Virulent Word of Mouse

May 30, 2012

A chipped tooth off the old block

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 9:05 pm

It was one of those phone calls every parent dreads. It came from the grade school. My eight year old son was hurt. Tripped and fell on the playground, banged his head against a pole, and chipped his front teeth. Not one tooth. Both.

The phone call came as I was just about to go into a seminar by one of my colleagues. Needless to say, I did not go. Normally I play the role of taxi driver with my children, schlepping them from one activity to another. I played that role again, and this time I threw in a little ambulance driver.

In person it was better than it seemed on the phone. My son had left the nurse’s office by the time I got to school. He had rejoined his second-grade class. It could not hurt too much, if he had rejoined his class, I concluded. Then he showed me his teeth, and told me he did not want to talk. It seems he had not entirely come to terms with less of each tooth, but the urge to participate with his class won out. No law says that an eight year old has to stay in the grade-school nurse’s office until the parent arrives, after all.

The dentist said it was a remarkable chip, and dentists see this sort of thing frequently.  She had never seen one so perfectly symmetrical. She looked several times just to be sure it was symmetrical. No bloody nose. No scrape on the chin. A perfectly symmetrical chip of the two front teeth. My son had to hit the pole just right, she concluded. (See the picture and try not to squirm).

Modern dentistry is amazing. An instant x-ray found no internal damage. The dentist finished up her last case and came back to us, just fitting in our little emergency. New materials. New methods for construction. Just a half hour later and my son had two new chip-less front teeth. (See picture).

Adults say encouraging things to eight year old boys. The dentist, the staff, and I repeatedly called him brave. Most of the time this sort of chatter is unconvincing, more hope than actuality. Even when all the evidence in front of us suggests the contrary, we want the boy to be brave, to act brave, or to even fake it just for a brief moment.

But the evidence did suggest it. He did deserve the praise. He did not shed a tear in the dentist’s office through the ENTIRE procedure. Is this my eight year old son? Not a tear.  Who is this child? I did not recognize him.

And then it happened. The dentist was done, and declared that he could not eat carrots or salami sticks or crackers or apples or anything hard for two weeks. That one got the eyes all teary.  Just goes to show that a chipped tooth does not hurt at all unless it gets to the stomach.

When we got home he looked in the mirror and smiled. He went away and came back to the mirror several times. Tried the mirror in the hallway, then the one in the bathroom.

My son got to have any (soft) dinner he wanted. He asked for noodles from a local Italian place. He loves their linguine with garlic and olive oil. He had seconds.

I offered him a Sundae, which is a special treat for a week night, and appropriate in light of the circumstances. The trauma of chipped teeth seemed to call for vanilla ice cream with strawberries and bananas and whipped cream and a cherry on top.

He said maybe tomorrow. Poor boy. Filled up on too many noodles. He has had a rough day.

January 16, 2012

A father’s wish on your Bat Mitzvah

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:19 am

My dear Rebecca,

Soon you will become focused on the urgent distractions of teenage life, not to mention imminent partying and dancing. Before that happens I would like to steal five minutes and make a wish for your future.

You were born with extraordinary gifts of character. You are responsible to a fault, a tad too literal for your own good, and you possess a natural tendency to aspire to do more than necessary. It was no surprise to your mother and I that you performed beautifully today at your Bat Mitzvah. We are very proud of you.

I sometimes joke that you are a very low-maintenance child. I may regret saying this at some point, but I would like to give you permission to stop being low-maintenance – at least for a little while. It is time for you to lose some of your innocence and grow beyond mere instinct.

Think of it this way. You already possess a keen ear for honesty and graciousness. Without much effort those traits will blossom as you grow up, turning you into a responsible and conscientious adult. Experience can help you bloom further, developing other traits you also possess, such as patience and generosity.

Consider patience. You have been endowed with an abundance of it. It enables you to step back from impulse, to reflect thoughtfully, or look beyond the merely ephemeral. However, it also has a downside. Patience fosters endless waiting if it lacks a well-specified aim and if it goes adrift.

As an adult you will face decisions that will try your patience. This is particularly so with choices over whether to give up or stay the course. These can be the most difficult in an adult life. So here is my first wish for you: to learn to refine your patience with your gifts for honesty and grace.

Now consider generosity. While you already are kind, generosity goes further. It is the foundation for the grandest form of human charity, whether it is writ in a large selfless gift or a small nurturing gesture of love.

As an adult you will see the fruits and failures of your generosity, how generosity leads to great achievements and disappointments. So my second wish for you is this: to learn to become aware of the fear of disappointment, to learn how not to make it central to your actions. Give to those around you in the most graceful way possible, with warmth, without expectation, and honestly.

Here is what I am trying say. Patience and generosity together, offered honestly and graciously, enable partnership and love, and many of the mature behaviors of grownup life. But these character traits do not arise by themselves. They develop during experiences, and most such experiences fall outside the routine. Some can be painful. I wish that you will have the courage to face these experiences as an inexorable part of growing up, and learn from them.

I have one more wish, and it starts with the hope that you do not take this advice too literally. This is just advice, not a rule. If you come up with a thoughtful answer to life’s riddles in your own unique voice, then it is your prerogative to use your gifts as you wish. So this is my last wish: whether or not you give these words any more than fifteen seconds of thought, please take a moment and share your thoughts with your mother and me. We would like to know your thoughts as you grow. I hope we can have a conversation.

And with that, it is time to party. Let’s start the party with a toast to life. L’chiam.

July 6, 2010

My Body as Battleground for Mankind’s War with Bacteria

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:00 pm

Long before the fish left the sea for land, there was conflict between complex and single-cell organisms. The conflict persisted in spite of a great deal of evolution by both, and in spite of the creation of numerous arrangements which allowed these very different forms of life to cooperate from time to time.

Mankind altered the relationship irreversibly over a half century ago. The large scale production and mass distribution of Penicillin ushered in the change. Ever since then, the bacteria have been evolving immunities to commonly used antibiotics, and mankind has been inventing new antibiotics for the Darwinian-surviving bacteria.

Last week I got a first hand look at the conflict. Some antibiotic-immune bacteria, which I will affectionately call Darwinian survivors, ran roughshod over my home turf. In short, I had a case of Sepsis, and it was the most intense illness I have ever experienced.

My brief and intense suffering has a public-service message embedded in it:  If a doctor ever enumerates a set of symptoms that merit “aggressive treatment,” please pay attention. When the symptoms arise, muster whatever energy you have left, and — pronto, rapido, snell, sans tarder — check yourself into an emergency room ASAP.

My experience can illustrate that lesson. I apologize that this account is a bit long. Writing this is not entirely for public service. I have another goal. I am trying to come to grips with what happened and make sense of it. Writing brings closure after traumatic events, so this is therapeutic too.

(Also, apologies to all medical professions if I get some of the medicine wrong in the account below. Just email me. Thanks.)

(more…)

May 31, 2010

A Bar-Mitzvah, adulthood, and the big puzzle

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 1:40 pm

Dear Noah,

Like all teenagers, soon you will conclude that your father resembles Darth Vader. Fortunately, this has not happened yet. Since I do not expect to have your attention for much longer I would like to take five minutes to say a few things.

For the Bar Mitzvah you had to learn to lead a service. You have done exceedingly well. It is quite an achievement, and I am proud of you.

What did mastering all material for the Bar Mitzvah teach you? I would claim it introduced you to life’s biggest puzzles.

You may not see that yet. Right now you can see what you just did. The Bar Mitzvah required *study* and *organization* and *perseverance*.

Look, there is good news right in that experience. It provides you a handle for adulthood. Many of life’s challenges require a bit of study, a tad of organization, and a dose of perseverance. In other words, once you can handle the responsibilities behind a Bar Mitzvah, then you are ready to handle many of life’s challenges like a mature adult. That is no small thing.

I wish that was it, but there is a catch. With this handle comes adulthood’s big puzzle. (more…)

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