Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’


“God help and forgive me . . . I wanna build something that’s going to outlive me” Aaron Burr, Hamilton

I will admit it: I am unashamedly and unabashedly in love with the musical Hamilton. Earlier this year, an old and dear Theatre friend and I reunited after 15 years and she completely surprised me with tickets to Hamilton, which was everything it is hyped up to be: a great story, clever lyrics, rich characters, dynamic acting, evocative music and truly captivating staging. But more than simply giving you a performance high, Hamilton also leaves you thinking. One thought has continued to linger as I contemplate entering into 2017 . . . it is captured in the Act II song “Room Where it Happens”

In this song, Aaron Burr- President Thomas Jefferson’s vice president- expresses his desire to be part of the decision making that was taking place behind closed doors. He was frustrated at only hearing about the results without being part of it. As we enter 2017, what is the room where it will happen. Will we be in it? It is easier to show up to the building than it is to show up in the room. Whether that building is the home or the office building, it is possible to keep showing up to a building but never really entering the room where it happens.

I experienced this difference recently with my two boys. Usually, when they get going with video games in the living room, I exit quickly to find a quiet spot in the house. This time round though, I stuck around and half-listened in as Christian was playing a combat game. At one point, he was having trouble winning a battle and repeatedly blamed the other character, the game system, the lighting- everything but himself. I asked him to pause the game and we talked about owning wins and losses, not making excuses and focusing on how to get better instead of blaming everything else. It was one of those father-son moments that only happened because I was in the room. 

Getting in the room has a price though. Being in a room is more intimate than simply showing up at the building. You can hide in a building, much harder to hide in a room (Also, unless you’re 5 years old and playing hide and seek, it’s a little awkward to be discovered hiding in a room). But in the room, you can be heard; you can be seen; you can contribute; you can change things. This is what Aaron Burr wanted to be a part of-what we can all be a part of. But Hamilton also warns that when you choose to be in the room “you get love for it, you get hate for it, you get nothing if you wait for it” 

So, in 2017, will we be in the room where it happens?

BLOG EXTRA!😉 While on the topic of Hamilton, here is a recording (link) I recently made of “Dear Theodosia”, Burr and Hamilton’s tribute ballad to their children as they contemplate their future .  . . Enjoy and have a blessed 2017!

http://www.smule.com/p/485830569_829501433

Teenage Brain

Photo Credit: KindredMedia.org

I am still learning to decipher “Teenage-ese”

A widely spoken dialect, worldwide

Yet unique to those who have roamed the earth

For 13 to 19 years.

The first mystery is the vocabulary of this ancient tongue

It seems that there are only 7 words: “Uh-huh” “Nothing”

“Good” “Not” “Much” “Video” and “Games.”

As for tone, there appear to be two notes: low mumble and mid-range mumble

Excitement is hard to detect, shrouded in ambiguous grunts and mutterings

Unless a wrong is perceived, and then suddenly

This language acquires profound expressiveness

Through the boldly and repeatedly expressed phrase “Come on!”

Flowing conversations are not a traditional part

Of Teenage-ese oral traditions.

Long

Silences

And

Pauses

Seem integral to the communication style,

Creating regular tension with

Parent-ese, a language that insists

On constantly clear and emotionally appropriate communication.

And so, it is tempting to give up on Teenage-ese.

Grunts, groans and monotones

Fall prey to suggesting apathy.

But every so often, like the King in

“The King and I” who constantly exasperates his wife,

Teenage-ese succumbs to “something wonderful”

A single vulnerable phrase slips out despite

The best efforts of the native speaker.

An “I love you” evades the security system and tunnels underneath

The protective barbed wire of the teenage psyche.

If you are blessed

To catch this moment, grab it.

Security will soon catch up with the errant words.

And incarcerate them once again in the teenage brain.

And the mystery of Teenage-ese begins once again . . .

ipad-typewriter

Photo Credit: AskmePC web design

“I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s ideas. The library was open, unending free.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. I read these provocative words today while on a literary get-away to Barnes and Noble. I don’t know that I agree with Coates’ characterization of classroom as a “jail” as I actually find listening to other people’s ideas stimulating, but his challenge to chart one’s own path in seeking truth and knowledge, the “library path”, is important.

In Between the World and Me, Coates describes the vibrant yet turbulent tale of the African American experience in America. His whole book is written as  a letter to his teenage son with his best thoughts on how to live with dignity as a black man in an imperfect America. With my own son having just turned 13, I was interested to hear his thoughts. One question I wonder about is how to prepare my son for a environment in which race is still a controversial issue without making race color everything he sees.

It’s an unfamiliar challenge for many of us Generation X immigrants from Kenya, because we did not grow up with race being such a throbbing undercurrent to daily life. I am, in fact, biracial and grew up thinking it was quite natural to have a Scottish mother and a Kenyan father. It meant chapati and Scottish soup all in the same week and a common national fanaticism for football/soccer. What was not to love? I also grew up with a black (Kenyan) President, learning black (Kenyan) history.

I will pause here to say that in Kenya, we also had to learn the history of EVERYWHERE else as part of our highly ambitious 8-4-4 educational system at the time. When I say history of everywhere, I mean it. Basically if something had happened in the past, anywhere, whether that be in Northern Mongolia or Nebraska, we had to know it. But I’m not bitter . . .

What struck me about Coates’ words is how much change, of any kind, depends on our willingness to challenge the various scripts in our lives. I once tried to change the tired script and perception of Africa for my students as a vast “country” full of war, famine and poverty, but delightful animals . . . I decided to walk all around downtown Nairobi with my sister taking pictures of less familiar images, skyscrapers, fancy restaurants, malls. My mission was dramatically cut short when a few of our law enforcement officials detained me, quite concerned that I was taking pictures of multiple buildings, a suspicious act even at that time in a world of terror attacks. I was released once the confusion was cleared up, but it stuck with me that changing a narrative is not easy. It demands persistence, stubbornness, courage.

***

I started a new phase in my medical journey this week as I began my Masters in Clinical Research, a 2 year leave, before returning to complete and graduate from medical school in 2017. My research will mainly be in Neurosurgery, exploring the following topics:

1. The effectiveness of electrical stimulation in treating nerve injury.

2. A rare complication of brain aneurysm rupture treatment, known as PRES.

3. Patient costs of Pediatric Neurosurgical care in Kijabe, Kenya

I will also be working with Pediatric faculty on data visualization and bioethics projects. The bioethics project will involve analyzing the differing experiences of minority and majority pediatric patients in our University Hospital when facing difficult medical decisions.

Research, either personal or professional, is unique way to change the script; you can use hard earned data to challenge nonsense. I look forward to that challenge.

For today though, I am glad I could walk into a  room full of books, choose the knowledge I would seek, and create a script on the spot. Whether the original script is a skewed conception of Africa, a narrow view of each other by race, or medical treatments with flimsy support, some scripts were made to be changed . . .

notice-and-wonder-thumbnail1

Graphic credit: adventuresincommoncore.blogspot.com

This may come as a shock, but not every moment of parenting is filled with heroic deeds, warm hugs or high fives. There are tasks we parents do that won’t be making it to the big screen any time soon. One of those tasks is the parent-teacher meeting. It’s probably a good thing that this event won’t be a summer blockbuster. Not sure how many people would go and see the movie “Parent-Teacher Meeting: Goals Defined!”

And so it was that I drove over to my son’s school and sat down in his Math class, looking forward to meeting his teacher, but expecting a fairly generic description of the goals for the term ahead. But Mr. M surprised us all and instead whipped out a Math word problem for us to solve. But instead of jumping straight to a calculation, he got us to ask two questions “What do I notice?” and “What do I wonder?” This is the approach he takes with the students because of a growing revelation in education that many students do not know how to effectively approach verbal problems. They leap to calculation before really  understanding the problem. Asking what you notice and what you wonder first relieves you of the pressure to instantly be right and simply allows you to take in the information and process the problem in a non-linear way.

If there is one feeling you have in medicine, it’s the pressure to be instantly right. Even now, while I’m on research leave, I felt I needed to be correct when asked what I thought of the results I had just assembled for one of my research projects. But interestingly, my research group leader  used almost identical phrasing to Mr. M, the math teacher. She simply asked, when we were looking at the data tables, “What do you notice?” We are evaluating the literature to determine the effectiveness of a certain modality for treating nerve injury. I noticed that one muscle group seemed to improve much more than the others with this treatment. Why? (What do you wonder?) Could it really be that you can approach an 8th grade Math problem and a Neurosurgical research article with the same two questions?

And if so, where else could those questions be used effectively to solve problems?

What if spouses took the time to notice and wonder about each other? On second thought, there is probably a lot of noticing and wondering that goes on already “I notice you’ve walked onto the carpet with dirty shoes” “I’m wondering which couch you’d like to sleep on” but what if these questions were asked from a place of renewed curiosity and possibility?

With parents and children.

With employees and employers.

With ourselves.

We can get to the point where everything is about bottom lines and definitive answers. We stop noticing and worse, stop wondering. At that point, innovation is stymied, relationships stagnate and personal growth is stunted.

I first broached this question on Twitter earlier this week. As it happened, I have a mischievous friend who responded with a few notice/wonder questions of his own. I will leave you with one of his cheeky creations . . .

What do I notice? I can’t feel my foot

What do I wonder? If this crocodile will let go soon . . .

perfect-timing

Photo Credit: Steve-eilertsen.com

The line fell flat and I didn’t get why. Just the previous night, the same line with the same pace, inflection and volume got huge laughs from the audience but that night, nothing, except perhaps a polite chuckle. The only difference? I paused for an extra second to deliver the punchline and that killed it. The following night I used my original timing and the laughs were back. Could comedy be that clinical? Apparently so. And if timing proved to be important in my Acting, that only increased in medicine.

If a patient has a heart attack or a stroke, the two expressions you will hear are “Time is (heart) muscle” or “Time is brain.” The same intervention delivered too late and the effect is lost. I still remember pounding on the chest of a 32 year old heroin addict brought into the Emergency Room in cardiac arrest after an overdose. Every chest compression was filled with the knowledge that time was slipping away and when our team could not revive him, time stood still as the time of death was called. A young life gone too soon. Could a phonecall have prevented this overdose? Could a visit have come sooner and found him in better shape? We’ll never know.

Here’s what we do know. Timing is not simply about chance:

tim·ing
noun
noun: timing
  1. the choice, judgment, or control of when something should be done.

“Choice” “Judgment” and “Control” all imply deliberate action. Although we are not always in control of when certain things happen, we are in control of the timing of most things we do in our lives. But how conscious are we of that responsibility? Timing matters. Have you ever sent a text with either really good or bad news and had that one person who responds two days later saying all the right things, but somehow it doesn’t have the same effect? Timing.

I’m reading a provocative book right now “A Path Appears” which lays the case for how to make a meaningful difference. In the current chapter, the authors describe how tough the conditions are in a certain Native American reservation where up to two thirds of the male population are alcoholics. The unemployment and drop-out rates are unbelievable. So where do you time your intervention? The authors argue that trying to address unemployment before you’ve dealt with the fact that many children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome affecting their cognitive abilities is bad timing. Intervention can work but must be timed correctly.

As important as timing is, it is not adequately taught in school where the focus is on bodies of knowledge. But that knowledge is useless if not delivered in time to prevent a suicide or simply make a moment or day meaningful.

With timing in mind, I have taken a new approach to weekend activities with my boys. I used to schedule things I did with them where it made sense in the day, usually after taking care of my business earlier in the day. Reasonable right? But there was room for other things to interfere with the plan or I would get tired and I would not always get to things I wanted to do with them. Now, I start with them. Today we did big waffle breakfast, chores, an hour of reading together, countries of Africa pop-quiz and swimming back to back. This change in timing makes a difference in two ways: I am more likely to spend more time with them and that’s always a win, but I also convey implicitly that my time with them is so important that I start my day with it before anything else.

Timing makes a difference and it is a choice I am learning to be more deliberate about. And where it is not in my control, I have found peace in these words “He makes everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11