drplasticpicker’s advice to my teenage patients and young physicians: pick the unconventional path
November 9, 2019
It is day 72 of this ocean plastic picking journey, and I continue to find great joy and meaning in this new endeavor. As of today, I have picked up 65 bags of trash and salvaged 338 items. Yesteday, I was not able to reach the ocean because I had a full Friday clinic and things always run late, and with daylight savings by the time I got home at 615pm it was already pitch dark.
But this morning is a new morning, and I am happily blogging for an hour before the sun rises. When the sun begins lighting up the world, I will be off on my merry way to the shore to see the birds and on the look out for ocean plastic pollution. I even have to work this Saturday afternoon. A middle management friend needed to swap and I was happy to help him, but I told him that as long as I’m able to do plastic picking I am happy as a clam. The kids have plans with their friends anyway this afternoon during my weeeknd shift. His response in a kind and supportive tone was, “There you go.”
Yes indeed, “There you go.” Yes drplasticpicker goes where those are not going yet. My middle school daughter was sad 2 afternoons ago because she lost the ASB election for school. It made my mommy heart sad to see her want something so much, and not attain it. I told her “Daughter. I am so proud that you worked hard on your speech. You put yourself out there, and you took a risk. That’s the most important part.” Dear readers, I was secretly happy she did not get it because I want her to focus more on Girl Scouts. But her pain was real and her beautiful eyes were glistening with tears.
I try to be the conventional mother and was thinking of not saying anything else. I think being a successful parent is letting go of our our own ego and owning that now it’s our preteen or teenagers lives now that is center stage, and we are bit players. Learning to be quiet is such an important skill as a parent of older children, and also of being a physician. But I opened up my mouth, and my drplasticpicker alter ego said, “Daughter. Can I give you advice in life? Mommy has learned when everyone goes right, you go left. Don’t be a sheep. Don’t just follow the herd.”
My beautiful middle-school daughter just looked at me. She uttered in a tortured voice, “Mommy! Why are you so mean!” So I spent the next 30 minutes apologizing, and holding her as she was sad. As some parents will know, these times are far and few in between and glorious. As I held her, I thanked my drplasticpicker alter ego for lacking impulse control, as I haven’t gotten to hold this growing and independent women-child in a long time. In the end, she felt better and I got to hold her and she was happy as a clam the next morning . She found out two of her close friends won the election so she was happy for them.
Drplasticpicker is often the imperfect mother, but I try my best. Eventhough I made my daughter cry, I think there is something to forging one’s own path and being unconventional. In high school, my group of friends bought a yearbook page. Back then the yearbook would sell half or full pages to fund raise, and groups of friends or families could put their personal photos with congratulations or inspirational quotes. Amongst the snapshots of all of us posing together in matching jeans and different colored shirts, Halloween costumes, prom and other innocent teenage fun was the quote “Why be normal? None of us are.” This was a group of very conventional seeming girls, clothing coordinated, who were part of the service clubs and in the top tier of our class. All of us went on to college and many professional school, and went on to live very conventional lives. But even back then, we all knew that we were individuals and inside unconventional, and we recognized that about each other.
We are still friends today almost 25 years after that photo. The girl in the purple V neck shirt and Gap Jeans, was the future drplasticpicker. I think if you had told her that back then, when she was worried about her weight and whether she would find a college boyfriend that she would become drplasticpicker – I am not sure what she would have said. Maybe she would have been like my middle school daughter, somewhat horrified. But I think, she would have been able to also realize “Why be normal?”
To this I leave you my teenage patients with this message. When you are being cyperbullied, pressured to do deleterious things to your health like vaping, transitioning genders in this still cruel world, or just feeling more sad today because our world is truly harder for teenagers, just remember your seemingly put together pediatrician is also drplasticpicker. I am this crazy avatar that is trying to clean all the ocean plastic pollution by herself. To the young doctors that I am seemingly in charge of. When you feel judged by the system, that you are not working fast enough, charistmatic enough to get your patient satisfaction scores up, or isolated by anyone at work, remember that your middle-manager supervisor looking at you across the room as part of the monolithic commitee of ADMINISTRATION is drplasticpicker. And drplasticpicker tells you, “Why be normal? None of us are.” And indeed it’s better to be unconventional, and it’s even more important to be kind. You can still be in the system and forge your own path. Be unconventional. Be kind. And you will find your path.