Homework is for Parents

November 17, 2016

Last week, as I was sitting at my desk, mindlessly scrolling through FaceBook, I read that a former colleague, just three years older than me, met an untimely, rather sudden death, leaving behind a wife and two small children. Numb, tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe it. On call over the weekend, I admitted patients much younger than me and watched their grieving parents as I told them there was nothing left to do; I admitted patients much older than me and told their children it was time to reconsider the “goals of care”; and I admitted patients nearly my age and told their sobbing spouses and their children, too young to understand, that mommy would never be coming home. We diagnosed not one, not two, but three patients with metastatic cancer as an “incidental finding” noted on the CT ordered to look for rib fractures or a spleen injury, instead finding surprise tumors lurking all over their abdomen, spine, and lymph nodes.

And in between these tragedies, I went back and forth between home and work, trying to block out the vivid images and gut wrenching feelings long enough to decide what to make for dinner, get invitations out for the birthday party, do the laundry, order glass for Scott’s new desk, follow up with our financial advisor, buy plane tickets for our vacation, update my CV for my annual review, finish the book chapter I had been assigned to write, collect more data for my research, answer emails about our old house in Chicago, arrange to board the dog when we are out of town, and talk to Jack’s teacher about his math grade. As if I didn’t have enough on my mind, the homework was piling up for the kids: the chameleon research project, the multiplication quiz, the 49 prepositions to memorize, the bird costume. Ben and I start searching the internet for information on chameleons…a few looked promising. We clicked on one site and while we learned about the chameleon’s habitat, the oddly placed Victoria’s Secret pop-up add had me suspicious of the site and Ben feeling a little uncomfortable. “Mom, gimme that,” he says as he grabs my laptop and types Kiddle in the search bar, taking us safely to screens full of animated robots and primary colors. And seriously, we just had Halloween and now here I am having to come up with some costume for my 1st grader. I search Pinterest and for a minute I feel crafty and determined. But a few seconds later I find myself on Amazon, filtering by Prime status…I plan to just order some wings, feathers pre-attached, and call it a day. Scott looks over my shoulder and says, “I’m pretty sure we can just make something.” Really? Out of what? By Tuesday? I’m too tired. I can’t do this.

Scott and Sam descend into the basement and return with pieces of cardboard with two strategically placed holes cut out so Sam can slip his arms through the wings. They cut out “feathers” from old construction paper which has probably been in the “Art Bin” in the basement for years…I bet it’s moved with us four times. They carefully glued the feathers on, one by one. And then Sam slipped those wings on and ran around the house…he was flying. And my heart was both overjoyed and a little shameful. Scott was smiling in the contentment that he had created with Sam while I was just looking to check the box, get the wings done…order from Amazon. I missed it. I didn’t get to feel the satisfaction of conquering the bird costume. But I was deeply joyful for the chance to watch my husband and son take on this project together.

The homework…the spelling words, the quiz, the project…yes, it’s work, but if I just step back for a second and realize that it’s also moments for me to not just finish the project, but to create together; to not just complete the 15 minutes of reading, but to crawl in bed with my baby boy and listen to him read; to not just search for information, but to discover together. These are the moments that my friends and patients and their families no longer have and here I am passing them up one after another. Seriously, Jen.

So I made some cookies tonight and let them each eat more than they should have. I watched Sam and Scott finish the bird costume and Sam flew around the house again. I put my arms around him and read about the Space Cat. God, give me the patience to see the moments you are giving me and please, Jesus, help me slow down, calm down, and get down with my kids, before these moments are all gone.

Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.


  1. Reply

    Deborah S. Griffieth

    Praying for you, your husband, your kiddos, and your patients…and so very, very thankful that we serve a God Who isn’t overwhelmed or distressed by it all…but continues to work in each individual heart and life. <3 Thank you for sharing!

  2. Reply


    You are a great mother, wife, sister, friend and role model. The little things in life are easy to over look for all of us. The fact that you realize it, even for a short time, is a huge step. Your kids are fantastic and crazy busy, I can’t imagine keeping up with them and everything else you do. Everyone knows you love them and you are working hard for them and you. Don’t ever forget you are loved for who you are, not what you do. And we all love you regardless of any imperfections. You will always be perfect in the eyes of your loved ones. Hug those kids a little hard while you can and enjoy their company.

  3. Reply

    Pat Levins

    What a poignant article. As a former clinical pharmacist at Grant, I know how hard your job is. Thank you and I’m glad I found your blog.

  4. Reply

    Stacey Wickham

    Jen you add an amazing mom,wife and surgeon. I remember a few months back when I had that exact moment of realizing that I was letting the important moments pass me by. Family is everything and taking more time for those moments. You already know what an amazing person I think you are buy i love telling you. I am truly blessed to have you as a friend.

    1. Reply


      Thanks, Stacey! Your friendship and encouragement mean the world to me!!

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