I sit in my living room at the end of a long day. I open my laptop to complete the day’s clinic notes. I look up to see my daughter busy painting (she’s two years old, so less than half the paint is going on the coloring book and most is being smeared over her hands and feet). I hear the distant clatter of dishes as my husband loads the dishwasher. I soak it in. This rare moment of tranquility. No urgent needs to be met — no diaper to be changed, nose to be blown, nursery rhymes to be sung ad nauseam. I take a minute to step back and imagine an alternate reality. How different would life be had my husband and I decided to wait to become parents until after residency?
Baby girl is still blissfully immersed in painting “The Starry Night” all over herself, and husband has emerged from the kitchen with a snack. Both appear to be content. So if I avoid eye contact, maybe I can get a few more minutes to picture an alternate reality. A typical day might start off with me snoozing my alarm a few times before finally deciding to get out of bed at 5 a.m. (I’m still a resident in this fantasy so, of course, I’m waking up at dawn). The difference is I have the liberty of choosing how to wake up, as opposed to being repeatedly smacked on my forehead until I beg for mercy and roll out of bed (yes, she was born with an internal clock that is independent of times zones and weekends).
Getting ready for work would be something to look forward to, privacy in the bathroom would be a big plus. No tugging on my pajamas as I put on some makeup. Brushing my teeth would be a breeze. No little monster to coax, then bribe, then blackmail to open her mouth and allow me to clean her teeth. Breakfast is yet another hurdle: shoveling food into your own mouth because you are running late is one thing, try doing anything to a two-year-old without her express permission is a whole other beast. There are meltdowns over anything and everything- ranging from which side of the toast you buttered to the color of socks you picked out for them.
At work, I would be able to concentrate without distractions. No need to always have an ear to the phone in case daycare is calling about a new bruise. If I did not have to rush to daycare, maybe I’d have time to enjoy dinner at a nice restaurant or catch the latest play.
The drive home from work is a mental debate on healthiest dinner options while singing along any new nursery rhymes my daughter has learned at daycare that day. I amaze myself with these newly acquired multitasking skills that have been increasing side-by-side with my daughter’s age. I have also mastered the art of creating order out of chaos because as soon as we enter the house, it is mayhem like the Tasmanian Devil has been let loose. My husband and I have become quite the tag team — we are now experts at getting a very mobile, squirmy toddler out of her clothes into a bath, in the process strewing each item of clothing in a different room. If getting her into the bath sounded tough, getting her out of it is battle. I honestly believe she was a fish in some previous life, what with her slipperiness and intense love of water. However, she goes from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll within minutes and bedtime does not always equal war-time.
After tucking the Energizer Bunny into bed, dear husband and I are left to deal with all the destruction and debris she has lovingly left for us. Then, once we are completely wiped out, we can begin to think about maybe squeezing in a little time to study or fulfill any other resident responsibilities.
I am jerked back to reality, when my daughter runs up to me dripping paint all over the rug. Somehow, the awakening from fantasyland suppresses my knee-jerk reflex of freaking out over this toddler-induced mess. I wake up from my alternate reality and realize that without even leaving the room, I had missed my baby girl with every fiber of my being. I wrapped her up in a bone-crushing hug — dripping paint brush and all. I would not exchange eating her leftovers for fancy dinners, trips to the park for hours at the gym or even the lack of privacy in the bathroom for some alone time.
As I tuck the little angel in for the night, I realize how much she has touched each aspect of my life. I wake up at dawn with a tiny hand smacking my forehead, and I find myself smiling about that. When I go grocery shopping I now have empathy for the mom with the toddler having a meltdown, we lock eyes across the aisle and give one another a little nod of support. At work, when I step into the room of a sick little baby, I feel a distinct difference in my interactions now. When I examine the little humans, I do not immediately pull out my stethoscope even when rounds are just about to start. I take a minute or two to play with them, make them comfortable, and then proceed. When I speak with the parents their questions do not frustrate me anymore; I feel I can understand their worries a lot more clearly and can counsel them better.
Perspective is everything. Being a parent has changed my life completely. Every day I learn new things. I find new ways to deal with time constraints, impossible schedules and still find the time to love. I have grown so much as a physician by becoming a parent. At the end of the day, it has all been worth the hassle.
Sehyr Imran is a pediatric resident.
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