The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book "Right Brain Rescue: One physician's journey from burnout to bliss", due for publication 2020. It's a modern exploration of our medical system and the healing power of creativity and neuroplasticity. Learn how to train your brain for more creativity, happiness and joy at www.rightbrainrescue.com
It took a decade before I was broken. I made it through college, medical school, and internship before I tapped out.
Upon diapering my second child, it became obvious the rules of the game changed. I took my first sip of the elixir of life….coffee.
Proof that parenthood is harder than residency.
In residency, you sling a belt full of pagers, ready for action. Sure, you’re responsible for All The Things, but your white coat is steel armor: brimming with pocket books, cards and notes to remind you of Standard Procedures. You know where to find the answer. You learn exactly what to do. AND YET! Even if the Worst Case Scenario happens and a patient codes right in front of you, people APPEAR FROM EVERYWHERE to voluntarily help you.
Let’s repeat this: Strangers you’ve never met will hear the distress signal and VOLUNTARILY SPRINT to your EXACT LOCATION and help YOU.
This set me up for a heaping dose of major disappointment when we decided to sign on for the parenthood lease.
Magic help does NOT happen in parenthood. Instead, your belt of pagers triples in size. At any moment, they’ll signal your attention: to find the orange permission slip, to answer “why do primates make tears”, to unclog the toilet, to find innovative ways to divide a cookie into three equal parts.
You’re never “post-call,” either. No mandated work hour restrictions exist for parenthood. You show up every day: sick, tired, grumpy. There’s no Uber light you can turn off to avoid more passengers in your over-taxed brain. It’s is a 24/7 call. Endless ticker tape of questions, situations, and scenarios you are thrust into without training or advanced notice.
It’s 2pm on a Saturday and I’m playing Mom Tetris: finding open slots to shove boxes of Quaker Oatmeal and applesauce in my pantry. (This pantry that always smells oddly of onion, no matter how much I look for a wayward vegetable stuck in behind a box. Putting away groceries is a tradition of sniff—stack—sniff—stack.) My kitchen island is a mountain of groceries and I’m a mountain of fatigue.
“Hey mom?” my 7 year old son pipes up between mouthfuls of granola. He pauses, carefully assembling his next remark, “does God keep secrets?”
“Of course. He’s the best guy around to keep them.” I continue the Tetris game. Analyzing, stacking, pushing, balancing. Sniffing.
I feel the sizzle of my Mom Intuition (stronger than Spidey Sense) warning me that this is a Teaching Moment I almost missed.
I hurriedly add, “But of course, if it’s a secret that can hurt someone, it’s best to tell a grown-up so they can help.” This satisfies his seven year old mind. My five year old daughter quietly scans the room as she swallows her PB and J sandwich.
Parenthood is harder than residency. For a moment, I’ve proudly silenced the pagers on my parenthood belt.
“Okay,” he agrees. An electric silence follows. Granola munching. PB and J swallowing. I continue precariously balancing boxes of rice on top of raisins and doing onion reconnaissance. My other toddler son crawls on the ground, clearing debris like a chunky human Roomba.
Without warning, Daughter dramatically drops her sandwich on the plate. Her eyes bounce upward, fixated on our ceiling that needs re-painting. Her five year old eyeballs are wide, unflinching.
We all stare at her.
After an eternity, her eyes slowly drift back to her plate and she picks up her sandwich, gleefully taking a bite. Through a full mouth of crumbs, she turns to our son and declares, “I know what your secret is!”
I close the fridge just as the white panic sweeps across my son’s face.
“NO YOU DON’T! THERE’S NO WAY,” he barks.
Daughter smirks proudly. Chewing with gusto.
My son’s body vibrates with rage, “YOU’RE LYING. NO WAY. HOW?”
“I just asked God. He told me,” her steely eyes challenge his.
My son explodes out of his chair and deploys the Wild Card solution for all bickering and dilemmas, “MOOOM! MOOOOOM.”
As if on cue, my real pager begins chirping. I’m on call. Actual call.
“Hey. Hold on—” my words fail to silence the crescendo of war. My daughter is a calm statue at the table, my son is a whirling dervish.
He continues, “FINE. If He told you….WHAT’S MY SECRET, THEN?!” Arms folded in front of his puffed chest.
I pause my pager and wait. I’m more curious about this outcome than what the operator might have for me.
She sighs deeply, rolls her eyes and shakes her head, “I can’t tell you.”
My livid son, “WHY?!
“BECAUSE. IT’S. A. SECRET.”