Thoughts on a Long-Forgotten Cousin, and Raising a Strong Girl
December 8, 2020
Lots of thoughts this morning. Figured out why I’ve had some long-standing thought patterns about working-mothers versus stay-at-home mothers, and it has nothing to do with my fellow mothers. Like most working mothers, I’ve had some resentment of stay-at-home mothers who is actuality don’t really exist. There are very few fully stay-at-home mothers. It has to do with a little bit of resentment I had when I was eight-years-old. I started working at my father’s accounting office at 8 years of age, helping in the family tax business. We all worked and helped from 8-14 years of age, and also at my uncle’s All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet (eventhough we weren’t Chinese). Soon after that I began doing a lot of extracurriculars in high school and worked in research labs afterschool. The entire time one of my male cousin was living a more idyllic life and had piano lessons, surfing, and never really worked. I had really wanted to be on the soccer team, but who was going to drive me to soccer? But now I realize I am who I am because of those early experiences. Indeed I think my college or medical school essay was exactly on that topic of hard work. My cousin is now a cosmetic dental surgeon and has a younger former beauty-pagent wife with three kids who all sing. He is an upstanding citizen and who am I to judge his life? I am a pediatrician and Assistant Boss and married the college sweetheart who probably could have been in a beauty pagent if there had been one for men back then, and I am an environmental advocate who picks up litter. I have two kids, and that they are alive and healthy – as a pediatrician I know that is the greatest gift of all. But I resented him when I was eight years of age, and some of it was probably because he was a boy and in our culture boys got everything. Eventhough I was top of my highschool class, by mere virtue that he was a boy everything he did was oooh and aaahed about more. I’ve since set aside that resentment, as I realize it was a byproduct of a useless patriarchal cultural system that I no longer adhere to. Now I know why I didn’t marry someone of my own actual national identity. Wow.
My mother resents some people too, and now I realize some of it was probably because of how proud she was of me. She had a daughter who was top of her high school class, went on to Crimson University, and Crimson Medical School – and never recognized by my father’s family. It was because I was a girl, and maybe some of it was because I was her daughter and she acutely felt that lack of love from my father’s side. Families are complicated.
But what can be very healing is having your own children, and having my daughter and seeing how she is alive and thriving is healing. The secret has been the simple fact is that she is alive. She almost died when she was an infant in the NICU. I sometimes forget how scary that moment was. She had been born vigorous at 27 5/7 weeks at about 2 lbs and they literally put her in a ziplock bag to keep her warm, and whisked her off to the NICU. She was only intubated for one day and soon breathing on her own. But about a week into her hospitalization, I was told that she had E Coli Meningitis. If you are a pediatrician, you know that E Coli Meningitis means a swiss cheese brain. I forgot what decision we were making, one of those many complex medical decisions you make as a parent. Mr. Plastic Picker and I were sitting on some outside bench somewhere outside of Mans Greatest Hospital off Fruit Street and I was crying. I was being held by my college sweetheart, the prefect college junior boy that I was supposed to have the picture perfect family with and I had a very sick baby. And we were facing the very real possibility that we would not be bringing her home or not bringing a “normal” baby home.
The NICU team goes into crisis mode and puts in lines and runs antibiotics. They do spinal taps. That is when I learned to love really good Nurse Practitioners and Nurses because is was the NICU Nurse Practitioners and NICU nurses that got me through that moment as a young mom. They actually knew what they were doing, I could acutely feel it in my maternal bones. And then as a parent you go into crisis mode, and get ready to receive whatever baby you will get – and build the best life you can for them. I remember whispering to her when she was in her isolette and very sick. I just remember whispering to her back then that if she made it, I promised that I would be the best mom I could and that I’d put her in ballet. I don’t know why ballet, but it just stuck in my mind. I guess a three year old dancing around in a tutu was the direct opposite of a child with cerebral palsy, which was probably what was going through my young pediatric mind as a very real possible consequence of E. Coli Meningitis and just extreme prematurity.
That little baby made it out of the NICU. I brought her home at a big 4 lbs, which seemed huge back then. She made it through a few years of asthma, several hospital admissions for pnemonia, mastoiditis (who gets mastoiditis except my kid???!!) and the normal bumps and bruises of being a kid. She even made it through ballet, which she only did for two years – but it was a beautiful two years. I got to see her in her tutu. So now when anything good happens to her, I take it as a bonus. Honestly, I always have. I was shocked when she won that scholarship at the end of elementary school, and now she is so busy with her life. Piano. Soccer. ASB. History Day. Girl Scouts. And she loves her classes and loves languages.
When I was speaking with the UC Berkeley Premed Honor Society, the students asked about timing family. The other panelist and I laughed collegially. Each of us had decided to have kids at different times. When it got to my turn I told them, “When we decided to have kids, it made no sense. I was a junior resident and then an endocrine fellow. It was a hot mess, but you figure it out.” Yes indeed it was a hot mess. But my mom was instrumental in helping me through it. I remember now that she had her friends in Boston drop off tray aftet tray of Vietnamese food when I was on bedrest, and then after coming home from the hospital. She listened to me day after day complain about my life, and my anger after I brought my baby home. I now realize I was likely going through post-partum depression, but we didn’t talk about those things back then. She named my daughter. And when my ex-preemie was turning out fine and became a god-awful HORRIBLE TODDLER and having the worse temper tantrums you can imagine (to the point that she would make herself vomit), I couldn’t take her anywhere. It was so embarassing. I would only take her to my mom’s house and she would have a temper tantrum in the safety of grandmother’s house, where she would vomit in grandmother’s bedroom. I would still get to get out of my house and eat some of my mom’s food, as my mom was cleaning up my daughter’s vomit.
So my now near-perfect tween who is the epitome of sweetness, I remember all the stages that got her here. I kept it together for her. It took a lot of help, but especially mothers and grandmothers to raise a child. Mr. Plastic Picker was vaguely there as well, but for my daughter it was mostly me and my mom. We were the ones committed to her from the beginning. She is well loved now by so many, but when she was not sure to make it – it was me because I created her in my womb, and then the woman who created me in her womb that rallied around her. There is a visceral you could say placental connection among us three.
I don’t think of that long-forgotten cousin that much anymore. He lives nearby and living his life with his wife and his daughters. And I am living my life with my daughter. I was always the one that had to work a little bit harder to justify things because I was a girl not a boy. But in the end, that is the lot of being a mother and I no longer resent it. It made me who I am. I think it helped me made sure by baby turned into a strong girl.