Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top Ten: S.J.G.R. moments.

*Warning: The post contains the word "shit" kind of a lot.

Some people are made of plastic

You know some people are made of wood
Some people have hearts of stone
Some people are up to no good
Aaaaah, but baby, I'm for real
I'm as real as real can get
If what you're looking for
Is real loving
Then what you see
Is what you get

~ The Dramatics


No matter who you are or what you do, there will be these points in your life where you stop, look around, and say these words:

"Whoa. Shit just got real."

Or S.J.G.R. for short.

S.J.G.R. moments are those ones where reality sets in. Those times where all of those hypothetical things come crashing to the ground and are replaced by reality. And when those moments happen--and they always do--all you can do is freeze where you are and recognize it for what it is.

The S.J.G.R. point differs for all of us--but not by much. The realness wake up call has some pretty universal features. And the realness doesn't care if you're black or white or male or female or rich or broke. If you live long enough, it will find you. And when it does? You'll know it. Because you'll be saying those words to yourself:

"Okay. Shit just got real up in here. For real."

And okay, maybe if you never, ever use four-letter expletives you don't actually say these actual words, but I assure you that there comes a time in every grown or even almost-grown person's life where they think something very similar.

And it happens in waves. These thunderous waves that sometimes you are completely ready to surf on top of but other times ones that totally, completely smack you down to the sand with no warning at all. Then there's the times that you're somewhere in the middle of those two. Where you thought you were kind of prepared and actually you kind of were, but the enormity, the realness, the magnitude of it all just leaves you in awe. Sitting there shaking your head and saying those words:

"Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

And I added that additional expletive because I admit that this is often the way I think it in my head instead of the "whoa" way. For you, insert your own words in those strategic spots. Feel free to say "Darn. Things just got serious" or to even blend in an f-bomb adjective if you like. Either way, it's all the same. Life just gets real sometimes.

One of my former student advisees called me the other day and he was fretful. Fretful about residency and work/life balance and the pressure of it all. He described things like the physical and mental exhaustion, the fear and the high expectations. And he wanted my advice on it all which I sort of gave him. But mostly, I shrugged and told him the real deal.

"Look, dude. You've just hit one of those points where shit just got real."

And since he is now an upper level resident in another state and more like family now, I felt okay saying it just like that. And I had to say it just like that because he needed to know that there wasn't any real answer. This was his new reality. Shit just got real for him.

So yeah. We all have these moments. Here's a few of mine.

Today I bring you:


Ready? Leggo!

#10  The first night in my dorm room at Tuskegee University in August 1988. 

I am from Southern California. Specifically, I am from Inglewood--a Los Angeles suburb--which is very much metropolitan and urban. Concrete covers everything. The air is dry and the summer nights have a teeny bite on them that require light jackets. No one says "y'all" and the "ma'am's" and "sirs" are heard only rarely from the mouths of babes.


There are no flying, gigantic cockroaches. There are not.

Now. I was fully aware of what I was in store for with going to college in Alabama. I was prepared for the red clay and humidity. I was. I had braced myself for the slow drawls and hand painted mom and pop store fronts of my college town. I even had my mind wrapped around doing my work and stepping my academic game up now that I was a collegiate. But the flying cucarachas? Fuggeddaboudit.

Maaaan. That first night, I had to go to the bathroom. And that bathroom was up the hall, as dorm bathrooms in Fredrick Douglass Hall were. So me, I slide on my flip flops purchased special for college and head down toward the latrine. A dim exit light was in the hall way and the fluorescent glow shone out of the doorway of bathroom.

Not such a big deal. Novel, even.

So I trudge down and am thinking that it kind of bites to have to walk down a hall like this at night to potty, but that Hey! I'm in college now! so really it's mostly cool. Until I saw it. This big, brown thing in the middle of the corridor.


It was the size of a child's hand and it was sitting still. It looked bug-ish but it was so big. . .so. . .mammoth in proportions that I wasn't so sure. And so. I tried to scoot past it as fast as I could. But that's when it happened. The damn thing started to move. And it moved fast. . .kind of in my direction.


Now. I ain't no punk, so I took off my flip flop and prepared to nail the sucker. But then. But THEN?  The mo-fo took flight. I mean, flapped its wings and went skyward.

*thump* (that was me fainting)

I had never seen anything like it in my entire life. Not only was this the biggest insect I'd ever seen, it was a cockroach-esque thing with super powers like flying. I ran for my life. I swear to you I did. Because I wasn't waiting around to see if it shot fire or sucked blood.

And the good news is that I was so terrified that I didn't need to pee anymore.

Maaaaan. I jumped back into my room, locked that door and just stood up against it panting hard. And my roommate--who was from Tennessee--asked me what was wrong and when I told her she just laughed and laughed.

And as I climbed back under my twin sized comforter and tried to close my paranoid eyes, it hit me.

"I live in the deep south now. Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

We ain't in L.A. no more, Toto.

#9  When I took the MCAT.

I studied for that sucker. I did. Hard. But let me tell you, once I sat down and started working on the Physics section? Dude. I skipped one question. Then another. Then another. And then after skipping the fifth question, it dawned on me:

"You have to be kind of smart to go to medical school. This test is hard as Gibraltar and I'm wondering if med school is like this. And! This test cost me a lot of money. Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

As for the med school being hard thing? Um yeah. I was right about that part.

(Insert "USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3", "American Board of Internal Medicine Boards and Recertifying Boards",  and "American Board of Pediatrics Boards and Recertifying Boards" into this last section because the exact same thing applies with those.)

#8  Sub-internship with Jada, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital at CWRU, M4 year.

When I was a senior medical student, I heard about these awesome opportunities for underrepresented minority students to do "away" rotations at certain institutions that were looking to increase diversity. The awesome part was that not only did you get exposed to new places outside of your own school, but often times they housed and paid you to come and do it. Um yeah.

So me and my friend Jada heard about this one clerkship in Cleveland, Ohio at Case Western Reserve University called the David Satcher Clerkship that offered this great clinical exposure but ALSO room and board and a STIPEND to boot. And can I just say that the stipend they provided (which I'm not sure they still do) would even be a lot now? It was win-win, especially for broke medical students like us.

And so. We both applied and listed that we wanted to do an outpatient pediatrics rotation. Jada was going into Family Medicine and I was applying for Medicine/Pediatrics so we imagined a laid back clinic month in a different city with free weekends and free food. Win-win, I tell you.

Well. How happy were we when we got accepted? Answer: VERY. So. We quickly completed the paperwork and it was all a go. At the start of October '95, we jumped into Jada's Toyota Corolla and rolled up to Cleveland for this lovely month of fun and surprises.

Surprises is exactly what they had for us. Starting with a call schedule that had our names on it. Turns out that the "chill clinic month" was already filled so we were put on a WARD TEAM as a pair instead. Which included call every fourth night, crazy hours, and a bunch of really sick kids. Oh, and did I mention? As an added bonus, we had a lazy resident. So lazy that the only thing I remember about him is that he carried a portable radio around to listen to the Cleveland Indians games and his mantra before retreating to the call room:

"Call me if you need me. But need me if you call me."

Just awesome.

And so. Here is what I recall. One night Jada and I were on overnight call and our lazy resident was somewhere fast asleep. And this kid was breathing like a thousand times per minute and looking really, really, really sick. I looked at Jada and Jada looked at me and it was obvious that the kid was about to code on us. In the middle of the night. With just two medical students.

We quickly learned that we actually had more of a clue than we realized. We took great care of that child and even were the ones to help with key parts of the code sequence. And when that child was intubated and getting whisked off to the ICU, we looked at each other and didn't even have to say it. But the look said it all:

"Damn. We're about to be doctors. Shit just got real up in this hospital."

Note to the students: At some point, you actually have to make decisions that are life or death for patients.

#7  Student Loans.

It turns out that in addition to being hard, medical school is also rather expensive. Mad expensive, actually. I will never forget the day I did my exit interviews from medical school which included a stop by financial aid to "sign off" on everything. On that day, they gave me this pink sheet from a set of triplicates that listed at the very bottom the six figures of debt that this wonderful education had set me back. And they also gave me a shpiel on the importance of "keeping my word" and paying the good people of Sallie Mae back for having such faith in a young, gifted and black girl from inner-city L.A.

I looked at that sheet and remembered the day I had freaked out because my Discover card bill had reached $250 dollars for the total amount owed. And then I asked the financial aid dude at my school to tell me "about how much" would I need to pay back every month once I finished up. He let me know that this all depended upon whether or not I deferred or forebeared or whatever and that, if I did either of those things, that the interest would keep on keeping on so that by the time I finished training and got a real job, it would be more. Like several thousand dollars more. And seeing as I would be making twenty-something thousand dollars per year as an intern, it was guaranteed that I would be deferring or forebearing or whatever so that six figure number was sure to be substantially higher.

And the payment? Let's just say that monthly payment is a helluva lot more than the $22 minimum I had to pay for the $250 dollar total of my Discover card purchases back in 1994. And let me just say that the day I got that first bill from Sallie Mae with the "amount due" at the bottom of it? I looked at it and said out loud:

"Damn. Shit just got real with these loans."

For reals.

#6  Internship.

I spent the entire first year of my residency saying this every single day.

But never was it made more clear than the first big snow storm of my intern year. I was scheduled to be on call overnight and wasn't sure what this meant. I mean, it had to mean something seeing as the entire city was blanketed in white and all you heard on the news and radios were school closings.

Wooo hooooo!!!!

The schools were closed so I assumed there was some kind of contingency plan for us, too. But since this was all new to me, I needed some confirmation. So I picked up my phone and paged my chief resident so that I could, you know, confirm how the whole snow day sitch worked. While staring out of my window at that winter wonderland, the California girl in me squealed with delight. I'd never really lived in a place that got real snow on a regular basis. This was exciting. I began looking around my apartment for something that I could make into some sort of sled. I mean, since I wouldn't have to work or anything.

Dude. When my chief called me back and heard my (dead serious) question, I thought he'd hung up because of the silence. "Hello?" I said. "You still there?"

And that's when I heard it . . .first softly. . . but then quickly rising in decibels. A low, throaty laugh that eventually became this howling cackle. No question about it. My chief was laughing. At me. Not with me.

"Yeah, uhh, so you're a doctor now," he said between snickers. "So the plan on snow days is that you come in and work. Yeah. Pretty much, that's the plan." And he hung up as quickly as he could and since I've been a chief resident, I know that this was because he was in a hurry to LOL about it with his co-chiefs.

So on that day? That snow day that initially looked like a fun-fest from my bedroom window? That's the day it truly gelled for me:

"Damn. I'm a doctor and hospitals don't close. Shit just got real up in here."

Note: There are no "snow days" for doctors. Capisce?

#5  Becoming a senior resident.

It's pretty simple. As an intern (or first year trainee) when you do something great, you're a rockstar. But if you do something wrong? It's okay. Because you're only an intern.

But just you wait until the day you become an upper level resident. On that day, two things happen:

1.  People start asking you what to do instead of you being told what to do.

2.  That whole blissful ne'er do wrong nirvana comes to a screeching halt.

As a supervising resident, the expectation is as follows: Do something great and it's what was expected of you since you're no longer a neophyte. And screw something up? Then you are a total loser. At least, that's how it was back in the 90's. And my guess is that it sort of still goes down like that because this is very likely the reality that my former student was feeling pressing down on him.

Mmm hmmm.

Man. The day that I saw the man with atrial fibrillation in the ER as a second year resident was when I knew. I palpated his abdomen and felt this pulsatile mass. I ordered an ultrasound and detected a gigantic aortic aneurysm that appeared to be near rupture. Vascular surgery was called and, from what they told me, I saved that mans life. The abnormal heart rhythm was because he was so anemic from the leak. And the sucker even started bleeding while they had him on the operating table.

I was SO proud of myself. So, so proud. But my attending in the ER simply gave me a pat on the shoulder and handed me another chart for a new patient. And that was that. No champagne. No roses. No hooplah. And that's when I realized something:

"I'm an upper level resident. Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

#4  My first mortgage.

I was so excited when I got my first "real" job as a faculty member. New to Atlanta, I wanted to be a responsible adult and wanted to step out of the realm of the renter. Yes! I wanted to buy. It was time for me to be a homeowner.

And so. I declared to the agent that I "definitely wanted to live in town." And I scouted out the cutest areas and wrote them down in case they weren't sure of what I was looking for.

My price point? Uhhh . . . .whatever price point gets me where I want to live. And, I mean, I'm a doctor. Like a full fledged, dual board-certified one. So I can get me a nice crib in a nice area for sure.

Well. Turns out that when you owe more in student loans than you make annually, that's a little issue. And turns out that what I thought was so much money wasn't enough to put me anywhere close to those swanky neighborhoods I coveted.

Uuuuhh, that would be a NEGATORY.

And so. I sat down with my dad and later a mortgage broker and that's when all of it hit me.

"This debt to income ratio situation is no joke. Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

And yes. Eventually I was able to get a nice place in town that I could afford. And even at the price that worked for me, on that very first month when the home owners' fee and the mortgage were due and I wrote those checks, it happened again. And later when I got a leak in my garage and couldn't call up a landlord? It happened then, too.

"You ain't renting anymore. Shit just got real up in here."

Uhhh yeah.

#3  When I was a newlywed.

Ha. I will never forget the first few weeks Harry and I lived together as husband and wife. I came home from work and was sitting on the couch watching television. Harry got home around seven and had brought some take out from a restaurant we love.

"Oh, I already ate," I said.

"Really? I tried to call you but couldn't get you. I can just save this for later. What did you make?"


"Yeah. You said you ate already."

"Oh. I ate some leftovers from my work lunch."

"Umm. . .did you think about whether or not your husband was hungry, too?"

And the truth is that I hadn't. I'd never had a husband before. So I hadn't really gotten used to considering another person in my meal game plan. Before marriage, we'd plan meals together but the whole everyday part of meals and life and living and all of that? None of it came natural.

Until then.

That's when I knew:

"Hold up. I's married. And I need to think about another grown person besides my damn self. Whoa. Shit just got real up in here."

Note: Marriage is a selfless walk. And after the flowers wilt and the gifts stop landing on your front porch there's a relationship waiting for you to work on. And the wedding part is fun, but the post honeymoon phase is where it gets real.

#2  When I had my first child. 

We'd just gotten home with Isaiah. I was asleep. Harry was asleep. And finally, Isaiah was, too. He was born at nine pounds and two ounces. And the thing about babies that are that size is that they get real, real hungry.

Mmm hmmm.

But instead of crying, Isaiah just used to make this funny little panting sound that somehow, some way, The BHE could never, ever hear. And me, I was still sore from pushing out nearly ten pounds of human being so getting out of bed was a bit of a production.


So I hobble over and get him. Put him on my breast which he promptly chomps down onto like it is some kind of enemy in the wild. But eventually he drinks and I try my best to look at this as my life's greatest gift. But see, having a large-for-gestational-age baby who is HONGRY not hungry is hard on a mama's nipple. For reals. That was the first time it got real.Wait. I take that back. The ridiculously high deposit for daycare after getting off of the 100 year long waiting list was the first time. The hongry-muncher-baby realization was the second time.

Where was I? Oh. So then, after a few days of Pacman-boy chomping me to red, ragged bits I was sure that I would absolutely die. Because those things have nerve endings, do you hear me? Lots of them. And YES, I DID talk to all of the boobie experts and lactation ladies and leche lords. I DID. And I spoke to my homegirls and aunties who told me to put cabbage leaves on my breasts and to just stick with until the engorgement-pain-terror-trauma ended.

FINALLY at the height of my mauled mammary-ness, he seemed to be sort of figuring out the latch-on thing. And so. I'm in bed one night and I hear that panting sound at 3:22 AM, which I feel certain it was because this sounds like the time that is the EXACT middle of the night. And I get up and get that baby to put him on my breast. And that boy, he tilts his head, opens his mouth, clamps down like an angry shark and goes straight up Jabber Jaws on me. Yes. In his full nine pound glory.

And that? That was more than I could bear. I shrieked out in pain. Loud. Super, duper, duper loud. And do you think The BHE woke up? Uuhhh, yeah, that's a NO.

Awww hells naw!

Maaan, I kicked over that rocking chair-glider thing, limped over to him and handed him his son. His son. I poked him hard in his shoulder until he woke up and placed a bottle of milk into his hand. "Take your son." And you know? I said nothing else. I just put on my satin eye mask and got back in bed. Surely did.

And let me assure you of what The BHE was thinking as he rubbed his tired eyes and burped that big ol' hungry baby at 3:24 A.M.:

"Damn. Shit just got real up in here."

The realness knows no gender lines. Believe that.

#1  The Economy and The Rhythm of Life.

When the economy crashed I saw all kinds of stuff. I saw my own household income fluctuate dramatically. I saw new patients coming to our safety net hospital who had never even set foot in a place like Grady before but had no choice. Because they were sick and needed doctors but they'd lost jobs and subsequently insurance. I even saw close friends foreclose on homes and lose businesses and go through all sorts of unfortunate things that this plummeting financial crash left them to deal with.

The economic downturn affected us greatly. We have rental properties that bring us income. And those tenants, our tenants, they lost jobs so couldn't pay. Harry's business owners in his commercial properties couldn't cover their leases. And even beyond that, some of our favorite places to patronize that seemed like institutions that were untouchable closed. For good. You saw it in your neighborhoods, too. Places that seemed like they'd never, ever close. Those places shut their doors. Because they had no choice.

So one day, we were sitting at the kitchen table discussing our budget. And at first we were fretting, but then we started realizing that we have each other and that, along with our jobs, still put us ahead of the vast majority of Americans.

But still.

Our paradigm had shifted. Things that we didn't think about before we now had to think about. And monies that seemed superfluous no longer were. And perhaps they never should have been. But either way, it woke us up and rattled our cages. And we slugged it out and learned to value different things. And once we did, it seems like things started looking up. But still. Now we were changed people. We recognized that nothing is promised for anyone. Not financially.

Hell, not any kind of way.

Then, last fall, when Deanna left us, reality came knocking again. This jolted us and forced us to accept that these bodies we are given are only on loan. Souls pass through -- and pass on -- sometimes when we least expect it. And that? Man. That was a hard pill to swallow. Even for a doctor and a former bad-ass Army Ranger infantry guy, both of who had seen mortality up close and personal. See this? This was different. Shit got real.


In all of that, something else happened. We focused more on the things that mattered. The material things we did own we appreciated but not nearly as much as the people that we love. Little spats and misunderstandings were short-lived. Relationships were redefined into new, more meaningful definitions. Or at least more authentic ones. In other words, shit just got real.

And that? That is the beauty of the realness. It requires less memory. You just go forward in truth and with your eyes focused only on the things that last. Like love. Like family. Like faith.

And can I just digress quickly and say this? The very night that Deanna left us, I turned to this blog and typed. I posted her picture and shared our love and people came and read and listened and grieved right along with my family. And every time I opened my stats and saw how many people were coming to love on us and reflect on my sister, I saw how powerful this forum can be. It became more than just this place where people stop by to read when they are bored or whatever. I was no longer just this hypothetical woman in Georgia with kids and a husband that she calls The BHE with her tongue in her cheek. I became human.

And because of that, even more, the patients here and their stories, became more than just novelties and Grady more than just some fictional place.

Yeah. We are all human beings, interconnected by our stories and our triumphs and our tragedies. When we let that happen, something amazing happens. We see ourselves in one another. In other words, shit just gets real.

Happy Thursday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. Y'all don't know nothing about The Dramatics. Yeah, dawg. S.J.G.R. with the music on this blog, people.

Hey. . .what's one of your most memorable S.J.G.R. moments? Do tell.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lovers and fighters.

Warning: 100% Non-medical post ahead.

"Keep it together in your family
They're a reminder of your history
Brothers and sisters - they hold the key
to your heart and your soul
don't forget that your family is gold."

~ Madonna


Psssst. I have a not-so-secret confession to make. . . .

Are you ready for it?

Okay. Here it is:

I don't like fighting. At all. There. I said it.

Wait. Confused, are you? Okay. Let me explain.

When I say I don't like fighting, I'm not talking about arguing. I'm talking about fighting. As in ball-up-your-fist-and-punch-a-heifer-in-her-mouth fighting. I'm referring to the kind of brawls that happened at three o'clock after school next to the  lockers. The kinds that were unavoidable if you grew up where I grew up.


Why don't I like fighting? Hmmm. Well, first of all, my wrists are sort of smallish. More than smallish, actually. They're the kind that aren't made for punching out lights. Instead they're ones better equipped for more delicate things like playing a flute or carefully flipping crepes in a non-stick pan. But not fighting. At all.

JoLai has those same dainty wrists and (which she will admit) that same angst when it comes to any kind of physical altercation. But Deanna? She wasn't afraid of NObody, do you hear me? This worked out perfectly considering her younger sisters were secretly quite the yellow-bellies.

Mmm hmmmm. 

Which reminds me of this remote memory I thought about today. . . .

When I was a high school senior and JoLai was a junior, we both cheered on the varsity cheer squad. Football and competition season were the most grueling but basketball season was rough, too, since there were always so, so many games. Since I was taking AP classes and trying to keep up with my job at Foot Locker and my school work, sometimes I couldn't make all of those games--particularly the midweek ones. Anyways. There was this one away game at a nearby school that I didn't make because I had to work that night. JoLai, however, did make it. And nothing about the evening was eventful.


Yeah, until I get a call at Foot Locker. Yes. A call at my job where we were preparing to close for the evening. It came from another (rather messy) member of our cheer squad calling (in the pre-cell era) from a pay phone to let me know that someone was trying to fight my sister JoLai. Yes. Fight her. At this away game. Which I admit, due to my lack of interest or skill in fighting, first made me feel slightly relieved that I wasn't there in person.

But that girl on my squad? She was determined to make sure that I didn't miss a thing. Much to my chagrin, she told me every part of the scene in painstaking detail. Which pretty much translated to this: Some really big, really angry, and really violent-looking girl was towering over my little sister and letting her know in no uncertain terms that she was going to kick her butt.

Yes. JoLai.

"JoLai?" I asked. "Are you sure it's. . . JoLai?" And I asked that because this sounded crazy. JoLai is the one person we all know who does not ever have enemies. In fact, to quote Harry, "anyone who has a falling out with JoLai is, by definition, an automatic asshole."

That JoLai? She's just a good egg, man. She's the original friend hoarder, the person loved by nearly everyone and pretty much stays on every person's good side. So this (messy) girl telling me of JoLai being in the middle of one of these ridiculous rumbles made absolutely zero sense.

"It's definitely JoLai." Her voice was emphatic and I could imagine the exaggerated sister-girl head nod she added for emphasis. "It's JoLai."

"Who on earth would want to fight. . . JoLai?" This confused me. Wanting to fight JoLai was like wanting to fight. . .I don't know. . .the most non-fight-provokey person ever.

"Her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend and some other chick are all up in Jo-Jo's face! They got on old sneakers and got their hair in pony tails and everything. The other chick is big, too! She was popping off her fake nails and she even put some Vaseline on her face. It was about to go down!"

Sidebar: Girls around the way who were preparing to fight? Oh, they really. . well. . . prepared to fight. They pulled their hair (real or extensions) back so it wouldn't get pulled. They cut down or even broke off their Lee press-on nails to keep them from limiting them from making fists. And Vaseline? That was when someone was serious. It made faces slippery and harder to scratch.

Mmmm hmmm.

Dead. Serious.

Not. Even. Kidding.

"Oh my God! What did JoLai do when all that happened? Where is she? What happened?" My heart was racing. I knew that JoLai was totally a lover and not a fighter so the thought of that scene made me panic.

"Who Jo-Jo? Girrrrrl, she just turned and walked away. You know her. But, girrrrrrl, they said they gon' be waiting for her when the bus drops us back off. Waitin' to knuckle up, for real."

I felt my voice getting tinier and tinier. "Really?"

"Yeeeeeeah, girl. So I was just telling you, you know, so you could meet the bus up at the school when we get off. I mean, we got her back, too, but in case somebody try to jump yo' sister I knew you'd want to know."

I tried to sound everything other than how I felt inside when I responded. "HELLS YEAH!"*

*(And by "hells yeah!" I meant "please God let those girls get lost on the way to our school.")

Errrr, yeah. (I could always talk a good game. That's for certain.)

Draper girls, circa 1987

And so. Fully clad in my black and white striped Foot Locker uniform, I clocked out and hurried out to the parking lot.  Next, I jumped in my VW Beetle (which all three of us had, by the way) and drove up to Morningside High School at like, nine in the evening, to wait for the bus.

Wait. I take that back. I did not "hurry" at all to the parking lot. In fact, lingered at the cash register, wishing I hadn't been so efficient that evening and praying that my manager would come up for some additional task that I couldn't get out of.  No such luck. Also, I so did not "jump" into my VW Beetle. A better description of what I did would be something akin to a dude walking the green mile or some medieval thief making their way to the gallows to be hung. Um yeah, like that.  After sitting with my hands quivering on the steering wheel for like ten minutes, finally I drove up to the school.


Dude. That was the longest thirty-two minutes of my entire life waiting in that parking lot, do you hear me? And eventually, the bus came chugging along and when all of the cheerleaders came trotting out of the door, I am 94% sure that I suffered immediate incontinence of all bodily fluids.

Scared? Chile please. I was more than scared. I was scurrrrrred. But that was my sister. So if somebody was going down, it would be either them or both of us together.

I carefully unglued my butt from my carseat and walked toward the bus with my knees knocking and heart pounding.

Please God give me some kind of super human power. Please God let me turn into the Bionic Woman right this second. Please God let Deanna be pulling up to at Morningside to surprise us in the nick of time to assume her role as eldest (and ass-kickingest) Draper sister. 

Yeah. So JoLai comes down the steps with this scowl on her face the minute she saw me. She was obviously wondering what I was doing up there, especially since she had a way home (her own Beetle, remember?) When I explained my reason, she just rolled her eyes and zipped up her coat. After about ten terrifying minutes of us watching and waiting, it was obvious that no one was coming.


"I don't even know why you came up here," she said to me, "You knew I wasn't going to be in a stupid fight."

"But they called me at Foot Locker and said you were. Or rather that somebody was coming up here to jump you or fight you or something."

"And what did you think we going to do when you got here? Fight somebody? Fight those girls? Kimberly, the only way that would have happened would have been if Deanna drove home from Scripps. And even then she would have been doing the fighting not us." (Before transferring to Tuskegee, Deanna spent a year and a half in Claremont, California at Scripps College for women.)

And you know? She was right.

Deanna was the ass-kicker. The fist baller-upper, the trash-talker with something to back it up with. Yeah, man. Dee was the one who always, always had our backs and who scared off any and all riff-raff that came to try and "handle" us. And unlike her younger sisters, her wrists were fully equipped for swift upper cuts and right hooks straight to the kisser.

Us? Not so much. But we had Deanna. So it never really mattered.

I clarified the story with JoLai as we walked to our cars together. I was trying to sort out whether or not our (messy) squad member (who interestingly was no where to be found once that bus emptied) was exaggerating or not.

Well. It turns out that she wasn't. Yes, it turns out that those girls truly did surround JoLai at the game right near the concessions. And they yelled in her face and bumped up against her with their shoulders, all things that usually get a girl in inner city Los Angeles knuckling up in no time. But not JoLai. Even though she had plenty of fight in her, she refused to let it be the physical kind.

At. All.

"I am NOT FIGHTING YOU!" JoLai exclaimed straight into their angry, bullying faces. She said it in that exasperated tone aimed at letting them know how asinine she perceived even the idea of fighting to be. And since I know her, I know the scene. Her fists were balled up on the ends of those tiny little wrists and her eyes were laser focused. She meant it. She wasn't fighting them. (I think she forgot to factor in the part about how sometimes people will fight you any way.)

And. Turns out that was that. She walked away and, I think, those girls were so stunned by her Ghandi-slash-Martin-esque approach to the whole situation that they were in complete shock. Hell, they're probably still standing out there with their mouths hanging wide open.


Now. As much as I love this story as well as this zen-like quality of JoLai's, I equally love Deanna's more. . . uhhh . . . .hands on approach to things. She was a little more Malcolm X than Martin and, I assure you, had that been Deanna, there would not have been any need for me to drive up to the school with an alleged plan to help fight. That ship would have already sailed from the moment somebody said the first word.

Which reminds me of one of her more famous altercation invitations for trash-talking girls on playgrounds:

"Run up or shut up."

Which meant, stop talking and let's do this. And where we grew up, that often meant that somebody, somewhere was going to be fighting very soon. Which, for us, often meant Deanna settling scores for us. And hallelujah for that.

As we grew older, of course, there were less and less opportunities for hand-to-hand combat.  But that didn't stop Deanna from having all of that spunk. Nor did it stop her from being fully prepared to go all Rocky Balboa should "self defense" call for it.

"When you're over eighteen, you can catch a case for fighting, girl. They call it assault unless you're defending yourself. But don't think I won't defend myself!"

That was one of Deanna's takes on fighting once she got older. "But what about you punching JoLai's freshman year roommate? That wasn't self defense!" I loved to rib her about that one.

"That b@%ch tried to steal from my sister! You attack my sister, then you attack me. That is self defense!"

And we'd all just laugh and laugh. Because in her mind, this was 100% true. Any wrongdoing to her sister or her close friend was something she took personally. Which meant any retaliation on her part was done so in "self defense."

Maaaan, that dude Liam Neeson has NOTHING on Deanna, do you hear me? She's probably up in heaven settling up a few vendettas as speak. That thought makes me chuckle.

Hmmm. What was even the point of all of this? Hell if I know.

You know? I was just thinking of my sissy today and missing her. I was laughing at how rigid her loyalty to us could be and how fearless she often was. But mostly, I was just thinking about how glad I was to have her on my side for all of those years.

Especially in Inglewood, California in the 80's. Ha.

Oh. I know what my point was! My friend Shanta sent me this amazing article from last Sunday's edition of the New York Times. It's this wonderful piece on the gift of siblings and, now that I think about it, is likely why I have these sorts of random tales on the brain. Those words summed us up, my siblings and me. If you haven't read it, you should--especially if you have brothers and sisters but even if you don't.

Yeah. I guess these are the kinds of things that wove us together as kids in ways that stayed intact even into our adulthood. Things like driving while terrified up to a high school parking lot to (almost) participate in a fight that, given the flimsy wrists of the two defenders, would likely not end so well. But it also means knowing that I had no choice but to do that. Because that's what we did. Even when afraid, we had each other's backs.

And you know? We still do. And sometimes, I'm still scared. Even more scared than I was for those thirty-two minutes waiting on that almost-fight. But when I am, I just call JoLai or text Will or simply close my eyes and feel Deanna. And then, like always, I feel stronger, bolder and even more ready than ever to fight.



"When I look back on all the misery
And all the heartache that they brought to me
I wouldn't change it for another chance
'Cause blood is thicker than any other circumstance."

~ Madonna

Happy Wednesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . Madonna's "Keep it Together". I love this song, the lyrics and especially this version of it from Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour (one of the best tours of all time, bt dubs.) She hybridized it with Sly and the Family Stone's "It's a Family Affair" -- another of my favorite songs. 

And I had to add this trailer from one of Deanna's favorite movies "Three o'clock High" which is totally fitting for how I felt waiting for those mean girls and our bus that night! This movie was right up there with "The Princess Bride" for us. Ha. . . 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Today and always.

I spent my entire day today with these guys. Nope, no barbecue or backyard boogies. Just us. Team Manning. 100% together. Making each other laugh by using funny voices, saying "I love you"in those same funny voices over and over again, and. . . . just being glad to be alive and together. With our fallen heroes in mind on this national holiday, we remembered them. . .but we also focused on the importance of holding on tight to the ones you love while they are here in three dimensions.

We do that now more than ever.

On this Memorial Day, I reflected on this simple truth: Life just isn't promised. It's not. But love, when applied consistently, selflessly, and intentionally, is.

It totally is and that part lives forever.

And, if you just let go and let it, it goes round and round and round. . . . .

Happy Memorial Day. Hope yours was filled with all of the things and people that matter most.

Here's our favorite funny voice du jour: "The Lumpy Space Princess" from Cartoon Network's (rather ridiculous and borderline inappropriate show) "Adventure Time." Isaiah does an absolutely hilarious version of it. "Like. . .O-ma. . gahh. . we-er lak. . .suuhh. . lame." 

Top Ten: Andy Rooney-isms Part 3

I clicked the new button I added to my blog that offers up a random post. Out came a post I hadn't seen in some time -- a top ten of Andy Rooney-isms that I honestly hadn't thought about or read since 2011. That was kind of funny to me since I feel like I revisit most posts at some point a few times after they were written. Turns out that isn't always the case.

Andy Rooney, you ask? (At least, a youngster might be asking.)

The late, great television journalist Andy Rooney was the king of random observations. Things that mattered. Things that didn't matter. Things that irked him. Things that just sort of puzzled him. And all things in between. He built a career around it and shared these little Andy Rooney-isms in the closing remarks of 60 Minutes up until he was ninety-two years old. And that random post I came across was written right after I'd watched the clip from Mr. Rooney's very last segment which happened to take place not even four months before he passed away. And a couple of days before he passed, I wrote another post chock full of even more Andy Rooney-isms. Yeah, man. 

Anyways. The point is that I was a fan of ol' curmudgeonly Rooney and still am. In addition to his unruly eyebrows and how beautifully he perfected the "mean mug" (see above), I loved how masterfully he got us all thinking about a whole bunch of nothing. And you know? It was really something.

And so. Seeing as I could not possibly be feeling any more random than I do at this very moment, I figured I'd go all Andy Rooney on you today. In fact, I wrote a little top ten about it. Tonight I bring you:


Like to hear it? Here it go!

#10  Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Manners.

Say what?

Okay. So since when have kids reached the point of total permission to speak freely to grown ups? Like, what the WHAT? 

So this kid was at my house for a playdate and it was time to have a bite to eat. So I go all June Cleaver on the kids and call them into the kitchen all sing-songy like and in they come running like the Wally, The Beave and Eddie Haskell. And, I'm saying, all I needed was some pearls on my neck and an apron and, okay, maybe a bouffant but otherwise I was "that mom." 

Mmmm hmmm.

So this kid comes to my kitchen table and inspects my snack situation. He then asks where my offering came from and commenced to tell me that I should have gotten what I had to offer from elsewhere seeing as it is the best in town. So, my June Cleaver quickly started morphing into Florence from The Jeffersons. So THEN--I kids-you-not--this child bites my snack and then spits it out like it is truly some dog food. 

"This is HORRIBLE," the kid announces while letting it ooze out of his mouth like some rabid animal's saliva. 

And now, I was totally Florence. Mixed with Willona from Good Times. "Excuse me?" I said. Hand, totally on my hip and back bone 100% prepared to slip. 

"I don't like this brand. It's kind of gross."

That. That is what this child said up in my house. And he said that like it was what it was and dude was staring me straight in my eyeballs like "What? What!" 

So me? I grabbed him by his shirt and threw him out on the front porch, locked the door and left him there until his mama arrived. Yep. I let that front door hit him where the dog should've bit him. Or better yet, as my Florence-Willona hybrid might say "where the good Lord split him." Either way, he had to go.

(Relax, people. I didn't do that, but I bet Florence-Willona would have. )

So what I want to know is. . .what is UP with that? Like, for real? And I feel okay telling about this because this isn't the first time I'd had a kid around me say or do some WHAT-THE-WHAT?! mess while dealing with a grown up like it wasn't nothing. 

What happened to the days of shutting your pie-hole? What happened to "'cause I said so, that's why!"  and "your mouth is about to write you a check that your behind is gonna have to cash!" 

My poor kids got the brunt of that. As soon as that child left, I hazed them for no less than one hour about how to behave as a guest and how to talk to adults. Wait. That would have been rude even if I wasn't an adult. But I'm saying. Florence-Willona would have thrown that snack at his head and told him to kick rocks and wash the dishes, too.

I kind of wish I had done that.

#9  "Cannonball!"

What is it about little kids and cannonballs in pools? Have you ever noticed how the more you desire to stay dry, the more of a cannonball-proximity-magnet you become at the pool? Today and yesterday at the pool, I kept, kept, KEPT moving away from the cannonball action and no matter how many times I moved, they found me and jumped in RIGHT beside me. My kids. Random kids. Middle schoolers. Hell, even a two year old who could barely talk jumped to her dad in the water whilst attempting to say "CANNA-BAW!"


June Cleaver, Florence and Willona wouldn't be caught dead splashing in a pool. That's a joke, but seriously, I was not looking to get wet. Not because I'm a diva, but because I'm between relaxers so getting my hair super-soaked was not a part of my plan. No, 'twas not.

Yes. My hair. And if you think I'm being unreasonable, clearly you have either forgotten or not read The Hair Mane-ifesto which explains all of this in full, ridiculous detail. 

The only good part? You have three seconds to get out of the way because of the obligatory announcement every time it goes down.


wait for it. . . wait for it. . . .

Aaahhh damn!

#8  Two is better than one.

Any runners reading this? What the HECK is the deal with me being able to run like crazy when I have a friend with me but how every two seconds I want to WALK when I'm alone? Like, it's kind of bad. 

Thank goodness for my Grady BFF Lesley M. who gets me running further and longer than I ever knew I could. Because alone? I'm sort of a hot mess no matter how good my playlist is.

#7  Zesty Italian Man.

Is it considered a violation to my marriage to have a rather substantial crush on the man featured in these commercials?

What is the rule on TV/celebrity crushes? This is a lot stronger than my Justin Timberlake crush because I mostly like his dancing. I don't think Harry would approve of the thoughts I have when watching these commercials. Although I don't approve of his when watching Eva Longoria or "his girl" Jennifer Anniston.

Mmm hmmm.

Maybe since the dude isn't famous or well known. Maybe that's why I feel bad about it. Well "bad" is a strong word. I don't feel bad per se. Just really, really. . . errr. . .  happy when these commercials come on.  A little too happy even.

Like really. #don't judge

#6  Tweet and Re-Tweet.

Speaking of hashtags. OM-expletive-G. I just got on Twitter recently and talk about #overwhelming. 

Okay. So this is what the first day of Twitter is like: 

A gigantic flood of just. . . .stuff. People saying things, sharing things, doing things, commenting on things, and just. . . all kinds of stuff. I am probably just as underwater as that poor little car.

Why Twitter? Well. I admit that I have gotten a crap ton of news so far. Like up to the minute. And the main reason is because when I do media or writing or whatever, I get this look of disgust when asked my twitter handle and don't have one. 

My friend Nate G. says that it's worse, though, to have a Twitter account and not tweet. 

Well. I am a Twitter pre-schooler. It is not clear to me whether I should Tweet on all the things I think about or only professional things or what. See? I am thinking I'm too random for Twitter. My tweets will be all over the place if I say all on my mind. From cannonballs to cabernets to calcium channel blockers for hypertension. 

Um yeah.

#5  Unbe-weave-able.

I am perplexed by something. Why is it that every, single reality television series featuring African-American women based in Atlanta, Georgia seems to make it look like EVERY SISTER IN ATLANTA has a hair weave? 

Hold up.

I have nothing at all against a weave. Not one bit. But I'm just saying. The vast majority of my friends do not have weaves. And the ones that do, they don't have the ones that hang to the center of their back or ones that are bleached blonde. 

We also like each other and aren't fighting all the time. Imagine that.

#4  Gel Nail Polish.

Am I the only one wishing I had stock in whatever company originated this? Yes. The $20 to $30 manicure that lasts two weeks--or until you are ready to pay $20 - $30 to get another one. And it's not "fake nails" so all the natural girls feel good about saying that as they shell over more than the fake ones cost.  

Yes. It's kind of a racket, albeit a pretty one.

#3  Reality Bites.

I turned on my television a couple of weeks ago and saw Rudy Huxtable from the Cosby Show in a sequined bathing suit  and a full face of make up preparing to dive off of a platform. And I was all like, "What in the heck is Rudy Huxtable doing on a diving platform?" And then I watched longer only to learn that not only was Rudy on a platform, Louie Anderson was too. 

And all of it was just really, really weird. Especially the weird music they played to amp you up for the big moment.

All the while I'm just saying repeatedly, "What IS this? What the WHAT?!"

So yeah. Turns out that there is a reality TV show kind of like Dancing with the Stars where they teach people to . . .um. . .well. . .like dive. And like, I think Greg Louganis and somebody else that for real used to dive is on it and they judge these really uncomfortable looking pseudo-dives with all of the enthusiasm of that wacky lady on Dancing with the Stars. 

I think it's called "So you think you can dive." 

Okay. Maybe it's not called that, but I do not think Mr. Andy Rooney would have approved of this show. Or participated in it. (But he would have been tweeting about it.) #CUTITOUT

#2  Hangover 3.

The verdict is in. People are saying it's bad. Like, really, really bad. 

Now. Let's just be clear. I am usually happy to watch Mr. Bradley Cooper do just about anything. He is *almost* as hot as the Zesty Italian dude but even he isn't enough to make me pay my hard earned cash to see another one of those movies after the epic failure of The Hangover 2.


(I'm getting the hang of this Twitter hashtag thing, aren't I?)

#1  (Size) 4 crying out loud!

Have you ever noticed how people in magazines or celebrities lose a few pounds and immediately allege that they now wear a SIZE FOUR? Even when they are a SIZE TWELVE.

Dude. I am not knocking anybody's weight loss. At all But why-oh-why must you stand in front of me in my People magazine and say to me that you are now a SIZE FOUR when you know  that I can SEE you. I have not been a true size four since college. And, okay, sure I can wear certain dresses in a four, but anything from the waist down? FOUR-ggeddaboudit. 

I am annoyed by this. This is similar to Beyonce on the hair dye commercial convincing women to go out and buy a drug store Loreal hair dye to bleach their locks when she knows good and well that that hair she is shaking was from another continent and then sewed to her pretty little head. 

Two words: Dead. Wrong.

So now just like somebody with kinky hair is a baldheaded in her dorm room with a $6 box of Feria hair color, somebody else is thinking that's what a four looks like and thinking that their very perfect eight is too big. Or their twelve. Or their whatever. 

Kelly Osbourne--girlfriend, you look good. But a size four? I don't care if it's US or UK--U tripping if you call this a 4. #CUTITOUT

Whelp. That's it for my nonsense. And follow my rare and very novice tweets on twitter @gradydoctor. #shameless #whatev

Weigh in, alright?

Happy Sunday-almost-Monday.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Punks need not apply.

My sister-friend Tanya has this saying that always makes me smile. She says, with a hand on her hip and a saucy curl of her lips, "Marriage (and parenting) ain't for no punks." And whenever she says that, I laugh out loud at the way she has perfectly distilled this simple truth down to just a few words.


I will admit that mostly, the marriage part hasn't been the biggest conundrum for me. At least, not so far.  But geeze. I hear Tanya in my ear often when it comes to the parenting thing. I find myself shaking my head while folding up a basket of laundry or reading an email from a teacher or paying for whatever sport-of-the-week we're on saying, "Damn, this being a mama thing ain't for no punks."

And when I'm in the thick of it, the throws of it, that's when I really get what Tanya meant by that. Not punks as in punk-rockers or whatever other thing you think of when you hear that word. But punks as in weak, excuse-laden, lily-livered, milquetoast types that tremble like gelatin under pressure. Yeah, so I get what she was saying because parenting (and marriage) require a crap-ton of compromises, hard decisions, sacrifices, and suck-it-ups--none of which are for punks.

Unnnnh uhhh.

Parenting kind of stresses me out sometimes. Okay, not to the point of pulling out my hair and refusing to let my kids out of my sight. . . but still. It does. Sometimes it does in those "big picture" ways like hoping my kids are confident and filled with enough love for themselves and humankind to make good decisions and treat people well. Especially themselves. And I hope that me rushing them in the mornings or scolding them or being frustrated sometimes (okay, a lot of times) isn't damaging. So I lay in bed and pray things like, "Okay, God, can You just keep all of the good things I'm doing and chunk all the bad things? Thanks." And I'm serious, this is a prayer I say often, almost verbatim. I also say things like, "Protect my kids from monsters, especially the monster in me." And I say that because I mean it and because we are all a little broken in our own ways. So those monsters can come out sometimes to hurt more than just ourselves.

At least that's what I think.

Then there are the little things. Like whether or not my approach to my reluctant reader Isaiah is all wrong or even smaller than that like whether or not I have a solid plan to escape the house with my kids in the event of a real, true emergency. And, of course, I think these things only at 2 AM because this is the very best and most intrusive time to do so. So, in order to fall asleep, I just pray for some protection and for the God I believe in to help me to get it all right.

I'm rambling. I know. But I'm just thinking this morning. Thinking about how parenting ain't for no punks. Thinking about how once you get older there is so much to sift through and how hard this must have been for my parents. I am pondering it all and giving them mad props for what they did with us and feeling glad for their involvement in this round two but still realizing that Tanya is right, even with the help of grandparents, it still ain't for no punks. It ain't. 

Here's the other hard part. If you're lucky, you grew up with amazing parents like I did who provide you ready counsel and assistance with your own children. But ultimately, you have to decide what to do based upon your own judgement and gut and opinion. And, for me, this gets very hard because I deeply, deeply trust and value the opinions of my parents. But. . . . those same parents raised me to also seek and trust my own. Does this even make sense? I don't know if it does, so forgive me. I guess I'm just saying that this ain't for punks.

My guess is that when they raised us, it wasn't back then either.

The other day, Isaiah was sitting at the table reading a book. It was bumpy and he was whiny and I was frustrated. He's a bright boy and a proficient reader but prefers not to do it. And I reminded him that, like Auntie Deanna always said, "Readers are leaders, dude." And he looked at me and twisted his face into the saddest face I've seen in a very, very long time. He said, "I wish so, so bad that my auntie had just stayed a little bit longer." Then he just cried. A perfectly innocent eight year-old cry.

"I miss her, too," I replied.

"There is just stuff I want to talk to her about with school. Just a lot of stuff." And when I asked him what stuff, he said it was little stuff mostly but the kind of stuff he always talked to her about after school. And I got that because most of what I wish I could talk to her about is little, too.

But when it stacks all up, it feels big.

"Last night, I was missing her and cried until I fell asleep. I think of Auntie every single day. Every single day." And he was weeping when he said that. Hard. Getting it out of his little head and into the atmosphere.

"Me, too."

"And now I'm better in chess, Mom. And we could have played and I might have beat her now. I just wish she didn't die."

And what do you say to that? You tell me what do you say? So I just hugged him and listened as he told me a few of the things that he wished he could tell my sister. And, I swear to you, I wished equally as badly that he could, too.

He sat on my lap and I told him that we were lucky to know her so well so we could probably imagine together what she would have to say. And he seemed to like that, so we did. We did just that. And it was okay but still kind of tough. And the kind of thing that definitely wasn't for no punk.


The time thing with kids? The building confidence thing and the discipline thing? The school thing with kids? Damn, it ain't for no punks. Man, it ain't.

But Harry and I slug it out. We do. And thank goodness we are at least equipped with some self worth and love for each other which puts us ahead of a lot of folks. This part I know. And I also know that getting the chance to do this is huge and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But it's just that I am recognizing the enormity of being trusted with raising up little human beings into whole people.


So I'm just thinking. Hoping and praying that the good things stick and the monster inside of me is kept under wraps. And please don't worry because I am loving it all yet trying to be intentional enough to get most of it right. Yeah. So I'm thinking about all of this today, but mostly I'm just agreeing with Tanya that this "being a grown-up" thing--which may or may not include marriage and parenting for some but does for me--ain't for no punks.

No, it ain't. 

Happy Sunday.