Monday, August 30, 2010


Before you ask: yes, I changed my picture on the sidebar. I just couldn't handle how smugly superior I looked in the other picture, like I was gazing down from my throne on high. (Granted, this effect was probably amplified by the fact that Cal took the photo--Cal, who necessarily takes every portrait shot from below.) But every time I opened my own page, I felt like there I was, looking down my nose at my own self for wearing knock-off Keds in seventh grade or something. Remember when people used to color in little blue rectangles on the heels of their canvas sneakers, to make them look more like Keds? Yeah, me too. So anyway, I switched the photo. The surgical mask is not some sort of stab at anonymity, by the way--after almost ten years on the web, I think the cat's out of the bag on that one. It's just that that's the most recent photo I have of myself and I happened to take it at work, so there you are.

(Cal just came in as I was posting up that photo, by the way, and the following dialogue took place:

Is that a picture of you?

Yeah, that's me.

You don't look normal.

I look abnormal?

Yeah, why are you wearing that doctor suit?

Anyway, ha.)

As most people with jobs in medicine (and as probably most working mothers regardless of chosen career) can attest--my day to day life is pretty stressful. Not that I don't love my job, but there are moments when I consider the wisdom of choosing a field where patients routinely try to die right in front of my eyes. In those moments, I can appreciate the allure of a field like, say, pathology. Meticulous attention to details, beautiful grasp of descriptive vocabulary, and that certain distance between you and your patients that can sometimes be a saving grace. Granted, I think most people think that anesthesiologists already have enough distance from their patients (for instance, we always have ways to stop an annoying conversation--a syringe of midazolam in one hand and a syringe of propofol in the other does wonders), but I think most anesthesiologists that I've met are fairly empathic and have a decent bedside manner--or at the bare minimum have perfected the fine art of small talk--considering that the majority of their job takes place while the patient is unconscious.

If I had to list the most stressful thing in my life though, it would not be my job itself. In fact, far and away, I would say that the most stressful thing in my life is the juggle of trying to figure out who is going to be home for my kids in the evening. As an anesthesiologist, my hours are somewhat more variable than Joe's. Some days I get out from work pretty early, and some days I get out from work pretty late, and though for the most part I can anticipate which ones the Really Early and Really Late days are going to be, there are many days in between that I just don't know whether or not I'm going to be home by dinner until it's pretty much too late to do anything about it if I can't. These are the stress days.

We have a nanny and she's wonderful, and while she doesn't cook, I usually do enough cooking on the weekends that she has plenty of options of food to heat up and serve the kids. This particular nanny has been with us for two years now, so the kids know her and love her, and she has no problem staying with them until either Joe and I get home, even if it's a little later than expected, so thank goodness for that. But there are days when I'm trapped at work, and I get a text from Joe that he's trapped at work, and I think about the evening ticking by with neither parent at home, and all things that need to get done when we do return--the bathing and the school lunch-packing and the bed-timing and all of it--and it just stresses me out.

Oddly, being at work late in and of itself is not stressful at all if I know that Joe is home with the kids. In that way, my nights on call are oddly liberating. When I'm scheduled to be on call, Joe tries to structure his day so he can at least be home before 6:00pm, and once he texts me that he just walked in the door, I can relax. After that point, it feels like it doesn't matter how late I have to stay at the hospital. A parent has has landed. My kids are no longer orphans. And strange as it sounds, there are nights at the hospital that feel less frenzied and less stressful that certain evenings at home.

This is not to make parenthood seem like this joyless dirge of endless food preparation and cleaning up in various forms (though...kind of), and not to say that we don't have fun when we are home. We do. But sometimes the time we have together seems so short, and so goal-oriented, so purpose-driven. I wouldn't give up my job for anything, but sometimes I just wish that the day were a little longer, or that I or the kids didn't need quite as much sleep to be sane the next morning.


  1. and that is why -- once there are kids in the picture -- i am determined to find a way to work part-time (like you, my significant other is on track for a consuming surgical career). i definitely admire you for the balance you have and i think you are doing an amazing job, but i think i would go crazy second-guessing myself every evening.

  2. I know what you mean. My mom is our part-time nanny when the kids get sick (so I can take day classes and finish my premed requirements sometime before I'm 100) and it feels totally different than when Josh is the one there with them. If one parent is present, it lightens the mental load considerably.

  3. Anonymous9:53 PM

    I have the same thoughts on my mind - I'm about to head to my new fellowship at a new hospital after an 8-week maternity leave. My husband is also a fellow with late hours. Between my mother-in-law and part-time day care we plan to make it work, but it'll be a patchwork at times.

  4. Laura9:57 PM

    Thank you for posting this. I can relate. Sometimes, I wonder "Where does my life end and where does my daughter's begin?" How in the world do I find that balance between leading my own happy, successful life, and making sure my daughter gets enough of my time so that she does too, so that she doesn't feel abandoned or like I didn't care? I don't know if that makes any sense.

  5. Lisa C.7:44 AM

    Bar none the most stressful part of parenting for me is trying to manage my odd and erratic schedule with my husband's odd and erratic schedule. We don't have evening child care in any way, shape, or form, and my husband works long hours far away from home, so all the planning and managing of the situation falls on me. I hate it.

    This week is a good example, the public school gods frowned upon working parents by deciding to schedule 3 half days (on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week). They sent out the notice.... last Thursday. WAY too late for me to make arrangements with my job without seeming overly demanding. In years past they've provided child care at the school, and they are doing it this year as well, but with a steaming pile of guilt for taking up the teachers' time with your measly schedule issues.

    So, I feel you on this one.

  6. Anonymous12:20 AM

    I empathize with everyone, definitely, but please don't bash teachers, Lisa. I teach and have kids, and there is plenty of juggling too. Teachers are also full-time working parents. Teachers don't schedule half-days. Administrators do. We don't get notice either and often have a lot of juggling to do. And the half-days are probably extra professional development and a lot of this is driven by NCLB and the Race for the Top money and the national standards, and a lot of this has just happened, rapid-fire, in the last few weeks. Schools need to set up explicit goals, new programs in order to receive the funding. My suggestion would be to appreciate the childcare that is provided and avoid complaining to the teachers, who have, I can almost guarantee you, as little to do with the recent announcement than you do and really don't have the time to spend listening to the complaints. Try to balance your demands between your work and the school. And I'm sorry if I sound bitter. This is not the right use of teachers' time.

  7. My parents were both hyperscheduled/overscheduled - my dad was in grad school while I was in grade school, my mom was a Sr. VP with a big bank, and also involved with state PTA.

    In the pre-cell-phone era, things could be chaotic, and let me assure you, I've done homework in the back of lecture classes, university libraries, bank lunchrooms, corporate aircraft, fish-and-chips shops (study group member's family business), and had weeks where I swear I only saw one parent during my waking hours, despite both of them being there at some point.

    You know what? I didn't turn out to be a sociopath, I don't clean the fry machine for a living and I've been in a stable relationship for a decade.

    Translation: it's OK to like being at work, among adults, and sharing the grubby realities of raising kids with your equally capable spouse. Being together for goal-oriented/purpose-driven stuff is still being together, even if it doesn't seem idyllic. The kids are going to turn out awesome, and odds that they'll write a tell-all book spilling the goods on your harried parenting style and emotional distance are essentially infinitesimal. And it would probably get remaindered anyway.


  8. Anonymous12:38 PM

    I can completely relate to you, and in fact, recently wrote a similar blog post. It just feels like the plate never gets even slightly less full than overflowing and overwhelming. Every now and then I wish I had Evie's power to simply touch my fingers together and make time freeze.

    Really, though, we're all drinking from fire hydrants--but what a hydrant! A fulfilling, meaningful job, beautiful children, and your writing, for starters. Try to focus on the really great moments that make it all worth it, even amidst the chaos.

  9. Just wait until they are 5 years older and you are also juggling sports, serious homework, and music lesson!! LOL!