Archives for posts with tag: Parenting

One of my sister-in-law’s hosts Easter each year. She is a competent cook. She is also able to have people in her kitchen while she cooks. I could say that one reason for this is that she has a large kitchen with places for people to sit at a table, out of the way. I could also note that most of the things she makes are not hot and can be made ahead of time and taken out of the refrigerator. I could also point to the fact that she does not make something that requires the making of gravy. But the fact of the matter is that she is able to concentrate on entertaining people and making food all at the same time.

I am not like this. I can talk to people up until about the last 30 min before Thanksgiving dinner is done. Thanksgiving is the holiday that I host. I have done it for all years except one for the past 10 years. Before the last 30 minutes, I feel relaxed and confident. My apron is typically still clean. I am able to avoid burning myself on the oven’s heating element.

And then half of the food is ready and the other half of the food needs to be finished. The turkey is cooked and needs to be lifted out of the pan to rest on a carving plate. Meanwhile, I place the roasting pan on two burners, pour in alcohol to deglaze it, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan. I add flour (now a gluten-free blend) and turkey fat and stir constantly. It always gums up immediately and the first worry is that the gravy will turn out clumpy. And it will if I don’t keep my head in the game. I add poultry stock, bit by bit, until I start to see a beautiful brown glistening sauce develop. Then I keep adding stock while I am plating vegetables, side dishes, and heating things up at the last minute. I have to work quickly so that the turkey does not rest too long and become cold. When the time comes, I call my husband to the kitchen to carve the turkey while I finish the last 500 details.

If you are a guest and you ask me what you can do to help, I will ask you to please sit down and enjoy yourself. If you ask me during the last 30 minutes, I insist that you sit down and enjoy yourself. My husband and my mom have both gotten into the habit of running interference for me and helping shoo people out of the kitchen. Even if I am not in the last push of frenzy, my kitchen is small and not a good place for people to hang out to visit with one another. My mother knows this because people congregate in her kitchen when she is cooking, standing in front of the stove or the sink, not realizing that they are setting off her rhythm. My husband shoos people out because he has empathy for me and knows how my brain works.

I love to cook but I am a person who cooks in deep thought. I have a hard time socializing and cooking at the same time. Both socializing and cooking are high interest for me and I have a hard time focusing on anything else when I am deeply engaged in one of these activities. So doing both of them is really really hard. As for those that want to come in to help, unless they know exactly what to do and how to do it, delegating is a chore for me. A chef is a boss of a kitchen and has training to do this. I don’t. I am a home cook with a small kitchen. I have a schedule and a list in my head. I am working at full capacity and the wheels are already in motion. This is also why, if you come to my house with a dish that needs tending to or oven space, I will use my powers of reasoning to tell myself that you have probably not considered that all of the burners and all of the oven space have already been accounted for. I will smile tightly and problem-solve. I may think of the time that friends had a potluck and a mutual friend showed up with a grocery bag full of unwashed vegetables and raw tofu and exclaimed, “Look, I brought stir fry!” That story always makes me smile.

I live my life at a certain pace. I try to live a lifestyle that is not only manageable, but healthy. Sometimes I even think I know what I am doing. I feel relaxed and can coordinate the different spheres of my life. And then there are the times when everything happens at once. I need to be in multiple places to do multiple things, all at once. And the consequences for failure are far worse than lumpy gravy.

I am working my best to be the kind of parent my child needs. So is my husband and so is my child. It seems that we get to the frenzy frequently and often without notice. This is the way our lives have been for the past 4 years. Cancer happened in those years, too. The normal real life bumps and reorganizations have occurred, as well. Last week, I learned that my colleagues and I need to find new professional office space. We’ve been in the same place for 10 years. I don’t like moving. It’s a lot of work. We are working to find the least disruptive and expensive solution to the problem.

During these times when I am racing in my life, I find it harder to talk about the details of my life. Not so much because it is emotionally hard but because my brain is working at capacity. I am finding myself in that mode lately. It is easier for me to organize my thoughts in writing than in conversation but even writing has been hard to organize in the past couple of weeks.

I recently wrote that I was looking forward to this week because I would be able to concentrate on cooking an spending time with my family. And I have done just that. Although I awoke this morning fairly pooped out from entertaining, I think it says something that I am finding writing to be easy again.

Simply live.

I am trying.

This is a re-post from 9/20/13, which I wrote (and sang) as a gift for my mom’s birthday. Mom has been fretting about me a bit because I’ve been writing about worry and stress. She is asking me what she can do to help. I am reposting this 1) to remind her that I know that I am resilient even if my life is complicated at this time and 2) to remind her that she has already and continues to do so much for me, just by being herself.


Martha MacKenzie is my wonderful mom. And today is her birthday. In addition to being a mother of six and a wife for nearly 59 years, my mom is a singer. She has a glorious voice. Mom has almost no formal vocal training but comes from a family of musicians, especially singers. Her singing style can best be described as sacred classical. In other words, she is a church singer. Mom has been singing in church choir since she was six years old. Her oldest sister, Gloria, sang for KIRO radio’s Uncle Frank’s Kiddie’s Hour for a number of years, until she was about 12. Mom and her middle sister auditioned for and were accepted into the children’s choir for an opera production in Seattle, starring Metropolitan Opera’s Rise Stevens. Mom still remembers what she was asked to sing for the audition.

Mom  was SMART and graduated from high school at age 16, after which she took a music performance class, along with her older sister, Barbara at Seattle University. We have recordings from those times of my mom’s clear soprano and my aunt’s animated mezzo-soprano singing songs from 1950’s musicals. Shortly after, Barbara moved to New York City to try to make it on Broadway. She was an amazing performer but like many talented performers did not make it in the Big Apple. During the Koren war, Mom was in a singing trio with Barbara and their cousin, Betty. They wore glamorous dresses and pulled off those unbelievably dark lip stick shades that were popular in the early 50’s, while performing for the USO.

Mom continued to sing in church choirs all of this time through marriage, rearing six children, and throughout my father’s post-retirement years. She is a member of the St. James’ Cathedral Choir in Seattle. It is a wonderful choir, which has toured Europe singing at noted cathedrals such as Notre Dame in France. They also sang at the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Benedict. My mom likes to tell us how she was trying to hike up the waistband of her support hose just as Pope Benedict walked by.

Wow, Elizabeth your mom sounds great. And you’ve talked about being a musician in your youth. You must have sung. You must have sung for your mother.

Well, it’s complicated. I was in band but did belong to the choir during 7th grade. Our claim to fame was performing, “The Sound of Music” during a middle school JAZZ competition. And no, it wasn’t a jazzy rendition of the song. I don’t know what that teacher was thinking. Then I stopped singing except for a few months during college when my mom convinced me to come to St. James to rehearse for a special community choir mass. (Regular choir members must audition. Soloists are professional opera singers.) I remember singing “A Mighty Fortress” and learning a piece based on Psalm 84 (“Yeah the sparrow hath found a house…”). I learned how to articulate words differently for singing than for speaking. It was a lot of work but was really fun.

So I did a little singing in groups. But NEVER alone in front of people. (Okay, one time five years ago I sang “Goody Goody” for my neighbors Jim and Deana. I’m not sure why I did it.) Not even for my mom except for a few bars of something and even then that was when I was much older, like 35 years old. People, singing in front of people is even more mortifying to me than wearing a swim suit in public! Zoe is the only one I have ever sung to and I sang to her a lot when she was little. I would sing with her now except that she only likes to sing alone. (Annoying teen.)

My mom used to sneak next to the bathroom door to try to hear me sing in the shower. (Watch the comments section, she will deny it!) If we were in church together and standing next to each other, she would sing really quietly so that she could listen to ME. I knew that it was really important to my mom to hear me sing but it was so hard for me to do this and I’m not sure why. She wanted to know if I had “a voice”. I performed frequently as a flutist, despite my nerves, and even performed in two master classes. (A master class is when some well-known musician comes to town and students are selected to get a lesson by that person in front of an audience of a bunch of students and music teachers. I did it twice as a college student.)

My singing anxiety does not just apply to my mom. Objectively, I have a pleasant, untrained alto voice with limited range. I think I could have been an excellent singer if I had trained to do so as I had with the flute. Perhaps the difficulties started as a combination of my perfectionism and the fact that my mom’s eagerness stressed me out a bit. And then as irrational anxieties do, it gathered its own steam from my continued avoidance, and took on a life of its own.

Last July, I wrote about the co-existence of grief and joy as being part of resilience in the post, How Can I Keep from Singing? The post title is the name of one of my favorite Christian hymns. I included the lyrics in the post followed by a little message to my mom asking her to record the hymn so I could post it on this blog. She offered me the deal that she would record it if I sang WITH her. I replied to her comments with a “definite maybe” type reply. I don’t think she ever saw that reply because she hasn’t mentioned the topic even once in the last almost two months. Or perhaps she has been playing it REALLY COOL.

I subsequently decided that I wanted to record the song both for my mom and for myself, to face my fear of public singing. Unlike going on loop de loop roller coasters, I actually enjoy singing quite a bit. It’s the only kind of music I still make. My original vision was for my mom, Zoe, and I to sing one verse apiece and the last verse together. However, Zoe was not at all interested in participating at the time I asked. My mom kept going camping with my dad all summer. I ended up not talking to her about it.

I decided to go solo and a cappella. Actually, a cappella is my favorite for this hymn. Plus, I don’t play piano and ukulele accompaniment by Zoe would probably not sound right.To me, the hymn sounds a little Irish. However, it is American and although there is a somewhat complicated history behind it, the authorship for the music is attributed to a Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry. There are a number of different versions of the lyrics. I chose the one that was closest to the one I’ve sung in church many times as a member of the congregation.

I started practicing the song on and off about three weeks ago. Then I had to figure out how to audio record myself. (No way would I have a videotape made. This audio recording is a big enough step as it is.) I finally decided, as time was passing quickly, that I just needed to get it done. So I downloaded a free recording app onto my smartphone and started recording myself. I spent enough time on it to give myself a few tries but not so many as to activate my perfectionism.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Here is a song for you. I am posting it on my blog as my kind of “performance” so you can have a cyber stage mother experience.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Oh though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
Oh though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near
how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

As I parked my car at my cancer center last Friday, I thought to myself, ‘This is my last “double-stick Friday”!’ Friday is not a day I see patients so it is the day I typically choose to be a patient. The first stick is a blood draw, which marks the beginning of every medical oncology appointment. Two vials of blood are drawn. Most of the phlebotomists are amazingly adept, which is very important when working with cancer patients, who have veins that are no stranger to the needle. My blood is always drawn on my left arm because I had lymph node removal on my right side. Prior to cancer, I’d had one I.V. placement when giving birth to my daughter 16 years ago and blood draws on a very infrequent basis for some of my annual physicals. Since cancer, my left arm and left hand have been poked and prodded many times a year for blood draws and surgeries. I didn’t even have I.V. chemo and I can tell the difference.

My name was called by an unfamiliar phlebotomist. But they have all been good so I didn’t worry. Then I noticed that it was taking her a very long time to find a vein. I have what they call “difficult” veins. This is why I often get the I.V. line placed in the back of my hand, which by the way, which is kind of ouchie. I could also tell that she was getting nervous. I close my eyes during blood draws because it helps me relax and also because I like to give people privacy to do their job without my staring at their work. I kept feeling the tap tap tapping of her index finger on the inside of my arm and some whispered nervousness. She stuck the needle and then the draw was taking a really long time. Usually, the phlebotomist lets me relax my fist once the needle has been placed. But she didn’t. She kept apologizing and then finally gave up. It wasn’t an adequate blood draw. Then she peered at my arm again, anxiously fretting as she did so. I kept saying, “Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.” She found a vein on the outside of my forearm. This was a new sticking spot.

Again, more time passed than usual. I didn’t mind the extra needle sticking as much as her distress and repeated apologies. Finally, the vials were filled. She fretted over the bruise she knew would be left and in attempt to prevent it, wrapped my arm tightly with medical tape.

I walked upstairs for my oncology appointment with two bandages on my left arm. It would be “triple-stick Friday”. The last stick would be a Lupron shot into my left hip. I have been getting Lupron shots every three months for over two years. Their function is to disrupt the signal from my pituitary gland to my ovaries, which respond by producing progesterone and estrogen. This is a non-surgical way of “shutting down the ovaries” and putting a woman into a near instant and possibly reversible menopause.

And yes, over two years ago, I entered menopause. At the time, Lupron was more commonly used to treat prostate cancer. There was a photo of a smiling middle aged man on the package that held the pre-filled syringe. This struck a few of us in the breast cancer community as funny. The man on the package looked far too happy with his cancer status and the fact that his testes were going to be “shut down” by Lupron.

In three months, the Lupron will wear off and I will wait and see what kind of change ensues. I asked my oncologist what I might expect to happen. It was quickly clear to me as she explained the possible factors (my natural menopause time and the fact that both Lupron and tamoxifen, which I am still taking can cause irreversible menopause) that this was a hard outcome to predict. I said, “Ah, there are many factors involved and they are all DYNAMIC.” Then I covered my eyes and pantomimed throwing a dart. Dr. Rinn replied, “You got it, it’s like throwing a dart at a moving car.”

Like throwing a dart at a moving car.

A great deal of life is like this. My health, parenting a teen.

Mindfulness is like throwing a dart at a moving car with my eyes open.

Wide open.

Several times a year, I observe one of my patients in the classroom as part of my assessment. This step is particularly helpful in assessing very young children. Once kids get older than 1st or 2nd grade, it’s hard to get a good observation in just an hour because the behaviors of interest just don’t occur as frequently by that time. So when I observe in a classroom, the kids are anywhere from 2 to 7 years old.

This morning, I observed a student in a classroom of 3-6 year old’s.   I haven’t seen little kids like this in some time due to changes in my work I made in order to accommodate my cancer treatments as well as to reduce my treatment load (I used to see lots of little kids and their families) so I could get home earlier for family reasons. Honestly, I miss little kids.

What a sweet little classroom it was. I see a lot of wonderful teachers. The teacher in this classroom was excellent in a way I don’t see a lot. The quietly compelling teacher. The gentle but engaging teacher. The patient but direct teacher. She was just lovely to watch.  I told her this as I left the classroom. She smiled, gently set her hand on my arm, and then put it over her heart. The students loved her. They trusted her. They followed her direction, which she did with encouragement and love.  I try not to attract attention when I observe but even so, when children happened to pass where I was seated, they smiled at me and I smiled back.

Sometimes visiting a little community like this is a truly beautiful experience. This was one of those times and I found myself feeling very moved, my eyes nearly welling with tears. It is not that small children learning in a nurturing environment, where they receive and give love, is not worth tears of joy. But there was something else I was feeling, wistfulness, a longing sadness for things lost.

I have had this feeling every morning since Sunday. At first I thought it was just related to my having had a wonderful two day visit with a friend, come to an end, kind of like that let down on Christmas after all of the packages have been unwrapped, the guests have left, the floor is a mess, and the dishes need to be done.  That was part of it but not all. A couple of days ago,  I also realized that the two day visit had given me a very much needed break from the stress not only from my job but from my family life. For two days, I concentrated on fun and entertaining people. We are not supposed to admit this as parents, especially mothers, but I must say also that I experienced many hours of feeling almost childless and this was enormously lightening. It was almost like I imagine not thinking of having had breast cancer for an entire day.

This morning, I understood another layer. I miss having a small child. I love my daughter; she is a force of nature and a singular sensation. It is still normal for her to say something if not very sweet, at least positive about my husband or me, each day. But there are also the other times, the hard parenting times. These are times that stress out the family a great deal. When I was a researcher at the University of Washington, we followed a treatment model for parenting teens, which included a  focus on guidelines, monitoring, and consequences (positive and negative). My husband and I are in the camp of parents who provide all three parts. Most parents provide guidelines to their teens, many provide consequences, effective, ineffective, fair, unfair, and/or harsh. A lot of parents, however, do not adequately monitor or supervise.

Consequently, our kid gets busted for stuff that other kids get away with because their parents aren’t paying good enough attention. And this makes here angry and insulted in only the way teen can get. Instead of “Oh no, you caught me doing x, y, and z” it’s “I can’t believe you violated my right to do x, y, and z, not that I am admitting to doing any of those things!”

Testing parental limits is a normal part of growing up for a teen. And she did it when she was little, too. And sometimes she even said really mean things to me, as mean as a four year old could be, “You’re not my friend!” “I’m going to punish you!” Or in the words of the young patient I used to have, “I’m going to put you in time out for a hundred fousand years!!”

When our kids are little, some of these statements can sound pretty funny, especially if your child still can’t pronounce /th/ in “thousand”. They are also, little. Little kids can make a powerful racket and they can express powerful feelings but in the end, they are small. They are not powerful. But teens have a lot more independence. They have a lot more power. And they often don’t want our help or limits even when they need them. When a little kid has a tantrum after testing limits, it’s typically over in a short amount of time. Even kids who have horrible and intense tantrums are usually done in an hour or two. Not to dismiss the stress of those kinds of tantrums because it is considerable, but an older child due to their increased cognitive development, can hold a grudge for a really long time. And they can test for a really long time. And because they are harder to supervise, there are tests you fail as a parent because you didn’t even know to show up for them.

We all want the best for our children, to be happy, to be responsible, to have healthy relationships, to be able to contribute positively to society, and to be able to care for themselves and others.  Some days it is incredibly exhausting and I know that it is for her, as well. And then empathizing with her tumult, creates inner turmoil for me.

Little children are so much simpler. Their world is so much smaller and they are typically happy to have you be in it. When my daughter was in preschool, she used to tell me how much she loved me in delightful ways. One of them was, “I love you more than the world has changed. And the world has changed A LOT!”

I miss my little girl. I miss her as much as her world has changed. I love the young woman that she is even more. But most of all, I pray for her happiness and her health, that her unique gifts will be fully appreciated out there in the world without my husband and me.

“Are you ready to frolic?”

I overhead the question, spoken in a gentle male voice, from a nearby campsite. After I turned my head toward the source, I saw that a father had asked his young girl, who couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18 months old, this question. She said something about “froggie”. He father responded, “Yes, let’s have froggie go frolicking with us, too.”

Camping brings forth images of enjoying stately woods in solitude, like one’s own personal communion with God. Unless one is a backpacker, this is typically not the case.

I am on vacation, camping on Orcas Island, which is part of the San Juan Islands in northern Washington state. We are extremely close to British Columbia, Canada. The islands are only accessible by boat. Some of them are accessible by public transportation, that is, the Washington State Ferry System, which is the largest of its kind in the U.S. It takes a good part of the day to get up here and there are very few campgrounds. We are staying at one of two on Orcas Island, the other being a dozen sites on Obstruction Pass, which are “walk in” (camp equipment is hauled down a mile long trail to the campground) and cannot be reserved ahead of time.

I reserved our campsite eights months ago and even that far ahead, most of the spots were already taken. So, the campground is a busy place. It also happens to be located right on the main road. Now, Orcas Island is far less densely populated than say, Manhattan Island, but car traffic is heard from our little campsite in the woods. We have also had visitors.  A little dog named, “Nacho” has visited three times since he arrived yesterday, along with his family, who hung both a U.S. and a Seattle Seahawks flag outside of their tent. Earlier this week, we had a number of visits from a blond toddler with big brown eyes. He just observed with curiosity, whatever we were doing in the seconds until his father, a gentle and patient Israeli man, walked down to scoop him up and take him back.

Campgrounds are typically a home base for outings into the wild or at least the wilder. Nonetheless, communion with nature can even be found in a busy state campground. (Tip: In the U.S., National Park campgrounds tend to be prettier and more secluded than state campgrounds. However, state campgrounds often have showers.) In our few days here, I have seen the green mountain in back of Cascade Lake, visible from our campsite, the sun glistening on the water. The nights have been clear and dark. Two nights ago, I saw the constellations and the Milky Way.

I hear people complain a lot about car camping around here because of the people “spoiling” nature. And honestly, sometimes people can really be annoying in the woods. But to me, hearing a father asking his little girl if she’s “ready to frolic” is a most gentle gift.

This is the gift of the next generation learning how to love nature’s majesty and surprise.

And froggie gets to join them, too.

What could be more natural?


It has happened so many times over the years that I don’t have a particular patient in mind as I write this. My first contact with a family is usually the mother of a patient. We usually talk on the phone for anywhere between 15-45 minutes so that she can get information from me and a sense of whether I am competent. And I get information about whether the referral is appropriate for me as well as a head start on honing the focus of my assessment. Mom usually tells me a list of concerns about her child. Things that don’t seem right. Things that seem harder than they should be. I am a child and adolescent clinical psychologist. Parents don’t want to meet with me if they think there is nothing wrong.

However, parents often tell their children, in front of me, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” It is meant to be a reassuring statement. It is not, even when it is said in all sincerity. (“There’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is that your school does not know how to teach you.”)

When a parent says this, it is damned confusing to a child or a teen. I mean little kids have fun when they come to my office. I play with them and mix in silly questions like, “If you had three empty swimming pools and could fill each with a different food or drink, what would you put in each one?” I also ask about things they would change about themselves if they could, questions about painful feelings, and other more heavy questions. Interviews with young children are not so much about questions and answers as how they interact with me and whether I can get a flavor for their personality and general cognitive level.

The other kids know. They know that they are struggling in school. They know that they are not getting invited to birthday parties. They know that they are getting yelled at by their parents. They know that their grades are bad. The older ones know which teachers actively dislike them.

This way of communicating sends the message that to have something wrong with oneself is too bad to speak of and must be avoided. It is a layer of non-acceptance that can make happiness very difficult. The confusion of being told that “nothing is wrong” when it is patently obvious plants the seeds of externalizing blame and/or internalizing shame, neither state being compatible with taking responsibility for one’s own life. Is it so bad to say something like, “Everyone has things they are good at and things they have to work on. You have a hard time making good choices sometimes. We will help you with this.”

This is part of the reason that the message I saw on Facebook the other day, “There’s nothing wrong with you” got me fired up. It is a seed that can grow into much unhappiness. I see so many wonderful people in my professional and personal life who struggle with perfectionism, never being satisfied that they are worthwhile and good people. I see very successful and outwardly happy people who I can tell, due to my own empathetic skills and life experience, seem like they are faking it. Pain has a way of bubbling to the surface, even when well hidden.

My own perfectionism, which has waned over the years, seems so unnecessary now. The part that remains is fairly stubborn but I will keep working on it. I know that parenting cannot stem the tide of the influence of our culture. But parenting matters and it matters a lot.

I try not to be preachy in my blog because I have tried to focus on my own personal experience. That tone is the most healthy for me. I was kind of preachy yesterday. But that’s okay. You can handle me being fired up every once in awhile. I also did not want to make my blog into a “psychologist’s blog” including advice. But today, I would like to share what I think is the very most important way to teach our children self-acceptance.

Work on your own self-acceptance. I have decided that not only am I not perfect but that perfection is a goal that is unworthy of me or of my family.

I deserve better. And so do you.

I come from an Italian American family on my mother’s side. Her great grandparents were farmers in northern Italy who immigrated to the U.S. to raise children and work the coal mines near Seattle. In other words, they were not fancy people. They were poor. But they were smart, hard working, life loving, and resourceful. They not only loved food but had a lot of mouths to fill. They knew how to “make something out of nothing”.

My mom knew how to do this, too. It wasn’t as if we were poor but money was tight and there were a lot of people to feed in a family of eight. Mom is also masterful at re-purposing leftovers into new meals so that food is not wasted.

The week has continued to exhaust me. I rallied in the writing of my last post, only to have an extremely fragmented and stressful evening, during which my irritability peaked, and I became quite irrational. My daughter had gotten rather angry with me because she told me that she had another parade the next morning and I had reminded her that I had asked her to tell me about all of her events and she had just told me, “Don’t worry about it, Mom.” I was not able to sacrifice half of a work day to get her there. She got very angry. It was kind of a last straw for me and I mostly took it out on my husband because she had treated me extremely disrespectfully and he left the room instead of backing me up. Realistically, he was probably doing what he needed to do to keep from yelling, with which I was already doing a good job.

I spent a good deal of the early part of yesterday fighting the urge to go back to bed. I have not had a day like this in a very long time. My brain and my heart were utterly exhausted despite the fact that it was a gloriously beautiful summer day in which I had much to do. I forced myself to stay out of bed. By late afternoon, I was sitting on the couch with a head both full of everything and nothing, swirling in eddies of acute pain and numbness.

My husband came home early from work and asked what I wanted to do for dinner. I said, “I am not doing well at all. I know I will be okay. Right now, I can’t think. I can’t answer questions. I need 15 minutes to finish up work.”

Then I started on my unfinished progress notes, one by one, and with the completion of each one, I gathered a tiny but noticeable bit of energy. In about 45 minutes I was done. I had accomplished something. I told John, “Sorry, that took longer than 15 minutes. I’m going to cook dinner.”

I walked into my kitchen. I had a perfectly ripe mango, a perfectly ripe avocado, and some limes. They were not planned for a particular meal. In general, that is often the way I shop. I just buy what looks good. In my freezer, I had some large shrimp. I also had a bit of simple salad left over from another meal. It was made from jicama, radish, and lime. I thought that might be a nice textural and flavor contrast with sweet mango but I wasn’t sure but I started getting excited to try. And as I sliced, zested, crushed, sauteed, and mixed, my spirit continued to lighten and I felt myself filling up again. When I tasted, I could tell that I’d made a lovely summer salad full of good things. My husband and I had a nice meal together, which led to a nice evening.

I had been depleted and feeling in utter need, just an hour before. I needed to give myself an experience of creating from start to finish, to remember that I am capable of making wholes and not just carrying an armload of loose fragments, which keep falling to the ground, and then others fall as I stoop over to pick them up.

Remember what you have and make use of it.

That is my meditation for today.

Shrimp and mango with lime, avocado, radish, and jicama.

Shrimp and mango with lime, garlic, avocado, radish, and jicama.

Here is the recipe:

About 1 pound of large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on.
1 lime, zested (put zest to the side), then cut into quarters.
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into large dice. (Squeeze one of the limb slices on it so it doesn’t discolor).
1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into large dice. (If you have not cut up a mango, read some directions on doing it. It’s not hard but it’s different than other fruit.)
1/4 of a jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks.
3-4 mild-flavored radishes, peel on, sliced thinly. (I used a small portion of a large watermelon radish, which was about the size of my fist and cut it into match sticks.)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed.

1. Put all of the ingredients into a bowl except for the shrimp, garlic, half of the lime zest, and all of lime wedges into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and the juice from 2-3 lime wedges. Mix gently with your hands so the avocado does not lose its shape.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and about 2 teaspoons of butter in a large saute pan, on medium to medium high, taking care not to burn the butter. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, stirring frequently. Add the shrimp and cook for a minute or two on each side until curled up and opaque, but not rubbery!

3. Put the salad into a serving bowl and top with the shrimp. Sprinkle the remaining lime zest on the top so it looks pretty!

Last week I dreamed about my kittens. (Yes, I know, despite my formative years as a “dog person”, I have become a “cat lady” in my middle age.) My kittens are litter mates, brother and sister, both with pure black coats.

In my dream, they were conjoined twins. People looked at them and remarked, “Oh, look at the cute kitties!” Then the heads of the kitties started looking in different directions and the front right and left feet did the same. The kitties looked distressed. They were not working as a team.

When I awoke from the dream, I thought, “I need to use this image in a blog post.” Yes, really I did. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am not someone who makes fancy dream interpretations. But I do think about my dreams, especially when I think they signal distress. At the time I was having the dream, I was concerned that John and I were not parenting as a team as well as usual and that we were having trouble communicating about the logistics of our lives. I think that is probably what the dream was about.

I have been pretty stressed during the last couple of weeks. I am an energetic extrovert. Nonetheless, I don’t function well if I am pulled in a hundred directions, living a fragmented life. I am not good at perpetually switching gears. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to pursuing a research career rather than a career as a clinician. Clinical work means switching gears between people, situations, and goals, quite frequently. When I did research, I worked on one or two projects for years at a time. But I ended up being a clinician and thank goodness, I learned how to switch gears much better than I did previously.

Right now my workdays consist of switching constantly among work, driving my daughter around, getting to my healthcare appointments. My daughter has needed to be driven to one to three locations all around Seattle, every day, starting in the middle of the day. She takes the bus when she can but there are logistics to be worked there there, too.

Yesterday, I reminded her of what time she needed to be home from school (she is volunteering each morning to help with a band program for younger kids) so that I could take her to an activity at 2:00 pm in northeast Seattle. (We live in southwest Seattle.) The original plan had been for her to take the bus downtown and then take a transfer to get to the office. However, we’d tried that the day before and she missed the bus. Since it was mid-day, there was not another bus for an hour. I cancelled my annual physical so that I could come home from work and drive her. Seattle is not an easy city in which to get around. It is long, narrow, surrounded by water, and hilly, for starters. This means that there are a rather limited number of highways and streets available to get from one place to another.

As I complain frequently, I find driving to be taxing and stressful. I am a good driver and it is not that I feel really anxious when I am driving. It’s mostly that I have to think so hard. And it’s not that figuring out bus schedules and directions is that hard, especially with the Internet. It’s hard to remember to do it and to make sure my daughter has the information she needs and understands where she is supposed to be at what time and how to get there. (This is one time when I kind of wish we’d allow her to have a smartphone, but I digress.) Riding the bus involves a surprising number of steps and also, some background knowledge that a non-driver doesn’t necessarily know. Consequently, I need to break it down in my mind and then make sure she knows things I would otherwise take for granted. For example, “You have a parade after your appointment. It is north of where you will be. Do you know what side of the street to be on to take a northbound bus?” The answer is “no”. And she does not yet know north, south, east, and west. When I was her age, I didn’t either. Then there are the fragmented questions I throw out, “Remember your bus pass!” “Remember to pack a lunch!” “Remember your phone!” “Remember your band uniform. You’re not going to have a chance to come back home before the parade!”

If you are a long reader of this blog, you will know that I live with some rather forgetful people who actually need frequent reminders, even if they are not always happy to receive them, in the moment. And by the way, it is not enabling if your child is actually getting better at remembering these things on her own, which is the case for her. But she is only up to remembering these things about 50% of the time. Think about what your daily life would be like if you were not where you were supposed to be with the what you needed, half of the time. Also, you carry your bus pass in an old eyeglass case and your money in a ring box. And this is a major improvement in organization from years past. Finally, you don’t drive. See, having a nagging mom would be annoying but handy.

About two paragraphs, I was telling you about one example day. Then I veered off course. What you don’t know if that while I’ve been writing this post, I’ve stopped and started it many times. I actually wanted to write it last week when I had the dream. Right at this moment, I am fighting the impulse to walk out and investigate the bird sounds I am hearing.

When I am switching gears too much, coordinating multiple goals, I find that it is hard to stop switching gears. I find even more goals and they aren’t priority either. Instead of being a two-headed cat, I turn into a creature with an ever changing number of heads, all on one body. There is effort to do things but none of the cohesion required to get things done in an efficient way.

The first thing that happens to me is that I start getting forgetful. Then I start making mistakes. Then I start getting anxious that I am making a lot of mistakes and I am so distracted that my level of self-awareness waxes and wanes. Then I make more mistakes. Then I start a flurry of unecessary reassurance seeking. “Are you sure you have the bus pass?” “Hey, friend, did I just treat you badly?”

There is an expression that people use referring to feeling “centered”. It is a positive thing but honestly I can’t exactly articulate what it is. But what I can tell you that at this time, I don’t feel centered or “grounded”, another common description that people use to refer to a state of balance.

I don’t feel centered. I don’t feel grounded. I feel like I have an infinite number of heads and none of them contain good working brains. Now, these are subjective feelings. In reality, I am functioning. I am carrying out my life with competence. But I feel icky in the process.

My natural inclination is to think of the happy, balanced, reasonable, bright, organized, empathetic, and energetic version of myself as “the real me” and the other times are aberrant.

I am becoming increasingly, aware, however of how unreasonable this belief really is. I am always me. Who else would I be? The person who gets irritable with her husband because she is overwhelmed and fragmented? That’s me. The person who asked her husband to take care of a responsibility this morning because she was exhausted, even though she’s been irritable with him? That’s me. The real me is not that perfect and it is unhealthy for me to maintain a vision of myself as needing to meet that standard in order to be “real”.

The person who is feeling a little more grounded and centered after having sorted through her thoughts and feelings while writing this post?

That’s me, too.

I have goals in my life. Some day, my life will end. But my life, itself, is not a goal or an end point.

My life is an experience, with lines of continuity as well as flux.

What else would it be?

My husband is out of town this weekend. He left this morning. I came home from driving my daughter around town this evening. The kitties were hungry. I couldn’t find their food. It wasn’t where I had left it earlier today when I last fed them.

They were pestering me for food. I knew that we were not out of kitten food, having bought a large bag of it just last weekend. I spent about ten minutes looking all around my kitchen, in the cupboards, on the counter, and on the small tables that are there. Then I thought, “John must have moved it. John is a very tall person.”

I lifted my head up to the plane of my husband’s vision, where he sees and where he can easily reach in our kitchen. There it was, the kitten food. It was set on a high cupboard above the microwave. I got out a stool to stand on so I could reach it to take it down.

Perspective taking is an important part of marriage. It is not just putting oneself in the life situation of another. Perspective taking requires thinking and feeling like another, as if you were that other person, with that other person’s life view, attitudes, capabilities, likes, wishes, strengths, weaknesses, and feelings.

My husband is a very tall person. I am tall for a woman but much shorter than he. My experience of our kitchen, what I can see and what I can reach, is much different than his, just because of a basic difference between the two of us. It doesn’t matter that the kitchen is the same. We are NOT the same.

That’s just a simple example of a difference in physical stature and how that impacts our perception of the kitchen in our home, as well as what consequences that has on our kitten food storing behaviors.

Intimate relationships can be extremely complex. There are many differences between people in a relationship and mind reading is not yet possible. And honestly, I think that mind-reading abilities would make healthy relationships even less possible. I have some pretty dumb thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. I don’t want people knowing about them! Further, sometimes, my thoughts and feelings are not completely expressed, they are disorganized and incomplete. I don’t want to communicate them until I have time  to process them.

John and I are currently working extra hard to communicate better with each other. We are also trying to understand one another better. This is a time of transition for us. My level of functioning has been in flux for over two years now due to my cancer, it’s treatment, and my physical and emotional recovery. My husband is dealing with his own issues, some of it related to my cancer. We both navigate the shifting tides that are our teen daughter’s unpredictable ups and downs.

The logistics of our lives in the past two weeks have been particularly challenging. We are getting better at working things out. Right now, I no longer feel like I’m jugging water, as I was a few days ago. We are talking and listening. I am working hard to focus on what I can do as a wife and my own responsibilities instead of focusing so much on how I think my husband should be behaving differently.

I am working on thinking tall.

As you may recall, I completed about 90% of the requirements for an art history degree in addition to my B.S. in Psychology. (Yes, I’ve heard all of the jokes about my “B.S.” in conjunction with “psychology”. Believe me, I had to take calculus, among many other hardcore classes to get that degree. It was no B.S.) One of my professors often referenced Robert Hughes’ book on modern art, The Shock of the New.

Modern art didn’t come from nowhere but it was still a shocking departure from the familiar. Art had been representative, rather than abstract for a long long time. It was often idealized but always recognized.

The shock of newness does not just apply to our external world but also to feeling new. A fellow healthcare provider and dear friend shared a blog post about being a novice in healthcare, in other words being a trainee and new professional. The post made me think about being a psychology trainee in grad school as well as when I was a post-doctoral fellow.

In most measures, I am much better at my job as a clinician than I was when I was less experienced. But there were advantages of being a novice that were therapeutically advantageous.

For one, I was supervised so this made me extra conscientious to do things “by the book”. Supervision, by the way, meant doing my work with a supervisor either in the room with me or in a separate room, observing me on video monitors, all of the while commenting to other students or interns, also in the room, about the rightness or wrongness of my actions. So, I stayed sharp and kept on top of what I was supposed to be doing.

The largest advantage, however, was that my lack of experience as a parent made it much easier to deliver recommendations and teach parenting strategies, with a straight face. During my post-doc, I was a mother of an infant, but I still did not know how hard it would be to rear a child who could walk and talk. And disobey. And not perpetually vote me to be her favorite person in the world in a tie with her father. I didn’t know how parenting touches us in tender places, at our identity, and at the hurts we’ve held with us our own lives. I just said, “Do this!” I had a wonderful optimism. And most parents did what I recommended.

Once I got to understand what I was asking parents to do, I had to make adjustments. Every parenting situation is different. But as a parent, I can empathize with the fact that parenting is never easy and for some, it is incredibly hard.

Even so, I still ask parents to do a lot. I now understand the magnitude of my recommendations, in my gut. But now, because I am no longer a new parent, I have learned that just because something is really hard to do, doesn’t mean that it is not necessary to do.

Art, Science, Heart ❥

journals of a mature student nurse

Heart Sisters

For women living with heart disease

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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