Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Selfie of the Week: Football Mama

Football Mama Selfie, mean mug sold separately.

Football is such a funny culture. Gone are the days of cheering for the other kids on the opposing team "just to be nice." We TURN UP--specifically for our own team. Ha ha. And if you play ball anywhere in Atlanta, Georgia? Multiply that energy by a million.

Chile please.

Ha ha ha. I just love it. Matter of fact, I wrote a little quick top ten about it.

Like to hear it? Here it go!


*Warning: Stop reading here if being exposed to my alter ego will traumatize you. #dontjudgeme

10. You have a pack of raffle tickets in your purse and two more packs in your glove box. And you have NO problem asking any and everybody to buy one. Or some. Or all of them.

9. You didn't get mad at anyone for forgetting your birthday but was ready to throw a football very hard at the back of someone's head for forgetting they were working concessions. Bonus wrath for forgetting that they are on snacks/beverages.

8. You have done every possible version of the "Bankhead Bounce" dance at least three times in the last month after your child made a good play. And you didn't care if anyone saw you. Bonus points if you didn't care if they filmed you either.

7. You own at least two t-shirts with your child's name followed by an apostrophe 's' and the word "mom" on the back. Bonus points if you also own one with a trashtalking line on it, too.

6. You have gotten a pedicure in your child's team colors. Bonus points if you did alternating toe colors and nails, too.

5. F-bombs don't faze you and you have yelled out at the top of your lungs: "THA'S WHAT I'M T'AMBOUT!!!" at least five times in every game. (Translation: "That's what I'm talking about.")

4. You know exactly how to put on shoulder pads and you know where all of the pads go into the football pants---even when they fall out in the dryer or get removed somehow.

3. The following songs have meaning to you and just might cause you to nearly dislocate your shoulder from either Bankhead Bouncing, Harlem Shaking or Cabbage Patching:

* No Flex Zone
* We Ain't Never Scared
* All the Way Turned Up

*Honorable mention: Wipe Me Down.

(Bonus points for dislocating your knee cap from dropping it like it's hot.) 

*Please don't fret if you have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what any of this means. It just means you are not likely a football mama.

*Oh, and depending upon where your child plays football and the demographics there, a country or heavy metal music equivalent of the above songs will be accepted.

2. You have a ginormous umbrella, some lawn chairs, and those padded seats for bleachers in your trunk at all times. Bonus points if you also own one of those big azz pop up tents.

1. You are sweet as pie 99% of the time but have perfected your mean mug so well that you could be mistaken for one of those mean chicks on Orange is the New Black. Bonus points if you give people attitude at the concession window for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Scoring system:

If you answered yes at least 4 times you just might be a football mama.
If you answered yes 5 or more times, you are a football mama.
If you got a perfect score, you are team mom and God bless you for that!  

Any football mamas out there? And anybody want to buy some raffle tickets?

Happy Saturday. Think I'll start posting a Saturday Selfie of the Week. We'll see how long that lasts. LOL.

Just dislocated my shoulder on this song. But beware: May also cause mosh pits in the stands.

And this was one of Deanna's absolute favorite movies of all time. Remember this, JoLai? LOL!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The last few weeks in This American Life.

Isaiah is running with a coach two to three times per week. His goal is to "run distance."

No rigorous meets or any such thing for him. He is the one who is content to compete against himself. This is just his way and this activity honors that.

On this day, Coach was running late. Instead of waiting in the car, Isaiah got out and started his workout. "It's okay, Mom," he said, "I know what to do."

And he did.

A visit with my patient who has a diagnosis that will abbreviate his life. I cared for him while on the hospital service and had gone up to visit him on this day.

"What can I do for you?" I asked.

"Just hold my hand."

And so I did.

He let me take this picture to remember our connection. I asked if it was okay for me to share it with you and he said, "I want you to."

And so I did.

I sort of want to cry every time I see that photo. And by "sort of" I mean that I do.

This was when Zachary saw me for the first time at the end of one of his last games. He'd made a touchdown and had just pulled his helmet off of his head.

"Did you see it?" he asked me urgently. "Did you see me make a touchdown, mama?"

"Did I? You know it, baby." 

I had just gotten off of rounds at Grady and made it to the game at the start of the second half. Two plays later, Zachary made that touchdown. I am so, so glad that I could say "yes" when he asked me.

And mean it.

One of my favorite residents made me a homemade peach crumble. She asked me if I liked it.

This picture, taken in my office just a few moments after discovering her special delivery, was my response.

And yes, Jen Z., I tried it with ice cream at home, too.

My brother took my nephew, David, to Boston to visit Harvard. He's a scholar athlete and that's one of the schools he's looking at. Dave is an amazing baseball player and was fortunate enough to have the coaches at Harvard invite him up. While there, Will took him to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game. I'm pretty sure that sitting in that stadium next to his dad was one of the best moments of his entire life. Just imagine how my brother felt.


Remember the days when you used to put on dance shows for the grown ups as kids? Man. Me, my sisters and my cousins did this EXACT thing. This was at a cookout a couple of weeks back. Watching these kids brought back major memories.

I think I have a crush on the one in the shades. Talk about a tall drink of. . .uhh. . .  Coca Cola. Ha.

 Wow. It's hard to believe that these three pesky girls from Meharry are now all grown up and leading people. Jada R. and Yolanda W. graduated from med school with me in 1996. We spent many, many, many hours together during our student years and I'm proud to say that we've spent many, many more after. On this day earlier this week we were sitting on a career panel at Morehouse School of Medicine. I felt really proud of us. 

I am glad to call them friends. And my sorority sisters. And, of course, my Ruths.

Our husbands are all friends and fraternity brothers, too which is an added bonus.

This one (Reggie) belongs to Yolanda. And coaches for a rival football club. Friends mostly, but foes on the field.


And a few more friend/rivals:

Ran into my Tuskegee classmates at football certification last week. Danielle D. is my Tuskegee chapter soror. Their son plays on the team one year up from Zachary's . Otherwise I would have been mean mugging in this photo.

Speaking of which. . . .

Here's some random mean mugs from Chris M. and Kyle P. after small group Tuesday. What's funny is that they are the nicest two dudes you could ever meet.

And speaking of nice. . .

Sweet Leilah Z. who is now a bona fide OB/Gyn resident. She was just my medical student last spring and look at her now. She's a special one. I snapped this after running into her in the elevator the other day. It made me so happy to see her.

And speaking of happy to see someone. . . .

These big smiles followed the sublime meeting that had just taken place between this student and me. Shareene L. is a 3rd year student and just a remarkable soul. We'd been trying to meet up for some time and finally did. Our thirty minute meeting lasted well over an hour.

 I'm so lucky to get to do this.

 And this:

Trader Joes on a Sunday. The best.

A regular quote in our house used to break up arguments:

Us: "Hey! What do brothers do?"

Them, in unison: "Stick together."

These images are proof that they get that.

Yes. More mean mugs. Why? Why not?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

And speaking of afraid. . . .

Zachary demonstrating the Nae Nae dance for me. Ribs sold separately.

And Isaiah just hanging out between his mom's knees like he did when he was very little. I loved it.

Speaking of "loved it". . . . 

Spotted this at back to school night this week in a folder. Who knew?

Not me.

My colleague-friend-fellow Grady doctor Wendy A. was giving a lecture to the medical students last Friday. Her small group sat on the front row and surprised her by wearing these shirts. These are the types of things people want to do for you when you put in time over time.

A very thoughtful gift given to me last year on the one year date after Deanna's passing. A tiny bottle of red glitter, commemorating the last day I saw her alive. That was a very happy day. She and the kids were covered in red glitter working on a project. On the day I took this picture, I was missing Deanna very much. Then I looked and saw this bottle of glitter sitting in a special place in my office. My tears immediately dried up and I felt happy inside. 

I can think of few things more thoughtful, moving, or attentive than this. Lesley M.? Thank you, my friend. You are a true Ruth indeed and this has comforted my soul on many a day.

Lastly, this:

Yes. Sweet dreams are made of this. This right here.

Live. Love. Savor. Repeat.

Life is good.

Happy Thursday-almost-Friday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Time over time.

Session with Small Group Gamma, 2011

One thing I can tell you is
you got to be free

Come together, right now
Over me.

~ The Beatles

There's this point where it all comes together for my small groups. Where the laughs become easier and the acceptance is so implicit that everyone has permission to speak freely and just . . .be freely.

I've never been able to put my finger on exactly when that happens in the small group dynamic. But I've been lucky enough to see it happen over and over again. When it has happened and you're in that sweet spot, you feel it, too. No one has to say anything. You just know.

I felt that last night.

Small Group Gamma, est. 2011

You know what? This is--hands down--my favorite part of the experience of being a medical student advisor. It is also arguably one of the main measures of any small group's success--that "come-together" point where everything just gels.

"So what's the key?" a colleague asked a few of us recently. That day, I wasn't really sure. I tried my best to describe this, the "come-together" point, but it kept coming out wrong. But yesterday evening while breaking bread and laughing out loud with my small group of fourth year student advisees, the light bulb came on. I remembered something I'd heard recently that underscores this perfectly.

Ah hah.

What does it take? It takes the same thing that any important, longitudinal relationship takes to be a success:

Time over time. Yes. That.

Putting in time and giving your time. . . . over time. Being present and checked in during that time. And building upon those moments over and over again until it morphs into something that can't be torn apart. That takes time. And consistency. And repetition. Over time. It does. Popping in for a drive-by moment when there isn't some demonstrable longterm commitment to the relationship or group doesn't work. Just like it isn't a so much of a tragedy to miss one session out of the many when you've been putting in good, rich time over the long haul.

And you know? I would say that this concept relates to how we treat ourselves, too. A person who is exercising regularly and making health-conscious choices on most days won't ruin anything by dropping their guard and having some fun on a vacation cruise. Conversely, the person who goes work out with a trainer for 45 minutes on Saturdays but eats with reckless abandon and doesn't move the rest of the days might as well hold their cash money up to a blowing fan and let it go. The ever present parent or spouse who is invested day after day will see those benefits. That time over time will mask the imperfections even when we feel terrified that they'll ruin everything. But really, isn't that what everything is about? Building lasting foundations for strong towers later? That's what I think.

Time over time.

Yeah. So if I answered that question today, I think I'd say that. Because this is what it takes. And everyone involved benefits when that happens. I know I have.

Time over time. 

That's it. That's all.

Happy Tuesday. Who is getting your time over time? Who isn't but should? Remember, that deserving person should include you.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .how 'bout some Beatles, y'all? You're welcome.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nor is life.

This past weekend

Harry and I took the kids to this really amazing restaurant in Savannah over the weekend. I don't mean amazing as in "ah-maaaazing" like the foodies say. More in the sense of it being an adventure--like nothing they'd ever experienced.

Anyways. This place was very family friendly and actually had this cool pond built into it where kids could buy a $3 bag of bait and go "fishing" right inside of the restaurant. On this particular evening, we were with a few other families which meant lots and lots of kids having lots and lots of fun.

As the kids fished, the parents enjoyed adult conversation and humor. All of it was wonderful and a great time was surely had by all from the lap babies all the way to the oldest in the group. Laughing out loud and stopping only to occasionally give a kid three more dollars or to take our turns at checking to make sure none of our kids had jumped into that man-made lagoon which, fortunately, no one did.

Finally, we realized that it was getting really late. Even for a Saturday night, we were pushing it for kids this age to be out in a restaurant. We squared up bills and prepared to go and get our respective children.

Zachary was already off and sitting on a bench with some of the other kids as Isaiah and one or two more stragglers held on to their makeshift fishing poles for whatever few seconds they could squeeze out before the bell tolled. Since the other parents were also there preparing to retrieve their own children, Harry focused only on getting Isaiah's attention.

"Isaiah. Let's go."

Harry's voice was firm. Not a yell or even a plea. Just a simple statement with a military man's intonation that said "order" and definitely not "suggestion."

Isaiah and his friends were still in their fishing pole la la land. We'd already given them all several "ten more minute" warnings--probably as much for us and our fun as it was for theirs. But either way, it was late and now, it was time to go.

It really was.

"Okay, okay, okay, Dad. Just let me do this one. . . last. . . thing!" Isaiah quickly grabbed the edge of the line and began to hook another new piece of bait on the end. "Dad, just this one--"

Harry interrupted him before he could even finish. This time his voice was a little more firm than that first time but still very controlled. "Isaiah. Now. It's time to go." The finality in it was clear. I've been at this with him long enough to know that Harry wasn't going to repeat himself--nor would he have to. Isaiah immediately laid the pole down where he found it, said, "Yes, Dad," and began walking toward Harry.

And that was that.

Isaiah scuffled ahead to join the rest of the kids all of whom were now crammed together on a swinging bench, cackling out loud and probably a few seconds away from costing all of us some money, some embarrassment and maybe even an emergency department trip. Harry turned to walk toward the front of the restaurant and just as he did, an older man who'd been watching the entire exchange spoke to him.

"I don't envy anyone who has to get kids away from all of this fun. Especially boys!" His tone was friendly and genuine. He had twinkling blue eyes and the warm, patient body language of a grandfather, which I'm willing to bet money he was. His skin was a sun kissed olive tone with deep crows' feet bursting like fireworks from the corners of those same happy eyes.

Harry chuckled and nodded to him in response. All of it amicable and easy. And that was that.

The man stepped a bit closer and spoke to Harry again, this time more directly. His voice became serious. That said, you could tell it was still well-meaning and non-threatening, especially because of the sparkle that remained in his grandfatherly eyes.

"Mind if an old man gives you a little bit of advice? I mean, just from an old guy who's been around the  parenting block a few times to a younger guy?"

Harry noted his age--I could tell--and paused deferentially. He raised his eyebrows and faced the gentleman to let him know he was listening.

I silently cringed and hoped this wouldn't take a wrong turn.

And so the Grandfather-man spoke:

"You know? If you say 'please' to them now, they'll respect you a lot more when they grow up to be men. Take it from me." When Harry didn't say anything, the Grandfather-man added this, "Just some advice coming from the heart from an older man who's raised up some sons of his own." He smiled at Harry again to make sure that it was clear that this was all goodnatured kindness and nothing more.

And, thank goodness, Harry received as such. No ripple in his forehead or clenching of his masseter; all tell-tale signs of when my husband is offended or annoyed. Nope. There was none of that. Just this inexplicable facial expression and searing eye contact.

Then Harry said this:

"Do you mind if I share something with you, sir?" The Grandfather-man turned his head a bit to the side to let Harry know his ear was bent. And so Harry went on. "I appreciate your advice, but I'm raising my two sons in a world that won't say 'please' to them. Unfortunately, this world just doesn't say 'please' to black boys and it definitely doesn't say 'please' to black men. My sons need to understand that. And they will understand that."


I wish you could have seen the complexity of the look on the Grandfather-man's face. His blue eyes became sad in acknowledgement of this very obvious difference in the worlds his sons (and likely grandsons) face and that of this younger man before him. His lips pressed together and his brow furrowed; the Grandfather-man's eyes were still trained on Harry's. And you already know that Harry kept holding that man's gaze as if it were some kind of staring contest.

The Grandfather-man finally closed his eyes and sighed, his entire chest rising and collapsing dramatically. Then he looked back up at Harry and nodded his understanding of the heartbreaking relativity of that lighthearted advice. Heartbreaking, yes, but an inconvenient truth that simply couldn't be ignored.

Especially these days.

And let me be clear:

This was not a negative interaction between a younger black man and an older white man. And this isn't some rant about some uncomfortable conversation laced with racism or any such thing. Quite the contrary, actually. That Grandfather-man came to speak a good word to my husband from the sweetest, dearest place. He did--and my husband (who is usually skeptical of every stranger) would tell you the same.


Without saying very much, you'd better believe that those men had a rich dialogue on race and inequality. Damn, they did.

You see--Harry didn't say it, but he said it:

"If my sons don't learn how to leave when someone says 'let's go', it could cost them their lives. And the chances of someone saying 'please' before beating or shooting them is, unfortunately, low."

And you know what? That's some real talk right there, man.

Messed up, yes. But realer than real.

Now. Do we think our sons deserve to hear pleases and thank yous? Sure we do. Do we also think that, as their parents, we aren't required to spin our rules into requests? You'd better believe it--with all due respect to the Grandfather-man (and to the future respect that could potentially be gained by doing so.)

Harry said he would reflect on that Grandfather-man's advice and remember to be tender at the time-to-be-tender-times with his boys. At which point I reminded him that he is quite tender at those times. Those time-to-be-tender ones, that is.


So you know? It sucks, really. It sucks that a black boy standing in the wrong place at the wrong time--even when he's innocent and doing nothing worth even noticing--needs to recognize that sometimes--no, most times--he needs to move on the first time the order is issued. He needs to get moving with as little protest as possible and with or without the "please" or the cherry on top.


Oh. And have we already been having these conversations with our seven and nine year old black men-children at our kitchen table? You're damn right we have. Not because we want to, but because we have to. And if this is something you will never have to think of for your son? Say a prayer of thanks. And if the thought of us and many other families being required to makes you sad? That's okay because it should.

Our kids pleaded to stay and hang out with their friends up until the last second when we loaded them into the car.

"That's not fair," one of the boys mumbled from the back seat.

"Nor is life," Harry replied.

Nor is life.

Happy Sunday-now-Monday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . as poignant now as it was when he recorded it. If not more. Listen and reflect on what is happening in the world right now. I'm too sad to specifically address it but know that, like Harry, I just did.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good morning. You are loved. That is all.

My friend lost her one of her children. Right before the start of school which, since he was an adult, has different meaning than what you might think about. But this morning, it has very significant meaning to me. And likely to her, his mother.

One because she works in a school where everyone knows her. Her waving hand is, to us, a monument. As recognizable as the Statue of Liberty with, literally, that same outstretched arm signaling to all that they are welcomed. But, more than that, there will always be these sights and sounds of new academic year energy that, instead of creating joy for her, will now punctuate the worst day of her life. I hate that. Partly because I personally associate her with that new-grade-level joy that I feel each year. But mostly because I care for her deeply and consider her a Ruth now. . .  which means I have willingly signed up for a piece of her pain, too.

That's how it works.

You know? She did that for me. Said very little but always, always showed me through her hugs and her eyes and her gentle, unassuming love that she was willing to hold on to a piece of my pain, too. And she did.


This is different. She is a mother and this was her son. I have always been careful not to equate that horrifically unnatural trauma to that of losing a sibling. It is not the same. Ask any parent who has been inducted into that awful club. On second thought, don't ask them. Just take my word on it as someone who has seen it in three dimensions.

Seen it. Not lived it.

And so. I look for ways to let her know that I will hold a piece of this for her. Even if it is a tiny piece. I will take very good care of it and protect it. And then, when she thinks I've forgotten, I will present it back to her as something new. An invitation to speak of him when she desires. To laugh out loud about some funny quirk or unforgettable experience. Or bring him up and say his name without that awkward, lonely cloak suffocating it all. To let her know that it won't be weird to me if she can't speak of him in past tense because that part I do understand. And hopefully, just a heart open to give her a chance to celebrate her favorite things about him long after the casseroles have stopped arriving on doorsteps.

Or at least I'll try.

But for now, this morning, I simply said this in a text message to her:

"Good morning. You are loved. That is all."

Because when someone is living through the worst days of their life, this is, perhaps, all you can give. Love, shown through presence, silence, the eyes, and the tiny gestures. Recognition for the magnitude of the horror, but not so much so that you leave them isolated. No. Just love. The very understated love she showed me during those days when our lives stood still.


Happy Thursday. Love will always be the what.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Controlled prescription.

Yes. This. All day, every day. 

Happy Hump Day.


Image shared with my patient's permission

"I love your flower! Who brought you that?"

"You know what? My doctor brought this in for me. Ain't that sweet?"

"Very." I blinked a couple of times to try to keep from getting emotional at the idea of an intern bringing this patient a flower. "It's a lovely flower."

"Yeah. But I got to name her. I haven't given her no name yet."

I picked up the pot and inspected it. "It's definitely a girl flower."

"For sure, she a girl. But I want her name to be something pretty but old fashioned. Like out the Old Testament or something."

"Hmmmm. Okay. What about. . . .Esther . . .or Ruth. . .oooooh. . .or Naomi?" I tried to dig through my head for some other good ones from the Old Testament.

"I like those names! Esther, Ruth, Naomi. . . .hmmmm. . .I still ain't sure."

"Naomi is pretty."

"Yeah, that is nice." He stared at the potted flower a few more moments. "You know what I was thinking of instead, though?"

"What's that?"

"Shalonda. What you think about that name---Shalonda?"

"Uhhh. . . .Shalonda?"

"Yeah. What you think?"

"Well. I think. . . that's not so Old Testament-y. . .but. . you know what? The more I look at her, the more I think she totally looks like a Shalonda. Totally."

"That's pretty, huh?"


"Shalonda then."

"Shalonda indeed."

He looked over at Shalonda and then at Megan, the intern who gave her to him. His eyes became very content. And that was pretty much the end of the encounter.

And every day for the rest of the hospitalization, we rounded first on him and then on Shalonda. We sure did. And you know what? Both of them blossomed over that time, too. They did.

And it was perfect.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This morning.

"Love is the what."  ~ Angella L.

You look at me with loyal eyes. Your words to the point and no, not Hallmark worthy but, to me, even better. Quiet and genuine you turn toward me, still half buried under the covers. I am in the doorway, fully dressed for work. Heels clicking across the wooden floors with growing urgency, pausing to kiss your head trying not to wake you, but knowing that I will.

But you never mind.

You look to me, my shoulder leaning against the door frame and my fingers clasped around the knob. "You okay, baby?" you say.

"Yep," I reply. "You?"

"Yeah. Just tired still. Long day yesterday." Your voice is throaty, emphasizing those words.

"Get some rest then. You deserve it. Sorry to wake you."

"It's okay. I'm happy to see my wife."

"And she is happy to see you."

I freeze and get lost in my own thoughts. Our bedroom looking very lived in, consistent with our busy worlds. But still, instead of clutter I see life and suddenly feel intense gratitude. Grateful for you, a man who works hard and gives enough of himself to this life that he should be tired. But never too tired to love. That thought makes me smile.

"You okay, baby?" you ask again because I'm still standing there.

"Yep. Fine. Just fine."

"What's on your mind?"

Instead of answering you, I walk back over to your side of the bed, keys still jingling in my hand. I hug your torso hard and kiss your neck three times in a row. You fish your arm from under the covers to hug me back, strong and like you mean it. I let you, nearly falling down.

Then, as I leave you and softly close the bedroom door behind me, I think of words from a very wise friend that fit this moment perfectly:

Love is the what.


Happy Tuesday.