Seventeen-years-old and into the Great Wide Open..

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Into the great wide open..
 Under a sky of blue”
                  -Tom Petty

In the absence of moonlight, the summer lake house had been pitch dark when we arrived. The five of us had made a spontaneous late-night decision to drive from the northern suburbs of Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana. Now, as dust particles dance in the glow of the morning sun streaming through the windows, I wake up in the large room known as the “dorm.” In other far too small single beds, three of my friends are refusing to acknowledge the start of the day.

The bed squeaks as I swing my feet onto the floor and walk outside to the concrete patio. The house sits on top of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The cool morning air has not yet given way to the sun’s warmth. Peter is already up, coffee in hand. Slowly, the rest of the crew makes their way outside to sit on the stone steps that wind down to the street; Lake Michigan and the beach just on the other side. Hungry, we dig into a box of day old Dunkin Donuts brought from home.

It is the summer after our high-school graduation and we are at Peter’s summer house for a few days. A weekday or weekend? It doesn’t matter. Every day now feels the same. High school is behind us, yet college still feels far ahead in the distance. For the moment, there are no homework assignments, or grades to worry about. The ninety-minute drive to the beach house is as much a declaration of our growing independence as it is a fun forty-eight-hour getaway to squeaky white sand and mid-summer sun.

Still in our shorts and sweatshirts from yesterday, we eat the donuts and drink bad coffee. We talk about the Cubs and summer jobs. We retell inside jokes and repeat favorite movie lines. The afternoon will be filled playing catch on the beach, with the Cubs game on the radio, and cooling swims out to the sandbar. Our personal journeys lie ahead, but for the moment, we are carefree and at ease.

The memory of drinking coffee on the patio before spending the day on the beach is still vivid thirty years later. The cool rock on the back of my legs. The bitterness of that flavored coffee. The hot sand squeaking under my feet. My shoulder, sore from throwing the baseball all day long. The sun’s heat burning my back while lying on a sandy blanket. Swimming to the sandbar. Nowhere to be, nowhere to go. My future completely unwritten.

I didn’t recognize the significance of that day, or that summer, in real-time. I guess that’s the nature of being young and feeling immortal. Maybe it’s the slow and gradual accumulation of responsibilities that come with a job or marriage or children, that enable us to appreciate the days when we could just lie in the sand and bake in the sun. That summer, listening to the Cubs game on the radio with friends, the weight of future responsibilities had not yet entered our world.

Thirty years later, I am, once again, at a place in my life where things are yet unwritten. After 13 years as a pulmonary critical care physician, I chose to start working part-time in July. I have already encountered a few hiccups and speedbumps along the way, but this time I am able to appreciate the freedom and opportunities that lie ahead.

I am attending a TEDMED conference this week. Within the overarching theme “Limitless,” the talks highlight issues of medicine, both directly and tangentially. I am eager to see which talks will directly apply to me and what I can bring to the table. What mix of critical care medicine, parenting, water polo, and writing brief narratives stories related to those topics might spark a conversation with my colleagues? I am no longer a seventeen-year old kid lying in the sun, with no real responsibilities, but my future does require a similar shift in my mindset. And as I hear Tom Petty’s voice singing in my ear, I am focusing, not on what limits me, but on how limitless the possibilities are.

Throw back Thursday

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If I knew then, what I know now…

I would hug them more. For longer. Squeeze harder.

I would listen more and react less.

I would be sillier and goofier with them and pay less attention to the thoughts of others.

I would cave in more often when they would ask for “one more” bedtime story or book to read or batting practice pitch thrown.

I would write and share with them just how beautiful they are.

Looking back to face forward

I’m not sure when Facebook added the THIS DAY ___ YEARS AGO feature, reminding us what we had posted on this day in years past. It is often nice to reminisce about a concert a year ago or some silly family event that a picture captured perfectly. I often stop for a moment, let my mind drift back in time, smile, and move on.

In addition to those relatively recent events, come posts as long as ten, twelve even THIRTEEN years ago! First, I am not sure what I was doing, chronically every Americano I drank or telling the world I was on call in the ICU. I sincerely apologize to anyone and everyone I was Facebook friends with back then for annoying you with such egocentric musings. But what is truly killing me are the other post and pictures. My kids when they were well “kids” instead of the young adults they are now. Seeing curly hair that is now straight, braces now removed, playing a little league game with that mitt broken in from a winter’s worth of nights under the mattress, innocent smiles that hopefully are not gone forever. I see myself in some of these pictures. More hair on my head and a lot less grey. Long runs at three in the morning while still at work by seven. Fewer wrinkles, no beard. Carrying less weight on my shoulders despite a child sitting on top of them.

It takes me more than a few moments before I am able to collect myself from these memories.

Facebook continues to remind me that at one point I thought I had all the time in the world. More time to watch the girl with curls swing across the monkey bars. More time to play catch with the boy wearing that baseball mitt. More time to run before my knees creak and my back aches.

How naïve I was.

I am working on embracing, not lamenting, the inevitable changes in myself and family that continue to occur. I am also trying to avoid all the clichés here.

“If I knew then what I know now”

“If I could do it all over, I would change…”

I will admit these thoughts flutter and float between my ears longer than I’d like. I try to change my focus to the future. And then I remember there is still the here and now. My daughter, who has outgrown her curls, is driving and dancing while fitting in her homework and friends. My son, who has outgrown that baseball mitt, is taking on new challenges on a daily basis. And I have a few more early morning runs left in my knees and back before I hang up my running shoes and visor.

So thank you Facebook. For my daily reminder of “this day years ago”. And in turn, hopefully not forgot what I still can do today.

Sleepless Nights

You were closer to one year of age than two. Our family just three. Between surviving a combined internal medicine and pediatrics internship for me and navigating your young world for your mom, our days were challenging. But the nights. Those endless nights. As the sun would set on the cumulative fatigue of our day, the tension would grow and start to take hold. The rising dread would join our evening journey. Sleep, for you, was never easy. If and when it would come, its hold on you was more often brief and brittle. The crib lay empty and your room stood quiet, having been given up months ago. We entered nights with one goal in mind. Survive until the morning.

That night was different. The reasons escape me; exhaustion in your mother’s eyes or the frustration in mine. But that night I was determined to create a night of sleep for your mom. I pushed her out of our bedroom door, leaving just you and me behind.

You ran to the door, chasing after her. I grabbed you. Picked you up without looking you in the eye. I carried you to the far side of the bed and lay you down, tucking you under the covers. Almost before I could get to my side of the bed, you bolted up and slid off. Racing back to the door, hoping to get through and back to the comfort of your mother’s embrace. And thus it started. I rolled out on my side, intercepting you. I picked you up without looking you in the eye. I carried you to the far side of the bed and lay you down, tucking you in under the covers. Within seconds, you were sliding out of the bed. Repeating this dance. Again. And again. And again. With each repeated attempt, your determination and frustration grew. The cries louder and the screams stronger. I lost track of the number of times you bolted for that door, blurred by the tears streaming down my face.

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