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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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Caroline, Dentistry, Divorce, Military, Moving, Residency, Single Parenting, Travel, Tyler | Categories:
Caroline, Must Read, Residency, Single Parenting, Unexpectedly Expecting, Work/Life Balance
Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
Ever since the HSD debacle, I haven’t felt very enthusiastic about or interested in dating at all, which I think anyone would agree is understandable. Still, when a friend told me recently that she had the “perfect” guy for me, I figured, hey, why not give it a shot? He was a bit younger than me and didn’t have kids, and if I’m going to date I would prefer to date another single parent for all kinds of reasons. But as long as I don’t get Caroline involved again, which you can bet your last pair of mom-jeans I will not, what do I have to lose but time?
Oh, and also my last shred of dignity? There’s always that to be lost. Well, there was. It’s gone, now.
It started out fine. Pretty great, in fact. He asked me to go to this place where there was not only a bar but also all these kid-type games like mini golf and skeeball and a climbing wall, et cetera. We had a great time and had tons to talk about. It went so well that when he invited me back to his place to hang out with his friends, I accepted. (Because, again, why not?) I followed his car back to his place, and that’s where I realized I had made some kind of… miscalculation.
I walked in the door and met his two roommates, who were very nice, just like he was. But the place reeked of smoke, and not the cigarette kind. There were giant speakers scattered around the floor, recycling bins overflowing with beer cans, a hookah sitting on a scarred kitchen table, beer pong “house rules” tacked to the wall, and above the fireplace was a giant whiteboard with a single word scrawled across it in dry-erase black marker: DIARRHEA.
(Well… at least it was spelled correctly?)
One of his roommates rolled by me (yes, in the house) on a Razor scooter towards the bathroom. I went to sit down in one of the chairs at the hookah table and my date grabbed my shoulder. ”Oh, not that one,” he said. “It’s only got three legs.”
“So, how long have you guys lived here?” I asked, brightly, and a little too loudly, in a desperate attempt to drown out the chorus of I’mtoooldforthisI’mtoooldforthisI’mtoooldforthis that was screaming through my brain. ”About six months,” my date said cheerfully. ”No, wait, longer than that…”
I’m not trying to be a snob, here, but really, how could I ever imagine bringing my child to a place like that if we started seriously dating? And what would he think of my place, which is usually nearly spotless and has organic kids’ snacks in the pantry and the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine” hanging next to silver-framed smiling photos of me and my daughter on the wall?
Really, the last straw was the awkward moment where he playfully whacked me with a couch pillow and blood started gushing from my nose. ”Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” he gasped. “Captain Take-It-Too-Far over here. Are you okay??” ”I’m fine,” I insisted, peering at him as I tilted my head back and applied pressure to staunch the flow. “I’ll send you the bill for my transfusion.” (Awe. Some. This sh*t only happens to me. On dates.)
And yet he was such a cool and funny guy and throughout the few dates we had, we never ran out of things to say to each other. In the end I broke it off because I just couldn’t see it going anywhere– he seemed far too uncomfortable with the fact that I had a child, and I couldn’t get past the fact that we were in such different places in our lives. He seemed a little hurt at first, but quickly agreed that he wasn’t ready to date someone who was already a mom.
I’m in such a strange place in life, you guys. Being a mom defines me to such a degree that I would really prefer to date men who also have children, because they understand me and my priorities in a way that people who don’t have children never could. But I’m also young enough that I still really like to have fun… so 35-year-olds who have kids and go to bed by 10pm on weekends (like HSD) aren’t a good fit for me, either. I used to have a different life, back in college, like the guy in this post… and I loved it at the time, and sometimes I miss it, but I don’t want to go back and I don’t want to date someone who is still there, either. As I told him when I broke things off, I think that for younger guys who don’t have kids, my life might be a nice place to visit, but they probably wouldn’t want to live there.
So, it turns out that I’m extending my break from dating– indefinitely. Whatever happens will happen, but my life is apparently incapable of being non-crazy even when I’m not looking for anything… so who knows what unbelievable situation I’ll end up in next. (Stay tuned for the next episode of “Hey, At Least You’re Not Julia”.)
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Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
Caroline is in Arizona for the week with Tyler, visiting his parents, because he has her for her birthday this year. Which means, of course, that I’m on momcation… and missing her.
Whenever she’s away from me for more than a day or two, I always try to make the most of it, and this week has been no exception. Since she left on Friday, I’ve been going nonstop, doing all the things that are impossible to do when you are a single mom to a toddler who’s in bed before 8pm. I went shopping with friends, salsa dancing with my South American friends from work, have been out partying with friends until all hours (a more-than-semi-ridiculous night which actually ended up with me stitching up my friend’s face after she nailed herself with the car door), went on a really fun date with a very cute guy (judge me), celebrated match day out at the bars with my dental student friends, and of course enjoyed the requisite sleeping in and staying up super late, just because I can.
Clearly, I’ve been enjoying my single, childless life to the fullest. I actually almost started to be grateful that she was gone for so long, because I was having so much fun and had really been in need of a break. Then I was at work today, talking to Caroline in between patients via FaceTime, and she noticed my scrubs and head covering.
“Are you done being a dentist yet, Mama?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” I said, thinking she meant for the day. ”I have awhile yet to go.”
“Oh,” she said sadly. “I thought it was time for me to come see Mama. I asked Daddy if I could see my Mama and he said no because you were far far away. I miss my Mama.”
That was the sound of the Fun Train coming to a screeching, crashing halt– stopped in its tracks by the Divorced Mom Guilt. I felt so guilty that I kind of wanted to cry. Here I am, going out nonstop and having a blast, while my poor kid is 2000 miles away, missing her mom.
It’s not that I don’t miss her, of course… I keep as busy as I do because there is no point in wallowing in the sadness of her being gone. All I can do is enjoy myself as much as I can until she gets back.
But man, that made me feel bad… as it should… I think. What about you, fellow parents, single or otherwise– are you able to enjoy your kid-free time, or do you feel guilty about it if you do?
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Caroline, Dating, Divorce, Friends, Residency, Single Parenting, Visitation | Categories:
Caroline, Divorce, Residency, Single Parenting, Unexpectedly Expecting
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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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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