Friday, March 13, 2015

RIP Paul Kalanithi

I read the news of a passing of a stranger yesterday, and it has stayed with me since because of the sheer power of his words.

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon at Stanford and a tremendously gifted writer.  After he was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic lung cancer, he wrote two utterly haunting essays, entitled  "How Long Have I Got Left?” for The New York Times and “Before I Go” for Stanford Medicine. Both essays are must-reads, the first especially so for members of the medical community.

It is funny that one of the reasons that I feel so particularly bad about this is because somebody with so much eloquence was taken from this world, while everyday, so many good people pass relatively un-mourned by the general public.

But anyway, it is this man's eloquence that spurred this post, and got me talking about something that I have pondered in passing for several months now.  Kalanithi, addressing his infant daughter who was born only days after he was released from the hospital, said this in his second essay:

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

These are words that will resonate with me,and with many of you, because he put into words what so many of us feel, but cannot express. And the scope of his statement is not restricted to people whose days are numbered, but ALL of us, really.

I was happy-ish before Gauri came along, but it was a low-level contentment, if you will, where I was always looking forward to the next thing to make me happy: a holiday, a book, a job, a date, the baby itself (a 4-year long wait, that); I was very rarely perfectly happy, perfectly joyous in that moment. I think there may have been a few instances where I came close: there was one, I remember, when I was out in Acadia National Park. Existential joy at its purest.

After Gauri? The moments come thick and fast. I still grumble about many things, I am still looking forward to a great many little things (getting out of India, mostly), but there are so many moments that are so perfectly joyous that they are hard to bear. Then there are moments of perfect quiet peace and contentment.

Very few things can bring this sort of joy. Very few things make us stop searching for the next best thing and let us simply bask in a particular moment. I am glad this man got to experience that, though it is such a tragedy he died just a few months short of his baby's first birthday. I do not know him, but I am so saddened by the fact that he had so little time. For all of you out there in the infertility trenches, know that the prize you are fighting for is the best one indeed. It is worth the pain of battle.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Parenting Fails and Triumphs

As a new parent, I started down this road with SUCH good intentions.  My baby would get no screen time. She would not be transfixed by electronics. She would be interested in exploring her surroundings. She would be involved in the world around her.

Well, two out of four is not bad, is it? 

Turns out, ensuring that your kids do not fall down the rabbit hole of a deep and abiding fascination for electronics requires serious discipline from you, and whoever else is in the house. We failed, and badly.

My grandma watches incredibly awful regional language TV soaps. I watch Downton Abbey and Top Chef and Modern family. My dad channel surfs. All of us (barring my grandma) spend far too much time with our smartphones. I have tried to keep her out of the room while the TV is on, but the damage is done. Among her favorite objects are remote controls. She drags em around the house, points em at the TV, presses buttons, and gets super pissed when nothing relevant happens. Sometimes she stands in front of the TV, pressing buttons on a remote, waving her arms and screaming like a witch doctor, exhorting it to start. When it does start, sometimes she ignores it, but whenever there is a jingle or the opening number, she is transfixed and starts dancing to it (turns out this kid is pretty musical---she will dance to almost anything). When she sees my phone, she lets out a war hoop and dives for it. My laptop drives her ballistic. I usually deny her these objects, resulting in tantrums (already at 11 months!!), which mama is pretty good at ignoring at a deadpan manner, but other people can be PUTTY in the face of. Working on establishing rules for consistent reactions in a big family is a headache, I have to say. But the rewards make it totally worth it. 

But with these things that have not worked out the way I intended, there are also things that have, some a bit more than I would have liked. This kid loves nature. She is out for maybe around 2 hours a day in our garden, not counting her long walk. She is observant and really pays attention to her surroundings. She loves to explore, take apart, and examine everything (she stands on tiptoe in front of desks and tries to pull all the contents She eats (self-feeds) with no need for distraction, really tasting and enjoying food---part of that is her own nature (all her half-siblings are really good eaters) and the fact that she has never been troubled by reflux, which is the root of the problem for so many kids labelled "picky eaters." Nonetheless, I have to give quite a bit of credit to baby-led weaning. It really is a fantastic concept.

But overall, the triumphs have little to do with me, and quite a bit to do with the amazing support system I have. Usually, the fails have also little to do with the parents (but in some cases, they do, as is so here). And I am NOT going to beat myself up about it, and you cannot either, even if some of you may want to. "Perfection" in parents is unrealistic, unachievable, and overrated, is it not? We just have to do the best we can under the circumstances, while not being too hard on ourselves or on the kids.

I just have to work on keeping her love for electronics under reasonable control, and making sure her interests remain diverse. Easy peasy, right?