A Few Bright Spots in a Crazy-Hard Winter

If you don’t know me personally (actually, even if you do…), my apologies; you’ll probably find this entry super boring.  I’m still struggling with what direction to take this “family” blog now that it has readership.  Suggestions welcome!

The other reason I haven’t done any personal blogging is that this winter has just been really rough.  A few snapshots of frustration that will hopefully someday be humorous include:

  1. Our dishwasher breaking five or six times, full of dirty dishes each time, and including the week I was trying to bake all my cookies to raise money for International Justice Mission.  
  2. Our decade-old, pre-digital television also bit the dust this December.  Right before both kids came down with the stomach flu for a total of 4 nights and days.  And Mark was away at a hematology conference.
  3. Of course this was perfect timing for Matthew to spill water all over my laptop, which was a hand-me-down Mac from my mother.  Our printer had also been broken for months.  And we had no money to replace any of these things.  They’d still be sitting around broken today if not for a huge surprise from my mother’s brother down in Florida.  Turns out Santa did come this year.
  4. In early December we got some sad news about one of Mark’s patients.  This very young man had been diagnosed last winter with a cancer that is usually curable, but his cancer turned out to be highly aggressive, completely untouchable by any treatments.  In November Mark sent him to the NIH for some experimental treatment that occasionally works miracles.  On our own family’s “Christmas morning” (a Sunday before we were to fly back home for the holidays – for the first time in three years) Mark headed downtown to retrieve and read what we knew were likely to be this young man’s final scans.  Mark spent that morning downtown with the family; he wanted to be there and they wanted to hear the news from him.  It was very sad news, and my heart breaks again just thinking about what they’ve been through.  We thought a lot of this young man while we were home with our own families, knowing that he was home on hospice and he deserved so much more.  He was a very special person, very loved by all his friends and family; Mark said that MD-researchers often have a patient or two who inspire and focus their life’s work and he believes this young man will be his.  Mark attended his funeral in January; I wanted very much to go but had no childcare.  His mother’s eulogy is something I’ll never forget, even though I wasn’t there for it.  She said that as a little boy he’d always reach up to take her hand… and on his deathbed he reached up again to take her hand but she knew that this time, he was the one reassuring her instead of the other way around; that’s who he was, always strong for others and always positive.  I can’t imagine holding my child’s hand for the last time.
  5. Back to the logistical frustrations:  Picture it, the night before we’re supposed to fly out, frantically packing and prepping our apartment for deleading (which is no small task).  Matthew falls and hurts his arm.  Subtract nearly 4 hours in the emergency room (thank goodness he was all right).  Total of three hours of sleep that night, and about the same amount the following night since Claire didn’t take well to her new surroundings and cried for hours and hours.
  6. Of course:  Spilled coffee all over my new keyboard.  Of course.
  7. Return from the holidays.  Can’t find the window fixtures for Claire’s room.  Suddenly she’s waking up at 5:30 instead of 8:30.  Takes literally a week to figure it all out.  Because that’s the crux of residency:  It’s not just the time they’re gone, it’s what happens to the time that’s left.  Incredibly stressful.
  8. Could anything else go wrong?  Why yes.  Just as I was hoping to finally, after 5.5 years of intense training, settle into a more “normal” life out here as Mark commenced lab research, Mark’s PI (“Principal Investigator” – the head of the lab, and what Mark hopes to one day be himself) is suddenly being heavily recruited by Memorial in Manhattan.  Apparently some fat cat on Wall Street donated tons of money to Memorial and they’re filling their ranks with the best they can get.  Memorial is essentially neck-and-neck with Dana-Farber; some might even say it’s better, but the Harvard card is sort of a trump card in a lot of ways because, well, it’s Harvard and it always will be.  But if Mark’s PI leaves, that will leave us in a tough spot.  Either we would have to move to Manhattan, which we cannot afford and which would really not be fun after I’ve worked hard to carve out a life for us here, or Mark will have to start all over in a new lab here.  Starting over here would mean forfeiting the loan forgiveness for research that should come through for us this fall.  He spent months last fall working evenings and weekends on his application; it’s like writing a grant.  And we really need the forgiveness; $35,000 of principal forgiven would be fantastic, when we still have about $210,000 left.    
So anyway, I started out this winter at a sprint.  I thought I was about to finally hit the residency finish line in terms of a “normal” life and it energized me to bake my IJM cookies and push through cold after cold after cold – literally I was congested for three solid months – with no childcare help whatsoever.  But eventually these various minor disasters took their toll and I’m typing this right now in survival mode.  Just putting one foot in front of the other until the weather gets warmer and we figure out the lab situation, and until Mark finally finishes up a book chapter he was assigned to write half a year ago – it’s unpaid, and you “can’t say no,” politically.  Mark has been working late pretty much every night and I’m still “taking the kids” on the weekends so he can get more work done on that chapter.  Logically I know that we’re almost at the real finish line… things should get better really soon once the chapter is done and the lab situation resolves.  But my heart just can’t keep “bringing it” another day.  I’m on an emotional “pause” until it’s over.  I’m basically hibernating and hoping to find brighter days when I wake up.
As to the bright spots, I do want document these too:
(1)  We had an absolutely fantastic 3-day Christmas in Chicago with Mark’s family.  He has a huge family and there is no end of fun adults my age to chat with and adorable nieces and nephews to delight in.  Plus his family is Swedish and there is no end of amazing Swedish food and fun traditions.  I’d been missing all this for three years since Mark couldn’t go home either of the past two Christmases.  And introducing my kids to what will be such a special part of their own childhoods was the kind of joy that life is all about.
All the Murakami cousins.  Such amazing kids, each and every one of them.
Not-even-Everybody.
Family magic.
(2)  I also had a nice extended stay at my own house of origin as an after-Christmas.  It’s SO.  NICE. to have an extra set of hands (two, really) to help.  And I cherish the time with my parents.  Bonus:  My father’s sister and her husband, and two of their three children, made the trek up to Madison to celebrate together and meet Claire.  My aunt is one of my idols and certainly the most I have left of my grandmother, with whom I was really close.  And I love her family.  It was amazing to see them.  I am so glad they made the trip!

Papa and Uncle Jeff made a snowman with Matthew!
My cousin Maggie and my daughter.  Lucky me!!!
(3)  Claire is talking!  At 16 months she says tons of things.  She answers questions with a “Yes,” will tell you what TV show she wants and then say “That’s the one I want” if you click on it, she even said an emphatic “Da – AD!” when Mark tickled her the other day.  It’s hilarious how her sweet, garbled little voice actually says very “adult” things.  Love it.
15 months
16 months 
15 months.
Yes, I’m obsessed with dressing my children.  But I do it on a shoestring budget; here are my tips.
See, also, my Zulily tips.
(4)  Matthew continues to amaze me by being SUCH a good big brother to Claire.  Twice at the gym childcare drop-off he lifted his arms up to “take her” from me, melted my heart!  And I love it when I come back and catch them playing together.  They play very well together at home too which is an absolute godsend for me.  He never stops talking and hearing his often adorable thoughts brightens every single one of our days, no matter what else is going on.

Sugar Cookie Fun
3 years 4 months.

(5)  Mark and I have started a weekly marriage “course” at our church.  It’s painful to pay for a babysitter once a week, but we really need to get back on track now that our half-decade of “survival mode” is hopefully finally ending.  Our goal is to continue with the babysitter after the course is over so that we have at least three hours a week for us.  It’s clear that if we don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen.  And I’m not gonna lie:  We really need it.
(6)  My Mom-to-Mom group this year is amazing.  I love these women; I love that we come from such diverse backgrounds and situations, but we have all really bonded and we share laughter and even occasional tears every week.  Mom-to-Mom is a national program that originated at our church out here; every Thursday we meet for an hour of lecture/video on parenting and then another hour to chat with our “small groups” – childcare is excellent, you should definitely look into whether there’s a chapter near you.  The woman who started it, Linda, is herself a medical spouse – and the videos often mention the specific struggles of having a very busy partner.
There, now the blog is caught up in terms of documenting our family’s “story.”  Here’s to hoping that this is the very last residency chapter.  I’d love to write an “It Gets Better” chapter in a few months for all my medical spouse readers.