...with JAYNE RIVAS, M.D.

DR. JAYNE RIVAS is chairperson of the department of pediatrics at Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers/St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. One of six children, she grew up on Staten Island. At 14, she started working at St. Vincent’s as a ‘Vincenteen’, a fully trained nurses’ aide, and continued that work part-time throughout high school and into college, intending to become an R.N. But she switched majors to chemistry and applied to medical school instead. Dr. Rivas and her husband, Robert “Ray” Robertson, live on Staten Island, where they raised their four children. She describes her family: “Jayme, 28, a teacher of deaf preschoolers, works in Boston, and will be married this month in our parish church, with a reception in our backyard. “Andrew, 27, father of Connor Alexander, 21 months, lives at home with us and with his partner, Jennifer. Andrew works full-time and is returning to college in September. Jennifer is a full-time mom and is returning to college and part-time work, probably in September. We are so blessed to have them with us. “Luke, 22, graduated Fordham University as a theater major this past December. Has a full-time ‘day job’ in the evenings; his real commitment is to acting. Has made two movies, is auditioning all the time, and will be a successful actor, we are all sure. “Mark, 19, a student at NYU, recently decided not to run for President and has switched gears from politics to philosophy. What I think he would really like to be is a child of the ’60s, but you can’t always get what you want. Way to go, Mark. “Husband Ray Robertson is an actor and has been a full-time father (and now grandfather) to our children throughout our 31-year marriage. He is a decorated Viet Nam veteran. He has opened our home to every one of my sick, lost or needy relatives or friends over the years and has the most generous spirit of anyone I know.” When not at work running the pediatrics department, or involved in the work of the seven professional societies where she is a Fellow or Member, or at The Pediatric Center at the New York Foundling Hospital, where she is a consultant, you’re likely to find Dr. Rivas on stage. She performs with the Saint Vincents Players, where she has “played all the biggest and best roles available for not-the-ingénue-any-longer member of the theater troupe.” The critics have declared her to be “quite funny on stage, and I don't sing too badly either,” she says. “But I can't dance worth a damn. They choreograph everything around me.”

What I do on my commute: I listen to NPR, my primary source of news. I find it difficult to find time in my day anymore to read the paper as much as I would like. So this is a substitute, and a good use of my time in the car. I also enjoy listening to classical music. Sometimes I commute with my sister, who is an English professor at BMCC. On those days we chat, talk about our families, plan family events, and so on. For the past five months we have been caring for our 92-year-old father. It has been a great stress for us, and so we talk about that a lot, too. We try to anticipate each other’s needs and really bend over backwards for each other to see that each of us gets “nights off” as needed. I try not to think about work on my commute.

Best piece of parenting advice received in pediatrics training: When I did my pediatric training, parent education was definitely not a priority item on the curriculum. I did, however, have my first two children while in training and got some wonderful advice from my faculty mentors regarding taking care of my own firstborn. In particular, I remember a wise pediatrician telling me not to be afraid to ask for what I needed to take care of myself, so that I would be able to care best for my children. That has been hard advice to follow, but more than ever I now realize what good advice it was.


Biggest mistake I've observed in parents: Among the biggest mistakes I have observed is the failure of a parent to have a child evaluated by a child psychologist or psychiatrist for significant behavioral concerns, for fear of stigmatization. Such children often need real help. It is tough as a parent to realize that you cannot always make things right for your child, that something is indeed needing to be fixed, and that you cannot do it alone.

Book I'm currently reading: I am currently reading several books. For pleasure I just picked up The Da Vinci Code. Can’t say yet what I think. Am also reading Who Count as Persons? Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing, by John Kavanaugh, S.J.

The greatest role for an actress: Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

My favorite onstage role: Mrs. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors. But greatest moment on stage occurred as Granny in Pippin when, after my big number, I was carried off stage by four gorgeous young men fanning me with palm fronds, as I belted out my last few notes. Moments like that don’t come along often in life.

What I do to relax: I like to sit outside on my front porch and watch the world go by, or sit in a sidewalk café on a summer evening with fruit, cheese and a good merlot. When in Vermont, I like to lie down in my rowboat and look at the stars. I like to fish, garden, and make things from found objects. A friend of mine, a very famous person in the New York art scene, who recently passed away, told me that I had great talent for this (and believe me, I have made some strange things). He said that my style actually has a name — “the pathetic esthetic”. Go figure. Anyway, I haven’t done this sort of thing in a while. It requires time I haven’t had lately. However, just writing about it now gives me the urge. Time to go scavenging!

Best family vacation: First and only time I have been to Europe, I went with my entire family to Scotland, to meet all my husband’s relatives (this after about 20 years of marriage). It was quite a thrill to meet them all. While there, we traveled to the Highlands where I was overcome by the beauty of the landscape. As I watched my four children gamboling about those stark and lovely hills, suddenly everything seemed right with the world. It is a moment I like to recall when I am stressed.

Best family outing on Staten Island: Hard to pick one. I love to roam the beaches and the woods of Staten Island and have, ever since I was a small child. I have always taken my children with me on “hikes” as they have grown. Before my mother died, I used to take my father and her along with my husband and children for picnic suppers on the grounds of the Conference House in Tottenville. There, at the southernmost tip of New York State, is a stone house where the only peace conference of the Revolutionary War took place. It is usually quite deserted. The great front lawn slopes down to the beach, and you can see across the Kill van Kull to Perth Amboy, where my father was born. Those evenings were especially delightful to all of us.

What I do with one spare hour and no commitments: With one hour and no commitments I am likely to take a walk around the reservoir in Silver Lake Park and pretend I am in Vermont. Or, I might sit on my back deck and read.

PS: You didn’t ask this, but the best vacation I ever took was to celebrate my 25th anniversary. Ray and I rented a 40-foot canal barge, and with a one-hour lesson we piloted it from Troy, New York, through the Champlain Canal and into Lake Champlain and back. It took one week. We only hit one other boat; no one was hurt. Most adventurous thing I have ever personally done, and I’d love to do it again. Soon.