Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oscar the Cat

I've been a little out of touch, as I've said.

So when a patient told me today that the biggest news story this past week (okay, these past two weeks) is about a cat named Oscar who can sense when nursing home residents are about to die, I perked up.

I've always thought that cats were intuitive, but basically selfish, and that dogs were there to serve. Now, apparently, scientists think that like both cats and dogs can be extremely empathetic.

Unwilling to go with second hand information, I Googled Oscar the cat. CNN informs us that Oscar lives in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence Rhode Island. He knows the residents and sneaks in and curls up next to them in their final hours.

Apparently he's been right in 25 cases and staff now calls family members when Oscar gets comfortable. That usually means the resident he's chosen to snuggle with has under 4 hours of life as we know it left.

CNN quotes Dr. David Dosa who wrote up the phenomenon in the New England Journal of Medicine as saying that family members are happy that the cat is there to comfort their loved ones.

Oscar surprisingly doesn't especially take to people. He makes his own rounds in the center, just like doctors. According to Dosa, he sniffs and observes patients, then sits beside people who "wind up dying in a few hours." Sounds suspicious to me.

But there's more, and nothing malevolent about it. "Most families are grateful for the advance warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure."


My take is about as unscientific as a take can be, and for sure the animal rights people will take issue. But some people will agree with me. Religious people.

My take is that the very purpose of some creatures, if not all of them, is to make humankind happy. They're here on earth for our benefit.

Sure we have to pay big time for shots and licenses, and they're a huge time investment. (Well maybe not cats as much). And they order us around, make us walk them when we're tired, take over our favorite chairs.

But we therapy docs have been recommending pets forever. We know they're psychologically good for people. They're comforting. We prescribe pets for psychological comfort.

CNN also links to another news story about 840 cats who were saved from becoming dinner. Would that have made them comfort food? Just wondering.



Where'd That Therapist Go

Sorry, I know I've been out of touch. I'm getting email and comments: Are you okay?

The last time I ditched you (and my practice) to go on a real vacation (not a conference) a patient asked me, "Where are you going?"

I said, "I don't tell patients where I go, usually. Sometimes I make exceptions, but not this time."

She said, "Well, just don't go to Israel."

I didn't say anything.

I understand that real therapy docs in New York go away in August. They take the entire month of August and New Yorkers have to sink or swim and that's just the way it is. Unreal.

Anyway, I'm back again and have stuff to tell you, all kinds of good stuff, but no time today. Just wanted to say hi. And Yes, I'm okay. Thanks for asking.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Can You Cry Too Many Tears?

This will be a long one. Settle back and relax.

Today is the holiday that the Jewish people (those who observe it) dread for three weeks. Some people dread it all year long. FD says there should be a holiday that everyone dreads.

I'm not sure I follow his logic, but ours is certainly the religion for everything.

Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, is a day that marks destruction. Like every holiday there are certain laws to observe. The law specifically associated with this holiday is about tears. Crying.

You're supposed to make yourself cry and get in touch with the loss of the Holy Temples of Jerusalem, built and destroyed by conquering nations. We lost the first in 586 BCE, two thousand, twelve hundred years ago, to the Babylonians who desecrated the holy walls and holy vessels; the second in 70 AD to the Romans who seconded the motion.

We grieve the martyrdom of people of other eras (think Spanish Inquisition, for one) who died rather than convert, and we remember every pogrom, especially the Holocaust.

Our history is full of tears.

On Tisha b'Av we get in touch with the loss of holy land and what are thought to be the dwelling places of the Old Mighty. (That's how my grandfather referred to Him. ) When we're in Israel we say that prayers are a local call. The Jews trace a relationship and ownership to the holy places of Israel to Biblical times, fifteen hundred to two thousand years B.C.E.

In any case, a huge mosque sits atop the spot that Jacob wrestled with an angel and won but walked away, limping.

This is also where his grandfather Abraham said to the Old Mighty, "Sure, you want my son, you can have my son, my only son from this particularly incredible mother, Sarah, my helper, my friend, my companion, the woman who has grown old with me. "

The midrash (an explanation, also a few thousand years old) tells us that Isaac was no baby at the time he was offered as a sacrifice per the Old Mighty's request. Sarah, when she heard about the possibility that Abraham would do this, had a heart attack, probably at the age of 103. We think Isaac was thirteen years old at the time.

Bound, his father readying himself with a knife for slaughter, Isaac looked up at the sky and the Old Mighty opened up the heavens so that His young servant alone could see beyond the stars. The tears of the on-looking angels fell into his eyes, which is the reason Isaac is said to have been near-sighted for the rest of his life. Most of his descendants are, too.

Anyway, the angels cried and the Old Mighty had mercy and crying is a theme in our culture.

I believe I told you that my mother said, "Cry, it feels good, it's good to get them out." I'm sure she said it in Yiddish, too, but I've forgotten the Yiddish.

And I've told you that there is not an infinite number of tears. Eventually you will stop. If you need to cry, cry. At least I don't think there's an infinite number of tears. I could be wrong. Has anyone done the research on this? I don't think so.

The rabbis say, Cry, for sobbing is all that the Old Mighty really does hear. In other words, He's sick of words. And who can blame Him? We are all talk, are we not?

Which is why talk therapies, especially rational therapies tend to work, but it's also why we need them to talk out our many obsessions.

But there IS such a thing as too many tears, if not for this holiday.

The story goes that a woman could not stop crying for the loss of her husband. She was irreconcilable. Her family brought her to the holiest rabbi in town who told her that she shouldn't be sad. Her tears went to good use. The Old Mighty gathered all of her tears in a cup, every one of them, and when a terrible calamity threatened destruction to the world, he used her tears to avert the tragedy. This calmed her down.

She could stop crying.

So sometimes it's good to cry, and sometimes it's best to stop. I used to tell my kids what my mother told me, advice I hope they will tell my grandchildren, that they should squirt out a few tears now and then, maybe every day.

I still tell my patients this. But this doesn't apply to people who can't stop crying, like the woman in the parable. So without a rabbi to tell you the importance of your tears, how do you stop?

Therapy's an interesting process.

Sometimes it helps to look over your life and find the things that you forgot to cry for or weren't mature enough to cry for or had been taught that you shouldn't cry for, but you should have cried for when they happened. You should have cried at the time but you didn't.

So for example, some little kids, upon the loss of a parent are told that it's okay, they'll be well cared for and they need not cry. They're told they should buck up at the funeral. Be a man, be adult. Be strong. Kids grow up thinking this is the way we're supposed to be all of the time. Strong.

Then they wonder why, having stored up so many tears, when they find themselves at a vulnerable place in life, that the floodgates let loose and they feel as if they're drowning in their own tears. I tell these patients they have to mourn those old losses.

They're not all deaths, either, these losses. You know how to list your losses. Loss of innocence, loss of love, loss of functioning, loss of health, loss, loss, loss. Talking about losses puts those tears into place.

Stoicism can be a problem. Stoicism helps when you get rejection letters, and it's never good to feel sorry for yourself, really, so stoicism has it's place. But holding back feelings as a general approach to life can definitely be a set up for problems.

Therefore it is nice to know that most cultures build in ways other than stoicism to handle Big Losses. (We'll talk about the smaller, annoying losses as they pop up in other posts. Let's talk about the big losses here).

The psych literature tells us that Jews handle death nicely, so it's convenient that I'm Jewish. Maybe there are some universal truths for everyone in our customs and laws.

Let's start with a funeral. I'll go back to Aunt C's funeral. You last read about her when I visited her in the hospital. It made me feel so good, connecting with Aunt C, even though I knew she was heading towards hospice. Anyway, she passed away soon after that post.

In our culture, at the funeral service people lclose to the person who passed away talk to an assembly of friends and relatives (like in most cultures I think). My aunt had eight eulogies, one more beautiful than the next. One of my aunt's children, cousin Bobbie, said to me, Mom would have loved the service. She would have loved what we said, and she would have loved that the day was sunny and everyone came out to say goodbye.

At the funeral everyone is supposed to ask forgiveness from the mais, the person who passed away. So that's therapeutic for the community of mourners, too.

Then there's the shiva. If you're a mourner, a first degree relative or spouse, you stay home from work for seven days so that people in the community can visit you and you can talk about the life that's lost. People cry, sure, but it's hard for them to cry non-stop when there are so many visitors.

It's not a law that a mourner has to cry. You can tell who's in mourning because the males don't shave that first week and everyone in mourning tears their shirt before the funeral and wears it all week long. Crying during shiva isn't a requirement. It doesn't have to be.

So when my cousin's mom passed away, her sister, my mom, sat shiva with her two only other living sibs and my cousin Bobbie and her two sibs.

I cooked. The community cooked. Jews are all about food, at the end of the day. Food is life.

My cousin Bobbie had an incredible relationship with my aunt. They really were best friends. Now that the formal ritual is over, the funeral, the seven days, the month, she's into the year of grieving for a parent. In that year you don't buy new clothes or go to movies or concerts. I am quite sure my cousin cries often for her mother, expecting, when she picks up a ringing phone to hear my aunt's voice.

It's very surreal, you know. One day you can talk on the phone to someone, and the next day you can't. I'm sure my cousin picks up the phone to call her mother, starts dialing, pauses and puts the receiver back into the cradle.

Now that we're a couple of months past the shiva, she's probably crying a lot. She's supposed to stop after the year is up.

Because there is this prescribed grieving, at the end of the year a person does feel that the job is done. They can stop crying. Not for good, of course not. But the person who has passed away has been accorded respect, and a mourner feels he or she has truly mourned.

Immediate losses are hard for most people, especially that first year, and tears come often if we let them, whereas once they're a thing of the past, it's harder to remember, harder to grieve.

Which is why this holiday, Tisha B'Av is so hard for most people to wrap their heads around. It requires reflection, memory, a very long memory. For Holocaust survivors the loss still feels immediate. For the rest of us, it's harder.

But what do we do about it when crying is getting old already? That's the problem for most people. People who come to see me usually don't have to make themselves cry. They can't stop crying. And, depending upon the person and the context, too much crying can make one sick, not better.

Which is why the docs are forever telling you, Take these medicines. Happy is better. (My motto, by the way). I can't say, Take these medicines because I'm not a medical doctor.

But for the record, if a medical doctor recommends medication, I'll support that decision. And legally, therapy docs have to tell you to get a med eval, a medical evaluation to see if you need medication if you can't stop crying.

So consider that. And sure, get therapy. Grieve the past losses. There is an endpoint to the grief and suffering in any one person's past. Clean out some of it with a caring professional.

There aren't enough rabbis in the world, certainly, to take care of all of those tears.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Monday, July 23, 2007

How to Talk to a Widower--Grieving and Drugging

Maybe it's not terribly intellectual and it reads like a comic book without the depth, but I loved a book I wasn't supposed to be reading.

It's not what you think.

I have a friend who reads advance copies professionally. Anyway, I happened to be hanging around her house and the book happened to be on her coffee table and she happened to be on the phone, and you know these books take about five minutes from cover to cover . . .

Actually, I took it home.

Have I blogged yet about grieving and drugging? No, I don't think so. I know I've talked quite a bit about grieving, facing end of life, that sort of thing, and I've surely talked about drugging and alcohol, America's favorite drug.

So put them together and you have the subject of Jonathan Tropper's upcoming book, How to Talk to a Widower. The sticker on the cover said it was due for release in July in hardcover (Delacorte Press).

If it's out, pick it up or get it at the library, because despite what I said about comic book depth, the stuff on how to talk to someone who has lost someone tragically is wonderful. I've never read anything close to it and if I weren't so against plagiarism I'd have copied those chapters just to keep them for myself. I'd make copies for patients.

You should just go ahead and buy the book if you want to improve your communication skills exponentially (most of us do). I haven't read Mr. Tropper's others but intend to.

How to Be a Widower is a laugh out loud fast read. It surpasses all the chick lit novels I've ever read. Seriously, that's an exaggeration, but I've read quite a few between the dry research intro books I'm making myself go over to be ready to teach in September (we'll talk about that another day).

This book is as dead-on as you'll ever get for depicting emotions following the loss of a spouse. Jonathan Safron Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close does that for kids who have lost parents. Foer's book is unbelievably, extremely, incredibly good, cover to cover. Nothing chicky or prurient, nothing shallow or silly about it.

Still. I could swear Mr. Tropper lost his wife having read this book. That or he's one of the cloth, a therapy doc who has talked to people who have lost their better half. Neither is true. He teaches writing at Manhattanville College.

His advice is great, but honestly, I feel I'd ruin the book if I told you more about it than that.

But I will tell you about the Jewish custom of sitting shiva, which is unbelievably sublime and therapeutic. People who visit mourners the first seven days following a funeral are supposed to behave in certain ways.

The mourner is sitting on a low chair and isn't supposed to fix meals or do any work. Visitors and friends take care of him. Briefly and most generally, it goes like this:

1. You're not supposed to speak to a mourner unless the mourner speaks first, addresses you specifically or looks your way with a certain acknowledgment of your presence.

2. You're not supposed to talk about yourself. At all.

3. If you do talk, it should be to ask the mourner about the person he or she lost--if anything. Even that can be very intrusive.

3. You can offer the mourner something to eat of drink.

4. Mainly, almost anything you say to someone who is mourning can and probably will be shallow and inappropriate, so try not to say much more than perhaps pass on a happy memory of the deceased. And even then, only if it seems the right time.

5. Never interrupt the mourner if he or she is speaking.
A very nice thing about Tropper's book is that he shows how a person who has lost someone can change dramatically within a year. It also shows how abusing alcohol can slow down the grieving process even though it feels really, really good at the time. The alcohol abuse makes the loss even worse.

So for me? Two thumbs up on this book. Thanks Mr. Tropper. Sure, I'll try another advance copy any day if you're offering.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Cure for Self-Consciousness

Cham says, "Read this Mom," and tosses me the July copy of O, the Oprah Magazine.

"No time, Cham."

"But we'll be on an airplane forever. What are you talking about? You'll have plenty of time, Mom."

I've got nothing but time. She's marked the article, The Cure for Self-Consciousness. If Cham says Read it, of course I'm going to read it. She represents the younger smarter people out there. (Like you, right?)

Martha Beck starts us out at a cocktail party. (Already you like it, I know) She tells us to picture ourselves in a bad dress or something we think looks or fits badly.

So I'm supposed to think I look like a whale and I'm positive that everyone is staring and laughing at me at this party. And I'm embarrassed and ashamed. Not hard to do this visual exercise, is it?

But because we're logical thinkers and entertain a cognitive therapy, we know that the feeling of exposure is irrational and rooted in some kind of early childhood narcissistic injury.

Like maybe your mom said, You're not going to wear THAT are you?

And you say to yourself, It's not all about me. It's unlikely that most people are really looking at me or noticing me or even caring I exist.

But O is talking to readers who obsess anyway, who might know that but can't stop worrying about how they look and sound, or if they're dead silent in social situations, what people must think of that. And they have nightmares, like those we've discussed earlier in the fear of exposure post, dreams about being the only naked person in the room.

I'd say, by the way, that if you might be sensitive to a full page photo of a naked woman desperately trying to cover up, definitely don't buy the July issue of O. (Why is this necessary, someone tell me. Is it art?)

The problem here, according to Ms. Beck, who makes no claim to a relationship with the famous cognitive theraps, is that we're so worried about appearances and what other people think that we don't do the good things we want to do. We box ourselves into very boring lives.

She's right.

I remember my mom at that Gater Park in Florida just last winter. She didn't want to do the Everglade speed boats (there's a special name for them, I can't remember it) and her "better" judgment years ago would have held her back. But with only a little encouragement (she's with me, FD and my father, after all) she got on that boat. And her hair blew in the wind like crazy and none of us have ever, ever seen her laugh so much in our lives. It was wonderful.

Beck calls that fear of being judged negatively performance anxiety. I also see it associated with not so simple social phobias and anticipatory anxiety, worrying about worrying. Call it what you will, Ms. Beck brings up a study about the "spotlight effect."

I didn't see the study but I think that we can talk about the results anyway. Keep in mind that all we're doing here is passing on a few cognitive tools and the language we therapy docs tend to use at breakfast. (My kids tried to be polite about it unless I talked about sex and then it was, Shut up, Mom). Anyway, we haven't critically examined research on this blog and I don't intend to do that here. It's a blog.

So three psychologists, Glilovich, Medvec, and Savitsky coined the phrase Spotlight Effect and suggest that we must develop a "mental dimmer switch."

I love the metaphor, even if I doubt the outcome of their work. The study and supposedly other similar studies finds that the spotlight effect makes most of us think that we're getting twice the attention we actually get. We overestimate how much people are staring at us. If we realized nobody cared we'd worry less, but instead we magnify how much people care by two.

These social experiments bear repeating, as all experiments do. It's all about the way variables are measured and if the measures measure what they should. If I had to guess, I'd bet people quadruple the number of people they imagine are noticing that stain on the tie, that bad hair day. I'd even double quadruple it.

I suspect we only get a tenth of the spotlight we think we get, if that.

It really isn't about us. There's so much more for life to be about.

But many people have disabling anxiety and it's no laughing matter. Perfectly normal looking people come to therapy and say that they look in the mirror and see Frankenstein.

And I tell them: Even people with fairly good self-esteem see Frank in the mirror.

We're all a little paranoid is the truth, some of us much more so than others, and yes, social context makes all the difference. Why we are this way? I used to blame Madison Avenue. But I know it's probably a mix of genetics and the way we grow up. And Madison Avenue (environment).

Cognitively we can trace this anxiety to fear of exposure. Although the O article doesn't use this language, it's possible the therapy docs who did the research do.

The journalist is totally right when she tells us that reluctance to take risks socially limits what we do. We grow with new experiences. I'm pretty sure our brains get bigger as they forge new cellular pathways. It's mind-expanding, so to speak, when the roads not taken, those neural highways in the gray matter, are taken.

She's also right when she says that people who feel they're in the spotlight exaggerate their mistakes and under-emphasize their accomplishments. They also tend to under function: they don't shout out good ideas; they dress too conservatively; and they rarely sing or dance in public.

Don't tell me that can be a good thing sometimes. I personally like it when it's off-key but happy. (Remind me to tell you about that choir I was in 10 years ago.)

The docs who did the research also say that people regret it when they fail to try new things. We should go ahead and try things even when we doubt ourselves. We should take a risk or we'll regret not having worn that red dress, never having skied.

For sure on that dress.

And there's MORE! Remember, O has promised to pass on the CURE for this problem, so there has to be more, and it's all good, if not the cure for everyone. As I've indicated, if you've had a traumatic history advice won't make much difference. You need to be in a place to take advice. To make bread you don't just need yeast. To make a person rise, having advice is like having a little flour and water, a good start, but not enough to make bread happen any day soon.

The cure:

(1) We need to recognize that social fear is universal.

So I worry that I might be wearing two different socks, which can happen if you're me, but tell myself that everyone else is worried about how they look, too. If a patient isn't worried about socks, there's cellulite.

We should only care what the good guys say, by the way, and they won't care what we're wearing.

(2) We're supposed to double everything.

We docs are always going to tell you to exaggerate something, so doubling is a nice start. I prefer to think of it as over-shooting because you probably won't really over-shoot, so if you at least try to over-shoot you'll shoot. We learn this from the great 12th century Jewish thinker, by the way, the Rambam.

The research gurus are totally right. If we successfully rouse up the courage to put ourselves out there socially with gusto, then it is likely we'll be be appreciated for at least having some guts. Then there's always appreciation for providing comic relief and permission for others to chime in on a conversation, too.

(3) Think through your limits--not to them (I'd say, not about them).

A sensei taught Ms. Beck how to break a board with her hand. She had to pretend that the board didn't even exist and was told to aim ten inches behind it. Apparently you're not supposed to even be thinking about hitting the board itself. The focus is beyond the board, it's what's beyond the feared stimulus that matters.

Now this is great stuff. We see a situation as potentially very embarrassing so we're focused on the embarrassing moment, but we shouldn't. A person who is less anxiety-ridden still might see a possible negative experience, but keeps eyes on the prize, drives in the rain, so to speak, to get where he's going.

No pain no gain.

(3) Finally, there's the Universal Question, and Beck does a great job with this, by the way, her build up is really cute. The Universal Question is:


I personally go with So what?

Beck: If I do that I'll look like a clutz. So?

Beck: I say that, people will disagree. So?

Therapydoc: They'll think I'm nuts. Yes! So What? Who doesn't need therapy?


1. You want to worry? Worry about something that's already happening, not something that might happen. Like child abuse, for example, or the exploitation of women. Racism. Genocide. Then go to work on eliminating those things.

2. What we've talked about is all cognitive-behavioral therapy. Do you see how?

When you use your logic and imagination, it's cognitive. But the idea that you should make the spotlight less intense by subjecting yourself more to the source of anxiety is behavioral. It's an exposure therapy.

3. To make the spotlight feel less intense, you push yourself into it and find out what confident people already know:

The spotlight's not so bad, and someone else is going to take it from you anyway. In a nanosecond.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Collar on the Shirt

I was hanging some of FD's shirts the other day, buttoning the top button on a green perma-press from Marshall's when I thought about one of the secrets of my particular marriage, it should live and be well.

You should live and be well was the blessing my father's mother gave me every single time I left from visiting her. In Poland, if a Jew said goodbye to another Jew, you never knew if it would be for the last time or not. There were Cossacks and pogroms, then Nazis, all kinds of irritants.

Maybe we should all think that way in general, that goodbye could be the last goodbye. We'd be nicer.

Back to the shirts. It's not like I'm so big on housework, and believe me, I take NO pride, whatsoever in the wreckage that amounts when I don't give housework any time, which is often. But FD and I do divide up the maintenance nicely.

Like the other day the back door jammed. It didn't just jam as in, jiggle-the-lock jam. It jammed as in, replace the whole blasted door jam. He jiggled, then forcefully shoved it, and it opened.

He got the top lock, the dead bolt to work just fine, but the bottom lock didn't work at all.

I said, Leave it for now.

He said, We need a new door.

There's a story behind the door but I can't tell it without embarrassing someone so you don't get to hear it. Enough said.

Anyway, FD replaced the door yesterday but it needed planing and wouldn't close. He had to leave for a dinner and didn't get home until late. Last I saw him he was sacked out in front of the tube zombie-like, ostensibly watching The Godfather with Little One around midnight.

He came to bed around 4:00 a.m. I asked Why so late, and he said he had the choice either to complete the job or to sleep on the sofa to guard us from intruders. I dozed off again, feeling guilty that he felt he had to get the job done.

Anyway, this morning I woke up to make the coffee and inspect the door. He did a fabulous job. Unbelievable. But I felt really guilty, like I said. It didn't have to be done last night, really. I had hinted earlier that I didn't want him to do the job at all because I was worried it wouldn't get done.

(People in construction know that doors are hard).

But he felt it had to be done, either because he was in the mood to do it (probably) or because he didn't want me worrying about home invaders. Or maybe he worries about home invaders. Anyway, at that point that the new door hung but didn't close he couldn't let it wait. If he had he might have heard, I told you so, even though I'm not a big I told you so sort of person.

I think that when I saw the unfinished product that I did say something like, You're not leaving it like that, are you?!

Our house is, actually, Fort Knox, not that there's anything worth taking. And the home invader dreams are a thing of the past so you'd think I could relax. But no. Old neural connections die hard if at all, and I'm in the habit of checking locks and windows, alarms and things.

Anyway, he finished the door and it looks great! I can still smell the smell of sawdust, which I like.

As I said, years ago I volunteered for Tide detail. We surely could have found a better laundress. There's a foreign film (they're always films, not movies), I think it's called My Beautiful Laundress, pretty good, take it out if you're in the mood for foreign. I could not find it when I searched the web, so it could be I'm totally making this up. There's My Beautiful Laundrette, but I don't think that's it. But maybe it is.

Anyway, My Beautiful Laundrette/Laundress I'm not.

Since I volunteered for the Tide detail early on in our marriage, I do the laundry. Even if we had help in the house I tried to do it because I don't have time to shop for clothes and it seems that most people who do laundry for you don't care very much how small the clothes end up as long as they're dry.

So FD mows the lawn and I do the laundry. He used to complain about how I did the laundry.


I didn't know about shirt collars. Or I should say, I refused to listen, had a mental block about shirt collars and would forget to button the top button of his shirts.

When there are a lot of shirts you get them out of the dryer quickly and onto hangars quickly so that the ones left in the dryer don't crush. I know you're supposed to grab one shirt and restart the machine right away, attend to that one shirt, hang it and grab another. But I hate hitting the on-off switch over and over again on huge appliances. Maybe it's an OCD thing with me or something.

I'm pretty sure my mom had a dryer that kept going even after you opened the dryer door. But I could be wrong. Now there's a cool feature. Why I never thought of looking for this feature when we bought our new one a couple of years ago (the 31 year old Sears Kenmore finally went the way of all things) I don't know.

Anyway, FD would spleen me about his shirts and I truly didn't understand why it was so incredibly important to button the top button of a man's shirt immediately or at all.

Then one day he put both hands on my shoulders so I had to pay attention and said,
Just listen. I'm going to tell you something.

A man's shirt is all about the collar. The wrinkles in my shirts, especially, don't matter. Men wear jackets and ties. People are squirting all kinds of bodily fluids on my lab coat, you know, which is why I wear one all the time.

And because I wear a lab coat all of the time the only thing anyone sees is the collar of my shirt. So the collar has to be perfect. The way to keeping the collar straight is to button it. So either we send my shirts to the cleaners or you button the top button or I do them myself.
So of course I said, Do them yourself. (Nah, I didn't say that!)

The point of all of this is that really, if you are doing something for your partner and your partner tells you that it should be done a certain way, then why not do it that way, even if the rationale isn't clear to you. Do what's within reason, obviously.

Is this code? Does everything have to be code?

Now. You shouldn't have to wait twenty years to learn exactly the rationale for doing something a certain way. I'm sure FD will tell you that he tried to tell me many, many times but I was hard-headed and didn't listen, and that may be true.

For sure it's true.

And at the end of the day I'm glad he didn't listen to me about the door, you know? I initially said Don't do it, and he did do it, and I do feel a lot safer.

Did I tell you I'm surrounded by barking dogs, on both sides of my house?

FOUR, count them, FOUR to the west of us, and TWO, count them, TWO to the east?

And do I complain about the barking? You bet. No one's ever happy.

copyright 2007, therapydoc

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Corrections: Post regrets

1. I alluded to certain soft porn in Vogue in the post on children's books.

Empath Daught asked me if soft porn was in the advertisements or in the magazine content itself. I didn't know so I checked.

Indeed, the content of Vogue seems perfectly innocent (what am I saying, I love it). It is the advertising I hate.

So if you can differentiate the two, more power to you.

2. In the Angry Are You post I suggested people date within their own tribe to hedge their bets that the take on anger might be similar. I have absolutely no data on this and in fact, take it back.

I do suggest the following, based loosely on how the Jewish kids in my retro community date. They have a list of questions they want answered on a variety of topics, including table cloth preferences.

I would humbly suggest the following, even at the pre-dating phase of a relationship, if there is one:

How did your family handle emotions, especially anger?
How do you?
How did you as a kid?
How did your parents cope with that?

I have a whole list of questions like these fomenting in my brain and I'll post again on it, but now I have to get to work.

Sorry for any confusion,


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Play Therapy, Matchbox Cars and Jack Odell

Eating a slice of cantaloupe in the summer for breakfast was the kind of thing expected of us in my family when I was a kid. There was toast, too, which I could take or leave, but for sure it was expected that a person eat a piece of cantaloupe or at least a half a grapefruit.

With the Chicago Daily News, of course. The draw was Mike Royko's column and I tried to read him every day before school. The font on the Daily News was just right and the lay-out manageable. When the paper went under financially we were stuck choosing between the monolithic, unwieldy Chicago Tribune or the tabloid Sun Times. My parents switched to the Sun Times, meaning I could read advice columnist Ann Landers every day.

And I did. Ann Landers was mother's milk to this therapy doc. I soaked up every word along with the funnies, Roger Ebert, and the news. It was all good to me.

But I never understood my mother's obsession with the obituaries until I got a little older and found that these short biographies could summarize a person's accomplishments in only a few paragraphs, leaving me in total admiration.

Not that I'm hooked on the obits, not at all, but I do read them in the weekend edition of Wall Street Journal and of course they're all about people who've made loads of money in their lifetimes doing something interesting.

Last Saturday tool-and-die maker Jack Odell passed away in Herfordshire, England at the age of 87. (Stephen Miller, WSJ wrote the obit) . Mr. Odell made the first Matchbox cars. His original miniatures of Queen Elizabeth II's horse-drawn golden coach, produced for her coronation in 1953, put his start-up company on the map. He sold a million of them and they cost hundreds of dollars on E-bay today.

Lesney (founded by unrelated Smiths LESlie and rodNEY) went public in 1960. Many twists and turns in the road later, Matchbox cars are now owned by Mattel. Mr. Odell died a wealthy man.

I find Odell interesting because he left school at 13, held odd jobs, enlisted in the army, repaired fighting vehicles, and tinkered with old stoves before teaching himself tool-and-dye. He hit on the idea of the matchbox cars when his daughter asked him to make her something for show and tell that would fit into a matchbox.

Now you know I like toys, so it won't surprise you that I've still got quite a few Matchbox and Hot Wheel replicas in the basement toy box. But I am not, generally, a play therapist. I've always thought it was a pretty good gig, playing with little kids and calling it therapy, but basically it feels like a waste of diagnostic and treatment time.

Perhaps other docs build their relationships over many months with small children this way. I prefer to make relationships quickly by bribing kids with candy (no, just kidding).

Most of the children I see are verbal, so we talk. There's so much to talk about!

It's a rare child that doesn't want to rat out his parents, siblings, teachers, classmates, or pet. Something, someone is bothering us all, young and old. I see my job with young people as Spaceman Spiff, exploring new worlds, an ally of the underdog. Occasionally I need a prop, but usually a deck of cards or a winder toy, perhaps a set of pick-up sticks is more than necessary.

What would you do if you were a therapist and you saw a little kid who had survived an automobile accident but lost a grandparent in the crash?

Might you consider using Matchbox cars? His mom actually thought of it. But I can't begin to thank Mr. Odell.

copyright 2007, therapydoc

Friday, July 13, 2007

Angry, did you say?

Like I've said in other posts,

Just about all of my interventions weave in some form of cognitive behavioral therapy somehow.

I like CBT for anger management especially. And I personally use it all of the time to control my emotions. But people who see red can't slow themselves down long enough to work the therapy. And they make friends and family very uncomfortable.

So something has to be done.

The rule is that if it's hard for a person to control an outburst then a med eval (medication evaluation) is a good idea. Once chilled a bit, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is pretty useful. Plus there's no harm in getting a med eval. Nobody can make a person take drugs.

I'm forever telling people, We have better drugs!

We do have some really good ones now, meds that take the edge off, and they're not all addicting, either. But you can develop quite a tolerance to some of them, so if that's a concern, check it out with your doc.

Anger's a totally different animal you know, than anxiety or depression. It's sometimes hard for a person to tell exactly what it is that's causing the bad feelings in anxiety and depression, but we know very well who or what is making us angry.

Like this morning. I had almost finished this post when FD asked me calmly, “Where are the car keys? They're not on the hook.” His stress was palpable.

Little One is home from yeshiva and he had the keys last night. FD was leaving. It was 6:30 a.m. He was late. “I’ll find them,” I said. "I'll wake him up."

The keys were in Little's pocket. I said thanks, never yelled. FD didn’t yell. We remained polite and calm throughout the whole drama. But it was tense.

Me empathizing with FD's frustration motivated me to jump and hurry up, wake up the kid. The kid jumped to find the keys.

Negative emotion motivates people like nothing else, for better of for worse.

But what if we'd lost it? What if FD had had a tantrum, then it could have become ugly! I would have been angry and defensive with FD for his tantrum and somehow my anger and defensiveness would have trickled down to Little and we'd all have had a nasty morning. And it was a beautiful morning.

So to me anger's the symptom that best exemplifies how emotions affect family systems. Anger isn't at all fuzzy. You know why you’re angry, you know who you're angry at. Or do you?

If we hold that irrational core beliefs about ourselves drive our emotions, and we have to rationally counter them to feel better, then we have to figure out the core belief. There has to be a little psychotherapy going on for CBT to work.

The emphasis in CBT is on rationality, which is not nearly as sexy as emotionality, like I've said before, which is why people resist being rational. Depression and anxiety make us look vulnerable. Angry people don't give off vulnerable vibes. So anger is not sexy.

Nobody wants to take an angry person in their arms and say, There, there, it'll all be fine, don't worry (although that's exactly what we need sometimes). Most of us wish that angry people would just go away.

I for one am allergic to them unless they're paying me to help them.

But even though I’ll deal with angry people all day long, if you're in my family you know that I won’t listen to you if you’re screaming and that I need about twenty degrees of separation. I can handle anger better on the telephone than in person, or in writing. Violent books are sometimes okay for me. But violent movies? Never.

Nobody’s perfect.

Now. Most therapy docs will agree that a rational argument, meaning measured verbal expression without drama and screaming, slammed doors, fists and silverware flying is a good thing. The way to solve problems is to discuss, debate, present feelings, thoughts, new solutions—with relative calm.

Notice I didn't say dump your anger all over the house to get it out of your system. You can get it out of your system in some other way. If you were in the army you’d have to do a hundred push-ups. So you can do that rather than rant and rave. Push-ups. Or clean out the basement.

Or rearrange the furniture. Weed. You'll lose your rage.

But let's take a quick peak at the psychological/social system and CBT before the weekend begins and people start drinking and throwing things.

We'll use a new fake, fictional totally imaginary couple, Reg and Ranata (choose different genders if you like, gay or straight makes no difference).

Ranata is the identified patient, the one who chose to come to therapy for her issues. But I brought in Reg to get his point of view, of course, to rat out Ranata. After a couple of months of depression Ranata is just now getting in touch with some flammable anger that she says she’s always had.

"It's never bothered me," she says. "I don't hit anyone, I just . . . go off. It's Reg who's uncomfortable with it." He hates it.

This going off thing tends not to work in most relationships. In some cultures the exaggerated expression of emotion is totally expected and even encouraged. This is why sometimes it's best to date within your own tribe so your behavioral mores don't clash.

But I think that even within a cultural context that values the free expression of emotion, it's dangerous to express anger violently.

Your partner, even if he or she grew up in an emotionally expressive family still might not have developed a "tough skin." Sometimes having grown up in a very emotionally expressive family can make us even more sensitive.

"I have to stop for Reg,” she says. “I need to stop for him."

Actually, not only does Reg find anger a real drag, but he's very embarrassed and turned off when he sees Ranata behave angrily at people. She doesn’t get angry at him. She gets angry at others in front of him.

But she wants to change. This is true love, friends. If it's a problem for your partner, it's a problem for you. If it's a problem for you, it's a problem for your partner.

Quick history: Ranata's father, a very old fashioned, critical man, criticized the way she dressed, the way she put on make-up, her friends. He did not let her date (she had to lie to go out) and her occasional back talk brought out emotional, verbal, even physical abuse.

Despite this she has a survivor in your face personality and very successful in the business world. Aggressive successful.

But her core belief is that she's not good enough and that she’s powerless when it comes to changing people who are important to her, like her father. And she likes letting off steam, displacing her frustration on her office team, sales clerks, telephone solicitors, credit card company reps, etc.

When faced with a problem Ranata starts out rational, even intellectual. But as soon as she gets to the point of frustration she loses all civility, bangs on counters, says mean things. That's when her guy wants out of the relationship.

(It's supposed to be one big table, not three little ones, so use your imagination a little. Thanks)

Let's look at the A-B-C in the table, AFFECT, BEHAVIOR, COGNITION. Remember that you can intervene ANYWHERE. You can change the affect. You can change the behavior. You can change the cognition.

Ranata would say, “If I could change my anger (the affect), I wouldn’t be seeing you.”

So change the behavior or the cognition. Start by identifying the feeling.

Ranata, like most people, can tell when she’s getting angry. Because she went to therapy she knows that she learned to be angry from her father, as opposed to say, being sad. I mean, why do some people (like me) get sad whereas other people get angry?

One reason is that some families prescribe a preferred emotion. They give the kids permission to feel and act in certain ways. Like in my family there was permission to be sad, whereas in a lot of families crying is considered a weakness. But my mom said, Go ahead, cry. It feels really good to get it all out. (thanks Mom!)

So of course, people like me learned that it's okay to cry and that crying will generally evoke sympathetic loving responses in people.

You know about reinforcement from the other behavioral posts, I think.

Long story long in Ranata’s case we know that her anger is really about being frustrated and shut down, powerless with her father who gave permission to be angry. She’s aware that being frustrated in her relationships is dangerous and tends to culminate in verbal violence.

Since anger's an aversive stimulus, she loses friends. Her anger spells doom. It's like Voldemorth’s strength in the Harry Potter books, gains power with the host, the object.

So her job is to catch it when it's on the rise. The cognitive piece is recognizing the anger rising, sensing it, noticing the feeling as it becomes more and more uncomfortable. Then she has to ask herself:

What is this horrible feeling? Oh, it's anger. I know it well. Anger puts the "A" in AFFECT.

She recognizes the feeling, then THINKS. Thinking is the next step (COGNITION). She has to slow down the action to mentally evaluate what's going on, what is happening.

Then she has to challenge her knee jerk thinking on the subject and her automatic behavior (exploding) and think of an alternative response, a new BEHAVIOR.

Wow. All of this is so much work. So much easier to throw the dishes, no?

Have a nice weekend.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ms Potter

I lopped off the top of a seedless cucumber and said to FD, "Let’s eat and watch Miss Potter." (2006, directed by Chris Noonan, written by Richard Maltby Jr.)

I had taken it out for the kids.
Y thought R would like it but they left Chicago without touching the DVD. This branch of the tree watches little if any television when visiting the 'rents.

"It's a 2 day rental and Blockbusters is already spleening me," I nagged. "Come on, sit with me. Just a little."

Ugh, I believe was the reply. I have to get up early. Early for FD is earlier than for the rest of us and it was already after 10.

I stuck in the disk and moments later he sat down to watch along with Little One (18yrs old, 6’4”, 145 pounds soaking wet). The three of us sunk into the sofa with salad and tuna melts on rye waiting out the previews, commenting on how he and his dad are mostly leg, especially the younger version.

It’s bizarre like that, attending to the oddest things about your kid's genetics, as if discovering them for the first time, things like BMI (body-mass-index). He's home for the summer.

Of all of us, if anyone prefers clean media, it's this guy. So how could he resist Miss Potter?

How could anyone?

Well, if you need a nap, the movie is perfect. Very slow, extremely boring. 92 minutes and not a single act of violence (oh, a little verbal, I guess). And almost no plot. The plot summary at IMDb (I go there for credits) is empty, seriously. No one's filled it in.

But the pictures! Beatrix's pictures of Peter Rabbit and his friends! They’re just as I remembered them. I know that my mother read the rabbit books to me, and that Tales of Peter Rabbit was a grade school reader in my day. I imagine that now kids learn to read by computer.

And I know that I read Tales to my kids. But how is it that the entire wonderment of that simply got lost under the radar when I posted about children’s books just the other day?

It just did.

Miss Potter is a feminist movie and reminds us that women have worked for over a century to challenge the status quo, to become more than wives and mothers, home makers and socialites.

Beatrix, an unmarried woman in her 30’s, has a well-defined artist's identity even as a very young child. Her very difficult relationship with her mother, a woman we might consider to be the opposite of Lindsay Lohan or Brooke Shield's supportive stage moms, provides the only real conflict in the story.

Beatrix had to be her own agent, bucking social mores of her class to approach a publishing house in London. She didn’t go anywhere without an escort and dating without parental approval in the early 1900s was social suicide. Marriages were supposed to be arranged.

Of course that never happened in Beatrix's case.

The magic of the movie, however, has nothing to do with any of that. It happens as she sees her art come to life. Her rabbits, ducks and frogs are her friends. They have feelings and problems and as the ink leaves the pen, they jump off the page, but only momentarily so we wonder, Did that happen? Am I dreaming? Is she?

That’s how creativity happens for certain artists. A thought comes alive, only momentarily at first, a flash of whatever it is that needs to be said, and then it's colored in and all at once, it's beautiful.

FD and Little One watched the whole thing. I only nodded off once in awhile. It’s worth the 92 minutes of Renee Zellweger, I think, even if you tend to wander off a little down the garden path.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Children's Books, Mannies, and Waiting Rooms

I'm not stretching it when I say I've probably read thousands of children's books. My feeling is that children are unmanageable, well let's say difficult, until they can read for themselves, so why not read to them?

It's not about getting them into pre-pre-school. Many times I just looked at the pictures of children's book and made stuff up, like you probably do when you're too tired to read to your kids.

Not that I bought thousands of children's books, but I read over and over again the ones that I did buy . The survivors are pretty well worn. But we have some new ones, some of them pop-up books, those 3-dimensional books where the beak of a bird pops out at the kid like a . . .beak.

We have occasional new copies of older books, the ones that came out in the 80's, mostly.

But I have to ask you. Can you really stand the Berenstain Bears? I can't. Maybe it's the color of Mama Bear. I just hate that blue. Or her hat.

The Dr. Seuss books are fine, yes, of course, who doesn't love Dr. Seuss, and The Places You'll Go makes me cry. I recently I read a book my son B bought for my grandson E, maybe it's new, Carl's Masquerade by Alexandra Day. The book is so totally delightful that I really could read it a thousand times. The dog is the babysitter.

There are books that simply make us so happy, like anything illustrated by Steven Kellogg. My favorite is Margaret Mahy's The Boy Who Was Followed Home. I just love that book where the hippos follow Robert home. Much Bigger Than Martin is pretty fabulous, too.

So when I had my not so proverbial 16 month (K"H) granddaughter on my knee last week I had to make a decision. Do we read a book with cardboard pages and pop-outs that she'll surely rip right off and stick in her mouth, or do we go with Vogue?

We went with Vogue.

She likes clothes, so why not? I shielded her from the looks on the more lascivious models when I had to. Is it really the only way to sell magazines? Do men actually buy magazines like Vogue for the soft porn?

I get Vogue ostensibly for the waiting room, but it comes to my home. There's a good reason. If I had it delivered to the office, then I'd have to shlep it home to read it. There's no time at work for leafing through magazines. This way Vogue stays where it belongs in that pile on my bedroom floor until I get in the mood to read it, move it or recycle it.

Nobody waits for me long enough at the office to need much reading material anyway. We have an understanding about time that transcends the need for props other than the 'zines the other therapy doc's have provided for the waiting room, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle, circa 1980's.

I used to keep WE (a hot softly pornographic fashion magazine) in the waiting room until a 7-year old boy saw a model in her underwear and grabbed it and wouldn't let go. His mother was not pleased.

That ended that.

So little HH and I went through the silky summer clothes in Vogue as she fidgeted and tore at the pages. She hopped off my lap just as I got to About a Boy, a short piece by Holly Peterson (great) about mannies. I wondered if Holly had any problems using that title since chick lit writer Nick Hornby (How to Be Good, High Fidelity, About a Boy) did so well with it.

That guy's sold screen plays with his chick lit. He'd know about mannies, probably.

Oh you want to know about mannies. I did, too. This passed me by, this manny phenomenon, although we did use a couple of guys and dozens of adolescent girls for babysitters when we had the twins and M came so close on their heels. Keeping an eye on the sitters, their genders, and the vodka was difficult.

Things tended to disappear but I appreciated that the boy baby-sitters could keep up with my little ones in a way that the girls could not.

The testosterone and energy in our house used to make me dizzy, especially after adding two more little guys years later (4 years between them following the bonanza) . But to a guy, even a locker room isn't a challenge.

A manny is basically a guy nanny, really a governor, preferably a surfer or an ex-camp counselor who can gently but firmly keep little kids in line yet work them to the point of exhaustion and still get them fed, maybe bathed, before mom gets home.

Well, I added that; Ms. Peterson didn't mention bathing or feeding. That's a nanny job.

People have both, mannies AND nannies.

The manny will teach your son to play like a guy plays (that's good I hear) and because he's strong can grab the little fellow when he's being mischievous, raise him firmly to eye level, give him that watch it if you know what's good for you look, and the little tyke is putty in his hands. He learns behavioral and emotional control toute de suite or suffers unimaginable consequences.

And apparently the manny can be easy on the eyes, too.

But between you and me?

I'd get serious references, here. (Not that you wouldn't with the girls, of course.)

copyright 2007, therapydoc

The THIRD, Count 'Em, THIRD Carnival of All Substances

And here we are. Has anyone seen this movie? That's Seth Rogen playing pot-head Ben Stone, a do-nothing stoner who hangs out with his stoner friends and goes to clubs or works on a pornographic web site, his fresh idea that's already been done.

But one day he's exceedingly lucky. He meets gorgeous Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and she's so drunk she has sex with him, and you can guess the rest of the story. Suffice it to say the movie thinks it's Parenthood, but it's not.

I had a nice dinner party recently and 8 of the 9 guest had seen Knocked Up. All opinions ranged from liking to loving it. I have a problem watching people get stoned or be stoned like that, and I also have a problem watching people have sex, so I gave it the minority 2 thumbs down.

It's so cringe to me and why would I volunteer to cringe.

Recovery posts sometimes make you cringe. But from what I understand, most people LOVE it. So without further ado, here's a fantastic, smart bunch of sober bloggers, The 3rd Carnival of All Substances.

We're starting with a fabulous pic of the boring, empty, but amazingly beautiful state of North Dakota. Scout tells us that she couldn't possibly wait to leave N. D. as a kid, but now waxes nostalgic, affectionately remembering that flat-line horizon. Scout, dear, this is just the way it is, sorry. And wasn't that where they filmed Close Encounters? And why do I think of rattle snakes when I think of N.D.?

Scout's completed 11 years, mazal tov (you know what that means, right, not the mazal tov, but the 11 years--we're talking 11 sober years). Congrats Scout.

Bill, over at Addiction Recovery Basics has a great list of irrational core beliefs that royally mess with your self-esteem (personality, life, relationships. . . all kinds of nasty realities). He's my kind of cognitive doc, puts the compulsive into compulsive behavior--for our purposes, using.

Vicarious Rising inspires, as always, with Hope Says Yes When Nobody Asked, a Laotian proverb. I really like the picture and the thought.

Meg at You and Me are Floating on a Tidal Wave, always eloquent, reminds us withMASK that a combination of speed and alcohol makes for a high with more than a little rock and roll. It can bring out the tiger in you, a less than likable tiger, unfortunately. Makes my bruise on the face post pale by comparison.

Denial can't last forever, unfortunately, and over at The Practice of Recovery you'll learn that following a rude awakening, some people take the first step in the 12-step program. This is tough cringe stuff at its best, but don't let it scare you away from AA.

At some point in your life, if you need it, you'll know it.

By including food addictions I'm way overfed with submissions. But check them out. How about starting with Emotional Freedom and weight loss without cravings? If Karen's method doesn't work, remind me to hypnotize you the old fashioned way with a hanging watch on a gold chain.

Next up is JoLynne's post at The Fit Shack, on addiction pyramids. Makes me want to stop eating altogether, seriously.

Isabella Mori, one of our very with it mental heatlth professional bloggers fills us in on Step 3 (and some of you don't even care how many there are, right?). But this is great. She says,
Step 3 reads "made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-d as we understood G-d." How can someone who does not believe in G-dgod use this step?
I so love this stuff.

Over at the Philosophy of Change you'll find a before and after post, 12 months of change, very graphic and well-done post. Our philosopher won't tell you how he got straight in this story but if you read a little farther into the website, perhaps you'll find out. I like philosophy as much as the next doc.

And finally, So Sioux Me invites you over to a smoke-free blog, dreaming of the easy beat-your-addiction fix. What's that say, Sioux?

And that's it for now. Thanks all for your submissions. The next Carnival of All Substances will be held on August 10, 2007, with the Old Mighty's help, of course. Tell your friends.

I'm looking for 12-Step in-jokes. What do you say? Oh, and you have to explain why they're funny. Please? People need to know this stuff.

You can enter right here.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Carnivals, Links and Posts, Oh My

Of course, we're gearing up for the next Carnival of All Substances. Thanks to all of you who have submitted stories.

One of the things I've done over the past year is hyper-link over to various carnivals that have featured my blog. A hyper-link is a link on a sidebar to another blog. On my sidebar you find links to blogs I just happen to like and to other bloggers who have requested links, and to bloggers who have linked to me.

Sometimes I'll link over to another blogger in a post and probably should do that more often.

So let's start right now. (I especially like the first):

A Singer's Life

Purple Mote


Daled Amos

Emotional Eating

Carnival of Hijacked Holidays

Anja Merret

Super Mommies

Adult ADD and Money

Outdoor Odyssey

Curiosity Killer

All Things Medical

The Tall Poppy


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

That Softness Gene

Y. & R. are visiting, my son and d-i-l, with the lovely HH, fondly called H-squared. HH is 16 mos. and as I watched her climb to get to a slide (with gusto) I thought to myself, well, she's got some of me in there somewhere, for sure.

I mentioned it to R. She laughed and said, "Have you seen her with clothes?"

So I wasn't so into clothes as a little kid. I preferred running around outside, which is a big HH thing, too.

Today I grabbed her early in the morning and we ran to the bank to make sure all kinds of checks wouldn't bounce. HH enjoyed the people at the bank and especially the shiny new tiles. She says Hi and ByeBye to everyone, plants and countertops included. She appreciates EVERYTHING and has the most amazing vocal inflections. You'd think her mother's an actor.

I thought it too soon to return her to her parents and wondered who I could visit at 9:30 in the morning. There aren't too many people who appreciate visitors at 9:30, but I gave my Aunt Goldie a call.

She was very surprised to hear from me. I don't call much.

"Are you dressed?" I asked. "I'd like you to meet your great, great grand-niece, HH."

"No, dear," she said, surely taken off guard. "I'm ironing and I'm in my nightgown."

No biggie. We talked a bit, then she said, "Well, maybe I'll just toss on a robe. Come on over."

So we did, and HH loved the tiles and the newness of my aunt's building, and the mirrored doors and pics of her cousins, who are also very little. Aunt Goldie made a case for Lucite frames.

After awhile, when HH got bored Aunt G. found a little porcelain doll. The bows on the doll are satiny and there's a little lace hat, and she has shoes that tie, and little pants under her dress. The doll's a serious hit.

The way HH examined every little detail reminded me very much of R., her mother.

"Where's Uncle Max?" I asked my aunt. I assumed he was still sleeping, or maybe watching t.v.

"He's at the office, of course," she answered, as in, Where else would he be?

Of course. My uncle's got to be late 80's.

We took off and in the car I played a mix. HH loved the rock and roll songs, Walking on Sunshine and Kiss Me, but when she heard Leontine Price sing the Puccini aria, The Swallow (La Rondine) she listened especially closely, closed her eyes, then opened them.

I had a tear in my eye- the aria is so beautiful. And when I took a peek back at my granddaughter at the stoplight I could have sworn-- she did, too.

copyright 2007, therapydoc

Sunday, July 01, 2007


FD has a friend named Fred who is forever speening him to get a new bike. They make them better now, you know.

But you might also know that our bikes, old 27 inch 10-speeds, cumulative ages 60 plus years, have sentimental value.

And they work good, as my father would say.

The other day our #3 son blogged about how we never bought him a new bicycle when he was a kid. He had Frankenbike, a hodgepodge of a bike that FD configured from my father's garage of old bicycles.

I honestly don't remember Frankenbike, but the kids assure me there was such a thing.

So apparently #3 son didn't appreciate Frankenbike or ride it and we gave it away or left it out in the yard to be stolen which, in my neighborhood, would take all of fifteen minutes, Franken-like or no.

Anyway, I read his post and felt kind of bad, but it is what it is.

The very next week my friend Natalie, who is THE boss weaver over at the Chicago Weaving School, caught me in the hallway of the school and asked me if I knew anyone who needed a pretty good bicycle, someone very tall. The bike's in pretty good shape; I'm giving it away, she said.

Well. It was meant to be, obviously.

Without thinking, I said, Yes, me. I need a bike. But I'm paying for it.

Done. The next day I picked up the bike. It's exactly what I would have expected from a person who appreciates finer things, which is why I automatically agreed in the first place, a used Miata 500, probably cost $550 if it cost a penny new. Her husband had just had it tuned and truly, this was a wonderful exchange. All I had to do was fill the tires.

And I loved the color, a slate blue.

#3 was ecstatic when I told him about it on the phone. He and his right arm (and brain, the wife) had just made the decision to move back to Chicago, a very flat city.

They arrived last week and the first thing Three did was take the bike out for a spin. "It's great," he said. "It'll need some adjustments. Like the handlebars feel too far forward, and maybe I have to lower the seat."

The thing has a lever to lower the seat, sweetie.

"But you know, these new bikes? They're not as good as the old bikes," he said.

"Huh!?" (I never expected this)

"No," Three continued, "the old ten-speeds with the larger wheels are less work to ride, aren't they? They're called racers for a reason. They're really faster."

Vindicated. Take that, Fred.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc

Empty Spaces