Dr Stephen Ludwig, one of my most treasured mentors from medical school gave a speech last year that he entitled, “Striving For Polygamy.” I didn’t get to hear it live but I’ve read the speech many times since then. He wasn’t talking about polygamy like you’d expect. Rather, he spoke to the goal of balancing a set of marriages described by the poet David Whyte in his book, The Three Marriages. The goal for all of us might be balancing 3 essential marriages in our lives: a marriage to our family, a marriage to our work, and a marriage to ourselves. Where social and digital media fit into this “polygamy” remains unknown. That’s where we’re all working hard to find harmony with our devices, as seemingly technology lives in all 3 of these spheres.
Think about it. How often do we take the time to put all three of these marriages on the table? I certainly don’t balance these well all the time. Although I believe in compartmentalization, the act of prioritizing ourselves amidst our deadlines while in the presence of our beautiful children is a challenge. Often when we’re raising young children we fall out of balance–the necessary daily tasks in raising children to adulthood take over while pushing other commitments asunder. When coupled with work, our personal care suffers. This imbalance creates a work-family frenzy for so many of us where we’re left with a dearth of time for personal reflection and much less silence.
In a quest for silence, I’m taking a 1 month sabbatical from the blog. Last August I took a sabbatical away from social tools to create more space and time with my children and more time in search of reflection and quiet. Stillness.
Technology and ever-available networks, communities, work inboxes, and devices have incredible and essential utility in improving our lives and our health. But so does the real, quiet world. I’ll be back in September. In the meantime, I’ll be with my family and friends, my patients, and the ever-elusive silence that surrounds us.
You saw the TIME magazine cover in the last 24 hours, right? Me, too. In the midst of 25 patients yesterday, moms and dads weren’t really talking about it in the office. It was in my inbox. But I hear and feel and witness the anxiety/angst we all swim around in every day as we compare parenting styles and essentially swap (pacifier) spit about how best to do this. The monogram of this parenting era is the quest for perfection. The epic win that’s constructed for us is built on prevailing over the rest. It’s not about juggling it all anymore, it’s about being tough enough to do it better than your peers. TIME magazine wants us to contemplate if we’re really “Mom Enough?”
Before you know it, you’ll be 13 decisions down the road wondering why you worried so much about what you did. You’ll care even less about what you called it. Of anything I hear over and over again from parents ahead of me on the road it’s this: “I simply wish I worried less about my choices.”
It’s a mom-eat-mom world right now and the media wants us perpetually navel-staring. Doubt sells magazines, pageviews, and books. I saw moms post opinions on Facebook this morning only to quickly take them down as they got too controversial. We’ll keep questioning ourselves and our decisions as TIME takes a supermodel, airbrushes her body and paints the cover the magazine with a provocative image for Mother’s Day. This article, this cover, this timing–this is the engineering of our age. The dinosaurs once ruled the planet—now it’s the voices online.
Your motherhood, your parenthood, your decisions. You know what? Of course, they’re Mom Enough…
The cover really isn’t really about breast feeding but I’ll bite. Read full post »
We went out for sushi on Friday at one of those mall-type restaurants that has little pieces of sushi spinning around the perimeter of the kitchen on a conveyer belt. The gimmick is genius for families with young children. The boys were starving and urged that the sushi spot was their choice for our night out. The conveyer belt provides instantaneous food and also fulfills the need for entertainment. As any normal parent knows, that’s a recipe for perfection. More than half of the people in the restaurant (at 5pm) had kids our boys’ age. It was a typical meal until the most wonderful thing happened: my son proved the husband wrong.
Boys 1, Husband 0.
As the food spun around, the boys eyed their favorites: avocado rolls, noodles, and nori. O asked about the orange “bubbles” he kept seeing. F announced that they were fish eggs. O instantly wanted to try them… The husband: Read full post »
I had a phenomenal day in clinic yesterday. Imperfect for sure but inspiring, connected, and busy. I felt useful and like anybody else, that feels so good to me. Productivity can be defined in various ways and yesterday I fulfilled my personal definition. I wrote an email to a friend and cardiologist this morning where I said,
But I must say, it’s a sincere fortune to be a doctor some days. Yesterday was one of those…
It was typical day in the sense that my schedule was crammed full of well child check-ups, newborn visits, and a few scattered visits for acute care–colds, depression, and belly pain. As is typical, I arrived in the morning with absolutely no open spots on my schedule. I saw 25 patients, squeezed in 2 patients to “double book” who needed to be seen by a pediatrician more urgently, and we provided vaccination updates for over 1/2 the patients. The “productive” feeling washed over me a number of times. At one point a mom said, “I knew that but I just needed you to guide me to know that I was right.” Another moment when I confirmed the correct diagnosis for a patient who’d been into doctor’s offices twice where the diagnosis had been missed. It’s exhilarating to help people understand health, highlight their understanding of science, and calm them down. Parenthood can be extraordinary (understatement of the century). The best part of my job is when I can help clear off the windshield of doubt. I do want parents to see the road…
But the day wasn’t perfect. Read full post »
Every once and a while I make the right choice. I mean when it comes to work and life and striving for balance. Sometimes I say “No” just when I should. Those “No’s” gain access to the best “Yes’s” in life.
Last week at the end of a series of 3 weekends of work, I was finishing up a conference and decided at the last minute to decline the dinner with peers. I felt pressure to go but just couldn’t stand missing out on the night with my boys. I had that longing in my heart–you know the kind–where you can feel the ache of absence, where you sincerely feel the separation from your kids like a missing body part? It was strong; all at once I said “No,” just in time.
We went to a baseball game here in Seattle. We sat only 8 rows back behind the dugout. The foul balls flying near our heads (me ducking for cover), the crowd screeching, and the sky blue. The husband and the boys had their gloves. We counted airplanes flying above. We cheered and jumped up with home runs. It was a perfect night out. Delighted to be there I had these passing waves of mindfulness, or gratitude, for being with my family and not missing out once again. We were all a little giddy to be at a real baseball game and then 2 things happened that affirmed my “No” was really a magical “Yes” afterall:
- A teenager caught a foul ball. Then he caught another ball. Then he did what many kids do—he acted generously. He saw F sitting right in front of him with his glove up and he tossed him the ball. I mean, can you believe that? A teenager gave my little 5 year-old boy a Major League baseball…bliss.
- During the middle of the sixth inning, after a bag of popcorn, a small tantrum from O, a bag of peanuts, and 4 hot dogs, Pennington went up to bat. Jon leaned over to F and said, “This guy’s hitting a ball to us.” They got their gloves up and ready. The foul ball did come. And the husband really did catch it. And my boys (all 3 of them) really did leap up for joy. We even made it onto TV (see photo above)!
Two foul balls, one perfect “No,” and a Saturday night with my boys illuminated a momentous “Yes.” It doessn’t always work this way yet every once and a while we make really good and really lucky choices. And then we’re fortunate enough to witness and celebrate them while they happen. For all the suffering that remains in so many of our lives, these little spots of light must be spoken…
Sometimes TV is really good. We pediatricians forget that every time we advise against television-viewing using restrictive language. Yup, there’s a lot of bad television. And yup, there is good evidence that TV doesn’t do your baby’s brain any good before age 2. And yes, there is also evidence that what your child watches on TV matters. Yet every once and a while, we can be reminded of the magic in beautiful cinematography. And we can feel the bonding that arrives from the shared experience of traveling around the world (from the couch) while at home watching public TV.
I love this New Yorker article by Emily Nussbaum: It’s Good Enough For Me. She describes the drill (how we all are supposed to report our hatred of TV) and how she’s found a bit of beauty amidst the “renaissance of children’s programming.” There is something to be said for moderation when it comes to nearly all things in life…
When I grew up we had about 6 channels and with the current 600 channels to peruse I wouldn’t suggest the content is any more compelling. But tonight we had a mesmerizing night watching a show about dolphins and whales called Deep Thinking— how they communicated, how they empathized, how they think, and how they grasp their sense of self. It happened by accident after the boys had watched an episode of Bob The Builder. We were jumping off the couch heading for books and bed when Nature came on. It was the scenes from the Serengeti that caught my attention. When the images advanced to the ocean and the dolphins started to squeak, we all sat back down.
The boys stayed up 1 hour past their bedtime. We snuggled under the covers. O pretended to be a whale. F stared.
Imagine four of us in front of the screen, eyes wide open, sitting in stillness for an entire hour bearing witness to the intelligence of dolphins and whales. The show schooled us in geology, biology, communication, and the incredible beauty housed underneath the surface of the water. The boys talked about blow holes, fins, squeaks, and sea grass. They watched a sting ray detect an octopus in the ocean floor. We saw dolphins delight while playing with rings of bubbles. We learned about camaraderie under the sea.
So, should you have a television in your child’s room? NO
Is television all bad? NO
After a terrifically insane day the best moment I had was amidst those images of the sea, my boys nestled tightly into my side, while the clock ticked well past bedtime. All thanks to TV.
I took 24 hours offline from Friday at sundown through Saturday at sunset. I didn’t use my phone, I didn’t text, I didn’t log onto a computer, and all the while I didn’t enter a single network. I didn’t blog, tweet, Facebook, or LinkIn. I was genuinely unplugged without entering the wilderness. I was at home in Seattle devoid of my devices on my second annual digital sabbath.
I went shopping for a friend’s birthday gift by myself, the quiet liberating. I went to a baby shower, I played baseball with the boys outside, I cleaned up the back yard. And while the sun shone in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, F and I cuddled on the driveway. We laid down on the pavement and looked up at the sky. We didn’t talk much and even with the paucity of words, the moment takes up a big part of my long-term memory. Little F returned twice to join me on that hard surface, grabbing for my hand amidst the concrete. Presence is very soft no matter how hard the earth below you.
No beeps, dings, or directories distracted. It was a day much slower than the rest.
The lesson is simple of course. Twenty four hours without distraction are exceptionally bright. The loss from being disconnected online is overwhelmingly surpassed by the gains acquired with being present offline. And although it’s easy for many of you, this unplugged time is an utter luxury for me in the time of exceptional connectivity and work online.
There’s nothing I would do to reverse my time offline. It was rich and it’s solidified the need to establish a new goal to make time for a more frequent digital sabbatical. I want to seek solace routinely from the deluge of content, information, exceptional wisdom, and friendship I gain while online and return to the spaces without distraction that house the same things.
Join me? Will you take earnest 24-hour periods of time without technology, too? Do you think your kids will notice?
Sometimes health education comes outside the textbook or the hours required in medical school. On the plane this week I tripped on an extension class–a movie.
A movie every doctor, daughter, son, mother, father, dog owner, and caregiver should see. I’ve never recommended a movie here before but this one I consider a must-see. It’s R rated, just like health care. And parenting.
There is a lesson every few minutes. Here’s 8 I saw:
- Medication is incredible. 70 years ago yesterday patients started to survive from previously incurable illnesses by using penicillin. When you’re giving a father or a mother or a daughter or a partner medicine, put it in a beautiful cup. It may improve the experience. Half way through the film, you can see examples. Providing reminders and offering mediations can sometimes be beautiful.
- When you’re a doctor, remember that your tone and every single word you chose can have lasting power. Not always (thank goodness) but sometimes. Listen to the doctor provide the diagnosis (even in the trailer below) and pause on the power of that particular metaphor. Metaphors and images can serve your patients beautifully. Or haunt them, too. I remembered listening to a voicemail from a doctor in 2004 over and over again. I wanted to hear the good news but all I kept hearing was the truth: the bad news. I listened to that doctor’s voice again and again. Chose your words carefully as best you can when providing news.
- Sorrow and mindlfulness in grief and anticipation of loss can create great meaning. Presence in our reality is a gift for being human. I can’t remember who said this to me recently, but I keep thinking about it: being a caregiver to a suffering or hurting individual may be the most meaningful experiences you have while living. Beginners reminds us we need no medical training to nurture and relieve suffering. Read full post »
When I was a medical student and resident physician, those around me taught me how to distrust the pharmaceutical industry and how to distrust the insurance companies. The drug companies just wanted the public to buy their medications (to get rich) and the insurance companies just wanted to block services for my patients (to get rich).
The more I learn as a physician, the more I realize how little I know.
The great thing about the extensive travel I’ve been enduring lately is that I learn to see the world differently. This week I participated on a panel at SXSW (called: A Dr, Patient, & Insurer Walk Into A Social Network) where I had the opportunity to share my thoughts as a doctor alongside a patient advocate/technologist and an insurer.
The technologist sees the world like this:
We envision a world where information exchange between patients, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, researchers and the healthcare industry can be free and open; where, in doing so, people do not have to fear discrimination, stigmatization or regulation; and where the free flow of information helps everyone. We envision a future where every patient benefits from the collective experience of all, and where the risk and reward of each possible choice is transparent and known.
The Insurer sees the world like this:
We believe we can help create a better health care system. This belief drives our daily decisions as one of the nation’s leading health care benefits companies. We work hard to provide our members with information and resources to help them make informed decisions about their health.
Read full post »
I loved a recent NYT article where Dr Eric Topol described Americans as surgically connected to their phones. He also described the great opportunity that resides within the phones for getting and providing better health care. These phones are a part of our future and can be exceptional partners in measuring and preserving our wellness. These mobile devices and apps will increasingly put the patient at the center of their own care. Dr Bryan Vartabedian summarized Dr Topol’s book and reminded us that, “medicine is increasingly anchored by the individual.” Thank goodness.
But the balance of how we value and use these astoundingly powerful pocket tools remains mysterious for some of us. There is a growing body of work about the addictive properties of smart cell phones. And although I hear a lot about how we should advise our children and teens to manage their digital device use, I don’t hear as much about how we as parents can do the same.
There are countless blogs and loud rants that cross my desk (phone, I mean) shouting for moms and dads to get off their phone when they are with their children. They look a lot like this:
Now Mr Palmer wasn’t yelling at me this morning (or maybe he was), rather he was responding to some data I shared about cell phone use: 1 and 3 adults say they frequently use their cell phones at the dinner table. Read full post »