Archive for the ‘ Work/Life Balance ’ Category

Parenthood Rites of Passage

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

We all love our kids.  That goes without saying.  Still, there are those inevitable trials that pop up every now and then and you have to suffer through them. Once they’re over, you think, Well, I’m a real mom now.  Trial by fire, so to speak.  We’ve all been there.  No?

Here’s my list of those parenthood rites of passage– have any to add to it?

Cleaning up a bed full of diarrhea and/or vomit.

Your toddler wakes you up in the middle of the night with those six dreaded words: “mommy, I pooped in my bed.”  For a split second, you consider pretending that you’re dead still sleeping, but you know that that mess sure isn’t gonna take care of itself, so you drag yourself out of bed, down the hall and get to it.  You strip down your kid and while you’re stripping the disgusting sheets, your toddler gets into God knows what in the closet and runs gleefully amok, screaming from the sheer joy of being allowed out of bed at 2am, wearing nothing but your favorite lipstick smeared across her forehead and Crocs from last summer (where did she find those?) while you’re gagging and planning six consecutive scalding hot showers and a nose amputation and I think my tubes just tied themselves, or at least I hope they did. I forget, why did we have kids again?

Defcon 5 public meltdown in the grocery store.

You’re peacefully strolling down the aisle with your kid in the front of the shopping cart, checking out the cereal selection.  You’re cool, calm, collected, and little old ladies think your kid is just criminally adorable and you’re thinking, damn straight, she is.  Then it happens.  Your child sees cookies, or fruit snacks, or something she wants.  She wants it, and all hell is gonna break loose if she doesn’t get it.  You always hated seeing those parents who give their kid whatever they want to keep them quiet, so you say no and stand your ground.  Your “criminally adorable” child flips the Crazy Switch to just plain criminal, screaming at top volume and trying to fling herself from the cart.  Everyone is staring.  Those little old ladies are now shaking their heads in disgust at your parenting skills or lack thereof. You’re trying to calm your kid down but nothing is working and finally you wave the white flag and beat a hasty retreat to the parking lot.  If you’re lucky, you have your groceries with you.  If you’re extra lucky, you paid for them.

One full night of no sleep.

None of this “I got a couple hours” business– I mean not one single minute. We’re talking none at all here, people. And then you have to go to work the next day and pretend to be a normally-functioning member of society. These nights from hell usually end with the newborn stage, but can still happen later on when kids are teething or sick or whatever. You know the drill– baby wakes up, you feed him, he takes forever to fall back asleep. By the time he’s asleep, you know he’s going to want to eat in about a half hour. You lie down. GO TO SLEEP, you tell yourself. QUICK!! Before he wakes up! He’s gonna wake up soon, just try not to think about anything and grab a few quick minutes of– WAHHH! WAHHH!!  …Damn it. (And repeat. All. Night. Long.)

So, what do you think?  How have your kids hazed you?  (Personally, I’m expecting some kind of medal to arrive in the mail.  Any day now…)

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Stepping Up

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Sometimes, the hardest thing you ever have to do as a parent is make a decision for you.

People keep asking me why I want to join the military. What the draw is for me. “Don’t do it just for the money,” they tell me. “Don’t do it just for the travel. Don’t do it just for the adventure.”

I’m not doing it “just” for any of those things. And none of those things are the major reason for me, anyway.

If I just wanted to travel and do field dentistry, I could volunteer abroad a few times a year. If I just wanted to leave Connecticut, I could move. If I just wanted financial stability, I’d go into private practice. If I just wanted to do dental work for soldiers, I’d be in the civilian service of the military or work at the VA. If I just wanted loan repayment, I’d work for the National Health Service Corps or the Indian Health Service. If I just wanted to avoid dealing with the business aspect of dentistry or malpractice, I’d work in a community health center. If I just wanted broader experience with procedures and new technology, I’d do another residency.

I don’t “just” want any of those things. I want all of them. With the Army I can have them, and more. I can do all of those things, and move with my daughter to a brand new place and join an already-established commmunity. I can do for my patients exactly what they need, without worrying about insurance coverage and whether or not they can pay for the treatment I believe they should have. For that reason, the military is a fantastic place to train as a new dentist.

According to all the Army dentists I’ve talked to, I should assume that I will deploy at some point just to be mentally prepared, but with Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down, it’s more likely that I won’t be deployed than that I will.  If/when I am, it will be for around 4.5 months, and I will be doing the field dentistry that I love.  (I had tried to do the Air Force, because they have shorter and less frequent deployments, but they don’t have any openings for general dentists at this point.)

Obviously there are downsides and hassles and risks. I don’t think anyone would seriously consider being sent far away from their child if the overall package wasn’t something they were very interested in for many reasons. Do I think I’ll make a whole career of it? Maybe, but probably not. But for the next three years, at least, I believe that this is the best career decision I could make. It isn’t spur-of-the-moment, either– I’ve talked about doing this off and on since I was in college, eight years ago.

This is hard for me to say, but I have always been completely honest in what I write and I don’t plan on stopping now…

When you have a child years before you plan to, and your career is very important to you, you are bound to hold some degree of resentment toward the immense, sometimes overwhelming responsibility that is your child… no matter how much you love them. I love my daughter more than life itself, but there are already enough things that I have no control over because I have her, that I wish I could do or wish I did not have to do.

I can’t let this be one of them. I will always wish that I had done it and I don’t want to resent being a mother.

The last time I did something like that, I took a year off from dental school to stay at home with Caroline, and back-burnered my own career so that Tyler would not have to. I sat at home alone, feeling like I had no control over my life or anything that happened to me. And I ended up stumbling around in a haze of postpartum depression and I could barely take care of my daughter, let alone myself. Even the memories of that time are foggy to me now.

To raise your child happy, you have to be happy. That is why I got divorced. That is why I’m doing this.

If I truly believed that I would be harming her, then I would not do it. But what is the cost to her, really, in the grand scheme of things? She moves to a new place. It gets harder for her to see her father, who hasn’t been consistently involved in her life anyway. If or when I get deployed, she will miss me terribly for a few months. And I will miss her. I know it will be unimaginably hard to spend that much time away from my daughter. But a few months spent away from her, one time, will not matter that much over the course of our whole lives. She will be with people she loves, and I will talk to her every day.

She will have amazing experiences, she will be part of a close-knit community, she will have financial stability and an undergraduate education paid for under the GI bill (assuming I stay in the reserves long enough).  She will have a mother and a role model who is happy and fulfilled in her career.  And she will be proud of me and the things I have done.  I wrote not too long ago that being a single parent should never be the reason you don’t follow a dream– it should be the reason you do.  I believe in that statement, totally and completely.

And if none of those things work out the way I had hoped and we both hate it, then, well, it was only a few years of our lives and at least I followed my heart and did what I felt was right, and I will have no regrets or lingering resentment for what might have been. Sometimes… you have to take a leap of faith.

If I were the kind of person to play it safe, I would be sitting here still married to Tyler and wishing, every minute of every day, that I had a different life. If you want a certain life you can’t sit around and hope that it will come to you. You have to step up and take it for yourself.

This is me, stepping up.

Army, here we come.

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“I Don’t Know How You Do It”

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Working moms, has anyone ever said to you, of your life with a job and a family, and possibly school or whatever else you do– “I don’t know how you do it?”

Scratch that. It’s not a question. I know you’ve heard that before.

These people mean well. And hey, I’m certainly not complaining. It’s a compliment, really. It means they respect you and the things you have accomplished. But although I’m appreciative of their admiration, I can’t help but think that they don’t exactly understand.

I was chatting with a friend this week and we somehow got talking about traveling, and I was telling him about the trip I took to Belize to do dental work. He leaned back in his chair and looked at me and said, “I don’t get how you’ve done so many things with your life, in spite of the fact that you have a kid.”

It was a compliment, but, well… he doesn’t quite get it, does he?

We don’t do things in spite of the fact that we have children. We do things because we have them.

I finished dental school and travel and write and do all the other things I’ve done (and all of the things I want to do) because I want to be the kind of woman my daughter wants to be when she grows up. I want her to respect me and look up to me and basically just think that I am really, really cool. I want to be her biggest role model. I want her to be proud of me.

And most of all, I want her to have all the opportunities I’ve had, and more.

Being a single mom does make having a career more difficult and complicated, I certainly won’t argue with that.  But Caroline isn’t some impediment that I’m trying to work around– she’s the reason and motivating factor behind everything I do.

When I graduated from dental school (at last), I wrote that Caroline was not an obstacle to my achievement, but my biggest motivation and the reason I never lost sight of my goal. And I think that’s how it is for all of us who choose to take on both a career and motherhood simultaneously. Being a parent, and to a greater degree, a single parent, should never be the reason you don’t follow a dream.

It should be the reason you do.

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Top Ten Best/Worst Excuses Not to Go to the Dentist

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Every once in awhile, I like to take a break from talking about all the mommy stuff and the toddler stuff and the heavy life decision stuff, and write a post about what takes up most of my day: being a dentist. I know I have a lot of dental readers who enjoy them, so, this one’s for you guys!

Being a dentist can be tough unless you don’t mind being pretty unpopular. It’s a universal truth that we all have to face: people just don’t want to come see us. And let me tell you, patients will come up with pretty much anything to get out of coming to the dentist.

The following is a list of the best (worst?) excuses I’ve heard to cancel or miss a dentist appointment. (Most of them are from my own personal experience with my patients… All of whom I love dearly, of course.)

10. “I forgot how to get there.”
Here, let me introduce you to this thing called a map. Or a GPS. Or Google. Or just your memory of the route from when you drove here last week.

9. “I have really bad gas.”
This excuse came complete with excessive detail about how she stunk up her whole house in ten minutes and she couldn’t stop “tooting”. I’m so sorry, but “I’m not feeling well” would suffice. We are dentists for a reason: we don’t care to hear about your other end. Ever.

8. “I don’t need to come back. I don’t have any teeth anymore.”
Right, but you might want us to continue to screen you for a little thing called oral cancer and besides, dentures need maintenance. If you had a prosthetic arm you’d want it checked out every now and then, wouldn’t you? Same goes for prosthetic teeth.

7. “I couldn’t find parking.”
Granted, parking at the hospital where I work is pretty terrible. But there’s always parking for patients, and even if the patient lots were full, I’m confident a person could find one parking spot in the entire hospital campus, which is the size of a small town. Either way, if you have a hard time finding parking, you show up late– you don’t just panic and leave.

6. “I don’t need to come in anymore. I got that tooth out myself, at home, with my Swiss Army knife.”
Yeah. Just… No.

5. “My car broke down.”
Okay, this one is acceptable. Once. Maybe twice. I’d even give it to you three times, being the kind of person for whom oil changes are rarer than a solar eclipse. One of my friends in dental school had a patient who tried it five times. The fifth time, she told him, “Maybe you should get a new car.” “Maybe I should get a new dentist,” he snapped. “At this point,” she said, “you’re gonna have to.”

4. “My house burned down.” Really. Your house burned down? A less dramatic made-up excuse would do, like, “I have a cold”, or “I can’t get the time off work”. Using an excuse like that to get out of having a filling done is like killing a housefly with a grenade. (Although in this case, I googled the patient’s address and it turns out her house really did burn down, so actually this isn’t funny at all, in the end…)

3. “I have a toothache.”
Patient: I’m sorry, I can’t come in tomorrow, I’m feeling terrible.
Dentist: Oh, I’m so sorry! Thanks for calling, though. What are you sick with? Stomach bug? It’s going around.
Patient: No. I have a terrible toothache.
(Good luck fixing that at home… Wait, no, I just remembered that number 6 actually happened so I was only kidding, please come in.)

2. “I’m in jail.”
Overhead page: Dr. Landry to the front desk for a phone call.
Me: Hello, this is Dr. Landry.
Patient: Hi, I’m definitely not going to make it to my appointment today. I’m in jail.
Me: …You used your one phone call to call your dentist?
Patient: I don’t have a lot of friends.

1. Being deceased.
It might be a little unsettling to come in to work, look at your schedule, and see a line through your denture patient’s name with the word “DECEASED” next to it… But at least we can’t really argue with it.

So, fess up: have you ever made up something crazy to get out of a dental appointment? Dental people, got any better ones than mine?

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When Career and Motherhood Collide

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

For us working moms, achieving a healthy work/life balance can be a real b*tch.

Right? I mean, even on the best of days it’s close to impossible. Work keeps you so late or makes you so tired that you don’t have much energy to be Enthusiastic Mom, or work is mad at you because you’re calling in sick too often because you have to stay home with a sick child who can’t go to daycare, or you’re mad at yourself because you feel like work is taking up too much space in your head and you’re being a preoccupied mother. You’re only one person, so there is always someone who is getting shafted. But I’m here to say stop yelling at us, everybody. We are all doing the best we can. Now run along and make us a cocktail.

It’s even worse when you are facing a giant life decision like I am at the moment. I have this career path that I’ve thought about choosing for a long time, and the circumstances in my life are finally right, or close to it, so all I have to do is just… go for it. Right?

Wrong. It’s not so easy.

I reject the idea that being a single parent means that I can’t do anything. That I know for sure. But does that make me determined and forward-thinking, or selfish and irresponsible? Do the huge, life-changing decisions I’ve made in my not-so-very long life make me confident and ballsy, or fickle and crazy? Am I setting a strong and inspirational example for my daughter, or am I stubbornly dragging her along with me on a path of insanity and instability?

It may be the right career decision for me, but is it the right decision for her? And if it isn’t the best decision for her, does that make it the wrong decision for me?

My head hurts from thinking about it.

I talked more to the Army about my concerns regarding deployment for long periods of time away from my daughter. They assured me that the 90-day deployment policy is something I can depend on with the kind of work I would be doing. Everyone else I know assured me that recruiters will tell me anything, including out-and-out lies, to get me to sign on the dotted line.

I just don’t know. If I do this, I will be a soldier first and a dentist second. I would be proud to be that… Except, well…

I am a mother, first.

I want to do both, and find a balance between them, but the Army will not care that I have a child, or that I’m a single mother. They will send me where they need me, because that’s what I’d be signing up for.

This is something I really, really want to do, for all kinds of reasons. What it comes down to is this: is it all worth it, if I could potentially miss out on months on end of my daughter’s life? That time flies by fast enough as it is, as any mother knows. And I’ve criticized Tyler constantly for putting his career before our child. Would this make me just like him, in the end?

She will not understand the honor and the sacrifice and the incredible career opportunities and experience. She will only know that her mother is gone.

And when I inevitably get deployed, and I come back… will she still know who I am?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

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