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Reading Down the Stairs

It’s never a good sign when I’m reading while walking down the stairs. This happens in degrees: First I’m reading a really good book that I can’t put down. Later I’m just reading the news, which progresses into scrolling social media, all while willing myself not to trip. But how many times have I asked my children not to read while walking down the stairs, and why am I doing that very thing?! Why am I not noticing the small moments, the cat toys left on the stairs, the feel of my feet on the bare wood, the smells from the oven wafting into the stairwell?

I think about it. And I realize it’s been a hard several months. There have been so many big moments that the small ones have been hidden, hard to recognize. This is what it felt like:

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Story’s and Pomes

I’m holding a red spiral notebook from 1983. The pages are crisp, the rule lines faded, but the penciled-in writing— Mom’s words and mine— is still visible. I don’t like to hold on to objects, but I’ve kept this notebook through many moves, many purges. And in this year of a big birthday for my mom it seems extra important.

A story for my mom’s birthday could be dramatic: Mom was born at the moment India fractured into two nations. As a teenager she left India behind, crossing borders and cultures to live in the U.S. Years later her husband died and then two weeks later, her mother. A few years after that her son was diagnosed with colon cancer and then months later, her daughter.

But those events are documented in my mom’s artwork and in her book, too. (My mom wrote a book! A big, beautiful, introspective art book!)

This story is about working mothers who have full side careers as artists. Mom might tell a different version. Here is mine:

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Country Road

First remove distractions— let others know not to bother you.

Make yourself comfortable, so that your thoughts are on the image and nothing else. 

My daughter, the younger twin, has had trouble sleeping lately. After days of patting her back, staring out the skylight at the stars, drying her tears, I figured that we were doing it wrong. I found some guided imagery prompts which we listened to right before bed. It worked. The narrator’s voice, firm but inviting, soothed away her insomnia.

Get completely focused. The more focused you are the better. 

Imagine yourself walking along an old country road. The sun is warm on your back, the birds are singing, the air is calm and fragrant.

You find yourself in an overgrown garden, flowers growing where they have seeded themselves, vines climbing over a fallen tree, green grass, and shade trees. Breathe deeply, smelling the flowers.

If the meditation goes well for me I’m instantly on the wildflower-lined road by the house we rented last summer, a hundred feet up a steep ravine from the southwest end of Skaneateles Lake. The ravine continues up behind the road and is threaded with red flowers. 

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Indian Indie

2021 was a restless, unsettled year for me. The pandemic jerked along with more spikes than valleys. We traveled only safe, small circles around our home, never making it more than two hundred fifty miles. Our home, now pushing eleven years old no longer felt new; the appliances faltered, the paint chipped, the floors scuffed. Even my music went stale. I abandoned my thoughtfully created hours-long Pandemic playlist months ago. A certain famous woman had release after release, but I’ve never been a fan. I started to imagine the music I needed to hear: Indian artists blending traditional and modern sounds. Not Bhangra, not Bollywood, but contemporary musicians influenced by the Indian classical music I grew up listening to and craved now. I tried to narrow that into a Google search. I couldn’t figure out the right terms and nothing useful came up.

A few months ago after work, I sat in my car, searching my phone for new music. I pressed the browse button on my music app and scrolled through the categories. I was shocked to come across one called “Indian Indie.” Yes! That’s what I was looking for! In the dim parking garage I clicked on it and found playlists. They became my new drive music. As I listened I remembered sitting in a taxi in India.

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Journal of Pandemic Medicine

Background: Compared to adults most children don’t get as sick from SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), are hospitalized and/or have complications less often, and rarely die. Minimizing the impact of Covid-19 on children, though, serves to divert attention from our collective obligation to protect children from harm. It also risks ignoring another Covid-19 related crisis: children’s mental health. Kids need safe spaces to gather in. They need to interact with their friends, grandparents, and teachers. Covid-19 has changed the most basic rules of childhood and it is hurting our children.

Objective: To describe how this pandemic is harming children’s mental health.

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I wrote this in the depths of January 2021. Tomorrow my girls will start what may be a semi-normal school year, drifting in the ebbs and flows of Covid, hopefully dodging the worst of it.

Yesterday my daughters’ remote school class started virtual recorder lessons. Not only that, when one of my children couldn’t find her recorder from last year, Ms. Lincoln, the music teacher dropped off two new ones, one for each sister. My husband summed up recorder class with one word as I walked in the door: “TWEEEEET.” It was as loud and shrill as the class must have been. The class, of course, took place in the middle of his work day.  

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Six Words

Where has Dr. Gingermouse been? Well, in addition to the usual demands of working as a hospitalist during a pandemic, schooling the kids at home, and doctoring a dog with a toenail injury, I’m also taking a writing class. The class is asynchronous. Though I communicate with my classmates daily, I have never met them, even over Zoom.

Last week we worked on brevity. I love a rambling sentence peppered with misplaced commas, but our first assignment was to create a six word story. At first I panicked. But once I got going, I couldn’t stop. All day I was thinking in six word sentences so I grouped some of them together. (Possessed by 6, avoiding longer sentences. Meant individually, just kept coming, though. Defeating the purpose of spare prose?)

You might call it a poem but I haven’t written poetry since high school and I don’t claim to know anything about it. So we’ll call it a story. I wrote it on the day the United States reached 500,000 Covid deaths.

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Did You Tell Him

“Did you tell him who you are?” a woman on the street asked me.

It was below freezing and the sky was a thick gray.  Behind me two women bundled in heavy coats and scarves drank coffee together at a fire table. To my left, plate glass windows barely hid racks of pre-made sandwiches and baked goods in what used to be a dining area. The tables and chairs were stacked against the wall. In front of me was what looked like a hastily constructed mandap with a green metal roof instead of draped silk fabric. One of the legs of the structure had a crack running from the bottom of the post to my eye level, stopping just short of the edge. The only adornments on the mandap were a laminated sign with a typo and a round sticker encouraging six feet distancing. The canopy shielded the takeout window of a farm-to-table cafe. A man hustled between the window and the food preparation room behind the plate glass, delivering orders to customers. 

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Interlocking Pieces: On the Occasion of a Big Birthday

Standing taller than us in the back corner of my brother’s childhood bedroom was a particle board bookshelf, medium brown like our skin. My brother and dad assembled it themselves from a box; I got to put wood-printed stickers over the exposed screws. He always displayed his latest Lego creation on the middle shelf, just at little sister height. These constructions hinted at his future engineering degree: pulled from big Expert Builder sets he made cars with nubby monster truck wheels, gears, and working motors.

Growing up I adored my older brother. I listened to the music he listened to, I wanted to attend the college he attended (I didn’t get accepted there but it turned out pretty well for me), and I was in awe of his Lego skills.

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Happy Sam

The first thing I did when I got to the beach was look for Flappy, our ring billed gull friend who has a short left leg and a crimped left foot. We first met her six years ago when she found some vegetables that fell off my pizza; we’ve been seeing her at the beach ever since. Flappy, named in 2014 by my then toddlers, hops with her right foot and sweeps the sand with her left; she’s small but can squawk as loud as the other seagulls. The only consequence she seems to face is that she’s an easy target for some children to chase.

Flappy, drying her feathers.

Flappy and I know each other now. I like to think that we seek each other out. Certainly she is no longer scared of me and my DSLR; she has posed for many pictures. On this particular beach, the one to which my in-laws have been graciously welcoming me since I was just the girl their middle son was dating, Flappy and I make a good, conspicuous team.  She stands out because of her foot and I stand out because usually I am the only person on the mile long beach with brown skin.  

The last time I was at the beach melanin was on my mind even more than usual. Kamala Harris had just been selected as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. At work we had been discussing racism and anti-racism in medicine, as well as how to recruit and support physicians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. These discussions made me reflect on my own experiences with choosing a place to live and to work. Eventually my thoughts circled around to something that happened when I was very young.

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