Saturday, October 27, 2012

costume drama

He's my firstborn and so I say this with all possible love and bemusement, but Cal is a weird child when it comes to dressing up for Halloween. It's not so much like he has sensory issues--he doesn't have problems with the costumes being itchy or bulky or too hot, he just thinks they're dumb or something. I think in reality he just gets self-conscious. Like the act of wearing a costume garners too much attention, and he doesn't like the fuss. At all.

Above is, unfortunately, the only surviving photo of his first Halloween costume that I can find (there must be more out there, but I didn't use iPhoto during Cal's first year so many of those digital image files are archived somewhere unreachable). It also showcases Joe's unfortunate predilection for grafting cheesy beyond belief titles and borders onto photography--just be grateful we're spared a wreath of pumpkins around Cal's face or something similarly Printshop circa 1988. Anyway, I just show you this picture because this, taken at the time that Cal was about Nina's current age (they were both born in July), is the last time that we were able to cram Cal into a Halloween costume without him complaining.

Here the following year. You can't see most of the costume since he's you know, running away from Joe (I think I was actually on call that particular Halloween so I wasn't even there) but he's supposed to be a monkey. See how happy he looks? SEE THE LOOK OF CHILDLIKE WONDER WHILE TRAIPSING THROUGH THE MAGICAL WORLD OF MAKE-BELIEVE?

Above, the following year, when he was two years old. We, thinking ourselves terribly clever, dressed him as a medical resident. Cal quickly stripped himself of the accessorizing accoutrement (the scrub cap, the pager, the stethoscope which had been doused in alcohol and Clorox to eliminate all traces of Enterococcus fecalis--it's the small touches that really make the costume, after all) and just barely tolerated the rest of it, mostly once he realized there was candy involved. This was back when we still lived in New York by the way, so his exposure in costume was minimal--mostly we just walked down the hallway, trick-or-treated one apartment, and then walked back. (Some of the candy he got may have been from our own bowl.)

I had some high hopes the following year, as in September Cal specifically requested a pink butterfly costume. Yes, a pink butterfly. So I got the costume (OK, so maybe I got a red and orange butterfly costume--I am as open-minded as the next parent but maybe it's my own bias that led me to apply some well-meaning edits to his original intent), but by the time it came Cal decided that he didn't want to wear any costume, butterfly or otherwise. "I just want to wear regular clothes," he said, a refrain that would dog us again and again subsequent Halloweens. We went to his nursery school Halloween party that year wearing khakis and a grey cardigan (I begged him to let me put some baby powder in his hair so that we could at least pass his costume off as "old man," but he was not having it) and had no further costume planned as of October 30th.

Finally, we just ended up putting him in his beloved "regular clothes" (black long-sleeved t-shirt, long pants), gussied it all up with his rain boots and a two-tone bolt of electricity that I cut out from construction paper and taped on his chest. Enter "Captain Lightning Bolt."  He was OK with this for some time, but then had a little potty accident after hitting three or four houses (three year olds never feel like they have to go to the bathroom until all of a sudden OMG THEY TOTALLY DO) so trick-or-treating was cut short and the costume issue was put to rest for another year.

At age four, Cal finally acceded, after weeks of cajoling to think of a Halloween idea, any idea; to go as "a builder man." Again, a costume involving his everyday clothing and some accessories from the toy bin.  The hat, tool belt and goggles were, of course, instantly shed the second after the pictures were taken, and he ran around his school Halloween party somewhat incongruously dressed in jeans and a blue oxford shirt.

And then, the year he was five, Cal refused to wear anything even approximating a costume. In fact, we didn't even go trick-or-treating that year because he just flat-out refused to do anything and Mack was too young to know any better. At the 11th hour (that is to say: 6:00pm on Halloween night) we thought maybe we had convinced him to go as Steve from "Blues Clues" just by wearing stuff out of his closet (green striped rugby shirt, khakis, blue dog stuffed animal--boom, instant Steve) but then at 6:05 he decided with finality that costumes were BOGUS and trick-or-treating was DUMB and a horribly humiliating ordeal for LOSERS. Also maybe he whined and cried and acted like we were asking him to eat not but burning hot coals and drink not but burning hot cola.

"But if you go out and wear a costume, people will give you candy!" I told him, playing what I thought was my trump card.

"We have candy at home," he said, quite reasonably.

So after that debacle, we decided last year, when he was six, that he was going to find a costume that he would tolerate and we were going to go trick-or-treating whether he liked it or not. I don't think we're of the type necessarily to force our kids to do stuff that they hate, only it seemed like he was getting himself all worked up over nothing, and that if only he would stop being so rigid and just relax about "looking dumb" and allow himself have fun, that maybe he could actually have fun and we could be like a normal family going trick-or-treating. And then maybe I finally get some candy runoff at long last. IS IT SO MUCH TO ASK?

We decided, after brief discussion, that he would be Harry Potter, which was cool because he already had a Harry Potter wand, and anyway, Harry Potter wears regular clothes, he could even skip the glasses, all he'd have to do is let me draw on the forehead scar and wear this Gryffindor scarf that he got just so it looked like he was trying a little.

After a lot of discussion (and more whining, and more crying), he finally let us tie the scarf on him. But he was not real happy about it. "You know, Cal," I told him, "most kids actually really like Halloween. They think it's fun to dress up, and go around, and they like going door to door to get candy. It's kind of a really big holiday for kids, you know?  Some kids look forward to this all year!"

He just grunted.

(Though eventually he did get into it.)

This year, we didn't even have a discussion. We were going to do this thing. After polling Cal to see if he had any costume ideas (to which he responded, "I don't know. I have to consider it.") I just decided, boy, you're going to dress up as a Star Wars character, and I don't want to hear any more about it. Originally I bought a whole pile of cream and brown fleece and was going to sew all the kids matching Jedi costumes (pause for laughter), but reality testing eventually intervened and I ended up buying the chintziest of chintzy drugstore Jedi outfits for both boys, coupled with these foam colored light up rods that I highly recommend to anyone who has kids that are into Star Wars.

And when we went to the third grade Halloween party this Friday, he put it on without any discussion.


Put on an actual non-regular clothing costume!


(High fiving a million angels)

I know it's not a big deal (and believe me, I'm trying not to make it into one, especially in front of him), but it's been seven years and eight Halloweens to get to this point so...yeah, it is kind of a majorly big deal.

Both of the boys, by the way, decided to be Obi-Wan Kenobi for Halloween.  Originally Cal wanted to be Obi-Wan and Mack was going to be Anakin Skywalker (which I found actually quite fitting), but then Mack decided that he wanted to be Obi-Wan too, and Cal got mad because what are you nuts, there can't be two Obi-Wans, haven't you even seen the movie?  Like, a couple hundred times? And there was much squabbling, and I came in and decided, perhaps at a slightly higher volume than strictly necessary, YOU KIDS SHUT UP EVERYONE'S GOING TO BE OBI-WAN.

Ah, Mack.  Mack, on the other hand...

The only problem we have with Mack is getting him out of costume.

* * *

I'm kind of hustling to write this while the kids are asleep so I don't really have time to reflect on this fact or get overly introspective/profound/lachrymose about this fact, but: this weekend marks the twelfth anniversary of this blog.

Twelve years. That's a lot of years, boy. Twelve years ago I was starting my second year of medical school and decided, on a whim, to start an online journal in lieu of memorizing the complement pathway to have even a faint hope of passing my immunology midterm. And now I am an attending anesthesiologist, married to my med school classmate (who, not to knock my own clinical skills, but I often think is a better doctor than me, or at least good at different things), a mother of three, living in the South.

Aside from the part where I now have a medical degree, at the moment I started this blog I had no idea where I would end up ten-plus years down the line.  I can't say that everything that has happened to me since has been expected. But as much as we Type A personalities like to control things, the unexpected can be exciting, and what's more, the unexpected can be quite good. And really, I don't think that this blog anniversary requires much more reflection than that, only to say that life now is busy and full and, most importantly, fun. I think I've reached a point in balancing my life and obligations where I feel that if something extracurricular ceases to be fun, it's probably not worth doing anymore. But keeping this blog, even after twelve years, continues to be fun, and that's why I keep writing. So thank you for sticking around with me.

And yes, if the finer details of the CXCR4 signaling pathway are indeed important to my clinical practice, I am pretty much screwed, because I don't think I ever really learned it in the first place.


  1. You are such an amazing writer and I absolutely love reading your blog. I wish your posts never ended and am always waiting for the next one so I've started reading your blog from the beginning (currently at July 01). I love it! Happy 12th birthday - hope it's been an enjoyable ride!

    Your kids are so adorable. Don't you just love it when siblings are completely opposite of each other. I hope Nina enjoys her first holiday season!

  2. Cal is hilarious! By the way, how old is? He is quite intelligent for his age! Probably genetic ;). Wow 12 years, that's amazing. Do you ever go through old posts to see how you've changed?

    A question I wanted to ask you - it's not easy blogging publicly (non-anonymously). It takes incredible courage. Since you are so personal, it allows us readers to connect with you on a deeper level, and probably why your readers enjoy it so much. How are you able to blog publicly? I'm so self-conscious that I am unable to do it. What's your motivation behind it?

    Happy 12 years!

  3. Happy blog-o-versary! Can't remember how long I've been following your blog, but you had me at hello

  4. I feel Cal's pain. I've always hated Halloween and dressing up.

  5. Anonymous8:09 AM

    I've loved your blog since I was in med school. I came for the no-nonsense consideration of issues pertaining to medicine and work-life balance, I stayed for the Simpsons references and the generally awesome humor. I'm glad I got you to sign your book for me in the Philly bookstore! Please keep writing.


  6. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Congratulations on your blog anniversary !

  7. Anonymous2:37 PM

    :) yay I hope I am as happy as you seem to be post-medical school. Keep blogging please!

  8. Ahh this is such a great post. I love the costume stories AND the 12-year reflection.

  9. Love it all! Thanks for the last 12 years!

  10. Halloween was synonymous for my parents shoving us into their favorite Indian dresses and us learning Culture before being taken to 3 houses to get candy. I always though Halloween was a religious holiday for the longest time.

  11. This makes me feel SO much better. Our little girl is 3 this year, and it's the first Halloween when she's really gotten the concept. We took her to a costume store and she went from considering her options to "I changed my mind! I don't want a costume!". Finally I figured out I needed to ditch the word "costume". She had been going on and on about how she wanted "doctor toys", and we were in a toy store and saw a doctor "dress-up outfit" (note the key words) - a white coat with pockets full of tools (syringe, thermometer, otoscope, reflex hammer) and stethoscope with sound effects. She continues to act excited about dressing up as a doctor for Halloween, but I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up refusing to wear the coat. I know I should just let it go, but we're going trick-or-treating with friends and their kids, and I don't want to be the lame mom who's kid didn't even wear a costume! Silly mommy concerns... but now I have hope at least that she'll either come around as she gets older, or future thing 2 may have completely different inclinations.

    Thanks for doing what you do - I only discovered your blog a couple years ago but I have been reading it religiously every since!

  12. JenniferB8:47 PM

    Your kids are adorable - and believe me - every year we have drama over the perfect costume that if I made or bought would be crazy amounts of money, they figure something else out and then suddenly it's Nov. 1st and everyone is sugared out and done. :0) In other words, it's survivable and fun and crazy and totally worth it. Also, congratulations on 12 years!

  13. Anonymous10:48 PM

    Happy anniversary! This has been one of my most consistent sources of amusement for years. Huge thanks!

  14. Congrats on the anniversary! It was my husband who first found your blog years ago and told me about it. Love it!

  15. Anonymous12:58 AM

    Mack is just so darn adorable. Actually, all of your kids are so darn adorable.

  16. Anonymous1:33 PM

    This is just random speculation, but whenever my little boy comes home with an idea that sort of makes no sense, like not wanting to dress up for halloween, it's because other kids made fun of him at school about it.

  17. Anonymous3:47 PM

    LOVE your blog. I discovered it a year ago and have read all the old archives. Please keep blogging. As for Mack, my daughter was equally unhappy with the whole concept of Halloween, and we have years of equally mediocre "costume" pictures to prove it. They don't outgrow it; they do eventually get peer-pressured into accepting it. I'm sure that it's related to feeling silly and self-conscious, but it's ok to hate Halloween. There, I said it!

  18. What a great entry - both for the reflection on the differences in your children and the changes in your life over the past 12 years.

    It's been 6 years since I found your blog (seems like yesterday), but I have gone back and read so many of your archives, I feel as though I have been here since the beginning. Happy Anniversary!

    My two children are also very very different, but they do seem to both like Halloween (though I'm pretty sure that is just for the candy!). On the other hand, I feel Cal's pain - I never enjoyed Halloween or dressing up and only now enjoy it as I get to experience it through my children's eyes. Cal has always sounded like a unique and wonderful combination of intelligence and sensitivity - he will have much to offer this world in the future!

    And I have to agree about the complement pathway - thank GOD it doesn't seem to be important to my clinical practice because the patients (and myself) would all be screwed!

  19. Anonymous1:39 AM

    I think my grandson must be a combination personality of your Cal and Mack both. He LOVES costumes. Very much like Mack, we almost have to pry them off him to go to bed. But, he HATES trick or treating.. He says "Why do I have to do this when you can just go buy me candy?" After going to one house he says "OK finished, see I got candy, now let's go home." I also should point out that this child is not a big candy eater. He is 5 yo now and last year I took him shopping with me. While standing in line to check out, I picked up a candy bar from the shelf and asked him to pick one for himself. He shook his head and said "No, I'm good"....The guy behind us started laughing and said he had never heard any kid refuse candy before.I hadn't either.

    I love looking at all your pics of the kids. They are so cute and that baby pic of Cal is gorgeous!

  20. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Thanks for posting this, it's a great post -- a bit of wit and whimsy with the contrast between your two sons, and a bit of profundity in thinking about time passing and how people evolve. Keep it up!

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  24. Anonymous8:33 PM

    Thank you so much for this blog! I start medical school this fall, and my husband and I are considering starting our family while I'm in school (I'm 26). I will definitely be purchasing your book!

    Best wishes,

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  27. Hi i like the last photo looking like a samurai warrior. There is something about dressing up in costumes when you are a child so you can get in to a fantasy world away from reality. Lee

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