Friday, September 25, 2009

Science Words

Today I took my first Anatomy and Physiology exam. There will be four this semester. This one covered a general overview of the eleven systems of the body (can you name them?), the anatomical terms for the regions of the body (what do you call the region at the front of the elbow? Huh? Huh?), the directional terms of the body (the gall bladder is what to the liver?), the nine regions of the abdominopelvic cavity, the structure and function of cellular anatomy (oy vey), the twenty tissues of the body (epithelial, connective, nervous, and muscular--don't get me started on the nightmare of learning to distinguish between each kind of epithelial and connective tissue), the various membranes of the body, and the integumentary system in great detail, which is composed of the skin, hair, nails, and associated glands.

It's a lot to know. It's a lot to sort through. I commented to my professor, "You're so lucky that you just already know all of this stuff." I mean it. Here I am complaining that smooth muscle tissue looks deviously close to dense regular connective tissue under the microscope, and to her trained eye, they're apple and orange. I want that. In every field of knowledge. It's just cool to know things, to understand them.

I am in awe of the vocabulary of science. So many words! That's the thing that stands out to me regularly. There are words for everything! And just when you think you've identified it all, No! Each of those things has parts, and each of those parts has a name, and those parts have parts with names too! It's very organized. And kind of chaotic too, until I make sense of it all. All those years of Latin sure are paying off, but some of that is countered by my aging brain that isn't quite as spongy as it was the first go-round in school.

The first exam was in the lab, on a big screen, with a paper answer blank where we would write our answers. 50 questions, shown one at a time on the screen, with an image of a body structure or tissue or cell, with an arrow pointing to something that we were to identify. The image of the lungs came up with an arrow pointing to the membrane covering them. My mind went blank. I knew the lungs were in the pleural cavity, and I knew the membrane attached to the organ is the visceral membrane, but what was the other word? My mind finally gave me 'pleura'. Visceral pleura. I wrote it down, but not with a great deal of confidence.

For the next exam, we moved to the computer lab, a strange museum-like room with taxidermied animals on shelves and behind glass cabinets staring at us, and a wall of fetuses at varying stages of development in jars that I couldn't quite get my mind off of. This part of the exam was multiple choice on the computer. That dang lung membrane question came up again. One of the answers was indeed pleura. I checked it. But several questions later, I went back. There was that word 'peritoneum' too. Wait, was that it? Mesothelium and endothelium I knew were not contenders, but suddenly I couldn't remember what peritoneum was. Maybe 'pleura' was a trick, to confuse us with the pleural cavity but not membrane? I went through this whole thing in my mind, that if I put 'pleura' as my answer, then I could get both questions correct, or I could get both questions incorrect. If I put 'peritoneum' here, I could at least get one of them right. I took the chance to cover my bases.

Stupid girl. It was, indeed, pleura. (Peritoneum is the membrane that lines the organs in the abdominal cavity. Oh yeah!) Why do I always doubt my instincts?

Oh well. The first exam is behind me now, and I feel so relieved. I spent so many hours in preparation. Up to my eyes in words, words, words. Dreaming of tissue samples and stages of mitosis and the layers of the epidermis. When I got home, I fell asleep for over two hours, just mentally drained.

This weekend I will take a break from studies, and then on Monday, I will hit the books again and begin learning the words of the skeletal system. These words, at least, will not be completely foreign to me. Especially the radius. (Did I tell you that embarrassing story?)

Oh. Well, here goes. So, the first week of class, the bookstore ran out of texts and lab manuals. I was able to get a book from Amazon, but no manual, which left me feeling very insecure. Our first class, we were to get into lab groups and complete a few experiments regarding relationships between bone length and height. We had to measure each other's arms, measure heights, and figure the relationship. (40%, in case you're wondering). Not having the lab manual in my possession, I had to rely on just the photocopied pages of the lab report that was due that my professor was kind enough to scan in for those of us without. One section of the report asked for a hypothesis of the relationship between the radius and the height. (Here's the embarrassing part.) Without the full instructions, and in full math gear with all the measurements, I hesitated only a minute about the word 'radius'. I mean, a radius is half the distance across a circle, and the length of the arm is almost half the height of the person, so whatever. I completed my lab report with those figures, arm length to height. The night before the report was due, someone else as clueless as I was posted on the class website about that question, to which the professor corrected him with, "No (dummy) the radius is a bone in the arm."

Oh yeah. I remember that now.


There were five skeletons in the lab room that we were supposed to have measured radii on in class. Obviously, my group didn't understand that at all. I didn't know what to do. This was our first graded assignment, and no late turn-ins would be accepted, despite the fact that having manuals was out of our control.

I decided to chance it. I stuffed a tape measure into my purse and went to school several hours early, picked up a newly arrived manual, went up to the 4th floor of the science building and sat outside of my classroom, where another class was being held. Not knowing why I was even sitting there, after 30 minutes or so I got up to go over to the library and try to figure out the rest of the lab report the best I could on my own arm, through flesh and tissue. But then I had the distinct impression to stay, sitting there on the floor. So I did.

Five minutes later, the doors fly open and students file out. I asked someone if they were on break or finished, and they were finished, so I figured now was my chance to sneak in and get some measurements before the professor locked up the door. I was hoping not to be noticed in the flow of bodies leaving. I ducked in, set my books on the lab table and whipped out my measuring tape. I started measuring skeletons like crazy, jotting down numbers on a scrap piece of paper. The professor saw me almost immediately.

"What are you doing?" he asked me.

"I'm in Professor Trendler's class at 1:00 and I just got my lab manual and need some measurements," I said meekly.

(And here was my anatomy miracle)

"Oh. Well, I'll just leave the door unlocked and you can go ahead and stay in here and have the room to yourself then," he offered.

I thanked him profusely and continued measuring and writing, and then figuring and analyzing. I had over an hour in the room all by myself, enough time to get the numbers and the lab report ready to turn in. I was immensely grateful for that little prompting that kept me sitting on the floor of the hallway. Heavenly Father even cares about my lab reports.

And all of this, so that I can now tell you that the radius is the larger of the two bones in the forearm, and it is approximately 15% of a person's height. Just so you know. And just so you know that sometimes I am a complete moron when it comes to words.

But three words I will never forget: pleura, peritoneum, radius.

And now you won't either.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hallelujah! Woe is Me.

On Sunday, exhausted from a long week, and drained from church services, I got down on the floor to change Conor's diaper. The contents made me want to wretch, and I said out loud, "Okay, Conor, this is gross. I don't want to do this any more. It's time for you to be a big boy and go poo-poo in the potty."

He did, after all, just turn 3. And while he's been going potty periodically like a big boy for a year now, the games were over. I decided it was time to get serious.

Originally, it had been my summer goal to get him potty-trained. But summer didn't happen as I had planned, and other things snatched my attention and emotional reserves.

But Monday morning, as I pulled back in the driveway after taking the big kids to school, I thought to myself, "Jenna, just do it. Both feet in. Just think: this can all be over in 3 days! So you'll have three days of accidents and laundry. In 3 days it will be over!"

I marched Conor in and took off his pants. And his diaper. He looked confused.

"It's time, Conor. You are a big boy now, and big boys go pee-pee and poo-poo in the big potty."

I'd never done the naked thing before, but I didn't want to mess around, and training pants seemed, in the past, to give him a false sense of security.

He was praised with hugs and kisses (and a gummy worm) for each successful big boy potty time. He was rewarded with episodes of Sponge Bob, which is, of course, a big boy show.

He didn't have a single accident all morning. But come naptime, not knowing what to do, I diapered him up and sent him to bed. A double whammy, almost immediately. Yuck.

Yesterday, he graduated to big boy underwear. Which he kept dry all day. And during naptime. And, I just discovered, all night long. (I wasn't messing around.) I am so proud of my little big boy.

And as I walked through the kitchen, my heart filled with jubilation that yes, we may finally be out of the diaper stage, (and think of the money I'll save!) the full reality of that statement hit me like a two-by-four right in my mommy heart, and I burst out in tears.

No diapers means no baby. Could it be that that stage is really over? I mean, trying to face the facts, I realize that there may not ever be another baby to diaper. Of my own, anyway. And that feels incredibly sad to me.

Thinking about this, I believe that the real work of mothering doesn't happen in full swing until a mother is required to provide for more than just the physical needs of her children. But at the same time, nothing makes a mother feel more mommy-ish than having a baby. And now, hiding behind the baby stage is coming to a close. We've already put away so many of the relics of babyhood. The diapers were the last to go. And with them, a piece of my heart, which will always crave a baby in the house.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Organized Time

Last week I lost my watch. That is to say, I misplaced it, and I couldn't find it for several days. This was disturbing on several levels because I rarely misplace anything. Everyone in the house was on alert to keep his eyes open, just in case, but even with intentional searching, the watch could not be found. I remembered wearing it to class on Friday. In fact, my teacher had taken pictures of each lab group and posted them on the class website to help us learn each other's names, and I saw in the picture that I was, indeed, wearing my watch that day. Then, I had a vague memory of taking it off and setting it someplace. I have this memory because I remember thinking something like, "Now don't forget you're putting your watch here, because it isn't where you usually put it."

And yet, here I was, having forgotten, but remembering that I had told myself to remember. I couldn't quite link the memories together. I have about three places that I might set my watch. On my dresser, on the counter above the kitchen sink, or on the piano. A watch is like a pair of shoes to me. When I want them on, I really want them on, but as soon as I'm done doing what I need to do, I want them off. When I leave, I put my watch on. When I come home, I want an unencumbered wrist, and I take it off. But the places I am prone to set it, were bare.

I will interrupt my story here to tell you a story from my past.

I, as you know, am the oldest of nine children. I was the only one, for most of the time we were all at home together, to have my own room, tiny hideaway that it was. In the eyes of my younger siblings, my room was filled with treasures and things to be played with-explored-used-broken-messed up-stolen-borrowed-or otherwise manhandled.

I would lock my door.

The kids would shake it back and forth until they could pull the lock from the wooden doorframe.

They would mess up.

I would clean up.

And yell. A lot.

I felt so violated and so unprotected, even though I tried desperately to do my part to earn my way and support most of my own needs, teenage girl wise. (You know how the list of teenage girl needs can be.)

Being the oldest in such a large and necessarily chaotic family, I had an instinctual need (I guess) to try to control my own environment to the best of my ability. This is a nice way of saying that I was anally organized. I had everything labeled, everything filed, everything sorted, and everything planned and scheduled.

Well, once I lost $20. I knew I had earned the money and hadn't spent it. I knew I had placed it somewhere for safekeeping, and I remembered telling myself to remember where I was putting it. But even with that memory, I couldn't remember where exactly the keeping-safe place was. It seemed I searched for days with no luck.

One day it turned up unexpectedly, when I was going through my rolodex-type file, looking up something else. There, under H for HIDDEN, was my $20.

My mother got a good laugh. That, I distinctly remember.

And so, now I return to the search for the missing watch. I was bugged. I mean, I only own one watch, so it wasn't like I could just slap on another one. But more than that, I was bugged that I couldn't find something that I remembered telling myself not to forget. And so, just a few days ago, while deciding to wear a different necklace, I opened my jewelry box, and, you guessed it:

There was my watch.

What a kick in the pants. It was actually put away, where it was supposed to be, ideally, but where I never put it. I so never put it there, that it never occurred to me to even look there in all my searching. The link in my memory was complete. Silly girl.

I suppose the moral to this story has two variations, and you can choose the one that best fits you.

A) Always look where things should be, first, because they just might actually be there.


B) Don't put things where they go, because you know that's the last place you're going to look.

The end.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Patchwork Mind

My last several posts have been a stream of 'what I'm doing' instead of 'what I'm thinking'. I'm beginning to miss the more introspective side of my blog. Here's a peek inside my mind over the last several days:

1. I find it interesting to note connections between seemingly unconnected things. For instance, my issue of Eating Well arrived in the mail last week, on the same day that I went to the library. I thumbed through it briefly, and came across a recipe for etoufee, a Cajun stew I've never even heard of before. So, then I begin reading the books that I borrowed from the library, and in the first novel, guess what the characters are eating? Yep. Weird. And then there was the fact that in one book, the character's name is Guy. In the next book, the characters are Guy and Henry. And in the third book? Henry again! What's going on? Oh, and get this! Characters in the second and third book are both reading Anna Karenina! Can we please play the creepy music? Does that ever happen to you, just randomly like that, and don't you begin to think that everything, no matter how different it seems, is all really just the same?

2. I sat next to a woman at Church on Sunday, whom I consider to be one of the Great Matriarchs of the ward. There are a handful of them, these noble, experienced mothers who have been in the ward forever, and who possess a quiet, gentle wisdom and strength. I was thinking of the power she has in her home, this woman next to me, and how even though she has never worked a day outside of it, she has had more influence in the world than any executive ever has, because she has successfully raised many amazing children. I started to look around the room and identify other women that I would place in this Great Matriarch category, and I just watched them. I don't really know anything of their private worlds or private struggles. I just see them quietly go about doing good, faithfully, consistently. I want to be like them.

3. One of my special interests is in teaching children how to have spiritual experiences, even daily. I think a lot about that, and I consider it one of my most important callings as a mother, to make sure that each of my children has an active line of communication open from his/her person to heaven. How to ask, how to listen, how to recognize, how to interpret, how to trust. Very important skills. In that vein, I've implemented a few changes in our family. Maybe a post about that sometime.

4. The cellular level of organization in our bodies both astounds and infuriates me. My brain may explode, and when that happens, having a vivid knowledge of the destruction on a cellular level is not very comforting to me. But that's what I have to learn about this semester, so I'm doing my best.

5. How do I love my children better? How do I make their childhoods happier? How do I celebrate them more often?

6. I had a dream last night about going back to my elementary school and enjoying some sort of impromptu reunion with old friends and former teachers. Specifically, I was in the classroom of my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Kuhn. At first I didn't realize who she was, as she had aged almost 30 years in my dream, but then she smiled at me and I recognized her teeth and the lines around her eyes, and I just started to cry. It was such a lovely, nostalgic dream, and it made me miss so much about my childhood in Merchantville. I woke up happy and sad. Longing for an easier time, and wishing for a chance to do so much over again.

7. I've been wondering if I think too much about things I should just be content with for the present time. Maybe I become consumed with the analysis of my life and my feelings, and I should just 'put my shoulder to the wheel', as the song says, and 'push along'. Maybe I would get more answers if I would just stop pushing for them. I often think back to pioneer days and how easy my life is in comparison. I know I wonder and worry about things that never ever would have crossed the mind of my ancestors. Maybe their version of happiness was more along the lines of true happiness, and I spend too much time chasing a carrot that only wastes my potential in this life. I don't know. See? I should just stop thinking. Just be.

But I can't stop!

Okay, enough excavating. For now, back to work!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Homework Central

Today the boys and I created fun homework stations as a get-ready-for-school activity. I saw the idea in Family Fun magazine this month, and knew it was perfect for my privacy-craving sons. I don't know about your kids, but my kids have always created their own barriers or cubicles at the table out of their notebooks and binders when they study. This is a perfect solution for them, and it was a cute way to get them organized, which both of my boys are big on.

To Office Depot we went, gasping at the flames still burning on the mountains, and holding our breath as we dashed for the store. Great deals today! Putting them together was fun and easy, and they now have something to make them look forward to doing their homework. The only thing we couldn't find at Office Depot was a little adhesive clock, which both of them want, so I'll look around and we'll add that.

The first day of school is right around the corner! One more week!