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Archive for the ‘Previously unimagined adventures’ Category

Catch up on the physical and psychological testing to this point

Where was I? Oh, yes, I was told I could basically pick a date, as long as it was after July 5. It was now mid-June. I had wanted have this surgery in late April, back when I was naive and thought I had some semblance of control over this process and had literally no idea how long it would take.

I said AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE PLEASE, PERHAPS YOU’VE NOTICED THE VERY SICK YOUNG MAN I AM GOING TO DONATE TO?

Then I got a phone call – instead of July 8, how about July 3? Yes, yes, of course. How’s June 19? (Just kidding, that was yesterday.)

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So we set up our lives for me to have surgery July 3. This involved:

  • My mother-in-law coming to stay at our house for three nights, so that Taxman could bunk at the hospital with me
  • The dog going to the kennel for a week – while I was in the hospital and a few days afterwards
  • Bowing out of the camp carpool I had set up
  • Finally saying yes to the meal train
  • Allowing the rabbi of our congregation to make a fuss over this in public (blah, blah, inspirational)
  • Making an incredibly detailed Google calendar for my husband and mother-in-law with camp times/locations/transport apparatus and adding things like “do a load of kids’ laundry” and “buy fruit and milk.”
  • Telling like everyone who didn’t already know
  • Trying to ensure that my mother did not literally die from worry (once I had told her once and for all that she and her urologist were not going to convince me to back out)
  • Making food for the freezer and pantry, despite the upcoming meal train

I should note here that I would not recommend altruistic living organ donation to someone with small kids. (If it’s directed to a family member/friend, I mean, you should do it – it will just be even more of a logistical nightmare than I had.) Between the post-surgical restrictions – not lifting more than 10lbs for several weeks, not driving for two weeks – and having to spill out your entire life plan for a while…it’s a lot.

Ready, Set, Uh-oh

Maybe you saw this coming due to my super-subtle foreshadowing, but I did not.

I managed to pass the two weeks without much anxiety. I was sleeping at night (I mean, my usual not-great sleeping, but I was not anxiety-not-sleeping). I was slowly shutting down work stuff, doing last errands (so many of these), last grocery shop, endless laundry.

July 3, Taxman and I arrived at the hospital. We had a bureaucratic issue upon checking in, because WELCOME TO ISRAEL, KIDS! My intended recipient went to dialysis. Someone else got to work on the paperwork snafu, and we settled into the couches on the transplant ward. There seemed to be a lot of people waiting, and not so many people being dispersed into their rooms. Hmm.

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And whispering.

Finally, a few hours into some eavesdropping, Muhammed (the transplant department charge nurse) pulled us into a room. He was so sorry, but my surgery was being postponed. It was a confluence of events – a fatal car accident with an organ donor had brought two unexpected surgeries to the hospital overnight, and half the staff was abroad at a conference. Not wanting to go under the knife with tired surgeons, I readily agreed to come back at their earliest convenience. I did some intake paperwork to smooth my way for the “next time” and slipped out of the hospital with Taxman before noon.

We soon had a new date, July 10, and set to work undoing all the infrastructure we had in place. Thankfully, the big pieces (kid and dog watching) were easily undone and redone.

Taxman and I went to lunch before going home to relieve his mom, our “babysitter.”

Then I fell apart. I had apparently invested a LOT of energy in keeping myself calm, internally and externally. So then I tortured myself with the unanswerable questions of “What does this delay mean? Am I stupid to do something so dangerous? IS IT A SIGN?”

I wallowed and tossed and turned for a few hours. Then I realized I don’t believe in signs, and it was just a logistical issue at the hospital (the transplant teams have to use designated ORs so they don’t take over the ones from other departments), and nothing was different – I just going to have to screw up my courage and do it again.

I spent the week not doing a whole lot, as I had already squared away most of my life. I went to Pilates, I went swimming, I went to the library, I did laundry. I picked up a lot of camp carpool shifts. I asked for work, but it had already been taken care of.

After a dramatic “last coffee with six kidneys” (me and my coffee klatsch) in the final week of June, we had another. You can never have too many coffees.

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Coffee is life….this one needs more milk, though. 

Next up: Brave face, redux

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For “How it all began” see here

I’ll be honest, I did not expect the “mental fitness” portion of kidney donation to be the trial that it was. Mental fitness apparently means fitting into someone’s definition of stable and sane, plus proving cognitive competence, plus proving you are not being compelled or compensated to donate.

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Wake me when the analysis is over, k?

1977 has never been so germane

I should have had an inkling when I first spoke to a psychologist, back in March during my hospital day. “Tell me about your family,” she said. So I began to talk about my husband and children, and she interrupted and said, no, when you were growing up.

Naturally, I had to explain that my parents were divorced, and that I had lived with my mom afterwards, because all this went down in the late 1970s and this is, by and large, what happened.

“I don’t understand why this is important,” I said.

We moved on to other topics, like an assessment of my taking risks and my impulsivity. I tried to downplay how impulsive my decision to “go” for this kidney donation was – because it does not match with most of my other decisions over the course of my life. It just felt…right, to be honest. Like being able to see that a puzzle piece will fit before you even try it.

Anyway, I had to wait to be summoned by the Department of Health for my mental health check. I waited for several weeks, all the while kind of in anguish about the ill young man who might (but might not) be getting my kidney when all this was through – and how this was a stupid gauntlet.

In mid-May, I finally had my chance to prove my mental fitness.

It was by far the hardest part of the entire process.

“Tell me about your parents’ divorce,” was practically the opening salvo, and “Well, it was 41 years ago, so I don’t think it’s had a huge impact on my adult life,” was not an acceptable answer.

It turns out that I am loathe to share my innermost feelings with a stranger who will be judging me. Who knew?

After an hour of questioning about every major life event (my parents’ “new” marriages – now clocking in at 37 years and 33 years, respectively, and my relationships with my parents and stepparents; moving across the country as a teenager; becoming religious; studying in Israel; getting married; moving to Israel), I was given a Rorschach test.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, an actual Rorschach test.

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What do you see?

They had told me at the hospital that this would be included, so I poked around online before. The inkblots they showed me were the exact ones from like 1921 or whatever.

The psychologist was suspicious that I knew what a Rorschach was. “How do you know what this is?” she asked. “I’m 43 years old?” I said, “And I’m fairly well versed in popular culture?” (NB: Not Star Wars or comic-based things or Hamilton. But Rorschach shows up all the time? Or did? In the last century, which I partially remember because I am 43?)

I was then tested in my ability to reproduce drawings of shapes and lines, first just copying and then from memory. I couldn’t imagine what this had to do with my mental state, but a friend who is an occupational therapist with lots of hospital experience told me it was judging if I’d be able to care for myself competently after the surgery. (Which they would never let me have, it was clear, unless I had a roster of people who could commit to caring for me. Irony alert?)

Then I had to draw some things (a house, a tree, a person) and make up stories about them. By this point I was entirely fried. Even under the best of circumstances I can’t draw well, and now everything seemed to be coming out of the pencil point incorrectly.

Finally, the test was done.

“When will I know the results?” I asked the psychologist.

“I’ll be finished with my report within a couple of days,” she said, “but then your file goes back to Beilinson and….”

Right. Got it.

I walked out shaky and feeling like my physical fitness really did not count for enough here, but it should.

Back on Earth

Meanwhile, I had started to tell people that I was planning to donate a kidney.

(I had told my parents in the beginning, as I needed some details about family health history. They were both underwhelmed and worried.)

Most people were shocked, but past that initial surprise, I got a wide range of responses. A few friends who are nurses were thrilled. Other people were confused as to why I’d do this. I got a few “oh, this totally seems like something you would do,” which seemed like a weird cover since I really hadn’t considered it before – I’ve been a long-time advocate of post-death organ donation, but live donation is…different.

My closest friends immediately wanted to plan a meal train, because food (and coffee) is how you show you care.

My boss took it in stride, mostly because she’s done crazier things in her life.

A Long Month

I did not hear back from the transplant staff for a month.

I sent occasional texts, asking for updates. Meanwhile, we had to plan our summer. My parents wanted to see us and the kids. (Mostly the kids?) We bought plane tickets, not knowing if I was going to have surgery before August. For the first time ever, we bought cancellation insurance. What if I couldn’t go?

Finally, finally, I received word that I was set up for the final hurdle – a tribunal.

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Hear ye, hear ye, nothing to fear except REJECTION

(The word in Hebrew is vaada, which I guess could be construed as “committee,” but tribunal really captures the feeling.)

The vaada was basically the opportunity for knowledgable professionals who had no ties to anyone or anything in the kidney donation process to make sure I was sane, competent, informed, and acting with free will.

It was 45 minutes of questioning before a doctor (a pediatrician), a lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse, and a social worker. I got to recite stats! Like my chance of dying on the table (1 in 3,000) and my chance of contracting kidney disease with one kidney (6% vs 2% if I kept 2 kidneys). I got to answer/laugh at ridiculous questions like “if God gave you two kidneys, who are you to give one of them away?” and “How can you ensure that the recipient will take care of the donated kidney?”

Compared to the one-on-one with the psychologist, it felt pretty easy. Although someone (the lawyer, maybe?) noted that I seemed tense and I needed to remember that everyone was on my side. Hahahahaha!

In a surprise twist, Taxman and I met the recipient and his partner. He was facing his own vaada – which was much shorter than mine. (I guess he had to prove that he would act in good faith and treat a new kidney nicely?) We learned more about his medical history, such as it was – his kidney failure had come on suddenly, after a seemingly insignificant illness (fever led to a doctor’s visit, where his bp was so high it resulted in an ER trip, where surprise! He was in renal failure and started dialysis the next day).

(This was suddenly feeling very Israeli, as a strict protocol was being broken. Altruistic kidney donors are not supposed to meet the recipients beforehand; as the nurses at Beilinson had told me, donors can drop out at any time – even on the day of the surgery. I was feeling very confident in my decision, but what if I weren’t?)

We were told to expect an answer within a couple of days.

But we were given the go-ahead within hours.

Coming up in part III, a plan comes together

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In a shocking turn of events (admittedly, not to me or a few others), I donated my left kidney last week.

How did this happen? Am I crazy? What was I thinking?

I will try to lay it out in a logical way, perhaps in a vain effort to make people see that what I did is not heroic, but rather just a stretch of “normal” (or what should be normal), and encourage people to check it out for themselves.

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If only kidneys were so readily available 

In the beginning

During the last Shabbat of 2017, we were away visiting family. Instead of sitting next to my daughter in synagogue on Friday night, I was sitting behind her and my niece. She was reading an alon Shabbat, a free weekly newspaper, and I noticed an ad with a bright pink background and white lettering. Seeking kidney donation, blood type A, please contact [name/phone number].

This is my blood type. But I haven’t even donated blood in a long time, because the drives all seem to be in the evenings when my kids need to be schlepped to and from tennis lessons or birthday parties or the library, and yelled at to shower or eat dinner or unload the dishwasher, and I don’t have 90 minutes to drive across town, wait in line, donate, wait some more, and then come home.

Anyway, I couldn’t get this ad out of my mind. This is a country that prides itself on its inhabitants behaving like family. Even if your family is small, your friends and neighbors, coworkers and fellow students are supposed to bridge the gaps for you. But clearly whoever was on the other side of this ad was out of those options and was reaching out – to strangers. It was haunting.

As Taxman was falling asleep that night, I said, “What would you say if I wanted to donate my kidney?”

“I would support you,” he said.

Over Shabbat we talked it about it more, and that week he reached out via phone to the name behind the ad. “She was very emotional,” he reported about his conversation. “It’s for her partner. Nobody else has responded.” We collected a lengthy list of tests that the transplant center at Beilinson Hospital demanded as a preamble – and I began.

January to March

Imagine filling out forms in triplicate and that kind of sums up the preliminary testing.

  • Blood pressure at the nurses’ station – 3 times
  • Urinalysis + blood panel – 3 times

Plus a kidney ultrasound and, to my delight, a 24-hour urine collection for creatinine testing.

My results were shipped off via the internets to the transplant department at Beilinson Hospital (regarded as the top transplant facility in the country – and why this potential recipient already had a file open there).

Mid-March – An invitation to the mothership

Once these results had been digested by the Powers that Be in PT (Petach Tivka, location of Beilinson Hospital AKA Rabin Medical Center WHY DOES EVERYTHING IN ISRAEL HAVE FOUR NAMES?), I was invited to come in and have more screenings and get some more information.

I met with the nurse who takes care of the administrative side of kidney donation at the hospital. As we spoke, she took note of my blood pressure about seven times. You know, like you do.

A few other potential donors had also been summoned that morning, and we met in a group with a nephrologist, who was the first of probably a dozen people to describe the surgery, its risks (immediate and long-term), and the long-term pros and cons of a donation. Later that morning, she took my family history and did an initial physical exam.

I had Taxman with me, both as a translator and to minimize my having to relate the entire morning later. Obviously, it was important that he was on board – but we had no idea how important until later.

End of March – Images, images, and a glance into my psyche

Still in it to win it (something in the nephrologist’s stats had been enough to cause one potential donor to excuse himself in the middle of the round), I was called back to Beilinson in late March for a day of testing. More blood and urine – this should go without saying – and other tests:

  • EKG
  • Heart echo
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan with contrast (presumably focused on my kidneys)

I spoke to both a psychologist and a social worker, to try to answer the why I wanted to do this and how I would cope with having a major surgery fall into the midst of my otherwise uneventful life.

For the first time of many, I described myself as taking only small risks, as in whatever is required to function – the first time of many when I made a joke about the risks of driving on Israeli highways – but ultimately feeling a responsibility to share my good health with someone who hasn’t been gifted in the same way.

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Israeli highways and byways – not for the risk-averse 

The last physical test – and a major test of my patience

I had to get a pap smear. As every single nurse and phlebotomist who had swiped my HMO card since January had told me, I was overdue for a pap smear. My file at Beilinson could not go forward without it. I was supposed to have one at the hospital at the end of March, but we ran out of time that testing day.

(My cervix has nothing to do with my kidneys, for the curious. It was part of the “general health screenings.”)

I tried to nudge the file forward with promises of sending along results once I had them,  but things ground to a halt. I quickly made an appointment with Random Gynecologist Who Had A Free Appointment – mine was just coming back from maternity leave and would never had been available. Then had to wait on the results. Which could not be hurried, for hell or high water. Deep breaths.

April also contained another 24-hour urine collection, because now I was an expert and could easily execute this. Plus some other shorter ones, I think. Give me any sort of container; I’ll pee in it. (Beware.)

Coming up in part II:
My mental health screening, where 1977 loomed large

 

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Zogwarg

Bathtime

I don’t ever want to be one of these “KIDS, TODAY!” people, because we were all KIDS, TODAY! once, yes?

But I realized that one thing my kids are really cheated out of are newspapers. We consume our news in all kinds of ways – radio snippets, podcasts, online articles, television. However, I recall sitting down with sections of the Sunday paper from when I was in elementary school. I lived in the DC suburbs, so we got the Washington Post. Possibly also the New York Times because my parents are  East Coast liberal elites, despite moving away from it in 1991. I definitely remember reading Parade Magazine, and the Washington Post magazine — Dave Barry’s column! — a gateway for The New Yorker.

And there were the comics. I felt so sorry for people who only got The New York Times. Because no comics.

I feel like the “funny papers” helped me develop my sense of humor. Before Buzzfeed or Cute Emergency were available 24 hours a day, there were daily strips, which parlayed to full-color and fabulous on Sunday. The late 1980s seemed to have really glorious comics for a kid like me, smart and sardonic and constantly feeling like a fish out of water.

It wasn’t just me. My 7th grade English teacher showed up one day with now-famous Far Side “Midvale School for the Gifted” panel, posted it on the board, and laughed about it for the rest of the year. (It was an accelerated English class. Of course it was.)

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As much as this applied to me, Miss M would probably win the prize for this.

Nothing could hold a candle, though, to Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin seemed to contain an entire universe within him. So wise, but all id. Hobbes the long-suffering companion, smarter than his best friend but trapped by his own physical restrictions. It was a siren song for all the junior high school lovelorn kids who confessed their secrets to their dog or cat, or covertly continued to sleep with a stuffed animal. (Who, me? Yeah, me.)

Over time, several Calvin & Hobbes collections accumulated in my library. They moved with me to college, to New York, to Israel. My kids came to love them as much as I did.

I hadn’t opened one in years; my reading time is really reserved for novels. But the other night I picked up The Revenge of the Baby-Sat from my floor (one of my kids had been reading it in my bed and dropped it next to the bed, instead of putting it back on the shelf or on my bedside table, which really tells you a lot about both me and them).

And goodness me, guess who I am? I am Calvin’s mom.

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What parent among us has not tried to civilize a child?

Yes, and no. My kids have never had the streak of maliciousness that Calvin does; I haven’t had to worry for their personal safety in the same way. But wow, the rest is quite identifiable. Tempting to eat a new food, begging to do chores, coaxing to look normal for a photo FOR ONCE, OH MY GOD. Calvin’s mom looks pissed in the middle of the night when summoned to answer philosophical questions or wash clothes (!). She looks resigned when paying the babysitter. She looks startled when she realizes it’s been quiet and she’s been sitting down for too long. She looks determined when she’s prodding Calvin into the bath.

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How evergreen is this?

All of these things are universal parent experiences, but of course, you may have missed it upon your first read at 9 or 12 or 20.

It is a rare gem of pop culture that can be delivered on more than one level. I have always cited Sesame Street as one example, but now I officially appoint Calvin & Hobbes to this firmament.

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Purim, 2 years ago

And, as I was composing this post in my head too late at night, I realized that, yes, dumbbell, I have been Calvin’s mom…for a long time.

 

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The last year has felt like the world has been tilting wildly and weirdly, and often not in good ways.

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The first six months were emotionally tortuous, as we applied to high schools for Miss M. Her brightness and quirkiness have not diminished over time, and her official Aspergers diagnosis from a couple of years ago was refreshed by a new round of professionals. There didn’t seem to be a school that suited her within commuting distance. Not having an answer to “where is she going for seventh grade?” as May 1, then June 1, rolled past was…stressful. As usual, I dealt with my stress by not sleeping much.

The school question was finally settled, then RESETTLED at a different place OMG LIFE ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME? just in time to deal with the final birth pangs of her bat mitzvah. (Which was, admittedly, super great .)

Then the whole election debacle-slash-world-upside down. I still have a lot of anger about this, which spills over into things like discussing with Taxman in front of the kids why I shouldn’t call him a rapist in front of the kids but sexual assaulter is ok because he’s admitted it. Incoming president of the United States. I just. (For my utter bewilderment, see my Twitter feed.)

Also not a lot of sleeping happening in October and November. Because time zones, and who is driving this plane; are we crashing?

So when an acquaintance announced on Facebook that she was going to run an eight-week knitting for beginners class, I said please, please pick me!

Knitting was something my mom did, and my aunt. I have no idea where they learned – maybe their grandmother? (I certainly never saw MY grandmother with knitting needles in her hands, unless by knitting needles you mean cigarette or gin and tonic.) When I was old enough to have enough patience to learn (an early attempt had been quickly shelved), my brother was a baby and then a toddler. I think my mom, who worked full time, put away her own knitting for years.

As an adult, I’ve realized I have a ton of friends who knit, enough so that I felt I was really missing out on a generational experience.

So I’m learning now.

I’m not as terrible as I thought I’d be, although I’ve managed to break two sets of not-great circular needles.

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But I’m being propped up, sometimes literally, by Miss M, the ringer I drive to knitting class. (The kids’ class didn’t fit with her schedule.) She’s a natural at this stuff, if a little overly ambitious, so has saved my ass many times with her nimble fingers and multiple crochet hooks. She can’t really keep up with the “bitch” element of the class (a lot about parent teacher meetings and planning bar mitzvahs), but she’s spot on with the “stitch” part.

So that’s a skill I’m hoping to take with me into 2017 and beyond. I’m seeing the beginning of how it becomes A Thing – beautiful yarns, complex patterns, different equipment, but at the same time a way to really turn off the world and concentrate on what’s literally directly in front of you.

I’ll be here with my in-house knitting coach, hoping to finish my hat before winter ends. (In the meantime, I had to buy myself fingerless gloves because we keep the house at like 60 degrees.)

PS This blog turned 11 today! Crazy.

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Hi! I’m still here!

My sanity is…debatable.

Miss M turned 12, and we had 120 people for dinner to celebrate.

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Actually, it started last summer, when I said something incredibly stupid, like, “For the bat mitzvah, Miss M should make 12 pieces of art, then we should auction them off for charity at a gala dinner. We will make it nice enough to justify the grandparents schlepping over from America.”

And nobody with some sense thought to stop me and my gigantic mouth.

(System failure!)

So that’s pretty much what happened. Miss M learned her Torah portion and commentaries in-depth, created art pieces, wrote explanations of them in Hebrew and English, picked charities, and there you have it. EASY PEASY. (Hahaha, plus dozens of sleepless nights. And speeches!)

We of course hired an event planner because I still don’t know how to say “easel” in Hebrew, never mind having a clue where or how to rent ELEVEN of them for one night. She also herded us through a catering crisis and a billion other things.

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My takeaway is that three detail-oriented people on one project makes for a beautifully micromanaged event, but if I never have to answer my phone or return a related email again I would be ok with that.

Anyway, it was a big enough thing that I had hair and makeup and wore heels. It was nice.

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Then we squired our American visitors around for a few more days for some sightseeing in Jerusalem and Tzipori. Then we had a big Shabbat do (more food! more speeches!) at our synagogue and had 13 relatives over for meals.

Then I legit had jet lag, trying to recover. Did not matter that I hadn’t been on a plane – I needed midday naps and freezer meals to get through dinner.

I’m better now.

Whew.

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So here is another unexpected tidbit of parenting. Something I did not think about back when I was in the haze of poopy diapers and 90-minute naps.

From the time your kids are maybe four or five you have a lot to answer for. To them. They are natural inquisitors. Which seems so incredibly adorable (in someone else’s kid, natch) when you have a toddler who strings together two or three words at a time and then passes out in the back seat of the car.

And then.

Everything is why. Everything is how. Everything is but. Every change to routine has to be justified or the Earth will wobble on its axis. (Hint: It already is wobbling! Alert the media!)

Related digression:

I, stupidly, bought a different brand of milk than usual last week. I think it was because the expiration date was further away. Or because it was a special promotion — 1.1 liters for the price of 1. Or they didn’t have 1% milk in bags and that was what I wanted, so I bought a carton. If you are over the age of, say, 15 or 18 or 20, you probably wouldn’t give a damn about the WILDLY DIFFERENT-LOOKING MILK but would just pour it over your cereal or add it to your coffee or whatever because you have other things going on in your life besides giving this poor carton of milk the side-eye.

The parent in charge of this tableau is miles ahead of the game by putting the milk in a neutral container and distracting the hordes with cupcakes.

The parent in charge of this tableau is miles ahead of the game by putting the milk in a neutral container and distracting the hordes with cupcakes. 

So over the past three days I have had to have multiple conversations about this milk. Leading to questions about economics, shelf-stable milks, and what it means to be homogenized. And boy, well, I will really try not to make this mistake again. (Apologies to the Tara dairy. Don’t worry, I am still your number one cottage cheese fan.)

But yes, parents: You get drawn in at first because they are young, still. They’re learning! You are your child’s first teacher! But chances are you have only one or two degrees, if that, and probably not in something relevant to what they want to know. Even if you know the answer to the first round of questions, there is going to be a zigzag you don’t expect. You will start by talking about a rainbow and instead of discussing optics or physics, you’re going to have to know how they made paint colors in the 16th century. You will have to have more breadth than the encyclopedia and be faster than Google.

But here’s the rub: You will never have to expound on something you know. You will never have match movies of the 1980s to their iconic songs. You will never have to explain why a tomato is actually a fruit. You will never have to opine on whether giving a cat the name Picky-Picky was a self-fulfilling prophecy. So you may as well abandon what you know and think. You won’t be needing it where you’re going.

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