Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The pink coat

About 17 years ago I had a job at the Hospital for Special Surgery helping a new physician set up his practice.   He was a really nice guy and he understood that his expertise was in surgery and helping patients and the other "stuff", and there is lots of it, was mine.  

I had been there just setting up his insurance participation and starting a schedule for office visits when he came in and told me, on a Friday, that in a week a physician from Pakistan would be using the desk behind mine and he would be there during his time in the States.  

This is full confession time I was not thrilled, ok I was eye rolling.  Really it was a small space, the extra desk was perfect for all the insurance forms and xrays I needed to spread out and did I mention it was a small space?  I just pictured this middle aged guy, who would think I worked for him (which I was not asked to do), from a country not exactly known for it's women as equal stance sitting behind me.  My space on the desk was gone and so was my personal space.   I got over myself by the afternoon and cleaned up the area.  Maybe he would be cute, maybe I was wrong about him by the end of the day he was Omar Shariff to my Lara .. ok minus the part were Lara was a woman who slept with gross men to get things.   If you have no idea of the reference Google "Dr. Zhivago"... ahh now you get it.  

Monday I walked in and settled myself, it was cold as in New York cold.  That is the kind of cold that seeps through your jacket, that makes your face freeze as you run from subway to office.  We New Yorkers pretty much complain about the weather but the seriously cold and the seriously hot and humid bring out the New York angst that you picture from every bad movie about us that you have ever seen.  

There I was when a young man, glasses, smile plastered on walked in and I thought maybe he was a patient, it was the Pediatric surgical section which saw people in college even, but what struck me the most was his coat,   It was a pink woman's coat.   Now many places this may have raised an eyebrow but in New York hey one more gay guy in a pink coat gets no attention.   

He introduced himself - my Omar Shariff not so much maybe his grandson at best  - and with his smile I knew I liked this guy.   He is handsome don't get me wrong.  Though why he stood there in said pink coat was a bit baffling.  I asked him to hang it and I may have made him a little nervous since he could not master hanging it up on the hook.  Maybe a blonde woman, in a new culture was not exactly all he expected.  I was no Lara either. 

Everything I had thought was WRONG!!!  I had the pleasure of knowing him and then some of his friends.   He made me laugh and wanted to be a great office mate and even more than that he wanted to bring his intelligence and medical skills while getting what the US promised - opportunity.   I can think of many times when we laughed together, when he left me in the middle of sentence on a street while he followed a pretty girl never approaching her, when he and I chatted about what a Muslim was, where he shared his family's devotion to education ( PhDs for both parents - ehem not doctor doctors - yeah I gave him grief for that).   He and his friend Nabil taught me to appreciate their culture while being open to experiencing the many NY had to offer.   

No one who met Nabil and Saf could do anything but like them, my friends wanted to be their friends.   

I introduced them to the beach and was impressed that considering they had come from a culture that demands modesty in dress they never once said we should be like them.  I tried to teach Saf how to swim, I still am apologetic for almost drowning him.  We learned from each other because there is much to Pakistani culture to admire as well as I had to pepper them with Romanian drops.  After all we New Yorkers the tossed salad of the world, flavor in each individual ingredient but really best when tossed together. 

Saf and I have kept in touch all these years, via email, text, FaceBook and his multiple stops on his way to his current head of orthopedic surgery gig.  He is not in NY.  Along the way he found a great woman to marry and they have 4 amazingly cute boys.  

I am often tempted to send him a pink coat because it symbolizes not only his beginning here, or our meeting but rather who he is.   A young man who came a little ill prepared for the weather here whose landlady gave him a coat and he took it gratefully despite the fact that it was obviously a mismatch.  

I turn to Saf without any hesitation for medical advice in his field of expertise and I am humbled by how he will be there for anything I have ever needed.  He is my Pakistani brother and I would open a can of whoop ass on anyone who ever treated him with anything less than the respect he deserves. 

On 9/11 as the world fell apart for those of us in NY I worried for my friends' safety, for my city's future and I worried that maybe someone would look at Saf and Nabil and not see them but instead see a place to hurt someone who they connect with the terrorists.    I worried for them as New Yorkers who were experiencing the same pain.  I worried for them as doctors who express such compassion for human beings and to see this was devastating.  We all fell apart that day, some never came back and we mourn them, and others were the spirit and goodness that always are bigger than the hate in those planes. 

As immigrants we share a special gratitude for this new beginning we found in the US, where we worked hard to add to the country, where we had our children who we trust will do great things.   You cannot ban immigrants based on random, discriminatory criteria you should only ban those who want to spread their hate both native born and from other places.  A nation has to secure it's borders but it should never close it's heart.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

With a rebel yell...

Image result for women moving mountainsAs I learned history, which I love, or saw it on the big screen or maybe read it in a book I know I had often found myself wondering "what would I have done?".

My two favorite movies since I was a kid have revolutionary female characters and story lines. The first one is "Grease".  We think of the 50s as this time where everyone was all happy, going to the HS rally and virginity for women was a prize for a man's taking.   The "good girls" and the ones who followed the rules were the popular ones right?  "Grease" kicks that on it's ass - the girl gets the guy by being in control, by embracing her own sexuality. The side stories include premartial sex, talk of not keeping a possible pregnancy and healthy disregard for being the same as everyone else.  The movie ends with her singing "you better shape up .." to him so he could meet her needs.

The second is Dirty Dancing.  Besides the fact that we all learned nobody puts Baby in the corner, it is about the dangers of illegal abortions, about men not taking responsibility for getting someone pregnant, for the hypocrisy of judging by class instead of by character.

I mean really what are the chances that I could be a conformist?

Would I have marched and risked my life to ask for the right to vote that men had ?  Would I have succumbed to fascism or been a resistance fighter ?  

We all like to think that we would have been on the side of right but that is always looking at it from the comfort of learning about something rather than being in it.  All of the above required massive sacrifice.  Many of us think we would have fought against those obvious wrong things because of the progress those movements brought us to, it meant often going against everything and everyone that you held dear.  

So here we are at a time when for many, like millions many, of us the actions of a few scream that they want to drag us back, to infringe upon rights that we have taken for granted because we did not imagine they would still be an issue.  

How could I not be part of speaking up when one of my favorite quotes is a sad reminder of what could happen if we sit silent.

It is my mother's fault that I am such a rebel.   It is actually the fault of most of the women in my family and the mothers of my close friends as I grew up.  They are incredibly subversive.   They are the resistance.   My father also was a rebel he tried to leave Romania at 9 because he was against the government so seriously it's in my genes.

I think of the stories my friends tell of their mothers and they, just like me, may not always appreciate the small acts of rebellion and the underlying subversive nature of the impact these acts had on their children.   These women changed us so we could change the world in big and little ways.

Women have done small acts of revolt against the status quo for a long time, setting examples in their own homes to those impressionable children they raised.  I see this in the friends I have.

It is my friend the compassionate physician who treated all his patients with the same level of respect and care regardless of their gender, orientation, or race who was raised by woman who believed in the best in him so he lived as such.   Imagine at the time when "I Love Lucy" debuted, his mother decided for herself that she wanted red hair too and she did it.  Seems so small to so many of us but picture it then , this was money her husband earned and she did not go back when asked to change it. She showed her husband and her son that women do not have to shout to be heard.  That her opinion mattered in a time when too often the opinion of women was the echo of their husbands.  Her granddaughters are leaders who inspire because she inspired them.

I think of my other friend who took charge of her body and became a personal trainer in her 40s.  In the process getting into better shape than she was when we met in high school.   Her mother was always in charge at home, on the outside a traditional woman who is an amazing cook.  A Catholic woman.   She never let her older daughter feel alone, not when she got divorced, not when she changed her life, not ever.  She empowered her daughters to be who they want to be, to speak their minds and to know they cannot compete with her pizza making skills.   Their own children now are truly exceptional.

There is my own mother who left her life to go on journey with my father and start a new one.  She was often told no, discouraged, her kindness taken for granted.  My mom believes in people, is pro-choice and pretty much sees no reason a woman cannot do something a man already is.  She may not always like my opinion but she has never told me not to have one, though she is my mother and is known to give me the opinion I should have.  She is a revolutionary for saying hell no to a government that was a brutal dictatorship.  Her grandsons are often told they are kind and compassionate, they for sure got that from her.

There are my two friends, siblings, who are incredibly vocal and unrelenting in their pursuit of their passions which include law school, human rights, business careers, arts and most of all open hearts.   Their mother defied the odds and went back to school, got her dental degree, all while raising two girls as a single parent.  Role model whose grand-kids are being raised by those two daughters to think nothing is impossible.

My best friend's mother was always smiling when I saw her but boy if you ever got on her wrong side you better duck and roll.  She was someone who married a man many years her junior, something that is still given too much stank eye, back in the 60s.   She demanded a lot of her daughter but because she knew her daughter was meant for greater things.   She smiled and laughed a lot but was there for sure if you were about to have a good cry.  She called it like she saw it and she was a role model for what authentic looks like.  Her daughter is the one you want in your corner because she takes to causes and does not let go until an injustice has been corrected.

There is of course my tri-Athlon racing, help the kids of this town, go back to school after 40 to get a degree from Columbia University friend.   Her mother decided to follow her heart and leave her marriage for another woman back before these things were not news and get her law degree.  Her daughter learned from her that if you follow your heart you will be successful.

These seem small or maybe insignificant but they are not.  They are the glue of women who say we are worthy of our own opinions.  There are the big acts like Rosa Parks refusing to move her seat. These are the everyday struggles that still plague women globally.

It is not elitist to understand that those of us who have more of a voice have to speak up for those who do not.  That we appreciate the rights we have fought so hard for and won and are using them to do things like vote, protest, organize, donate and advocate.

I want to honor the women like my mother who got a divorce when enough was enough because she understood her self-worth.   These women who may have not always raised their voices raised children who are caring about themselves and others.   Who may not always agree but can align on the need for better things for the world not just themselves.

There are so many examples that I could go to but that would be a book not a blog.  You did not need to march, no one called anyone out for having a different belief because your choice not to march, not to have or to have children, to work or not, to marry who you love, to be able to be the CEO of a company or the CEO of your home is exactly what we marched for.

Even in our silence women have often moved mountains and at some point in every one of our lives we find we cannot be silent any longer.  Some of us love men, some women and we do not want to have more than the opportunity to show you what wondrous things we too can do.   We will not look back when we know the future is forward so if you cannot support us, encourage us, empower us to help others and add to the fabric of this world well then please just sit down and let us walk by. Remember we raise children and as you can see above we leave a lasting impression,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teach kids to jump

These are tumultuous times we are living in.   The constant barrage of things being put forth that lead to shouts and protests.   "It's not fair .. person X is not fair.... person Y is mean".  I am talking of course about raising kids and particularly a boy throwing distance away from 13.

I listen to my son and his friends and the things they protest and find utterly against them seem so trivial and frankly ridiculous to me as an adult.   A teacher raising their voice but not really shouting. Practice that interferes with their ability to do nothing or hang out with friends.  The rules of the house around screen time and not eating sugary snacks as a meal.  These things are just NOT FAIR.

It is the age also were adversity in life is just all consuming, they discuss it with each other, a mini union that has yet to get up on a desk with a Norma Rae sign but getting there.  Discussing, organizing, rating those in their lives that are deemed tougher, work that is harder than the stuff that they can just easily learn - these are matters for full on kid union meetings that happen via group texts and angry emojis.

Of course adding fuel to this fire are the hormones.  You know those pesky things that are coming for your child so that there are tears in their eyes when they cannot find the shirt they wanted to wear today.  The ones that lead to walking away and mood swings that come fast and furious.  The sheer enormity of how difficult life is and how NO ONE understands, especially you the parent.  I mean you did not of course experience any of these things.

I recently dismissed one of these "it's not fair and this teacher" complaints from my son and then went to pick up his younger brother who was excited to tell me about his day.  At 10 angst is not yet on the defcon scale that it is for tweens and teens.   I left a very disgruntled child at home who had also rolled eyes and walked away pretty much as equally distraught at my lack of understanding as he was at the situation.  The drive is not long enough for reflection, it is done as a treat both boys get when I work from home, I got there a few minutes early and I sat in my car and thought about my reaction.

How could I expect a child to open up when his important, oh my god moments are not taken seriously?  These things are all to his world and I remembered they were all in mine at his age.  The drama I felt as a girl at that age, that awkward age about what I wore, what I looked like.  The vast hours spent with friends discussing these same topics and how I know we never really shared them with our parents.  We didn't because what could our parents add to the discussion and more so we had parents who tolerated this type of "non-issues" with strong words about how lucky we were.   We were lucky but it wasn't so to us then.  We were in pain, struggling and most of all the lack of fairness we talked of, the meanness of rules and teachers was about our growing up yet being given so little control.  We were angry because we wanted to fly and we were still not butterflies yet - just like our kids in a cocoon for a while longer.  As parents we hope that cocoon is made of reinforced cloth, as kids of gauze.

I thought of all of this and I also knew my reaction was also based on my person dislike of what I see as a trend in too many parents these days.  If there is something a kid dislikes, an obstacle, an inconvenience or any perceived challenge too often they step in and remove it.  I am not talking of legitimate situations were a kid is in harm's way or in an activity beyond their current capabilities which they would fail if we did not help them.  I am talking about complaining about a test grade and having a parent take it to the principal because their child said they should have done better.  The times kids are yanked out of a sport or an activity because though you committed and paid good money for it they "don't like it".  The times when a teacher or coach is tough on them, demanding but not demeaning and the parent addresses the adult rather than helping the child understand what the person is trying to help them accomplish, that they see more in them and that's why they are asking for it.

My son had felt the result of my pure annoyance with this parenting and it was not fair.  I went back and I apologized.  We had a good discussion where I shared my perspective on what I thought was just being blown out of proportion by he and his friends.   That at times a teacher in school or in an activity will push them, make them uncomfortable and that situations sometimes are unfair or harder than they need to be but they need to be conquered.  I told him I wanted him to learn when it was a hurdle like on a race track, that you can trip over so you need to learn to run and jump over to go over vs when it was a mountain and he needed the mom bulldozer to help.

I believe in teaching my sons that through life's difficult moments is when we learn of our own strengths and convictions.  I tell them that what they see as unfair is really the result of frustration on the part of teachers who are just done asking for the umpteenth time for the same thing to be done so they may be louder.  We talk about the difference between truly unacceptable behavior and just teacher's annoyance.  We talk about how good their lives are and what true obstacles look like.

All of that is good and we need to teach these things to kids how to deal with adversity because in life they will have it and it will either break them when we are not around to fix it or they will bounce back and jump over it.

I went back home and the other thing I told my son was that he was 100% right.  That these are big things and that his feelings were not wrong.  That teachers sometimes suck and so does being a kid with so little actual power.  I told him that I remembered those days and how much time was spent with friends doing everything he and his friends were doing only texts were notes left in lockers and the phone got your ear hot for being held there so long discussing and dissecting the events over and over and over and over again.  Those things that today most of us as adults no longer remember and some that we do.  I told him a few war stories and he laughed because hey maybe mom did sort of, kind of understand what was going on.

We talked a lot that day and we talked of ways to get over some of the things that were frustrating him and I told him it was ok to be annoyed, angry and hormonal.

We cannot fix it all for our kids nor should we.  It is good to learn from defeat and beat odds but mostly it is good to know I am here to listen, to commiserate, to be honest but never to dismiss that as the "my world will end"  literally but  that it is the end to them for that moment.

"It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine" R.E.M.

Monday, January 9, 2017


Image result for I hate youI remember being a kid and watching some show and the teen on screen shouted "I hate you" ran off, slammed door and the parent looked upset and then knocked to see if they could go in. 

What?????? This girl grew up with Eastern European parents "I hate you" would have led to serious repercussions, slamming doors - too scary to think about  and a parent knocking still chuckling, as if!.  Who were these people who parented this way ?  I mean for sure TV writers were way out there - not the experience of the mostly immigrant based parents I knew.  Hell doors meant nothing to them. 

I have never told my parents I hated them.  I know I thought I hated them at times.  I mean my mom I more "hated" her in typical angst "you just don't understand me" and the fact that she was a woman who was so different than the woman she was raising in terms of my independence.   My father I "hated" because he did not appreciate the fact that I was growing up and because his narcissism made him manipulative and mean.  Yet while thoughts with words that will not be repeated went through my head at various times and snarky attitude paired with classic passive aggressive teenage "whatevers" were said, the I hate you, run out slam door just did not happen in my house. 

In my own parenting I have come across the run out from my boys.  I struggle with it.  Do I let them have the time to cool down, do I go and let them work through whatever we are doing with me and not alone, are they entitled to that privacy that I too have asked them for? You know the one you as a mom have said "you need to leave me alone for a few minutes for your own good..." - trust me it is for their own good, 

The one rule I have asked to be followed is that they never shout "I hate you" at me.   I cannot control their thoughts (no you cannot though you can help form their thought process) and they will hate situations and when I help them make the right choices but they cannot say they "hate" me.  So far, and we are only at the 12 year old stage, hasn't happened.

Hate is such a harsh word and so overused because we feel it is ok to be that dismissive, that harsh, that frankly mean to another person from our parents to strangers.   Hate diminishes both the person who says it as well as the person who is the recipient of it because it takes energy, it is the word for hurt, anger, powerlessness.  Hate should be reserved for situations and for those who create those situations.   Maybe we use hate and it's energy to dis-empower them.  It is not ok to tell your parents you hate them even if you think well you saw others do it or you saw it on TV.  

We work really hard at being good parents, talk to one another on how to be better parents, are dedicated to making life better for, easier for, way more about the kids than previous generations because our parents did the same compared to their parents.  We are fallible and sometimes unreasonable but we are madly in love with our kids and deserve no part of the word "hate". 

Part of growing up means being against those things that keep you a child and being a parent means stepping back a little to appreciate that kids need to do this.   

I treat my children with respect and part of that respect is telling them that I love them especially when they least seem to deserve that moment of affection.   The sense of confidence, happiness is what kids that get praise (yes we love hearing praise) from other parents and teachers seems to be pretty tied to parents who have set boundaries that are not about being in control but about teaching these future adults how to be good people who add to the world.  One of those things is dealing with what kids don't like and as much as a part of me was fascinated by the storming off, door slamming, "I hate you" screaming tv characters the truth is teaching kids to deal with adversity and learning to make their case is more the reality I live in  Empowering them to be better than that is hard but hearing those words would break me and they know that and maybe the fact that they know that and don't use them so they don't break me means I am doing pretty damn good for now in this parenting gig.