. I’m proud to stand up for myself. I’m proud to stand up for my children. I’m proud to stand up for anyone who feels that they don’t have a voice. I’ve been that voiceless person.

Not anymore.

“On Children” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Sometimes you just need a good quote get refocused on doing this whole parenting thing in a meaningful way:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

—Kahlil Gibran, “On Childrenfrom The Prophet

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Book Review (Gr 1-4): The Youngest Marcher

I believe the children are our future. Sounds like a funny reference to an 80s hit song, but it’s true. I really do believe that what we teach our children now can make or break the future. Apparently Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did too.

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I had never heard of the 1963 Children’s March before reading The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

This children’s book (Grades 1-4) tells the compelling story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, an African-American elementary school student who volunteers to go to jail in an effort to answer MLK’s call to ‘fill the jails’ in Birmingham so no more civil rights protesters could be arrested.

After the adults had failed to answer the call, Reverend James Bevel came up with the idea that children could make a difference and proposed the Children’s March. From May 2-7, 1963, between 3,000 and 4,000 children marched and were arrested. Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known marcher and was sent to juvenile hall for 7 days, during which time the jails were successfully filled, which allowed change to take place in the city of Birmingham.

This book is inspirational and really touches a nerve, for parents and children alike. Not only did young Audrey exhibit much bravery in her decision to fight for what was right, but so did her parents. I’m not sure that I would be brave enough to allow my child to do the same, even in the face of such serious injustice.

Children are powerful. And it’s very important to me that my children know that and feel that. This book highlights the power of one very brave little girl.

 

A Secular Easter for the Restivus

It it always important to remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays in the same ways. There is always someone out there that does something different. And different is ok. Teaching our children this as we celebrate our holidays is an integral way to move us toward a more tolerant and accepting society. This post is how our family celebrated Easter this year, starting with learning about the history of this holiday.

Before the Christian religion co-opted Easter as its own holiday, the Anglo-Saxons celebrated the goddess of fertility and spring, Eostre. The symbolism surrounding modern-day Easter can easily be explained by exploring how the Anglo-Saxons celebrated: Eostre’s earthly symbol was the rabbit and, quite obviously, eggs are symbols of fertility.

As I reflect on this, I cannot help but notice the switch from celebrating a woman for her life-giving power to celebrating something quite the opposite. In any event, our family set out to commemorate Eostre, do some science, and enjoy a lovely spring day.

First, we started a little science experiment to make an egg that bounces. The experiment is still in progress. But we did the first step:

  1. Place egg in bowl and cover with vinegar.
  2. Wait 3 days for the completion of a chemical reaction between the calcium carbonate of the eggshell and the acetic acid in the vinegar. (You can see some bubbles of carbon dioxide forming on the egg below.)

We’ll see if it works.

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Next, we dyed eggs experimenting with natural materials. The materials we chose were beets, purple sweet potatoes, spinach, and turmeric.

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To make the dye, we placed a generous amount of each into their own pot of boiling water along with 2 tablespoons of vinegar and simmered for 30 minutes.

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After straining the natural materials from the dye mixtures, we let them cool for a bit before placing the already hard-boiled eggs in them to soak up the dye. Natural dyes are not as intense as the dyes from the store, but they are beautiful.

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And you get mashed purple sweet potatoes!

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We finished up our family secular Easter for the Restivus with mud puddles and shooting hoops. Fun!

UPDATE: After 4 days, we removed our eggs from the vinegar and, sure enough, they bounced!

My son shot this video as he instructed his sister to bounce it higher.

She didn’t, so he bounced his higher. This is what happened:

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Motherhood, Medicine, and Institutionalized Sexism: A Personal Story

(Originally posted on JanetteDeFelice.com 10/14/2016)

Discrimination and Motherhood

I have never before felt discriminated against before I became a mother. I was always encouraged to follow my passions, my dreams, always excelled in school. I never felt the need to take a home economics course, as I was going to be a career woman. Never did I think that institutionalized sexism would hold me back.

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Excited about pursuing a career in medicine.

I became a mother later in life, not getting pregnant until age 35. I had pursued every dream, every passion, as I had been encouraged to do up until that point. I did, however, start to feel my biological clock start ticking around age 30. And, when I finally met and settled down with Mr. Right, we started trying to get pregnant. Nothing happened.

Not knowing whether or not we would be successful with a pregnancy, I decided to move on with my life while we continued to try to have a family. After the untimely and unexpected death of my mother, I was propelled to follow another dream of mine. To attend medical school. (I say “attend medical school” instead of “become a physician” because I guess I didn’t really know what the day-to-day life of a doctor was at that time, let alone residency – the required low-paying position that leads to licensure and board certification.) I had already taken all the required pre-medical courses and decided I would take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and see how I did. Well, I scored pretty well. So I decided to apply to medical school and got in.

Part of me knew, however, that if my husband and I were successful in our quest to start a family, my career would probably suffer. But what was I to do? Not pursue an interesting and challenging career? Not pursue having a child? Both noble pursuits indeed. In the end, I figured it would all work itself out. And I entered medical school in the fall of 2008.

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Late night on-call studying.
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Scrubs and socks.

Medical school was hard, as anticipated, but nothing I couldn’t handle. So I decided to throw some fertility treatments into the mix. As anyone in the know knows, juggling a relationship with a significant other while in med school is quite a challenge. Try being the perfect wife, the perfect student, and the perfect female procreating specimen. Well, lest you say it cannot be done, I am here to tell you that it can.

The first couple of quarters, I earned all A’s and B’s (well, one A and the rest B’s), and served both as a student representative to the Educational Affairs Committee and as a news editor for the student newspaper.

By the end of first year, after one abandoned IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycle in which my follicles were overstimulated and one IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle, I became pregnant. And not just pregnant, but pregnant with twins. The first time I saw two little specks on the ultrasound at 6 weeks, I knew my career would be in jeopardy. And I kind of freaked out.

I was supposed to participate in a summer research project regarding medical education, but was not able to because of my unbearable morning (all-day, all-night) sickness. I had wanted to participate in research about medical education because I, as an experienced adjunct professor in the humanities and child of a grade school teacher and college professor, saw many flaws in the way I and my colleagues were being educated. There had to be a better way than just memorizing astounding amounts of information, regurgitating with a number 2 pencil on a scantron, and repeating.

And the method of feeding all that information to the students? An instructor would stand in the front of the lecture hall reading a pre-prepared PowerPoint presentation word-for-word. There was no actual “teaching.” No wonder I continued to do just fine even after I stopped attending class to travel to the city for fertility treatments.

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Studying in the hospital–neurology notes at my knee. (NOTE: According to my OB/GYN clerkship supervisor, none of my experience with my high-risk twin pregnancy counted toward having any knowledge of OB/GYN.)

“And Who’s Going to Take Care of these Babies?”

At the point that I backed out of the summer research project, I was still telling people that I had a “medical issue.” I was a bit frightened about coming out and telling others, the dean of students included, that not only was I pregnant, but I was having twins. The day finally came when summer break ended, second year started, and I started looking like I had been eating a few too many potato chips.

I made an appointment to discuss some “personal issues” with the dean of students. She was a female who had previously given a presentation to the students about what it was like to be a woman in medicine, about her difficulties getting pregnant, about a spontaneous abortion experience that altered her career decisions, how she had an adopted a now college-aged daughter, and how she lived in a different state than her husband so they could both pursue their careers. I figured this meeting wouldn’t be too uncomfortable.

I think my attitude really said it all about how I was influenced to feel as a pregnant woman in medical school. I went into the meeting apologizing. (For what? Who apologizes about willingly and successfully starting a much-longed-for family?) I told her I was pregnant, and she took that in stride. But when I told her I was having twins, she asked me, in a condescending tone, “And who’s going to take care of these babies?”

I was somewhat taken aback and totally offended. I was a married 35-year-old woman. I replied, “My husband and I are.” Um, ok. This does not bode well for my career.

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Day after emergency C-section to deliver 32-week twins.

“Doesn’t your job offer parental leave for new fathers?”

I remember naively asking my husband, “Doesn’t your job offer parental leave for new fathers?” as I was studying for medical school exams while caring for newborn premature twins. The answer was a big no. This was so astounding to me. I painfully came to the conclusion that just because I was a woman, I was the one who was supposed to sacrifice my career. Ouch! Never had I expected such discrimination in the land of opportunity. I refused to let this phase me, however, and continued straight through school and hospital rotations until a year later when I just physically could not continue, due to stress-related back pain and severe lack of sleep.

After a 6-month leave of absence, I returned to hospital rotations, and received glowing recommendations from my superiors. I graduated soon after and was offered two different resident physician positions outside the residency matching system.

For many reasons, I turned them both down.

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Mama and son.

“Mama, why are you a little bit mad?”

My kids are very tuned in to my facial expressions these days. “I’m not mad. I’m just thinking.” I’m thinking about how I worked very hard to get through medical school and I feel like I’m precisely nowhere. Well, that’s not exactly true. I get to spend time teaching and guiding my school-age children. I get to have on the planet the people that I wanted to put on the planet, instead of having them raised by someone outside of my family with a completely different value system. That’s something.

Before seeking a residency, I got advice from many physicians (mostly male). “Your kids will be fine,” they would tell me. But I don’t want my kids to be fine. I want them to thrive. I want them to feel safe, like someone’s there that has their backs no matter what. So this is the sacrifice I made. I guess it wasn’t such a difficult choice when the only two options were to devote my life to being an underpaid resident physician, working both day and night hours, missing out on contributing myself to the early lives of my children, or to devote my life to two little human beings who, I often pictured to be floundered in the world without their dad (working a lot) or their mom (working even more).

My husband has now advanced at his job and I feel happy to give him the support that he gave me during medical school. I have even begun to feel proud at times and to reframe the traditional marriage model as a partnership.

Still, the field of medicine calls to me. And I have a call for the field of medicine in return. At this point however, because of the timing in my life, I think that ship has sailed for me.

But there are other women out there who want to pursue medicine AND motherhood. This male-centric model of medical education has got to be pushed aside to keep up with the times. (It’s important, when understanding where the male-centric model of residency comes from, to explain that medical residents were traditionally young, single men who actually lived in the hospital.) Times are changing, more varied and diverse groups of people are aching to join the field, aching to help people. If we had more flexible, extended residencies that allowed people to tend to both their work and family lives, we wouldn’t have a shortage of doctors. Instead of keeping the barriers up and keeping the non-traditional, highly educated women out of the field, they should be welcomed and accommodated for.

I now hold an M.D. (medical doctor) degree, and I’m apparently qualified to do absolutely nothing. Leaving medical school owing many hundreds of thousands in student debt, the only job I could get (outside of residency) was teaching clinical skills at the medical school from which I graduated. The pay was about $16,000 a year. Quality childcare for the twins was about $19,000 a year. Thinking that one opportunity might lead to another, I put my children in preschool and just paid the difference. Given the amount of education and debt, after almost a year, I decided it didn’t make sense.

I am currently a work-at-home mom.

Teaching Kids Why Facts Matter

The other day, I found myself explaining to my very curious children what the definition of fact was and why facts are so important.

First, I asked them “What is a fact?”

My daughter offered that a fact is something that’s real. Ok, I can accept that.

My son said that a fact is something that can’t change. Oops, not true.

I took that opportunity to provide them with examples of facts that can change. The weather, for instance. A simple fact is: It’s not snowing now. But if it starts snowing that fact becomes a falsehood.

My son went on to explain that he was talking about the word fact in math terms. It’s pretty absolute that if you take one number and add another number to it, you get an unchanging fact. True. 

So we all agreed that 2+2 was 4. That is a verifiable fact.

But we couldn’t stop there in our exploration of facts. (Especially not with ex-presidents using their camera/microwaves to spy on current ones and those horrible calamities in Sweden and Bowling Green.)

I then went on to explain to my children that some people in very powerful positions are making up their own ideas of reality and calling them facts these days. And many people are believing them.

I asked the kids if they could see why that would be a problem. Well, they answered, everyone can believe what they want to believe. Hmmmmm. It seems I’ve taught them the value of coexisting with others that don’t share your beliefs. Which makes me a somewhat successful mommy, but doesn’t help when it comes to the importance of discerning reality from its alternative.

So I asked them what would happen if Mommy insisted that 2+2 was 86?

They said they would tell me to use my calculator or my fingers to prove the fact that 2+2 was not 86. Fair enough.

So I asked, what if Mommy was the powerful Queen of the World. And I say that whoever says 2+2 is NOT 86 has to go to jail. Ooooh, they said. They could immediately see this was a problem.

As you can see, I tend to teach with oversimplification and hyperbole. But it gets the point across. The ultimate point it is this: There is really no defense against a person, or group of people, to whom facts don’t matter.

What the American president, the whole executive branch, and the Republicans in Congress are doing right now is manipulating the truth in the attempt to gain more power at the expense of, literally, innocent people’s lives. We cannot let them get away with this. And we cannot let any of their followers get away with it either.

For insight and information on how you can help dam the flood of untruths see How to Communicate Facts in the Age of Trump and 4 Things I Learned Engaging with Trump Supporters.

Book Review (High School and up): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A teenage hacker. A major terrorist attack in San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security clamping down on individual freedoms under the guise of ‘safety.’ This is where Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother starts. Published in 2008, it wisely presages some of the events of today, with profiling (read Muslim Ban), demand to surrender pass codes of personal devices, and the propagation of fear among the masses.

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After a bridge is blown up in San Fransisco, 17-year-old Marcus, otherwise known as “w1n5t0n,” finds himself imprisoned by the DHS as a suspected terrorist along with some of his friends. He is held for days, interrogated mercilessly, and, for all intents and purposes, tortured in an attempt to get him to cooperate.

After his release, Marcus is left angered and traumatized, but with a new sense of purpose. With his specialized knowledge of computing and hacking, he is in a unique position to overwhelm the old state with the very devices they’ve attempted to utilize to keep track of everyone. Armed with a hacked Xbox and the slogan “Never trust anyone over 25,” Marcus becomes an unwitting leader of a rebellion of young people.

Two passages stand out to me in this book. The first is a quote from the Declaration of Independence that Marcus uses during a debate in class to prove a point about the importance of activism in the U.S., showing a disconnect between the principles upon which the nation was founded and the reality of a growing authoritarian system of rule:

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

The other passage stands out as one of the most succinct explanations of sensitivity and specificity I’ve seen, emphasizing the “paradox of the false positive” when it comes to “something as stupid as build[ing] an automatic terrorism detector:”

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That is to say, if a test is 99 percent accurate and you test 1 million people for a specific condition (say, the condition of being a terrorist), you will find that 10,000 people have falsely been categorized as terrorists.

This book highlights the power that one kid has (with the help of a few enlightened adults) to affect change in a society that is being run by out-of-touch elders. In my opinion, Little Brother should be required reading for all high schoolers.