Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 2015 Resolutions List

Okay, resolutions are pie crust promises. But pie crust tastes good, and I'm not going to stop making (or eating) them. So here it goes.

Jump back on the reading a book every week train. This doesn't mean I finish the book; it means I read something on paper, outside U.S. History and magazines in doctor's offices.

Create an exercise schedule that is doable, not ideal. Like, my pregnancy DVD at 7:30 p.m. Half hour - and Grace loves playing along!

Not make so many excuses. Discipline originates in the Latin discere - "to learn" - and it is definitely something I need to study harder.

And that means... primp my prayer life. We live in the modern age. Prayers are at our finger-tips and on apps, as well as in physical books. My parents gave me a new study Bible for Christmas. I don't know what my plan is or my goal, but I do know that the Devil does everything in his power to distract us from what is true, and good, and worthy of our attention. And sometimes, we let him win out of laziness. I know I do.

Continue to cultivate beauty. Especially around our home! Read poetry, work on organization, laugh more, accept more (worry less), and be okay and happy. Cook more. Perfect less. Enjoy it all, even what's not preferable. Few things are worth the tizzy.

And it goes without saying: practice gratitude. 2015 means a new baby, work for husband and myself, a happy baby-to-toddler, and so many blessings in the rubble.

Any resolvers out there?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Master of My Fate

"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


I am up late, finishing changing the dates for my US History class, Spring Semester. I am thinking about sending the above poem to my students as a reminder that they are more than their grades, and still responsible for turning in their papers and quizzes on time, as well as following procedure. But another day...

Will is on break, and it feels really, really good to have him around. My family is visiting from Ohio, and it feels really, really good to have them around. I am napping a lot and that feels really good too.

Today, Will, Grace and I had our first ever family portraits done. They turned out well, and I am excited to pick up the cd and copies in about two weeks. Here is Grace getting ready for her close-ups:

I am not thinking about Will starting MICU this Friday, and I am definitely not thinking about all the work I need to get done before sweet Bebe Deux is born in February.

I am staying up late with my sisters, watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, talking about life, and talking about nothing. I am enjoying my vacation. I hope you are too.

I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Two Years of Real

Today, two years ago, I married William Baldwin. I felt very prepared. Perhaps that isn't the most romantic way of putting it, but it's the truest thing.

Will and I met at a New Year's Day party in Louisville, KY - he was wearing a black button down with stripes and his dark jeans, and I was wearing a black long sleeve shirt, herringbone skirt, black tights with leopard print kitten heels. We were the first ones at the party - high school friends of his, college friends of mine. We talked on and off all night, including a debate about the purpose of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and me semi-briefly monologuing about why Calvin Coolidge is my favorite president. I remember he was intrigued that I played lacrosse in high school, and I loved that he plays tennis.

In the beginning, there was the date.

Our first date was about a month later, at the Creationist Museum, and ended up lasting over 24 hours: we got pizza for lunch back in Cincinnati (30 minutes from the museum), we sat around the table chatting with my mom and younger siblings till the early evening, when my mom asked Will if he wanted to just stay over in the guest room - meant we had dinner, played cards and watched Doctor Who with my sisters (whom I was babysitting while my parents were at a party), and more fun conversations.

Then, there were the follow-up dates. 

Our second date, we did fun things in Louisville and back in his Indiana hometown across the Ohio River, like play tennis, eat his favorite pizza, play Dictionary with a few of his friends, watch Firefly for the first time, met his parents and grandfather (I spent the night too to compensate for the distance) and attended mass before Chinese buffet for lunch.

Even typing it out, I realize how atypical these first two dates were; but they only cement to me how comfortable we were with each other from the beginning, and that is truly a gift I do not take for granted. Part of that, I think, is for want of a real connection and for a willingness to put the "real" you out there - as well as the willingness to say goodbye.

Will, the one who never made me wonder (and always answers my questions)

Will is always honest with me - on our fourth date, he said we weren't boyfriend/ girlfriend yet. He encouraged me to date other people - until two months later, when I wrote him a short letter explaining I didn't want to see other people, and how I wanted to only date him. Will still has that letter in his car, in a side shelf on the driver's side.

His honesty with me could be chalked up to the fact that if we broke up, we never had to see or hear from each other again. Besides our two {original} mutual friends, we had no connections. We lived in different states, pursued different interests and careers, and would never be "just friends."

But it wasn't that: Will is honest, always. He's honest with others, and he's honest with himself. He put his cards on the table, and I respect that because I am still trying to be that honest with myself. Will sees me and exactly who I am, and he loves me and respects me. He sees my weaknesses, and doesn't exploit them. Where I am sensitive, he encourages me. He sees my strengths and honors them. He teases me and makes me want to always be a much, much, much better person.

We began discussing marriage six months after dating. For us - a medical student and a post-collegiate employed person, the timing was appropriate. We were 23 and 24. We went through a marriage book and covered every topic imaginable. A married guy friend of mine teased me about how unromantic it was that we were talking about everything - no surprises, he said.

But Will surprises me every day with his thoughtfulness and love. We don't argue. We might disagree on how to do laundry, but knowing that all non-negotiable are on the table and accounted for has helped me come to the realization that this marriage is more than two people who love each other: this marriage is real.

What is real?

I've been thinking a lot about "real". So much of life can feel like a theoretical - and even in marriage and the preparation that comes before it, nothing is guaranteed. You can love each other - theoretically. You can put God at the center - theoretically. This is why faith and works must support each other; this is why faith and reason must be interdependent.

It is not good for man to be alone - which is not to say that everyone must get married, but that community is the lifeblood of humans. We strive to uphold family relationships, friendships, and to do unto others.

I went into this marriage feeling my love of Will, and two years later, I know it even better. I do not just hear it - I experience it. It was a hard transition in some ways - he is not a presents or gestures person, or a naturally talkative person (whereas I am). I've learned his ways are not mine - and how genuine love cannot always be seen. What makes our marriage real every day is the way we re-affirm it to each other: our words, our actions, our intentions.

Marriage isn't easy, because life isn't easy. There is always going to be some sort of curve ball, and it's our job as husband and wife to swing together.

June 2014 - before residency!
I think a lot about all the curve balls in our marriage - mostly because it is our actions that define the moment. It is our words that nourish love. Will and I recognize that we are both individuals who still have a lot to learn about the other person - I like not presuming I know everything about Will. I like peppering him with questions about his thoughts and feelings because I want to know. I like bouncing between the mundane and marvelous with him. I appreciate the sacrifices he makes (he's working this entire Christmas week, for anyone who needs him!), and he lets me know how important I am to him, and what a wonderful mother I am to Grace and bebe.

In this season of Advent, as we await the Incarnation, I am reminded of the incarnational love of marriage. I need these reminders in my loneliness. These reminders are pictures, my wedding rings, our child, my ballooning belly and the bebe who kicks inside (31 weeks!!); the house I clean up every day because we share it and we're building our lives together within its walls.

I like to reflect on the Holy Family during the day - Joseph and Mary traveled long distances and toiled together too; they gave birth far from family too. They were newlyweds seeking a life beyond fear - to live simply, to go about our work as good and noble, to raise our children in love and for God, and with each other.

Christmas 2011

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2013
Christmas 2014
Will, I love you. I can't wait for our schedules to align better. My heart leaps for joy the way Grace crawls around the house now, and goes to the stairs and calls "Da!!" because she thinks you're just in your office, not at the hospital. I am not sorry I beat you in CandyLand, and one day I'll beat you in Monopoly. Here's to all our adventures, and the ones to come! Happy anniversary, my darling husband.

Your loving wife,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Thing About Residency

Last night, Will and I put Grace to bed and had our first moments of alone time... barely, before Will had to leave to go to work until 7 a.m. I became a barnacle while he talked to me, and before I went downstairs to fix his dinner and coffee, I begged him not to go.

"Okay, I'll just quit my job," he said, hugging me.

"Wait," I replied, turning my head out of his chest. "I can't support you and your extravagant lifestyle. I'll fix your sandwich."

My card sharks
It's the joke that always gets a smile - quitting residency, even though it's what we've talked about since our dating days. The promise of residency started this marriage during medical school. Two graduations later, here we are: and I am ready to be done. Yes I, who only venture into the hospital to provide Dr. Husband with sustenance during long shifts, accompany him while he returns a library book, or wait for him in the lobby to meet us post-shift (if someone - could be Grace, could be me - is feeling the cabin fever), am tired of residency.

Five months in, and it's really not so bad. Will's rotations haven't been the worst, just different. Okay, some of them are the worst. I'm not a fan of these overnights, but this week, he only has three in a row plus a 4 pm to 2 am shift. I think logging is the real time snatcher - hours spent with patient files, detailed and signed. Oh, and having to go from an overnight shift to grand rounds, like husband will do tomorrow.

It always seems like the better thing to do - quitting. I get tired of therapy, tired of teaching classes, tired of Grace's teething interrupting her nap schedule... and then wondering how I'm going to handle the second sweet thing in a few months. Ug, where is my desert island with a Wegmans and an internet connection? When can I nap without a baby monitor?

Then Will tells me about his patients. He tells me the funny stories and the sad stories. He tells me of cases he's proud of, and what he needs to work on.

I tell him about my day - what Grace is eating, how well she's self-feeding (and what she's throwing off her tray today), how therapy went that day (and other general activities we've done together), what I taught during class, how my work load is treating me, and anything I've read that day or thoughts I toss around for discussion.

Using a spoon is so two minutes ago...
Some days, we see each other for a few hours. Other days, the whole day. Today was less time than usual, but more than yesterday. I like doing simple chores with him - cleaning the kitchen, tidying up, feeding Grace dinner, playing with Grace and reading to Grace. After a day of "go-go-go", even being together feels relaxing.

Then he's back at work, and I'm at home, half-working on a powerpoint for my younger kids, and half-blogging. And I realize how lucky we are to be on this journey together. A classmate of Will's has been sick for the past few months, working himself to the bare minimum. I made extra soup, loaded up some favorite sick foods and drinks, and texted him stop over on his way home (we live by the hospital). He kept saying we were being too nice, but why pursue medicine if not to help heal the body--and soul too? To add a quality to another's life?

The thing about residency is that it is hard - yes. This is the last stage of training for doctors. Will calls this the "hand-holding" stage. In medical school, you mostly observed and sometimes got to sew someone up. In residency, you're officially an M.D. with a prescription pad and both you and the patient have the deer in headlights look: What's wrong? No, I'm asking you. Oh, you're asking me?

The other thing about residency is that it is worth it: the kind of satisfaction Will gets from helping his patients is obvious by how hard he studies those ridiculously thick books with little lettering. He's reading his ICU book this month for next month's rotation. He wants to be able - more than capable, more than confident - and the more I think about it, that's what a lot of us strive for, if we choose the challenge.

The ability to be, and do. I love teaching my students. I love talking about history and doing Socratic method discussion. It's not enough to memorize - context is king, understanding is relevant. The same goes for being a mom: do I wish Grace would stop pulling my hair and trying to swipe my glasses? Absolutely. But I can never wish her other than what she is, because taking care of my baby - especially through the harder days - is what gives me deeper purpose. It reminds me that I am here to serve. We are all here to serve

At a dear friend's wedding a few months ago, the song after communion was "The Servant Song"; it was breathtaking way to begin their marriage:

"Will you let me be your servant? Let me as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too."

As Will and I approach our second anniversary, we feel our marriage is stronger. We have always loved each other, and in two years, that love has manifested in many different acts: the way he takes care of me when I am preggo-nauseous, the way I make sure he eats, our mutual love of playing with Grace, and the way we rely on each other so completely. Will has a complete servant heart, whether he is with a friend, with family, or at work with a colleague or patient. He is a doer - he leads by doing. He blesses me daily with his goodness, love and support, and I have learned to let him take care of me too.

This servant's heart of his is why I try not to bemoan his shift work, or electives. He is learning to better serve the people of our community, and future communities. Many of Will's cases in the emergency room are not emergencies - but they are emotionally urgent for the families. The baby with a low-grade fever who wouldn't stop crying at 3 a.m. The 91 year old lady he spent four hours trying to resuscitate. The statutory rape victim who is 28 weeks pregnant (same as me). The woman who miscarried at 13 weeks. The traumas, the abdominal pains, the headaches.

"We are pilgrims on a journey, we are brothers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the line and bear the load."

Residency feels hard for the spouse at home, watching the clock, bearing the load of laundry (my nemesis), unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, and forever tidying the same room over and over again, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain (only to have it roll back to the bottom!). It is essential that I recognize how good my work is too, though I don't need a specialized degree or license to act upon it. I can emotionally support him on the tough days, and provide a safe, loving home. And we hope, by example, that we will teach our children what it means to serve and love, and be able to graciously accept service and love in return.

Monday, December 8, 2014

GHB: Lately

Grace pulling up to stand on her own...

Grace patting the belly/ saying hello to her baby sister...

Grace refusing to nap/ visiting Dad at the hospital...

Grace saying "my turn!"

Grace relaxing (a personal favorite activity of mine as well)!

I'm finally caught up on grading (don't worry, my AP kids are turning in another essay by tomorrow), Will is working overnight, freezing rains are expected during the next 24 hours, and I'm 28 weeks preggo with no pictures to prove it.

It's the second week of Advent - I am trying to read daily Scripture and a chapter of The Christmas Mystery to the "very interested" Grace. I'm listening to the Christmas Carols station on Pandora and trying to keep up with the laundry, let alone decorating. (Our tree is up!) We spent most of mass tonight in the quiet box because Grace decided to test her mezzo-soprano potential, and it's Will's new favorite place. Fortunately, Grace decided to ham it up for the couple behind us, and we could rejoin the pew after communion.

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception!

TIC: Imagination and Children with Special Needs

Today at The Imaginative Conservative...

Her therapists rave about her crawling and how awesome she is at “weight bearing” on her right side. And is not that what we strive for in this life— to bear the weight of glory?
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18)
“Hard” is not the standard by which we should judge our life. Easy is not a virtue as much as it can be a pathway. It is worthwhile to live out the divine love in our fallenness because love is good, love is true, love is beautiful. Love can make the road harder, and it can also make the road purposeful. Parenting in love is imagining beyond reality–not in a delusional way, but a hopeful way, a possible way.

Parents with children who have special needs (“children” should always go before the “special needs”) must see beyond the daily frustrations, past other children meeting milestones, and relish the achievements of the individual. By educating themselves on developmental trials and stages, parents are able to see a wider picture of what their child is doing, and where their child is going. Some children will not progress at the same rate as Grace, even with help. This is a different kind of trial. Some children do not have a clear diagnosis—another hurdle. Whatever the circumstances, parents must be their child’s biggest supporter. There is nothing outside therapy can achieve if parents are not in the forefront of teaching, loving, and playing with their child.

At our friends A&C's wedding (9/14)
This is not a time for theories or to bemoan your parental lot that you have to try harder; your child has to try the hardest. This is a time of action. This is the time to support other parents (and be supported), to smile at the day and love your child. Love through words, love through actions. Paralyzing fear or laziness has no place in the day of us parents whose children are fueled by that compassion and zeal.

Even when she fusses, we have learned to push Grace a little harder to see what she can do. I have learned how to stretch my daughter and how to massage her. I myself have been stretched beyond my comfort zone. I have had to overcome my own fear of not being the best thing for my daughter. But a therapist cannot encourage, love, and teach my daughter the way I can, every day. I am the one who feeds her, changes her, takes her on errands. I soothe her, sing to her, pray with her, and read to her. We smile, laugh, and have fun together. She was recently given (washable) crayons and loves to draw. She holds two or three at a time and shows them off to me.

I relish it all.

Read more here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In Thanks: Dr. Daniel Sundahl

One of my most favorite professors is retiring... and since I may have cried writing this e-mail/ letter to him earlier this week, I share part of it in honor of a man whose lectures had a profound influence on my life. He taught me in three classes over three years. Thanks for your 30+ years of service, Dr. Sundahl: here's to going fishing and laughing forever with Ellen!

“If you gather apples in the sunshine… and shut your eyes, you shall see the apples hanging in the bright light.” ("Intellect", Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I can still see myself in your classes, thinking more than talking; scribbling notes; absorbing. The synesthesia of education; the poetry of life. Even now, my one year old is crawling under my desk - she hands me a button. She is calling out for her Dad, whose office she just crawled from to my hole, filled with boxes of notes and old papers and letters from friends. Grace doesn’t know about weeping phoebes or Neibuhr’s “The Children of the Light and the Children of Darkness” (though she thinks it has to do with nap time), and she has yet to recognize what being American is culturally.

But I like to read her Frost’s poems as I combat the weaknesses of my own nature to feel sad. The hurt and bitterness that my baby had an unexplained stroke when she was in utero, and the want for her individuality to always define her - not her struggles. How her triumphs in crawling, pulling up, and now, beginning to try to walk come from her inner drive and potential. I thrive knowing she is part of a wider story.

When she was first diagnosed at 8 months, it was scary. She didn’t show the symptoms of a bad stroke - and I kept my fears holed up for a few months, until I began to write about them, and more about Grace, and share the grandeur of my little baby. To preserve the memories, and allow myself to feel deeply and develop my poetical consciousness in order to better tell our family’s journey through cerebral palsy, through residency, through my own teaching now (in U.S. History), and through life; “And of course there must be something wrong/ In wanting to silence any song.” ("A Minor Bird", Robert Frost)

Thank you for teaching me the importance of a story, of a song, of a poem. Thank you for being my teacher.