Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Let's Talk About Des Moines

Ok. Let's talk about Des Moines.

I know you're all dying to hear what it's like.

My mother in law said Des Moines reminded her of Silver Spring.... 40 years ago. I can see that. Even though the city is established, people do move at a bit slower pace here and our immediate neighborhood kind of reminds me of a bunch of cabins where my family used to vacation in "up-north" Michigan.

There are some REALLY nice areas with gorgeous houses closer to downtown Des Moines, where Josh is in school. Truth is, Josh and I almost rented a house in that area because when we came house hunting in May it was the ONLY thing we could find. The house was small, but it was completely renovated in a gorgeous neighborhood with tennis courts and fences. Hey, just because we're going to medical school here doesn't mean we have to slum it right??

Wrong! We're broke remember?!

We were leaving DC where we payed almost $1600 for a two-bedroom apartment. Now we were moving to Des Moines - where we figured we could pay half as much. And don't worry... we came to our senses. I only wanted that house because I was desperate to find a place before our trip to Des Moines was over. I'm a neurotic planner and the though of leaving the city without a place to live in 5 weeks was extremely unnerving. Thank Gd Josh found our house on Craigslist three days after we came BACK to Silver Spring. (Josh had to fly back to Des Moines a few days later to sign the deal...)

And for all who are curious, we're paying less than half the amount we paid at the Warwick for a three bedroom, two-car garage, full backyard duplex. Go us!

Ok let's talk about Walmart. I know every city has its "IT" place. Like in Detroit, it's the 7-11 on the corner of Lincoln and Greenfield. In Silver Spring it's that starbucks that's always crazy on the corner of Rockville Pike and Randolph. In Des Moines... it's Walmart.

Now this is where my snobby side is going to come out. I didn't even know where the Walmart was in Maryland. I always thought Walmart was a place to pick up soda and firewood when we were in "up-north" Michigan. But guess what everyone? Walmart is now my EVERYYYYTHING. There's a Walmart SuperCenter around the block from my house. And it's so ridiculously cheap!!! We get everything there - produce, groceries, baby products, school supplies, electronics, toiletries. Yup, we're one of a kind, small-town, can't live without Walmart hicks!!

This place is hysterical. You wouldn't believe the amenities in it. You could literately spend an entire day there if you wanted to. There's a Subway, a bank, a hair salon, nail place, portrait studio, pharmacy, and garden section. Ask my mother in law... she spent about 3 hours there EVERY DAY for a week.

And I'm sure you guessed it - it's open 24 hours a day. Lovely. When you have an uncontrollable urge to try out guitar hero in the electronics section at 3:30 am - you can go to Walmart. And believe me... people do.

To be honest, I know my way around the city really well. I work from home until about 1:30 so I have the entire afternoon to go exploring with Aviva. Obviously, I've been to every mall here (we alternate each mall about every 3 days). I'd love to say I go to the mall to shop, but it's usually so Aviva can play in the play area. (I use the word usually... because I can't lie completely). We've also been to the zoo, many parks, many libraries, many coffee shops, and many TCBY visits (that one's for you Tamar!)

I actually think I know my way around better than Josh.

The city itself is also really nice. There are a lot of attractions down town and of course, we love to visit Daddy at school. (Aviva's favorite part of DMU is the "mitochondria mist" which is a misty fountain in the front courtyard of the school. Seems like some very scientific people were involved in the landscaping at school.)

I can't believe my 18 month old will grow up and say that she lived in Des Moines for a few years of her early life. I really hope people don't look at her strangely (no offense Des Moiners out there). As Josh puts it, if you would have told me 5 years ago that I'd be in medical school with two kids living in Iowa, I'd probably laugh in your face. But here we are - big town Midwest/East Coast people who left a wonderful Chevra of young frum couples behind living in the Walmart-crazed city of Des Moines.

It's not so bad. We're liking the slow pace. I'm sure it won't last the rest of our lives...

Drinking Water from an Overflowing Fire Hydrant

After moving to Des Moines, my first attempt to understand Josh's life in medical school was demonstrated by joining the Des Moines University Student Advocacy Association (SAA). The SAA is a social group comprised of about 30 women (and 5 unlucky and embarrassed men) who are the spouses/significant others of DMU medical students. The club holds a social meeting every month to talk about the life of a DMU Student Advocate (i.e. the forgotten other half) and also holds numerous sub-groups one can sign up for such as book club, knitting, cooking, sports, etc. All clubs (except for the "Men's Club" which is comprised of drinking beer, eating pizza, and playing poker... my idea of fun) have an organized schedule and meet on a weekly/monthly basis. I joined the book club - and I'm reading some great books!

At my first SAA meeting, the club invited a DMU staff member - a mental health specialist to discuss with us what life is really like for our spouse/significant other in medical school. This is how she opened the discussion:

"Hello everyone. Don't tell me... I already know. Let me guess - your spouse/significant other was the smartest student in high school, top of his class in undergrad, most popular at home, and considered to be Gd's gift to the world by his/her parents"

(sounds very familiar in my circumstance...)

"Well... now that same person is in a class of 200 students who were all the smartest in his/her class and who all think they are Gd's gift to the world. All of a sudden, your honey may not be the best or the smartest or the sharpest. All of a sudden, your sweetie is struggling to pass tests and remain in the "upper half" of his class. And guess what... this is a huge blow to his/her ego."

(she couldn't be more right....)

And that's when she said it. The lady said that life in medical school/studying in medical school is like trying to drink water from an overflowing fire hydrant. It's almost impossible. There is so much material. There is so much water. And it's all pouring out so fast. Our mouths are only so big...

It's true. Here's the real scoop from a medical student's wife: Josh is learning more information at one time than he ever did in his entire life. There isn't enough time in the day (or night... since they are pretty much synonymous at this point) to learn, study, and review all the material he is taught. He'll learn an entire biochemistry curriculum (a year's worth in undergrad) in about 3 months. He'll have a "suggested reading list" that is comprised of about 25 1,000 page books on a specific subject. He's expected to know the entire human anatomy before he meets his new best friend for the first time... a once 86-year-old-woman cadaver.

And then the testing starts - and that's when the mental health specialist was referring to the student's ego. Remember always striving for the A? Remember never getting below an 89%? Now, Josh just prays to Gd that he passes his exams. 70% is a very special number in our house. A 70% equals a pass. Of course Josh says, he doesn't walk into a test saying he wants a 70 - of course he wants a 100! But if he gets above a 70... he's probably luckier than about half the students in his class.

Oh that's another thing... the specialist said that when your husband stresses and becomes anxious saying "I really think I'm going to fail this test" or "I really think I'm going to fail this course" -- he's not lying.

She brought up a good point. The students think we (the advocates) don't understand. And I can understand why they feel that way. They think that we think they can do anything. They think that we think "oh, you always say you won't do well - but you always do!! You'll be fine" It's not true... I don't understand what he's going through. All I can do is tell him that he can do the best he can - and I have confidence that he'll get through it.

Bottom line is - Josh is currently drinking water out of a fire hydrant - or, he's attempting to. But you want to know something? Sometimes in my life I also feel that I'm drinking water out of an overflowing hydrant. Here I am, mother of an 18 month old - about to have #2 (Gd willing), living in Des Moines for Heaven's sake!!! with no friends, no family, juggling all aspects of the house, working 24 hours a week for my company in DC and teaching Hebrew School 6 hours a week...

I know what it's like to have so much thrown at you and be expected to perform. I don't have a choice - I have to perform, I have to pass the test - because I am responsible for other people besides myself.

I do want to go on record for saying that Josh and I are so lucky to be Frum and understand the importance of family and Yiddishkeit. It really gives us both the proper perspective on what's important in life. Sure, Josh may be drinking the overflowing water - but he's also making time for his family (as best as he can), going to minyan (because believe me, they need him here!) and learning every night over the phone.

I'm glad I went to that SAA meeting. I'm glad I got a perspective of how difficult and demanding medical school is for Josh. This will be one of the hardest times he goes through. I hope that he knows - and everyone knows that sometimes we all feel like we're drinking water out of a fire hydrant. Our mouths are only so big and our capabilities are only so much - there's only so much we can handle.

Even me - the Frum wife of a medical student in Iowa - is desperately trying to drink the water!