Kelly Dwyer



This weekend I attended Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association’s annual science fiction/fantasy writing convention. Although I had attended Capclave two years ago for just one short evening, this was my first full weekend of attendance, and to be honest, my very first Con ever. A wonderful friend, Alan Smale (author of the extraordinary Clash of Eagles trilogy), recommended me to the con committee for participation in programming. I was excited, but nervous, navigating the process of scheduling and topic assignment for the first time. How would I be received on my panels? Would I make a fool of myself? Do I have anything of value to contribute?

I am not a pro. Yet. I have not made even a semi-pro sale. But I’ve had several stories published with small and independent presses, and have received a few accolades to encourage me to continue writing. I continue to approach writing with passion and professional interest, and I have long been a widely read and very passionate fan of the genre. This wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy has been undergoing a dramatic redefinition of identity in recent years, pitting the die-hard conservative-traditionalists against the growing movement to recognize the contributions of women and minorities to the field. I know that’s a rather simplistic breakdown of a very complicated topic, but I also know clearly where I fall within the conflict. I’m part of a new generation of writers who has not been very interested in spending the brief moments I get to sit down and read on Asimov or Heinlein or outdated, misogynistic, racist fiction. I’d much rather be reading anything from the wealth of beautiful, diverse fiction that is being championed nowadays: N.K. Jemisin, Alyssa Wong, Saladin Ahmed, Ken Liu, V.E. Schwab, Charlie Jane Anders – those are just the last six authors that I’ve read on my Kindle. I could go on and on and on. I am so lucky to be living and writing in a world where I can experience the boundless imaginative worlds of people so different from who I am. I crave those books. I need those books. I wish to write those books.

At the end of my last panel on Sunday, a very nice man who had been in the audience of several of my panels approached me. We’d had a lovely time chatting briefly in the hallways over the two days and his questions and historical knowledge of SF/F were fabulous and enriched the panels. He said “If you hadn’t told everyone you were a beginning writer, I wouldn’t have know. You did a great job.” It was a wonderful compliment, but I responded, “People need to know that Capclave is welcoming to beginning writers and young women in this field.” I didn’t mention that I was just starting to be published to demean or downplay my contributions, but to emphasize where my voice is coming from.

I was on three panels, Augmented Reality in SF, Technology in SF and a panel on villains and antagonists. Never once was I spoken over, put down, or mansplained. Not a single person approached me with anything but interest in who I was and a shared passion for our field. I was welcomed, encouraged, and validated. I never felt dismissed by my fellow participants. I met other writers who were mothers and fathers, people who have been writing since the 1960s, writers with their first novels on submission, writers with dozens of novels to their name, people from all backgrounds and experience levels. In this world where women are harassed and belittled and targeted everyday, where female and minority authors have to travel in protective pairs at conventions, and where harassment is a terrifying reality for many, I cannot tell you what a relief it was this weekend to feel safe and welcomed.

Alan mentioned to me that part of what makes Capclave special in this broad world of so many conventions is that it is small and intimate. The hotel is small and welcoming. The attendance is only in the few hundreds, and although I know the con committees would rather have more audience members, both of the times I have attended, the halls have felt busy but not unpassable. You have the opportunity to stop and chat with the guest of honor at the bar, or over a coffee at Starbucks in the lobby. You get to know faces quickly and smile and wave and make spontaneous plans for dinner. The panels have always had open seats, but are well attended (except for the 10 am Saturday panel – that one was rather scarce!). The programming is focused on the craft of writing. My highlights of the con were attending panels on Research, Alternate & Secret Histories, Matching your Idea with Plot and Character, Conspiracy Theories, and When to be Stubborn as a Writer. Authors had the opportunity to request time to read from their works, to sign books at a table right next to registration, and to participate in a mass signing in the evening on Saturday just before the WSFA small press awards.

It was at this large group signing event that I found myself in the enviable position of sitting between Bud Sparhawk and John G. Hemry (who writes as Jack Campbell). What new writer gets the opportunity to talk shop with authors who have collectively published more novels and stories than years I have been alive? We bemoaned the lack of good paying short fiction markets today, shared about writers blocks that often come after difficult times in ones life, chatted about the importance of critique groups and complimented talented cover artists. What extraordinary luck – what truly decent and kind gentlemen – what an evening I had, feeling bolstered and encouraged in my conviction that I can do this. I can write – I can publish – I can finish this novel – I can hold my own in this vast world of so many authors, editors, agents, publishers. What a weekend.

My crash back to reality came Sunday evening after driving home mid-afternoon; making dinner, helping with bedtime, shuffling reluctant kiddos through their evening routines, all while trying to fill Patrick in on the magnitude of how successful the weekend was. Every other sentence of my rambling excitement was interrupted by a small child needing a kiss on their knee, or not wanting to eat THIS soup, or needing to compare the character differences between ninjas and rogues in D&D, or wanting their iPad, or pouring buckets of water out of the bath tub. For the first time in nearly nine years, I finally had an experience where I was able to present and define myself as a functional adult human being, and not just a mother of young children, or the spouse of someone recovering from a devastating accident and spinal injury. It was both liberating and lopsided. I am still, first and foremost, a primary caregiver to my two boys. My definition of self is in flux, but the immutable fact is that my priorities will not change for the foreseeable future. I must find a way to make space for who I’d like to be as my children grow into their own selves, and I reclaim more and more of my independence in the process.

My daily conflict comes in how to find the time to focus on something other than parenting or managing our family. In the midst of kids activities, never-ending childhood illnesses, Patrick’s recovery, DIY house renovations, financial budgeting, health insurance fiascos, school responsibilities, and every other planning/list making/cleaning/comforting responsibility, I must write. It’s not something I can put off now, or avoid because I feel insecure or self-conscious about prioritizing my hobby over my family. I called my dear friend after the con and said “I have to do this now. I WANT this. I want to write. For me. It’s time I started thinking about how amazingly good it feels to write, and not thinking about how stressful my life is going to be because I’m writing.”

Monday was a school holiday for my boys. I found myself in a mental limbo for most of the morning, wrapped up in replaying the weekend piece by piece, codifying and processing so much of what I’d learned. I mustered my scant energy mid-day and peeled the kiddos from the TV and meandered our way around town, picking out Halloween pumpkins, going to swim lessons, and stopping by the library. As we shoveled our massive bag of almost overdue books into the return slots, a nice man approached with a resigned look on his face. “Is it closed today?” he asked. I nodded, apologetic, “It is.” He sighed, “As was the post office.” He stood on the sidewalk, taking a moment, watching my kids climb over the sculpture of books beside the parking lot. “I believe most public and government spaces are closed today, unfortunately. Thus, the children,” I gestured wearily to the kiddos. He nodded kindly and turned to leave, but looked back at me. “That would be an excellent book title. Thus, the children.”

You read my mind, sir.

That’s my name on the cover!

It’s seriously exciting to see my name on the cover of a magazine. Here’s the brand new cover art release of Trysts of Fate, August 2016 edition. Available for purchase here: Trysts of Fate, Issue 6.

Thank you Slover Library!

This past weekend, I was invited to take part in the Norfolk Slover Library’s very first science fiction convention, Get Your Geek Con. The panel that I participated in was focused on independent publishing and was organized by the editor of the Outliers of Speculative Fiction anthology that I was lucky to be a part of last year. L.A. Little and his colleague and friend, Toi Thomas, and I spoke for an hour about why we choose to publish with either small and independent presses or to self-publish, like Toi. It was an engaging conversation that covered why it’s important to work with an editor who is invested your work, how sustainable that model of submission & editing is, how we feel about the difficulties of publishing with mainstream SF/F presses, and the critical importance of a diversity of voices in our field. I spent the rest of the evening wondering if I’d said “um” too many times, and if we’d sounded as cogent and engaging as we felt. The audience was small, but had lovely questions – and given the fact that the Lightsaber academy and children’s costume contests were happening at the same time as our panel, I felt very lucky that we had anyone attend at all. There were some photos taken and a video make of the panel and I hope I’ll have a chance to share it with you soon. I even got to sign a copy of the anthology – that was the most amazing feeling for a brand new writer!

It’s surreal to have been invited to do this. I prefaced my introduction with saying I’m really just a beginning author. I can speak to the experience of having just recently started submitting and publishing, but I’m by no means an expert. I orbit around the periphery of SF/F, grabbing tiny tidbits of news and industry updates and read the twitter feeds of favorite editors and authors, but I continue to struggle to find time to write and use those brief moments efficiently to do more than just review what I’d previously written. I’ve enrolled in Mary Robinette Kowal’s upcoming “Writing on the Fast Track” workshop this Fall and I’m both nervous and excited to complete it. I understand from participants in her Short Story Writing Intensive Workshop that your brain is often reduced to quivering mush from all the fabulous practice and knowledge you acquire. I’m relieved that the schedule is less, well, intensive, than her other workshops. If I can start developing better time management habits and efficiency in my writing process, I might actually be able to produce submittable stories more than, say, 1 every year that I seem to be averaging. *sigh*

Regardless, I’m honored to have been part of the Slover Library’s inaugural convention. It really was fantastically set up and coordinated. I hope they invite us back next year. And I’m looking forward to the wonderful return of cooler weather this fall, bringing with it the glory of school days for young children and time to write for Mom. Now if we can only manage to survive this most miserable of heat domes over the DC Metro…

Every little bit

This week, on the day that I received my very first royalty check from the Outliers of Science Fiction, I also received an email inviting me to be part of another fantastic anthology: The Best of Abyss and Apex, Volume 2. Back in 2010, Wendy S. Delmater published the very first story I ever wrote, “Sunlight,” with glowing compliments and encouragement. Abyss and Apex was the first market I submitted that story to and I couldn’t believe my luck to receive an acceptance. I jumped for joy several months later to have that same story selected as an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, #28. “Sunlight” is the little story that could and it’s such a boost of confidence and encouragement to hear that it’s going to be reprinted, in a physical anthology!

Although the Indiegogo campaign for the book has already finished, Abyss and Apex is still asking for donations to help publish the anthology that will include my story, as well as fiction from Cat Rambo, Robert Silverberg, C.J. Cherryh, Marie Brennan, and Lavie Tidhar. You can donate via PayPal by clicking the DONATE button on the front page of the website: As Wendy said in the campaign video, every little bit counts.

Although, summer break is upon us and my days are filled with summer camp carpools, running through sprinklers, eating lemonade popsicles, and digging in the garden, I’m still stealing brief moments here and there to write and edit. I’m waiting on a contract for another story acceptance to a online and print magazine that will be published in August of this year. The story is my first paranormal romance, and I’m so happy it’s going to be in print soon.

I laughed at Patrick the other evening that my pieces are being published faster than I’m able to write. Well, it was less of a laugh and more of a slightly hysterical manic Kermmit-flail. I’m hoping that this imbalance will change come fall when my youngest is in preschool five mornings a week. The promise of nearly three whole uninterrupted hours to put my brain in gear, apply butt to chair and WRITE is so seductive and unheard of in my life that it feels like a dream. Like I’ll have to continue to write using my tiny keyboard and iPad balanced on the towel bag on the bleachers at the rec center for 20 minutes during swim lessons forever. Or attempt to edit on my tiny phone in the parking lot at school 5 minutes before pick up. Or put on my head phones and block out the noise of bath time and pajama melt-downs just to grab a few seconds of child-free reading time.

But really, every little bit DOES count.

Shit happens.

We were in the yard yesterday, the kids in shorts and bare feet, running through the muddy grass, delighting in the 75 degree temperatures just a few days after Christmas.

I watched Patrick tense, his body visibly tighten, and stare out at the road. “I think there’s a cyclist down.” I took off running, peeling my gardening gloves off and tossing them on our driveway. Down the block, just two houses away, there were people gathered around a woman who was crouched in the middle of the street, her head hanging over a basket, as though she was about to vomit.

I caught the eye of one of the bystanders and mouthed, “What happened?” She mimed that the woman had fallen off her bike and onto the street, hard. I stepped into the street and waved off several cars as the adults helped the woman stand and walk to the curb. A stranger had stopped his car and was helping to assess her injuries, although it became clear he had no medical expertise and was just trying to take control of the situation. The injured woman’s daughter was with her and had called her father, who was on the way.

I ran home for ice packs and water, and then sat down beside her and introduced myself. The first thing she said to me was, “I feel so stupid. I can’t believe I did that.” She tried to wave away the ice, but I gently insisted, saying that these were just used last week for a bumped knee by my two very active boys. She kept deferring discussion of how badly she was hurt. “I’m fine. I can stand. I feel so silly,” and “There’s no need for you to stay. My husband will be here in a minute.” I smiled at her and said, “But isn’t it nice to have so many people ready to help? We’re more than happy to just wait with you.” I laughed with her about the unusual weather, and got the very concerned but calm daughter to smile. I listened to her speech patterns, watched her movements, and kept her talking a little bit at at time, as the other stranger kept trying to put his hands on her injuries and insist upon a certain treatment (as a side note: people – please ask for permission before touching anyone, especially when they’re hurt).

When Dad pulled up in his car and walked Mom to the seat, I helped the daughter load their bicycles on the back of the car. “I didn’t want to worry your Mom, but my husband was in a bad bicycle accident, and I think it would be a great idea to have someone look at her injuries. It’s better to know she doesn’t have a head injury or broken bones, than to worry about it all night.” I waved at them from the sidewalk and said goodbye to the very concerned, handsy stranger, and walked home into Patrick’s arms, while we both shook, holding each other and trying not to cry.

That mom, so excited to have her daughter home from LA, so joyous at the gorgeous weather, so happy to get on her bike and head out to the trail – that mom hadn’t been wearing a helmet. Her head slammed into the pavement, but she had gotten up and walked to the curb. That could have been it for her. That moment of impact. Brains on the pavement.

I adore Christmas, but we’ve had a hard run of a few years of horrific illness, conflict, and trauma around the holidays. Christmas was so wonderful this year – we actually made it all the way until the wee hours of the morning on the 26th before Wyatt spiked a horrific fever with all the accompanying body and abdominal aches and distress. We kicked into quarantine mode and wiped every surface with bleach, got out the sick buckets and towels, made up every bed and couch with double layered blankets and pillows and hunkered down, ready for the rest of us to bite it. And we waited. And waited. And Wyatt got better exactly 24 hours later and is back to his normal perky self, and I cautiously put away the chux pads and towels and buckets. And I tried not to freak out about getting sick. Maybe this was just a normal kiddo virus that the rest of us had already been exposed to? Maybe? God, I hope. I counted small blessings that this virus didn’t have a respiratory component, and I cancelled our trip to Urgent Care to have him swabbed for the flu so that we could be ready if it took the rest of us down.

I know incubation periods for most major viral strains by heart. I can recite Tylenol and Benadryl doses by pediatric weight. I know how to get a dehydrated toddler to take Pedialyte (hint, slushy freezer pops). I refuse to let people in my house who have been exposed to something within a CDC recognized period of contagiousness. Hand sanitizer by the gallon. Rocking a sobbing, feverish child for hours until they pass out, no matter how many muscles I strain or how numb my arms get. But I don’t know how to not be anxious about getting sick.

I wasn’t feeling my best this afternoon. I was tired, the prolonged state of constant sinus infection that I harbor every winter was exhausting me and I hadn’t been eating well since Wyatt was sick. Only mild, simple foods. And my stomach was off. And then my heart rate was up. And then I started to feel warm. Too warm. And by the time Patrick got home, I was well on my way into a self-induced cycle of panic and adrenaline. Or was I getting sick? How would I know?

In the lowest of low periods of Patrick’s recovery, we started referring to all the ways to help us through difficult moments as our toolbox. I really like saying “Deploy the Toolbox!” as though I was a pirate yelling “Release the Kraken!” Our toolbox is full of strategies, some small, some significant, some silly, some quiet, some energetic. A little bit of everything we’ve found over the past 2 years to help us alleviate the panic and fear and despair that come from surviving and caring for a spinal injury (and two small children). Things like make a cup of tea, do a yoga sequence, meditate, laugh, make something with your hands (playdoh, Legos), put on music, hide in a pillow fort with the boys (or alone, that’s cool too), clean something in the house, call a friend, do something to help someone else, cry, blow bubbles, play the piano, smell lavender, repeat a positive mantra. It’s a rather long list.

I opened my toolbox tonight and yoga’d my way right out of my panic attack after about 30 minutes, kicking up that parasympathetic nervous system with every strategy I knew. I put my legs up the wall and rested in viparita karani. I flowed through peaceful digestive poses and twists. I drank some ginger ale. I focused on the feeling of my breath coming in and out of my nose. I played through some gorgeous songs from my new book of piano solos. I thppt’d my upper lip (really – this is so funny, but it’s a recognized way to stimulate your vagus nerve to release anti-stress hormones to counteract the fight or flight response). I counted my breaths (my favorite pattern is in for 4, hold for 4, out for 6, hold for 2, repeat). I meditated with Sean (we’ve been doing 10 minute Headspace sessions together). I sang Wyatt a song. I changed my internal dialogue of fear at what was coming to something more peaceful and positive. I called a dear friend and talked through it, and I heard myself saying something that I didn’t realize I was holding onto:

I feel so stupid. I feel so silly. I feel so guilty for demanding this attention for my own flaws and fears and anxieties.

I could hear it in that Mom’s voice yesterday, too.

I wish I could hug her and tell her not to feel silly or stupid. Just wear a helmet next time and know that shit happens, and we are so lucky to have people to help us when we need it most. Like the neighbors that I called on the 26th to say “if we get sick, will you be around for a pharmacy run for us?” Or my Mom who graciously stayed far away from us this Christmas as her gift to us after being sick with a gnarly cold for several weeks. Or my brother who calmly and honestly reassured my worries about his family’s health before we were going to get together. Or Patrick who doesn’t blink an eye when I say that I don’t feel well or that I’m anxious – just asks what he can do to help. Or my kids who are learning that it’s as important to care for your body as it is for your mind.

Shit happens. And if we’re lucky, we get to live through it.

A new story in Outliers of Speculative Fiction!

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of my story “Liminal Hill,” in the new Outliers of Speculative Fiction anthology, edited by L.A. Little. Look for the anthology in paperback and eBook at the end of November 2015. I’m delighted to be part of this group of diverse and fantastic writers. I feel a companionable bond with these fellow Outliers who are finding their way through the many paths and countless communities of this amazingly rich world of imaginative literature. Though we may orbit around the periphery of the speculative fiction world, we are no less passionate about our works and no less eager to have you read them.

This anthology started as a reaction to the current state of editorial relationships and submissions processes in the world of speculative fiction. After reading L.A.’s philosophy on why he was seeking to change the way writers and editors work together, I knew this was a perfect chance for me to jump back into the field and start submitting stories again for the first time in years. I was terribly nervous – my first submission of a story that I wrote several years ago to a new market in a field that has recently been facing serious challenges. My sporadic experiences with submitting have been typical of what most authors face: I would submit a story several times (sometimes more than a dozen), and each time the story would be held for weeks or months and then politely declined with a form letter. I understand the need for this type of process, as editors and slush readers are often overwhelmed with the epic tasks of reading and winnowing out the right stories that fit for them. But as a young writer, working hard to improve and edit my stories, I always felt a little lost with each rejection. There are a million reasons why an editor might say no, of course. But the rejections that mean the most to me are the ones that take the time to go above and beyond the form. The ones that communicate editorial feedback with the goal of helping to improve each story to its best potential.

I was fully prepared for another typical rejection, so it was an utter shock to get a long and very thoughtful email from L.A. with enthusiasm for the story and a request for a rewrite. After I got over the initial period of jumping about and cheering until I was hoarse, I carved time out for myself from robotics camps, preschool drop off and house renovations, to sit down and really dive into the story and rip it to pieces. The emails I received from L.A. were professional, courteous, and filled with thoughtful detail. In fact, I felt confident enough in his investment in the story to disagree with several of his suggestions. As a new writer, working with a new editor, it’s terrifying to say no to an edit! But this experience helped me to learn how to defend and support my choices and how to see edits as a critical creative motivator. The story that’s come out of L.A.’s suggestions and my many hours of rewriting is a dramatically better story than the one I submitted. I can only imagine how much time this type of intensive creative back and forth must have taken, on top of providing editorial feedback to every single submission he received. Kudos to L.A. for making a commitment to change the process, and for putting so much effort and investment in trying to improve the system.

I hope you enjoy this story. I can’t wait for you to meet Liminal Hill.


A year ago was the last time I posted to this blog. I don’t think that 12 months ago I would have been able to wrap my head around life as I know it today. It feels like every time I stop to take stock of how much things have changed, there’s another monumental shift in our existence. Time feels like it passes interminably in the midst of toddlerhood, recovery, parenting. And then one day you catch yourself sitting in a warm stream of sunlight in a chair by the garden, tea in hand and the sound of chittering squirrels above you, and time to actually read a book, or think about things that require advanced critical thinking, or just sit in silence and breathe. It was nearly unheard of a year ago that I had space to just BE. And now, my cosleeping, nursing, needy, always-intense toddler in diapers has turned into a “goodnight I love you sweet dreams”-close the door and sleep for 12 hours in his own bed, preschool-bound, potty trained, weaned kiddo.

It’s amazing what sleep will do for the mind and body. It’s been 4+ years since I had an uninterrupted night of sleep (from a difficult pregnancy, through terrible night colic, and Patrick’s constant pain-filled restlessness). It’s only been 2 months of solid sleep for me, and every morning I wake up feeling like I’ve been drugged. As though my body has a taste now of what it’s been missing, and it wants MORE. Patrick feels it too, although he still tosses and turns with nightmares and near constant low level pain. He woke up rough the other morning and I said “You look like you’ve been hit by a car.” We spent the whole morning laughing. I expect that’s what 2 years of processing and recovery will do for you, return your humor. Rebuild your resilience.

I used to say my reserves had run dry. I had been running on empty for so long before the accident that when it all came crashing down, I had nothing to fall back on. So this past year has been about making deposits back into that account of resilience, independence, inner peace and confidence. Eating well, sleeping well, reconnecting with friends, being close to family, taking chances, being forgiving, filling life with gratitude. And little by little, I feel like I’m starting to be a whole person again. I’m starting to do things for enjoyment and passion, rather than the obligation or responsibility. I’m able to have conversations with people with genuine interest and a desire for connection, rather than shying away from contact because of how exhausting it could be. I just didn’t have any more to give. I know it’s not surprising that creativity is one of the first things to go dormant in a time of great anxiety and tension. But I’ve found myself starting to day dream again recently. Just a little. Enough to know that it’s still a part of me, waiting for when the time is right.

School started a few weeks ago, and I celebrated joyously by sending out two stories on submission. They were stories I wrote more than 4 years ago, but they were in relatively good shape. 7 days later, I got a wonderful and insightful response from an editor of an anthology with a rewrite request and very kind words. I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to get that email. I’ve been orbiting around the periphery of the speculative and science fiction and fantasy worlds for so many years, just dreaming about and hoping for a time when I would have more than 5 uninterrupted minutes to sit and write. Or when my passion for telling stories and writing would come back. If it ever would.

It’s been a year of starting over. We bought a house. Our very first house. And really, it was our very first HOME. This is the house that we first lived in when we moved back to Virginia. The beautiful home that we had such a hard time leaving when we moved to California. We scraped every penny and pinned every hope on the kindness of consideration of our former landlord, nearly begging her to consider selling it to us when she was ready. In our minds, being back here was the most perfect karmic return. We hadn’t dared to hope, moving back to Vienna, that buying this home would even be a possibility. We didn’t want to fall into the “grass is greener” trap of reminiscence. But we couldn’t let it go – that feeling of knowing that this was our home. Our block. Our neighborhood. The place where it all started fitting together for us as a family. Even now, sitting here at the dining room table, looking out on the sidewalk as kids walk to school and friends greet each other, it doesn’t seem quite real.

But it really happened. We are finally back home, here in this sweet little lucky house. We toasted champagne and strawberries back in May and joyfully ripped out every inch of carpet, every dust-coated ceiling tile, had every square inch of asbestos abated and took the house down to its literal bones. It’s a sweet little place, in need of just about every update imaginable in a neighborhood of multimillion dollar mansions. But we love it, just as it is. And we have time to dream about how to grow together in this little space, with so much love and friendship and happiness.

And so Patrick wakes up most morning and goes running in the woods, waving and smiling at everyone on the bike path. And the kids tumble out of bed and chatter about Minecraft or Mario or My Little Pony together at the table over fresh pumpkin bread and yogurt. And I wake up to the smell of coffee, groggy and a little sore from replacing the dishwasher, or installing a new toilet, or clambering about in the attic, or breaking up little boy disagreements, but ready for the day. I open the house wide on these first few cooler fall mornings, and let the sun and the sounds of neighborhood construction, and hollering kids stream into the house.

I know we still have a long way to go, but it feels like this year has been a year of laying the groundwork for life to move forward for all of us. Sean is in a new school for the gifted and is thriving with the challenge and a wonderful new teacher. Wyatt is back in school with a pair of very tolerant and kind teachers who are unphased by his intensity and tickled by his charisma. Patrick continues. I suppose that’s the briefest way of describing this phase in recovery. It’s not quite a plateau, not quite a stall out. It’s just a place of subtle shifts in the patterns of pain and relief. Where long weeks of interesting work both exhaust and stimulate him. Where days of jumping in the surf at the beach will hurt, a lot, but it won’t stop him from loving every minute. And I’m finding the everyday parts of life easier to manage, leaving space for rest and rejeuvenation. Writing, playing piano, planning a new bathroom, dress-up pretend with Wyatt, Wii battles with Sean, quiet evenings on the porch with Patrick.

I cannot wait for nights where my nose is chilly and the blankets are piled above me. And days where jackets and scarves are required, and leaves pile all around the house. And roasted vegetables in the oven. And the smell of apple cider on the stove. And knowing two years have passed since Patrick’s accident, and we’re okay.

An entire year

It’s October. We made it an entire year. So much has changed.

We are back in Northern Virginia. We moved in June, just after Sean finished first grade. Actually, we moved earlier in the spring within Santa Clara from the tall and awkward townhouse to a tiny and adorable mid-century modern bungalow. We unpacked everything, sat in the lovely home, visited with the neighbors, walked to the local park, and cried and cried and cried. California had become miserable for us. I like to say that it chewed us up and spit us out, but even that tired metaphor just doesn’t encompass the complexities of how difficult life had become for us in Silicon Valley. We tried so hard to find peace in that space and in that place, but we both knew that our hearts just weren’t in it. So we moved home.

It’s odd to say “home,” especially for Patrick and I. We’re nomads, self-professed. Before we had kids, when we were living relatively unrooted lives, we used to boast about the global citizens our children would become. We became itchy footed again in Minnesota after fleeing New York. But moving to Virginia was like a perfect fit. We found a home, a community, a climate, a space that gradually grew into someplace that we didn’t want to leave. My sage brother said to me, as I called him confessing homesickness and a desire to move back east this past winter, “Your roots are stronger than you realized.” Every single person we told in CA, from our dearest friends, to our school acquaintances, said, “Go home. Be well. Be loved. Be where you are happy.”

Two years ago, Sean and I stood in that lovely little house in Vienna moments after the movers had driven away with all of our worldly belongings on the truck, cross-country bound. Patrick was already in California starting at Apple, and Wyatt was cuddled in his carseat, only a few weeks old. Sean and I clapped our hands like the little girls in Our Neighbor Totoro and thanked the house for being a beautiful home. It wasn’t nearly as cheerful or peaceful as they do it in the movie – we collapsed in each others arms and sobbed and sobbed, snot covered and grief stricken. Sean has always been a sensitive soul, and postpartum was never a time of great stoicism for me. Everything had changed – a new baby, a new job, a life across the country. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but we figured if anyone could do it, it was us. We nomadic Dwyers of great fortitude. We’d get through it and thrive no matter how hard life became, right?

Initially, California cheered us greatly. We met lovely folks and gradually built a network of old friends and new. We explored the wonders of Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Monterey, Marin and beyond to the redwoods, ocean, desert and bay. But we were wearing rather thin with a exceptionally difficult infancy with Wyatt and with problems with the public schools in the area and feeling isolated amidst it all. We nestled our children close and tried to reconnect with our loved ones who supported and cared for us, but they were so far away, across the country, back in Virginia. We dreamed of being happy and independent adults again and tried and tried to even out our lives with positivity and exploration, looking to the kids for lessons on mindfulness and presence. We almost got there.

Then Patrick was hit, and the bottom fell out.

The past year has been an exercise in rebuilding everything. Recovery encompasses every part of life for everyone involved, even our kids. Especially the kids. Patrick is still recovering, but we are dramatically closer to reaching that precipice where his definition of self becomes less dependent upon his accident and more dependent upon his rebuilt sense of who he has become. His strengths, rather than his weaknesses.

Patrick’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. He’s started a new job in Virginia, and as devastated as we were to leave Apple, he is excited and challenged and surrounded by interesting and supportive people and work. Every morning he gets up with the dawn and goes running on the bike path and in the woods, with the deer and the quiet. His happy place, where he centers himself each day to face the inevitable pain and fatigue that continue to follow him. He does his PT exercises and yoga on the porch to cool down before the household stirs. He ran his very first race a few weeks ago – a 5k, at an extraordinary pace. The first of many to come. He has yet to get back on the bike, but it will come.

We’re slowly reintegrating into our community, with love and support from grandparents, siblings, cousins and friends. Sean has started school back in Vienna at the school he would have gone to a few years ago, had we not moved. He’s making friends, singing silly songs at the top of his lungs in the cafeteria at lunch, showing off his gnarly blood blisters from the playground monkey bars, and always sneaking back to play goalie during his soccer games. Wyatt starts preschool in a month at a sweet, peaceful school. Those poor folks aren’t going to know what hit them: Wyatt the riot, who is never quiet, the life of the party, precocious and persistent, confident and curious.

I’ve started writing and reading again, slowly. I’m only just now starting to see writing as less of a cathartic therapeutic process for dealing with the intensity and emotionalism of these past few years, and more of a part of who I would like to become. Many things had to line up in my life to help me see my way back to personal investment and self-care, and they’re slowly coming into focus and alignment: moving past the high demand infant/toddler years, night weaning the toddler, getting more rest, finalizing insurance and settlement details, getting the kids into school, daydreaming, reading, resting, recovering. There was no way I could justify writing fiction for fun during this past year. The only functioning brain cells that I had were dedicated to making sure that everyone in the house was wearing pants, that everyone in the house had decent food to eat, and that everyone in the house knew they were loved, every day. I actually picked up a book this week during one of Wyatt’s brief naps. I sat in a chair that has only ever been used as structural support for little boy forts, or as a command center for little boy battles, and I claimed that chair in the name of a good book, a cup of tea, a warm splash of sunshine, a blanket on my toes. It was utterly liberating and glorious. I’m even going to try to attend a writers convention this weekend to help reinvigorate my desire to put pen to paper and continue the momentum that I had going a few years ago. What luxury. Time for ME.

As of this past week we officially concluded all legal and insurance matters relating to Patrick’s accident. I don’t have any official plans to share how the negotiations went and what the outcome was, but if you have questions, please let me know and I’ll be happy to fill you in. We reached out to the person who hit Patrick after the conclusion of the legal issues and have exchanged emails with him. I think I can say that both Patrick and I have made our personal peace with this man, but we wanted to reach out to him because he expressed a great deal of confusion through his lawyer of being unaware of what had happened to Patrick after the accident. His email back to us was so sad, so genuine and compassionate. It’s a flippant thing to say, but true: Patrick couldn’t have been hit by a nicer guy. This is not a man who tried to drive away, or pass off responsibility. He stopped, he stayed, he admitted fault and he has lived with grief and fear and anxiety over his actions for the entire year. One of his strongest memories of the accident is hearing Patrick’s voice, seconds before he hit him, yelling “What the fuck are you…?” Patrick didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence before the impact, but I’ve heard the audio on the recording. I heard that voice, what he said, how he said it – a tone that I have never heard out of Patrick before. As compassionate and accepting as I am about the accident, how a moment of inattention can happen to any of us, I think it’s a VERY GOOD THING that this man drive for the rest of his life with Patrick’s fury and disbelief and VOICE, that voice you never want to hear, in his mind. But it’s done. Over. One of the last pieces of this horrific year that can get put in a box in the basement and locked away for a very long time.

Fall has arrived slowly in Virginia. This week has given us hot apple cider, warm hats and gloves on our walks to school in the mornings, breezy and crisp evenings, creamy pumpkin ales, and the crinkle of leaves underfoot. It’s my favorite season, Patrick’s too. And we’re slowly convincing the boys that Autumn brings beautiful things, and not just cold viruses and cold toes. Cuddling on the couch together in the morning with a good book, hot chocolate after an afternoon of laughter that you can see fogging the air, Dad’s birthday, Thanksgiving with family, warm meals with friends.

We made it. We survived a whole year. We came home. Imagine what we can do this next year.

How you know you’ve been sick too long:

Some thoughts from Patrick and I about how you know you’ve been sick too long:

1. You struggle to suppress murderous rage when someone within ten feet of you coughs or sneezes.

2. You have puke buckets, containment towels, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer on every floor of the house.

3. Lining up the family for nightly medicating looks like a frat house bellying up to the bar for shots.

4. You know the difference by touch between a 101, 103 and 105 degree fever.

5. The advice nurse phone number comprises more than 95% of your past phone call history. The remaining 5% is to the attendance line at school calling your child out sick…again.

6. You know the chemical structures, metabolic availability, excretion method and lactation warnings of most major antibiotic, antihistamine, anesthetic, antiemetic and antiviral drugs.

7. You laugh when the check out clerk at the pharmacy notes the expiration date on the family sized bottle of Benadryl is in 10 months and he wanted to make sure you were going to use it by then. Your response is to snark that this will last maybe 10 days in your house.

8. Your friends stop asking whether or not you’re okay, and just start leaving random dead drops of Gatorade and saltines by your front door.

9. Every member of your family has a color coded medical face mask hanging by the front door and knows to put it on before going outside.

10. The ER doctors joke that you should have gone to Med school since you know so much about contagion vectors and infection control.

11. You’ve memorized the pediatric dosage of all over the counter allergy and pain relief meds by weight and age.

12. Your family has consumed enough Gatorade to fuel a professional sports team.

13. Text messages with your spouse consist of trading notes back and forth about times and dosages of meds given to children, quantities and consistencies of puke and poop, and mildly amusing Cheezburger gifs to try to meagerly raise each other’s spirits.

14. You finally hit your goal weight but can’t muster the energy to celebrate because you only lost the weight through extreme nausea, stress and dehydration.

15. Your heart rate kicks into over drive the instant a child sneezes or says “My tummy hurts.”

16. You give thanks for the fact that you haven’t been able to smell or taste anything for several months.

17. You make meals that consist of dry toast, apple sauce, ginger ale and rice. Getting pasta on the table is considered a fancy meal.

18. Your kids know the introduction songs and plot lines to at least seven different cartoon series by heart.

19. You dream about the day you can do something as simple as go out to dinner by yourself or have a beer, but then you feel sad because all you can think about is how alcohol suppresses the immune system and that a babysitter will just bring more germs into the house.

20. You get deeply enamored with the idea of selling it all and buying an off-the-grid cabin in the middle of nowhere and shooting trespassers on sight. You get as far as looking at open houses for mountain top family compound retreats that can be hermetically sealed, until you realize that other people’s germs will be all over a pre-owned house.

21. All of your laundry gets washed twice in color safe bleach and consists mainly of towels, underwear and PJs.

22. You haven’t worn pants without an elastic waistband for weeks.

23. Your 22 month old can tell you how his immune system works and what healthy foods to eat to help boost it.

24. You can fast track the automated nurse line phone system in less than 10 seconds and sing all the hold music songs by heart.

25. Your kid hasn’t had a haircut in months for fear that he would cough at the wrong, and very sharp and pointy, moment.

26. You know the difference between cyanotic blue lips and fever chills blue lips from first hand observation on more than one of your children.

27. You think the most glorious thing on earth is the knock on the door from the weekly cleaning service.

28. You have been in more ERs, hospitals and doctors offices in the past three months than you have pairs of shoes.

29. You walk up to every EMT you see at the grocery store or Starbucks and say thank you for the work they do.

30. You’re joyous that your kids love each other enough to hug and kiss each other, but you cringe a little and start counting down the days of the next shared viral incubation.

31. You’ve inadvertently enacted far more of your “Zombie Outbreak Survival Plan” than you are totally comfortable with.

32. When you are able to taste food, it all tastes like hand sanitizer

33. The varnish is wearing off the counters, door knobs and light switches from all of the bleach wipes that have gone over them.

34. It takes three pharmacists and a call to Stanford Medical to work out the interactions for all the medications you’re currently taking.

35. Even people in a TV show sneezing makes you twitch.

36. You’ve non-ironically discussed the subtle differences in bouquet and mouth feel for all the generic brands of Benadryl. Wal-dryl tastes like deep fried shark shit.

37. Mike and Sully trying to care for Boo for the first time has taken on the tones of a horror movie. You may have actually considered spraying aerosol cleaning solution on your own face.


There is a small child sleep sobbing next to me on the daybed in our dark and quiet playroom. The curtains are drawn on all but one window and a fan circulates warm air filled with filthy Silicon Valley particulate and smog. In the other room, the six year old trades coughs with Dad as they cuddle on the couch playing Minecraft together. The toddler beside me doesn’t even stir as my lungs seize and I cough until I feel I have no more air to expel. But he cries out in nightmares about the third antibiotic injection site on his leg: “No thank you Mama! No more doctor!”

Whatever this virus was/is/will be has laid waste to us. We are beat. Croup, bronchitis, pneumonia, flu. Steroids, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics. ER visits, injections, IVs, CAT scans, X-Rays. I have nearly no memory of these holidays. I wish it all to be done. Over. Moving on to a better 2014. Please.

Now that we are finally on the upswing from it all, it is apparent that things could have been dramatically worse. I have had great practice over the past year in learning to count my blessings. We are so lucky in so many ways. We have friends who reached out every day to see what we needed, and my parents who came to care for us even though they knew we were ill. Who cooked, cleaned, and provisioned us through the worst of it all with cheer and patience for our moans and groans, tantrums and tears. We have exceptional health care that is quick, affordable, accessible and responsive. And despite Patrick’s injury, we all are a rather healthy bunch. Without all that, and sheer luck, it could have been much worse.

After all of the viruses and infections I have had in my life, this one finally gave me some understanding of why the flu is a deadly killer. Learning about historical epidemics that ravaged continents, killing millions, never connected to a real experience for me. A part of history, I thought, a product of times where modern medicine wasn’t as effective or accessible.

I keep dwelling on the question of why this got so bad. It feels a little like the time Patrick and I went to a financial planner back before kids, in the midst of grad school, and said “What are we doing wrong?” We looked around us and saw our peers buying houses and boats, ATVs and cars. And we could barely afford health insurance. It feels painfully ironic now that he told us “Nothing. You are doing nothing wrong. It’s the system that’s broken.” Sure enough, skip forward a few years to total economic collapse, repos and foreclosures. We escaped, in better shape than most.

I asked my doctor a similar question last week. “What are we doing wrong? Why are we getting so sick, so often?” Her answer was blasé – it is what it is. Kids get sick. But I can’t help but think it’s more than that. What am I doing wrong? Is it what I eat, what I feed my kids, the places we go, the sloppy enforcement of hand washing, Sean’s & my history of asthma, stress, sleep, environmental pollutants, mold, super bugs? What is it?? Am I just a wimp with blinders on who can’t recognize that this is just the way parenthood goes?

For years after Sean was diagnosed with Reactive Airway Disease, I was a horrible germophobe. I would avoid any indoor space where other children congregated. I wiped every surface Sean would touch with antibacterial soap before putting him a car or shopping cart. I canceled family trips if anyone else attending showed any sign of a runny nose. Our family and friends thought we were overreacting, but they tolerated our insanity as though we were just in need of some time to come to our senses. We joked, more seriously than we let on to even each other, about moving away from people and living off the grid. Alone. Where no contagion could reach us.

Because when it did, any time runny nose caught up with us, we were the parents who watched our kid turn blue at the lips while he coughed so hard for so long that he threw up for the fifth time in a night. We would sit for hours at a time in the steamy bathroom, ruining board books from the repeated humidity. Then a shot of espresso to vasodilate his alveoli, and a quick bundle outside to breathe the cold air to shock his lungs open, just so we could make it the extra few minutes between nebulizer treatments. Just so that we wouldn’t have to take him to Urgent Care…again.

I pulled him out of preschool because every month, Sean would attend one day and then get sick and stay home for three weeks. It was like saying “Take my money so that you can get my kid so sick that we fear for his life.” My heart just couldn’t take it. And eventually his lungs did get stronger, with several years of corticosteroids that further suppressed his immune system. And now, he is an active, rosy-cheeked, goofy kid who goes to school and picks his nose and licks frosting from public table tops when he drops his cupcake.

Wyatt came along nearly two years ago and screamed lustily for an hour solid after being born. Patrick and I nodded our heads and said to each other, “Oh, this is what a healthy child sounds like.” His coughs are just coughs. His colds are just colds. And we realized just how sick Sean had been so many years ago by the sheer comparison of their health.

But this flu – this bout of knock you down, sit on your chest, narrow your vision, terrify you to your very core – spared no one in the house. Not even the spinal patient who can barely stand the pain from coughing. Or the nursing toddler. Or me, desperately trying to keep it all together.

I have taken a very mellow approach to our family diet. It befuddles me that people can muster the energy to be vehement and proselytizing about anything with two young children to raise and a household to support. Is that what I’m missing? The adamant militant declarations of only whole foods, no sugars, non-gmos, fully organic, high fiber diets? I mean, we’re nearly vegan, and we enjoy the decent food that makes it to our table. We eat conveniently but not poorly. We nourish well and indulge when our bodies say we should, avoiding most of the general ills of bad nutrition that common society recognizes. The kids have never tasted MacDonalds, they don’t beg for soda or candy. They like goldfish and hummus, strawberries and yogurt, beans and chips, peanut butter and spaghetti. Our kids are growing fast and heartily, with energy and vigor. And yes, we are data geeks – of course we occasionally food chart every ounce of their nutritional intake. Graphs are sexy, people.

I chafe at the thought that something as simple as adding a probiotic to our daily routine will fix everything. Or cod liver oil. Or meat. Or echinacea. Or that one panacea of restorative snake oil cure all that works to perfect and maintain the health of the entire population of the rest of the world. People, please. I am an intelligent, reasonably skeptical mother. I can read and comprehend research. I feed my family a balanced and healthy diet and there are few to no fights at my table about what we eat, unless Wyatt wants to dump his hummus on Sean’s hair. And well, everybody likes a good laugh and a bubble bath. I cannot envision a better approach to food than to learn early and reinforce often that food is not a fight, it is our fuel to be who we want to be. Eat well, be well. Right?

I want it to be that simple – am I doing it wrong? I want to be the kind of mother who shrugs and moves on with the belief that it will get better with exposure and time. That all these illnesses really are building my son’s immune systems up to be the ultimate force of health in their adult lives. My own mother and I were reminiscing recently – we don’t remember the colds and flus each year being quite this virulent or dangerous in my childhood. Is it just our selective perception, in hindsight?

I’m at a loss of what to do better or different while still raising children who are not fearful or conditioned with my own reflexive anxieties. I let my kid chew on the cart handle at Target, or lick ice cream off the bottom of his shoe. But the moment I see it, I have to stop myself from screaming in horror and setting up the pop-up decontamination chamber I wish I carried in my backpack. I try to make sure that Sean keeps his hands in his pockets while we are at the pharmacy, or that Wyatt stays in his stroller while at the doctor’s office. But kids are kids and life is unpredictable.

We were warned when we moved to Silicon Valley that the air quality here would cause us all to get lung infections and asthma. But we thought, how bad can it be, after suffering through the humidity, molds and allergens of the extreme Virginia and Minnesota climates?

I am exhausted from the circuitous, self-doubting, illogical panic of trying to figure it out. Please be gentle with us. If I start to cry when you innocently ask me if everyone’s feeling better, please spray yourself with Clorox before handing me a tissue. And forget the hugs for a while. You’re only going to label yourself as an uncontrollable infectious vector in my eyes. And so help me if you let your sniveling, snot-nosed child lean over my kid’s shoulder to get a better look at his iPad, I will not be held responsible when your spawn learns several creative curses that could get him arrested in Singapore from me.

Until I make my first billion by inventing antibiotics that taste like Willy Wonka chocolate and the world’s first painless hypospray of instant euphoria and complete viral and bacterial immunity, I suppose we’ll just keep at it all with equal measures of humor and exasperation. Because, geeze 2014, we could really use a rebalancing of the karmic scale, just a titch, if you please.

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén