I am incredibly grateful that my once-sick child is now healthy, and I am sometimes resentful that I worked so hard to become the mother she needed only to have her needs change entirely.
I feel strong in my conviction that telling the story of my family’s trials and eventual happy ending is important, and I sometimes wonder if there’s anything interesting or unique enough in that story to sustain the interest of my future memoir readers.
I know that the terrible things that happened to my daughter because a doctor didn’t read her chart are the fault of the doctor, and I sometimes look back and see every single time that I failed to push hard enough for better answers.
I know that ending my career in order to care for my daughter has given me the immeasurable gift of being present every morning and afternoon throughout both daughters’ entire childhoods, and I sometimes resent what I know will be a painful and lonely transition when they leave home.
These are real conflicts in my head, competing with each other every single time that I sit here, tapping away at my computer to tell this story. Every time I sit down to write, I question all of those things in addition to whether or not this moment is the right time to be writing or whether anything will ever come of my writing or whether the enormous pile of magazine rejections is a message from the universe about my writing or whether what I’m writing is generous or self-indulgent. The arguments inside my head are loud and frustrating. Sometimes they are paralyzing.
So I’m leaving.
I’m leaving my home, I’m leaving my country, and I’m leaving the internet, entirely, for six days on a retreat in the Andes mountains. It will be another series of contradictions: too isolated and too communal; too beautiful and too distracting; too much time alone and too little time to myself. I won’t know what I need until I need it. It won’t be too hot, but it might be too cold. I will come back with my book manuscript complete, however complete is defined when I feel it.
I release myself from the outcome. I release myself into the contradictions and the mystery. Send me love.
Last month, my daughter texted me from school to ask me if she could buy a panini press.
“Where would you buy a panini press?” I asked her, mentally picturing the route home from school which includes only an indoor play space for toddlers and a gas station.
“At the school store,” she answered. “With my points!”
It turned out that, against all odds, there was a panini press at the school store where students can “buy” things with the points they earn for good behavior. I tried to figure out how it fit in with the erasers and plastic jewelry and school swag and soccer balls, but I gave up. Maybe it was a toy.
“Sure,” I tapped back into my phone.
By the time she came home, I had already forgotten, but there she was, grinning broadly beneath cheeks flushed with the cold, clutching a gift bag that sagged with the weight of a used panini press. She’d spent half of her points for it, and the teacher who’d packed it away had asked her if it was a gift for me.
“I told her no, it’s for me. I love paninis!” my girl told me triumphantly, hoisting it up onto the kitchen counter. Continue Reading…
Clean eating. Boot camp. Paleo diet, no-processed-sugar-January, new year cleanse. Slim down, tone up, burn it off, amp it up!
To all of this, I say: you’re worse for children than pornography.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the danger of asking people — mostly women — to think so hard about their bodies. I think about it every time I see pseudo-food being peddled near in the grocery store — “low carb” bars and no-calorie salad dressings and lettuce proudly labeled “gluten free!” as if lettuce could ever contain gluten. Once, I did my best to listen respectfully while a member of my family described donuts as “absolute poison.”
Around this time of year, the everyday drone of insistence on vilifying foods and hating our bodies gets louder. Every January, the ads on the internet and TV and in magazines and the newspaper start preying on the women who have not managed to set — or follow — new year’s resolutions to love themselves harder, no matter what. I think about it all the time, and fight its imprinting on my brain with my whole heart, but this week, I got involved in a Twitter thread that reminded me — in case I wasn’t anxious enough about how this would all affect ME — that there’s a population even more vulnerable than adult women.
I’ve written ad nauseum about food allergies and sensitivities on this blog. Every time I think I’ve perhaps written too much about those topics, I take a peek at my web traffic statistics and note that the most popular posts on the site, week after week, are the practical ones with guides for either the six-food elimination diet (avoiding dairy, soy, egg, nuts, wheat, and fish) or the chylothorax diet (avoiding fat). I imagine that these posts are most commonly read by people struggling to feed themselves or someone they love. In my heart, I wrote them for a past version of myself, up in the night searching the web for information that, quite simply, didn’t exist.
At the holidays — these winter ones or others throughout all four seasons — it is hardest to be someone with food restrictions. Whether it is my daughter, who had to be on those two diets (among several others!) over the first nine years of her life, or me — dairy intolerant and severely allergic to fish — our family is incredibly aware of the limitations imposed on our social life by these restrictions. In my wider family, I love people who are allergic to nuts, who are on anti-inflammatory diets for auto-immune diseases, who are recovering from eating disorders, and who are diabetic. In all likelihood, there are others in my family with dietary needs that they keep to themselves. Yet somehow, we all manage to eat together, in each other’s homes and at restaurants, without too much disruption.
More has been written about Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortalthan on most other books on medicine and health, combined. It was reviewed in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and dozens of other newspapers, magazines, and other publications large and small. Its study of how the medical profession handles the process of dying — whether that process comes at the end of a full life or far too soon — has changed the national narrative. Doctors are coming around to the idea of supporting patients on their own terms as the end draws near, a concept which, to many, seems antithetical to their oaths. After all, are they not charged to “do no harm?” Gawande’s Being Mortal forces the discussion and redefinition of “harm.”
In an early chapter of the book, he writes that there are two kinds of courage. “The first,” he says, “is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped when one is seriously ill. Such courage is difficult enough, but even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find.” As he shares the stories of his own patients — choosing between risky surgery and an uncomplicated but speedier end; finding ways to maintain autonomy as they age; managing varying levels of discomfort while remaining lucid and cogent — it is clear that all the scenarios where his courage to “act on the truth we find” are predicated on the first courage to “seek out the truth of what is to be feared.”
In other words, there can be no action toward healing without first determining how his patients define healing. Continue Reading…