Don’t hate me because I have free time

I have a confession to make: I find myself with oodles of free time these days (never-home teenager, self-sufficient spouse, and out on workers’ comp), and… I am mostly wasting it. Yes, I have turned into one of those “people with too much free time.” Fortunately I have not yet taken to dressing up my pets and posting their pictures online. Unfortunately, I’m not doing much of anything, except dealing with doctors, lawyers, and various functionaries, and reading*. I am such a slug. I’m not even volunteering at the soup kitchen because it hurts my hands.

A while ago I learned about myself that I used to believe I “didn’t have time” to do things that, in reality, I just really didn’t want to do. There will never be enough available hours for me to, say, dress in character for a book group meeting. I have friends who rarely have enough time to check their email, but they make chairs out of soup cans, or clearly remember every bit of every one of Fred Astaire’s movies because they re-watch them regularly. Priorities, right?

I know that in the past I have longed for stretches of free time to do “X” but for the life of me I am having trouble remembering what X was (except, of course, uninterrupted reading). Isn’t that bizarre??

So I have an assignment for all you busy and productive people: I would like you fantasize about being in my position and ask yourselves, If only I didn’t have to do [insert chore/responsibility here], I could do [fantastically wonderful activity]. Remind me of all the lofty and not-so-lofty ways I should be spending my free time. I have a few restrictions (e.g., can’t drive very far; can’t stand very long; can’t be in the sun; can’t do much with my hands), so fantasies that don’t include any of those things are especially welcome.

But you can also just use this diary to dream for a moment about what it would be like. What would you do if all your basic needs were met, and you could do anything you wanted? What kind of volunteering would float your boat? Would you write the Great American Novel? Plan a wonderful vacation? Catch up on correspondence? Perfect your breast stroke? Head up a local political chapter? Learn to play an instrument? Put by enough meals in your freezer so you wouldn’t have to cook when your free time ended? Dawdle at the coffee shop on a weekday morning? Open a coffee shop?

It doesn’t have to be anything major. It could be that thing you wistfully think of when you get home from work, before you transition to Mommy — “I really wish I could just X,” or the thing you long to do instead of going back after lunch.  It could be the way you would structure your day if you didn’t have napping kids to plan around, or family members to cook for at a certain time. Or it could be a bigger, deferred dream.

So, what are you too busy to do?

* “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry was fantastic. Also enjoyed “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, and “What is the What” by Dave Eggers.


MT MT Update

Okay everyone: We collected a bundle of cash and goodies. (More details on the specifics of that after the recipient has had a chance to see everything.)  Yay us! Cynmill and lonestarcanuck are coordinating the gathering and delivering of everything, which might take place by mail instead of in person but will, I am sure, be much appreciated however it gets there.

Once again, MotherTalkers have shown themselves to be compassionate, generous, and fun-loving. Thanks, everyone, for participating! I will update when everything is delivered.

~ mamacita


UPDATED: MT MT Baby (no peeking, Music Teacher!)

That’s right, our very own MT MT (MotherTalker Music Teacher) will be adding a fourth child to her family this fall. Since we’re already celebrating another growing family (Katie getting hitched) around the same time, let’s add to the festivities by welcoming our newest baby in grand style!

UPDATE: Please send paypal contributions to cynmillbea AT hotmail DOT com.

AND — please have contributions in by Saturday, Sept. 25, so cynmill and LoCa can work their magic.

THANKS, Cynmill!! and LoCa!!!

A couple of us have been throwing ideas around and we’ve come up with getting a grocery store card for the Music Teacher clan. LoCa has graciously volunteered to pick up a Wegman’s card since she knows Music Teacher likes to shop there, and we all know how expensive kids are. Other ideas are meal delivery or cash, or ???  Does anyone have other ideas?

I think the baby is due around the first of October, so let’s shoot for getting a gift figured out and contributions to their destination soon — say, by Saturday, September 18? That allows time to arrange for the gift(s) to arrive right around the due date.

Does anyone have a Paypal account they would be willing to use to collect contributions and coordinate with LoCa?  (And Katie — she wants to buy something fun for the newest baby.) That seems to be the best way to handle overseas monies.  If no one else can, I will ask my DS to help me figure out how to do it tomorrow (Sunday).  How hard can it be?

Other gift suggestions are also welcome. Let’s use this thread to figure out the best gift and the best way of getting it to the new mama. Have fun!


New Year’s Resolutions

It is time! Take out a sheet of paper and write down what you want to promise yourself for the New Year. As far as I’m concerned, 2009 can SUCK IT! Bring on 2010!! – Gloria

We are coming up on that time of the year. I have been thinking of resolutions — the idea of change seems to come to me naturally around this time of year, even though I don’t usually make formal goals.  But this time I am going to try a couple and see how it goes:

* Take it easier at work when it comes to some of the emotionally draining stuff. Not slacking off in my assessments and report writing, just not always being the one to step in when conflict or strong feeling arises. I’m going to sit back sometimes and let my co-workers address some of the sticky issues I usually take on, and if they don’t step into the breach, I will just observe and see what happens.

* Start keeping a dream journal again. Find out if there’s anything interesting cooking in the subconscious.

* Get out of some ruts. Try new restaurants, coffee shops, movie theatres. Check out different parts of town. Dawdle somewhere new for a while. Take different routes, go at different times, take a notebook instead of a novel to a cafe, say yes to more invitations.

* Take at least 10% of the stuff in my house out. Throw it away or give it away. We’ve been here for 18 years, and when you don’t move it seems like sh%t just accumulates. Today I was cleaning my closet and came across a brand new robe I had planned to give DS for Christmas — 2 years ago! I just forgot about it. Who knows what treasures I’ll find?!

* Make one new friend. It could be an acquaintance that, with a little effort, turns into a friend, or someone I haven’t met yet.

I know these goals sound pretty modest. At my age, I have developed a better idea of what I am capable of ;). Of course there’s always more to be done to improve my health, nutrition, and exercise regimens, which I will keep working on with a general goal that boils down to “do better.” And I am always trying to sustain and improve relationships.

What about you? Do you have specific goals in mind, like training for a marathon, learning a language or instrument, sending a piece of fiction to editors, going back to school, expanding a business, painting your house, or ??? Please share them here so we can support each other. And who knows, you might inspire someone, or be inspired!  


complicated friendship

UPDATE: Thank you for all your kind and wise and tolerant words. They are teaching me and helping me work through this.  

We are now looking for readings for the service.  If you can recommend any, I’d be so grateful. He was not a religious person. He loved playing music, Italy, reading Rilke.  I’m sure his friends will talk about him, so I guess the purpose of the readings is to give more general comfort to the survivors?  If you have a meaningful passage, please direct me.  Thank you.


Earlier this week, my friend’s husband killed himself.  He overdosed at home, and his wife (my friend, WW) and her 15 year old son (DM) found him.

I found out because my son told me he’d received a Facebook message from another friend’s son (RJ). (We three moms are friends because our kids were in preschool together. The other two boys are friends and are in a band together, but my DS doesn’t ordinarily see or talk to either one, though they are all Facebook friends and would say hi at the movies or whatever.)

As soon as DS told me, I called RC, RJ’s mom and a mutual friend of me and WW. She is much closer to WW than I am, so I was surprised she didn’t know.  She and I spent the evening finding WW, going to the hospital, worrying about and checking in with her son and daughter, situating her and her kids for sleeping (nobody wanted to go back the house), finding sleeping pills and a cozy hot water bottle, etc. I felt so sad for my friend, and wanted to make her feel better.
But as the evening went on, secrets started coming out.  I knew there were secrets, and that had something to do with me distancing myself from WW.  As it turned out, she had been having an affair for years (not surprising) with a man she had previously referred me to for therapy (not really surprising, but still, ewww). I saw him for therapy for a while until I started to feel like he was using me. When I lost my health insurance and told him I’d have to break for a while for money reasons, he angrily insisted I come to therapy for free.  Weird.  I broke off with him and he was not happy, but I had my own problems, you know?

WW’s husband has been severely, chronically depressed for a long time. He has had periods, like now, where he’s able to hold down a good-paying job (he’s a physician), and other times when he’s been hospitalized, having electro-shock therapy, or otherwise not really functioning. He was a great, if uneven, guy, who was really smart and curious, loved his kids and wife like mad, and struggled just about every day to keep body and soul together. He suffered a lot.  Two nights before he killed himself, he found a love letter from WW’s boyfriend, my former therapist. I guess WW’s husband just didn’t have it in him to overcome that blow.

Meanwhile, WW was going to stay at our friend RC’s house — she is divorced, her kids were with their dad, she had room.  I was freaked out because WW’s kids, especially her 15 year old, were NOT going to be with her.  (Her 18 year old daughter just got her own place and wanted to stay there with her boyfriend.)  WW said she wanted her kids to be comfortable and make their own decisions, so her son DM decided to stay with some dysfunctional family friends.  I can’t imagine not being with my son at a time like that.  After all, her son was the one who called 911.  I believed he needed her, his mom.  I started feeling really weird and judgmental.

All evening WW had been soaking up everyone’s sympathy and accepting everyone’s help, which seemed pretty normal. But then WW told me her boyfriend was coming over (this was at like 1:00 a.m.).  This little bit of news really threw me off, and it made me wonder if that’s why she let her son stay somewhere else.  I can’t imagine allowing myself the comfort of a BF when my husband was newly dead and my kids weren’t with me.  Since then I have been helpful, but I have not been around to offer a listening ear or to commiserate.  I feel very judgmental and not like much of a friend.

The service will be Monday evening.  WW kept talking about what she wanted it to be like. I never heard her wonder what her husband’s parents might have wanted (their only other child killed herself 3 years ago), or what her kids might have needed.  I will go to the service to celebrate his life and I am hoping in the next couple of days to get to a more charitable place regarding her.  She hasn’t told anyone about the affair, or about her husband finding the letter just before his suicide. I guess I want her to feel guilty. What kind of person wants her friend to feel worse?  I ask myself what can I do that would be helpful without being inauthentic? All I can come up with is reaching out to her son.

The whole thing feels very sordid and makes me feel like a bad friend who is making a lot of assumptions about her motivations that don’t give her the benefit of the doubt.  Meanwhile RC, our mutual friend, has been calling me and she is having some of the same feelings.  I think we are the only ones who know about the affair and the letter.  I know WW is now staying with her dead husband’s best friend, and he doesn’t know. Meanwhile the 15 year old is needy, and wanting to spend time with RJ, RC’s 15 year old son, who feels kind of trapped by him.

Wow, this is long. I guess I’m writing here to get other people’s perspectives.  It feels bad to want to completely ditch my friend in her hour of need, but that’s a feeling I am having sometimes now.  Usually in situations like this I want to do whatever I can to stop a friend’s pain.  

I am so mixed up and sad.


Finding a doctor

O Resourceful Mothertalkers, I need your expertise!

We are in need of a neurosurgeon for DH.  He has some significant problems throughout his spine but the main focus at the moment is way up in the cervical spine — C3, C4 area.  He should probably have surgery within the month.  So the question:  How to find the best doctor?

We live in the Los Angeles area.  We have USC and UCLA near at hand, and they both have great websites.  We are getting referrals from friends and family.  But is there a more systematic way to feel like you’re finding the doctor who really knows what she is doing?

I know some of you work in healthcare.  What are the secrets of finding the good doctors?  Are there websites or magazines you would consult?  What strategies have you used to locate the best doctor when you needed one?  

And, Does anyone know of a great neurosurgeon????


Fearmongering doctor

I wasn’t sure if this rant was diary-worthy or not, and then wondered if other parents have experienced anything like what we just went through.

We recently discovered we have black mold in our house — specifically in DS’s bedroom, which shares a wall with the kitchen.  We had heard all the drama stories about mold and decided we would not become hysterical and burn down our house, but instead just carefully remove the crud, repair the damage, and move on with our lives.

That plan worked quite well for a month or so, as we got rid of the first “mold remediators” whose idea of remediation was to set up very loud dehumidifers in our house and not answer their phones for a week of so.

We then found some sensible people who tested the mold, gave us a report, made a plan for removing it, and suggested we find out if DS is allergic to mold.  We thought that would be a good idea, because DS has been very fatigued for the past few months and we have not been able to figure out why.  We called our trusted pediatrician, who referred us to an allergist in his building.

DH took DS to the allergist and came out of the appointment freaked out.  The doctor said DS has asthma and told DH we should move out of our house immediately.  He implied we were negligent parents for simply moving DS into the den to sleep for the duration.  We moved out that day (and have been living in a hotel ever since).

During the first appointment, DS was tested for many interior allergens — including mold — and wasn’t allergic to anything.  The doctor apologized for not having the special black mold test kit, but promised he would order it for our next visit.  Meanwhile, he said he heard wheezing and put DS on Singulair.  He said his lung capacity was only 77% of normal.  We were shocked, as DS doesn’t cough or complain of shortness of breath.  We felt so bad — what if DS has been so fatigued because he can’t breathe?  What kind of parents don’t notice their kid isn’t getting enough air???

Two weeks later, it was my turn to take DS to this doctor.  DS was tested for horses, elm trees, and god knows what else.  He wasn’t reacting to any of them, thank goodness, though since we don’t keep livestock I wasn’t actually too worried about those things.  I asked when the black mold test would be done.

Turns out there isn’t any test specifically for black mold.  

Come again?  The only reason we were there was for that test.   When I complained, the doctor sent us to the lab for a blood test for black mold.  (Turns out that is about as useful as a blood test for sunlight.  Pretty much everyone has the antibody.)     Before we left, he briefly listened to DS’s lungs again, said he could still hear wheezing, and recommended two more visits — once after another month of Singulair, and again after a month off the Singulair “to see how he does.”

Feeling unsettled, I made an appointment with a pulmonologist who examined DS (thoroughly, in constrast to the rushed and cavalier exam done by the allergist) and pronounced him perfectly healthy.  His lungs are great and there is no need for any medicine or any more office visits.  I was really happy about DS’s health, but also mad about the allergist.  He was full of it!

I was so angry to think of the kids who are wasting their play time waiting in this doctor’s office after school, and wondering how many are taking meds or missing P.E. for no reason!  

I feel like this guy preyed on our vulnerability about our son’s health.  It’s not his fault we over-reacted and moved out of our house — but, when a doctor tells you you’re making your kid sick, you act.  You buy and administer unnecessary medicine, and you make lots of doctor appointments (not to mention contemplating throwing away a perfectly good mattress).

I guess I feel punk’d.   Have you ever had a doctor make a diagnosis or a recommendation that seemed fishy to you, as opposed to a genuine error?


Finger Length: A real index, or party trick?

Last year I was at an intense conference for a few days.  Most evenings, I just wanted to go back to my hotel room and veg while I processed a lot of new information.  One night, I had PBS on TV while I puttered around, and I found myself getting really absorbed in a show about prenatal hormone exposure (testosterone and estrogen).  I know, party down, right?

The show had several male-female couples doing different activities (racing go-carts, solving spatial puzzles by operating heavy equipment to move things around, changing a baby’s diaper), and after each activity the participants were placed on a visible continuum from “most masculine” to “most feminine.”  Naturally, there wasn’t a clear divide on that continuum between men and women.  A woman “won” the spatial task, and the man who was believed to have the most prenatal testosterone exposure lost the go-cart race, because his hormone levels skyrocketed during the race and he became quite reckless (and angry).  The winner was a man whose hormones sharply increased (to a peak performance range), and then leveled off — so he was “up” but also able to keep his head.

One of the most intriguing segments of the show was a race of 6 elite male runners.  The scientist in charge of this one was someone who studied finger lengths — specifically, the ratio between the index finger, or second digit (2D) and the ring finger (4D).  This was his index for testosterone exposure in utero.  He theorized that the runner with the lowest 2D:4D ratio (ring finger longest) would win.  He made a photocopy of each runner’s palm (face down), and then used calipers to very carefully measure the length from the crease where the finger meets the palm to the tip of the finger.  Before the race, he predicted the finishing order without knowing anything about the runners (e.g., training regimen, diet, health history) except their 2D:4D ratio.  I couldn’t believe how excited I got by that race!  And his predictions were right, except he mixed up the 3rd and 4th place winners.

Other scientists have studied this ratio as well.  A British study found that males with a “female” 2D:4D configuration (e.g., longer index finger) made better scientists and were less likely to have kids, while women social scientists had more “male” 2D:4D patterns (e.g., longer ring finger).  Aggression levels in males, but not females, has been divined from finger length.

Another studyfound that the ratio could predict students’ SAT performance:

Kids with longer ring fingers compared to index fingers are likely to have higher math scores than literacy or verbal scores on the college entrance exam, while children with the reverse finger-length ratio are likely to have higher reading and writing, or verbal, scores versus math scores.

Younger kids have been studied, too:

A recent study of digit ratio in Scottish preschool children between the ages of 2 and 4 found strong relationships between digit ratio and gender-normative behavior. Girls with masculine-type finger ratios tend to have higher hyperactivity scores and more problems relating to their peers than do other girls. The same study, published in Early Human Development, found that boys with female-type finger lengths are on average more emotional than other boys. “They tended to be very sensitive,” says Manning.

The higher incidence of autism among boys than girls also led to some research in that area, and the early findings are that one-year-olds with longer ring fingers fared worse on tests of language skills and willingness to make eye contact. (Of course, the vast majority of boys with typical testosterone levels don’t have autism.)  Other studies have suggested that female homosexuality (but not male) can be predicted by a low 2D:4D ratio

Some scientists believe prenatal sex hormones are also part of the puzzle of homosexuality and that a high level of testosterone may wire the brain for attraction to the same sex. Intriguingly, research shows that a prenatal testosterone level is most strongly linked to homosexuality in women, according to a recent article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Lesbians are more likely than straight women to have a masculine finger ratio, says McFadden.

A more “female” pattern (high 2D:4D) is correlated with increased risk of both breast cancer and depression.

Not everyone believes that uterine hormones explain the finger length differences; one twin study suggested that genetics were much more explanatory than the uterine environment.  So I think the real scientific jury is out on whether the finger ratio theory is connected to anything real, and what causes the finger ratio.  

Still, ever since my interest was piqued, I’ve been informally checking out people’s fingers lengths.  My own (2D significantly longer than 4D) seems to square with my experience of having better verbal than math skills and being prone to depression.  My DS’s ratio looks to be about 1.0, which goes along with his collaborative nature.  (He had a blast playing paintball yesterday, but he talked more about how his team worked together than he did about beating the other team). DH has a typical male ratio, and he seems to like “guy” stuff well enough, with the usual exceptions (for example, this weekend he worked on the electrical to install a new chandelier, but not until he had finished his coffee served in a dainty teacup — with a saucer).  

I’m always curious to get more data points on this stuff, just for fun.  So please, take the poll and use the comments to tell about how this does or doesn’t hold up in your life.  I think I can edit the poll (?) if more options are desired.  And I hope I haven’t offended anyone — I don’t want to be sexist or suggest that any ratios or personality styles or career choices or sexual preferences or number of trophies are better than any others.


Olympic Peninsula — Travel Tips Please

I’m planning a trip for my small family to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  We’re going to fly into Seattle and rent a car, then spend several days exploring this amazing rainforest.  We’ll end the trip by staying with friends in Seattle for a couple of days and seeing some sights there.  National Geographic offers this fantastic itinerary, with lots of useful info.  But I’d love to hear from people who’ve been to these places, if possible.  (Have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?!!)

I’ve been so impressed by the travel tips you all have offered that I thought I’d try tapping the same well.  Have any of you toured the Olympic Peninsula?  Anyone live nearby?  Do you have recommendations of places to stay and eat, and things to do?  We’ll probably rent bikes at some point, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten.  

I want to make the most of the time we have, and I’d love to hear your experiences and advice.