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Confessions of a Yam-less Mother

May 9, 2009 | by Dr. Jackie Yaris

As a doctor, wife and mother, I was blessed to have it all. But that leaves me on my toes, spinning as fast as I possibly can.

It was one of those impossibly beautiful late fall days -- everything seemed freshly washed. The sky shone a stunning blue, the red and yellow leaves clung tenuously to their branches, dancing and shimmering in the early morning sunlight. Two of my kids and I were walking to school doing our favorite morning cheer.

"What does Mommy need?" I prompt.

"Coffee!!" the kids exclaim.

"What does she need?"

"Coffee, coffee!!"

It was then, perhaps triggered by their angelic voices, that I had one of those fleeting moments of absolute clarity. I had finally gotten it down. As Ladies Home Journal put it, I could "have it all" -- a husband, three little kids and a professional career. I had it mastered. Like a ballet dancer pirouetting -- the paradigm of strength and grace.

Then my son said, "What about the yams?"

"The yams?" Oh… the yams.

The dancer crashed to the ground in an awkward heap.

It had started about a week ago innocuously enough -- a note taped to my son's shirt. They were making baskets of food at his school for the needy and needed our contribution -- eight fresh yams. I am all for helping people who don't have enough to eat, I'm just not quite sure what my son will learn by having his already frazzled mother make yet another trip to the grocery store.

"Clearly, your lack of yams means you don't care about your child."

On my more paranoid days, I am convinced the teachers sit around and maliciously plan what sort of scavenger hunt they are going to send the parents on. As the week progressed, the notes requesting yams got more and more urgent -- the words more persuasive. Reading between the lines, the message was "Clearly, your lack of yams means you don't care about your child."

As the daughter of an ardent feminist, I was taken to feminist consciousness meetings as an infant, and Marlo Thomas' "Free to be you and Me" was the background music of my childhood. "You can be anything you want to be," it sang out, and from the age of five I desperately wanted to be a doctor, but I also wanted to be a wife and mother. I was infinitely blessed to get it all, but that leaves me in my present predicament -- yamless, on my toes, spinning as fast as I possibly can.

My script reads like the scrawlings in an insane person's diary -- the inner dialogue going something like this: What was Mrs. Coasts' morning blood sugar? Joey needs to go to the dentist. Do we have milk? Follow up on Mr. Miller's pneumonia. Call the rug cleaner. RSVP for Chanukah party. Buy present for new nephew. Should I start checking Apo A? What are we going to have for dinner?

This duality transcends my thoughts and characterizes my life as well, creating some odd juxtapositions. Like when a patient is greeted by one of my kids coloring in the corner of my office when my housekeeper doesn't show, or when I have to shush a three-year-old while on the phone with a patient discussing his chest pain. The rainbow picture painstakingly drawn by my son is as prominently placed as my medical diplomas in my exam room; both are an inexorable part of who I am.

I wish it were always an easy union. Typically, I am not taken seriously by my colleagues because I refuse to work more than part time; sometimes an emergency at the hospital precludes a Chanukah play, and occasionally I am too crazed to even think about yams.

I have many friends who are mothers with yams. These women know not just their kids' teachers, but ALL the teachers, and are the same ones who are at the Flower Mart at 4:30 a.m. to buy bouquets for a school fundraiser. When they take my kids home from school in an emergency they return them well fed, even having done an art project!

They tend to have beautifully warm and inviting homes, often smelling like freshly baked bread or cookies, and will stay on the phone with me for half an hour when I attempt to make a recipe and lovingly admonish, "No, marsala is not a spice."

Recently, one of my friends, perhaps seeing my tired eyes and realizing we were probably having salad for Shabbat lunch, insisted we join her already full Shabbat table.

Upon tasting the cinnamon scented challah, my four-year-old leaned over and whispered "Ask her where she bought the challah." When told that it was homemade, the shock evident on his face revealed this was definitely a new concept for him. I think he and I both know I could no sooner bake a challah than train an elephant -- and I don't really want to attempt either.

My friends know, however, that if they call one hour before Yom Kippur with an infection, I will prescribe antibiotics and hunt them down after Kol Nidre to make sure the medicine started working; or that should their kids start wheezing at night, I will listen to their lungs to find out if they are congested. And when their husband's lab tests come back, I will spend a half hour on the phone with them analyzing each number, and lovingly admonish, "No, LDL is bad cholesterol."

Like the Ladies Homes Journal says, "I can have it all. I just can't do it all."

So in answer to my son's question on that perfect autumn morning, I am yam-less. And dried apricot-less. And disposable camera-less (and any other random demand-less). But I hope, as I remember his sweet, crooked little smile as he proudly held up the X-ray I was using to teach the heart to his kindergarten class, I can make up for it somehow.

Like the Ladies Homes Journal says, "I can have it all. I just can't do it all." But it is amazingly heartening to know I have friends and family to pick up the slack.

So I remain like the ballet dancer, spinning on her toes. Most of the time I walk around slightly dizzy. Occasionally I fall to the ground with an embarrassing thud. But sometimes, very rarely, for a fleeting moment, I dance -- joyful, graceful and balanced.

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