March 2016

Soon I’ll be 51 years old…

Theo is now eleven and big enough to ride in the front seat of the car. From there, he mans the XM radio like an Ibiza DJ spinning on multiple turntables. His favorite song right now is the beautiful “7 years” by the Danish band Lukas Graham. We heard it on the way to church yesterday and I was struck about the life stages it discusses. Cause duh….geriatric psychiatrist brain can’t be turned off. But also because tomorrow is my birthday. Fifty-one big ones. And surprisingly I feel pretty good about it. Not 7 years old good, but certainly not 49 years old dreadful.

So indulge me on an autobiographical “This is my life” using the lyrics from “7 Years”.

Once I was 7 years old, my mama told me,
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely,
Once I was 7 years old

It was a big, big world but we thought we were bigger
Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker

Me with my Dad and older brother at 7. Cute and pretty optimistic about the future.

Me with my Dad and older brother at 7. Cute and pretty optimistic about the future.

Here’s me at 7. Just moved from LA to the bucolic town of Hershey where my physician parents had jobs at the new Pennsylvania State University Medical Center. I was learning cursive at the time and recall that my favorite signature was “Helen the Great”, indicating that I had not been yet been knocked down by life (that was coming soon, see 11 years old). A pretty sweet time in life.

By 11 smoking herb, and drinking burning liquor
Never rich so we were out to make that steady figure

Once I was 11 years old, my daddy told me,
Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely
Once I was 11 years old

I always had that dream, like my daddy before me
So I started writing songs, I started writing stories
Something about that glory, just always seemed to bore me
‘cus only those I really love will ever really know me

So, here’s where Lukas Graham and I diverge. I didn’t even know what herb or burning liquor were at eleven. I had moved into a really geeky stage (by 13 the transformation was complete: Dorothy Hamill haircut AND ginormous glasses AND braces). Thank God for my best friend Jocelyn for getting me through that period with inside jokes SO funny that I would almost pee my pants on bus rides to and from school.

Ah yes. Most awkward time of my life. Here for you. Immortalized.

Most awkward time of my life. Even the kitten knew it.

This period lasted for three long awkward years. Finally, I emerged from my giant cocoon in 9th grade, shucking my glasses and braces, new perm (YAHSSS. That’s right, a PERM bitches!), and some loss of baby fat. I was told by one of the popular girls that they “were all talking” and thought I had “the best butt in school” (not gonna lie, this declaration may still be one of my greatest achievements). But (again unlike Lukas Graham), my dad (an uber-protective Greek father) certainly wasn’t goading me to have a boyfriend. In fact, he blocked my first date in 9th grade (to see the Steve Martin movie “The Jerk”) to my ultimate devastation. The boy in question quickly moved on and the heartbreak I felt was awful. I still remember the first (but not last) time of  feeling that black, bleak feeling, never having felt so unhappy before.

Me and my brothers. I am fourteen. Hard to believe this is the same person as above, right?

Me and my brothers. I am fourteen. Hard to believe this is the same person as above, right?

I moved onto some relatively successful teen years (not Molly Ringwald in the Breakfast Club-successful, more like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink-successful), finding a sport I loved (cross country), my first kiss (age 16, remember I had my dad watching me like a Greek hawk, so give me a break. And in an “only in Hershey PA moment”, it was in the Kissing Tower at HersheyPark. With a college boy that I was in luuuuurve with. Pretty nice, right?!).

Once I was 20 years old, my story got told

Before the morning sun, when life was lonely
Once I was 20 years old

I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure,
‘cus I know the smallest voices, they can make it major,
I got my boys with me, at least those in favour
And if we don’t meet before I leave, I hope I’ll see you later

Once I was 20 years old, my story got told
I was writing about everything I saw before me
Once I was 20 years old

Med school buddies weekend in Quebec. Such good times.

Med school buddies weekend in Quebec. Such good times.

I like that the “meat” of the song is about the twenties. My twenties were a pretty amazing time. Looking back, it’s where most of set up to the action happened. Initially, being at college (Bucknell University) was tough for me having been pretty sheltered growing up and fighting some nasty anxiety issues. But I hit my stride towards the end of sophomore year with some wonderful friends, a boyfriend and a Spanish lit/language major. Finishing college, I got into several medical schools including University of Pennsylvania. I went with my gut (a pretty consistent theme in my life and one I am proud of) and selected a lesser ranked (but stellar and perfect fit for me) medical school in upstate New York, the University of Rochester. U of R was an incredible place and shaped me in ways that I continue to discover and appreciate. I continued my up and down/on and off relationship with my college boyfriend for 7 years. The ultimate breakup during medical school was painful but necessary.

Me and my mom during my intern year in my first apartment in Ann Arbor.

Me and my mom during my intern year in my first apartment in Ann Arbor.

Moving to Ann Arbor saw me and my crazy half-Siamese cat Samosa (RIP buddy. LOVE you. Hope you are stalking people’s calves up in heaven) in my own apartment. I shake my head in wonder at my stamina at that time, working like a dog as an intern on my medicine and neuro rotations and going out to the Nectarine till the wee hours whenever we could. Several of my co-residents and I became best friends and remain so to this day. In fact, one introduced me to my future husband Pat during a fateful evening at Gratzi. Pat is a logical engineer with a near-photographic memory for facts, but with a twist. He has incredible people skills and charm. I had grown up with a dad who was an intellectual and when something went wrong in the house, we heard, “Call the man!” (the “man” being a code word for whomever could fix whatever was broken). To meet a guy who was cute, funny, smart (national Merit scholar) and who could also hang dry wall and fix anything? I was hooked. We got married two years later in a big fat Greek wedding (you think I am kidding? The Greek band my Dad hired knew only one English song. So guess whose wedding dance was “Tonight’s the Night”?).

The first of MANY Halloweens together as Kurt and Courtney

The first of MANY Halloweens together as Kurt and Courtney

Soon we’ll be 30 years old, our songs have been sold
We’ve traveled around the world and we’re still roaming
Soon we’ll be 30 years old

I’m still learning about life
My woman brought children for me
So I can sing them all my songs
And I can tell them stories
Most of my boys are with me
Some are still out seeking glory
And some I had to leave behind
My brother, I’m still sorry

Pat and I with Tasia (age four) and Sophia (age one)

Pat and I with Tasia (age four) and Sophia (age one)

In our thirties, we had our three kids. Somehow, we felt like we had all the luxuries of time and we spaced them out quite a bit (Tasia when I was 32 ,Sophia when I was 35, Theo when I was 39). A miscarriage at 38 was one of the saddest times in our lives. But it also changed us in good ways; before that I was always eager to move the kids onto the next stage, it slowed me down and gave me an appreciation for what I had. We undertook new challenges when Theo was born with breathing problems (which resolved) and a club foot (now treated). Those challenges triggered a post-partum depression for me. It was a difficult time but resolved thanks to good treatment and unflagging support from Pat and my parents. I came out the other end and resolved to let the experience make me a better doctor, wife and mother.

In my work life, I was able to move through an academic career, attaining tenure in my early 40’s but not without a lot of teamwork from my husband who is a true supportive (and tolerant) partner and my parents who have provided pretty seamless backup over the years. To wit, my Dad assumed the role of “chief toilet paper and paper toweling replacer” with aplomb. I have a small group of really close friends whom I love dearly (can make me laugh till I almost pee my pants…and Jocelyn is still among them). Adopting two big rescue dogs has added another ring to the circus, but mostly in a good way.

One of my favorite pics of the whole gang. An outtake because Theo was pinching Tasia.

One of my favorite pics of the whole gang. An outtake because Theo was pinching Tasia.

Soon I’ll be 60 years old
My daddy got 61
Remember life and then your life becomes a better one
I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once
I hope my children come and visit once or twice a month.

Soon I’ll be 60 years old
Will I think the world is cold,
or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be 60 years old,

Tomorrow, I will be 51 years old. I feel good about where I am. Right now, I am trying to figure out my third act. I have been approached a number of times about becoming the Chair of a Department. Will I do it? Maybe. Maybe not. But the figuring it out is fun and I am learning from it. I look forward to grandchildren someday. And sooner than that, I am starting to not dread the empty nest that will be here when I am in my late 50’s.

Pat and I were alone over the weekend (with Tasia at college, and Sophia and Theo at sleepovers). We actually had the chance to just spend time together. What I think of as “oh yeah, I really like you” time. While we bicker and spar like Rockem’ Sockem’ Robots pretty often, we also repeat the “Cars” Mater and Lightning McQueen quote to each other: “I knowed I made a good choice” “In what?” “My best friend”.

I knowed I made a good choice in my best friend.

I knowed I made a good choice in my best friend.

Once I was 7 years old, my mama told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was 7 years old,

Once I was 7 years old.

Thank you Theo for introducing me to “7 years” and triggering my retrospective birthday blog!

kales@umich.eduSoon I’ll be 51 years old…
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Say goodbye to your latency-aged child and say hello to your tween!


New morning rules. Note odor control is number one.

It happened this morning. I shared the list of rules that I had made up for Theo, our eleven year old son, with my mom. “Say goodbye to your latency aged child and say hello to your tween!” she chirped over the phone from Florida. (For those who aren’t psychiatrists or raised by two of them for that matter, latency age is the lovely, sunny stage of personality development, extending from about four to five years of age to the beginning of puberty.)

She’s right dammit. My always positive, full of hugs little boy is gone. The one who:

  • Would say he looooooved me so much when he was a toddler that my husband was known to say sarcastically “Yes, Theo, we KNOW. You LOVE mommy. Mommy loves you. Everybody loves everybody”.
  • Thought my singing in the car was awesome.
  • Would hold my hand. Anyplace, anywhere.
  • Could have two teenaged sisters fighting to the death in the background and would be oblivious.

Theo, age four

In his place, is a tween. A tween who:

  • Gleefully informed me the other day that he has “two hairs under each arm”.
  • Smells like an old-timey dockworker when he comes home from school (so…the Axe antiperspirant and footspray on the list).
  • Has made talking back into a new art form. Me “Stop talking back.” Theo “I’m not talking back” Me “You just did” Theo “No, I didn’t”. Ad infinitum. Not to forget the closely related: Theo “Stop yelling at me” (while yelling). Me “I am not yelling” (irritated but measured mom voice). “Telling you something you don’t like is not yelling”. Theo “You’re yelling again” (while yelling).
  • Couldn’t be found by his college freshman sister the other day in Walgreens. Was located by the magazine section. Wide eyed. In front of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
  • Adores swearing so much that facing a punishment for using bad words, invented his own new swearword (a form of “heck”=”hecken”. As in “what the hecken heck?”). We had to put our foot down when this escalated to “mother hecker”.

Theo, age eleven. Proud inventor of “hecken heck”.

And yes. I know he has to grow up. But he is my last child. The one whose every stage has been a “that’s the last time, I will ever…..”. At fifty, I certainly don’t want another baby. And given that my eldest is eighteen, I certainly am not ready for grandchildren. Another dog? I know another mom who has adopted a new dog every time one of her kids went off to college. My husband would head for the hills like one of those cartoon characters jumping through a wall and leaving only the outline of his fleeing body.

So, it’s happening. I have a more hairy, smelly, newly interested in girls, foul-mouthed version of my beloved Theo.

And there’s nothing I can do about it. Except to make sure that the Axe and footspray are applied early and often. But it is comforting that at the end of the day (when he is really tired), I still get to hear “Good night. I love you Mom.”

Postscript: I shared the blogpost with Theo who commented “I liked it when you said ‘dammit’”.

kales@umich.eduSay goodbye to your latency-aged child and say hello to your tween!
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