Kelly Dwyer


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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.

Surrounded by love

To the person who changed our lives:

I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. I can make guesses about who you are, based on our brief texts and your panicked phone call to me as I was waiting to see my husband at the ER. You seem to be sincerely devastated by the accident and genuinely concerned for Patrick. I can only imagine that feeling you must have inside, knowing that you very nearly ended a life. I could hear it in your voice – that need to know that Patrick was okay and that he would recover. The need to hear me absolve you and pass on words of soothing care. I hope you understand that I don’t have any to spare for you right now. My life is filled with people who need my attention and compassion, and although you are certainly on that list, please understand that you are closer to the bottom for the moment.

I want to tell you a little about who we are, those of us who love Patrick and are giving everything we have to help him recover who he was, to give you perspective to understand how much our lives have been changed forever by your actions.

I am a wife and mother before all else. The remainder of who I am is always in flux as I grow and learn and find passions and joy in so many things in life: a writer, a teacher, a musician, a vegan, a swimmer, a geek, a gamer, a beer lover, a science fiction connoisseur, a nomad. Our family has only been in the Bay Area for a year and a half, and I have felt so at home here in this temperate, beautiful part of the world. Our family has thrived and we cannot tell each other enough how perfectly we fit here, among the Redwoods and Ocean, the fog and sun.

Our children are our greatest loves. Sean, our eldest, has grown into his long and lanky six year old limbs with boundless energy and infinite curiosity. He is still my sweet guy, reserved at times, introverted, with a strong need to be home with his family, curled up in a chair with a book and Bear Bear. He has been going through a Dad phase these last few months and his afternoons are spent drawing gaming maps to use during their table top sessions on the weekends, or planning strategies for Super Mario Brothers Wii marathons with Dad. Bedtimes are always with Dad – a bath, brush teeth, a book and a rock-a-bye.

Our youngest, Wyatt (nicknamed the Riot), will be two in March and is a loving and joyous kid. He is always on the move, whether singing and dancing to Twinkle Twinkle, or learning to fling spaghetti at the ceiling, or climbing to the highest tower on the playground. He adores his brother and would gladly spend every minute of his day following Sean around. And, as amazing as this sounds, Sean feels the same way. The boys cuddle together reading books in their couch-cushion forts or take turns throwing the football in our tiny back yard. They love each other with a simplicity of brotherhood and companionship that I can barely believe. My sweet guys.

Patrick is an extraordinary man. A husband who is in equal measures sensitive and brilliant, loving and stable, attuned to me and our family in all things. My partner and love. He got the recruitment call from Apple three days after Wyatt was born and we couldn’t have been more excited or proud. He is a talented software architect who loves riding his bike to and from work. Those 100+ miles a week have kept him in the best shape of his life. We celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary this summer although we have been inseparable for almost 15 years.

I was pulling out spinach and roasted butternut squash with quinoa and cranberries for dinner when my phone rang with a Sunnyvale number. I didn’t reach it in time to answer. I’ve had many chances over the past few weeks to replay every moment in excruciating detail from the second that I picked up the next call, made from Patrick’s cell phone, from a bystander.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. Do you know that near higher consciousness sensation of awareness that something occurring does not match the normal order of the world? I heard this woman’s voice and everything around me stopped.

“Patrick has been in an accident. He’s with me and is talking. He wanted to tell you that the paramedics are taking him to Kaiser.” Her voice was slow and calm, and my heart rate spiked high enough for me to see spots. We didn’t know then – we had no idea how bad it was.

My son won’t talk to me about the events of that Tuesday. About how I yelled at him to get his socks and shoes, Bear Bear, his toothbrush and his iPad and get in the car. About what must have gone through his mind as I held his shoulders, looking in his eyes, and said, “Daddy’s been in an accident and I need to go to the hospital.” He cried silently all the way to our friend’s house. I know that this fear, this first taste of the brutal unfairness of the world, are memories that he will carry with him all his life.

The baby hadn’t eaten dinner or nursed at all during the afternoon and the rush hour traffic was interminable. The paramedics called twice to let me know that they’d assessed Patrick as qualifying for trauma treatment and were heading to the closest level one trauma center. The extraordinary EMT even put Patrick on the phone in the back of the ambulance and we exchanged shaky and disbelieving “I love you”s to the sound of the baby screaming from the back seat.

Can you feel the rising determination and panic I must have felt as I circled the ER desperate for parking only to find out that Patrick hadn’t been checked in yet? When you called me and tried to explain what had happened, I still hadn’t seen him. My mind was playing through every scenario of what was going on and if he was okay.

The next few hours played out horribly – Patrick’s injuries as they were discovered on the X-rays and CT and MRI and angiography were near unbelievable. The damage to his spine, his tissues, his arteries, his ligaments, his systems, his extremities, his skin. A dislocated cervical vertebra, three other fractured cervical vertebrae, a dissection of the vertebral artery, nerve damage, contusions, and so much more. The likelihood that any of the next choices we would have to make could lead to his death was so high that I felt near to fainting each time the phone rang that night from the spinal surgeon with updates about the emergency surgery and next steps.

But I wasn’t there with him – we made the choice together while I held his hand in the ER that whatever happened that night, it was important that I be home with the boys. To give them a consistency of a somewhat normal night with Mom. To know that even if our world fell apart and Daddy was not there, I would be and they would be okay.

I do not have the energy now or the need to blame or vilify or feel angry at you. But if there was one thing that I would like you to feel remorse for, it is the fact that you forced me to make a decision between Patrick and our children. My husband, in that moment of great and terrifying fear, not knowing if he would live through the night, wondering if he would become a vegetable, or whether he would ever see his children again. And my children, scared and unsure of the world they knew, not comprehending the magnitude of what might be taken away from them, how their lives had changed in that instant. My heart still agonizes over that impossible choice.

We are so lucky in our lives to be surrounded by people who have stepped forward to support us. People like my in-laws who came down immediately from SFO mere hours before their flight overseas was due to leave for a six month sabbatical. They stayed overnight with Patrick in the hospital every night for a week so that someone would be with him to push the pain pump every 15 minutes to keep him from screaming and sobbing when he woke up. Who fed him vegetable broth and ice chips and counted the seconds until his next dose of anti-nausea medications.

People like my mother who bought a plane ticket the moment she heard from me on Tuesday night and stayed for nearly three weeks as a surrogate mother to my children while I was in the hospital with Patrick. My mother who endured countless tantrums from scared and tired children, who wiped noses and kissed bonks and made lunches and brushed teeth because neither Patrick nor I could be with our kids for weeks. People like my step-father who stoically refused to let me know that my Mom was skipping her once a year beach vacation with her love and her puppies to stay here with my kids and who sent an entire year’s worth of crossword puzzles and heapings of chocolate.

People like my father and step-mother who sent me a check immediately to help with expenses and arrived on the day my Mom left in order to provide child care and medical assistance to us after Patrick’s surgery. Who helped us consult intelligently with doctors and provided comfort and advice no matter what hour of the night. For the countless loads of laundry, meals made, story books read, playground trips made, dishes washed on our behalf by people who know how scared and overwhelmed we all are.

People like the parents from my son’s new school who have brought me meals every other day for the whole month and helped to get my jobs at school covered without any stress or issue. People like my Mom’s work colleagues who immediately took everything over at her job to help her be able to be here for me without worrying if she had a job to go back to. People like my friends who have gone on errands and grocery runs, moved furniture, brought cookies and snacks, picked up take out, and never stopped asking what they can do to help. The people Patrick works with who have brought fruit and gifts and sent notes of encouragement, robots, Legos and support. Who have unerringly stepped forward to support Patrick and cover his work until he can return. If he can return.

Every one of these people has been affected by that single moment where your car slammed into Patrick. That instant has changed everyone’s lives. I am certain it must have changed yours. Do you see bicyclists everywhere now? Do you pass by that intersection and feel a deep sorrowful fear in your heart? Do you look at the faces of your loved ones and hope they never have to go though this?

Each day I look into my husband’s eyes and I see so many things. Determination, anxiety, love, fear, grit, loneliness, resignation, drive, fatigue and pain. Life. He is alive. We can say it an infinite number of ways: he made it, he is alive, he is still with us. He is Patrick, through and through. In the hospital we couldn’t see a new doctor or nurse without hearing how lucky he was to be alive, to be able to walk. Karma, blessings, miracles, luck. Whatever their brand of higher belief, we heard it all frequently enough to hammer the message home. He shouldn’t have been alive after he hit the ground. But he is.

Patrick will be changed by this forever. You’ve left us with scars and baggage to carry that will alter every decision we make in our lives. From whether or not to let our son ride his bike on the sidewalk outside our home, to whether we will be able to go skiing as a family. And Patrick will not be able to look at a bicycle the same way as before. It will be a long time before he is able to find peace in his own head about the crash – you have taken away the order and surety of logic in his mind about the simplest part of his life: his health and fitness.

Your actions have changed the fundamental nature of my world. Though I dream of the day where our lives return to some concept of normality, I have become a mother to three dependents who need me very much. My independent, self-motivated husband is living his greatest fear, one that he often confessed to me in our quietest moments of introspection: being a burden on his family. He is only just now able to partially care for himself. The moments we cheer are the simplest ones; taking a shower without my hands to help him stand, getting a cup of coffee by himself, playing Legos with Sean, cuddling with Wyatt before bed. But in so many things, he has become another person that needs care and attention. I tell him that not many people are lucky enough to live down their greatest fears and be able to say they triumphed over them with love and confidence.

In my darker moments, when I am ill and overwhelmed and the baby is screaming from teething pain and Sean can’t stop coughing as his asthma flares up, and Patrick begins to snap and ache and frown and hold his pain in, I look at this enormous mess around us and I wonder how to even make it through that moment, much the less that day or week. When withdrawal from the medications changes Patrick’s personality and he struggles with chronic pain, how do we find our way back to who we were? What will our lives, our goals, our dreams even look like after this?

We may not know our path forward, but I am certain that there is nothing in this life that will stand in our way now. No manner of complications or resulting injuries and their ongoing effects are going to keep us from healing and tending to our collective wounds and hearts and minds. It takes a particular kind of insistence and resilience to make it to the other side of this kind of life changing trauma. We have it and I won’t accept anything except love in our lives. No defeatism, no settling for less than what we are capable of, no dead ends. We are reminded every day of the love and support around us and that there are always hands to catch us and set us aright.

I can see the day coming where we are able to move forward with the same purpose and joy as we had before the crash. Some days, I wish I could just skip the here and now and go right to the carefree and well. Days like watching Patrick’s face distort in pain as he struggles to massage the cramping ligaments under the collar as they spasm while trying to rebuild and adhere where they were shredded off the spine. Moments like looking at the stoop of his shoulders and the circles under his eyes as he confesses to terrible dreams and nearly no sleep for weeks. The times when his throat spasms shut just as he’s swallowing. Or when he pees blood for the seventh day in a row. Or when he goes to bed without me because his damaged larynx is keeping the baby and I awake at night. Or when I have to hold his hand and wipe his eyes as the ER nurse puts in another IV over the bruises from the previous three. Or when my son realizes that he hasn’t seen Dad in days. Or when the baby just wants to climb into Daddy’s lap, but can’t.

Some days, I don’t want to do this anymore. I can cry myself to sleep quietly as much as I need to let out that rush of emotions that I just can’t control at how hard it all is. And I know Patrick’s probably doing the same in his small dark room next to mine, but there is a nursing baby who just woke up and a six year old who needs some water and I just have to breath, and know that this will all pass. And when I have a quiet moment and I can look into his eyes without bursting into tears, I can tell Patrick I love him. And that’s all that matters.

To the person who changed our lives: I don’t know who you are. But you should know this about us. I hope it provides you some measure of lesson or hope or acceptance:

We are surrounded by love.

A tentative return

I have, over the past year, taken a great deal of time to reflect on the issues of social media, personal privacy and how much I would like to share of my life online. It’s a topic of great uncertainty, not only because no one has complete control over how much of their life is available to the public, and because I still haven’t made a fully formed decision about my views on it all.

Taking the past year (well truly 3/4 of a year) to withdraw and consider my options was necessary and very important. I have had some sort of blog or personal web presence for nearly 15 years, so the idea of deleting my Facebook account and moving away from Digilutionary was challenging. Although I will admit, I found this study to be particularly true. It’s quite nice to be off of Facebook!

I’ll be honest, I was motivated primarily by fear – that intangible worry on behalf of my children, my husband, my family, that sharing too much of our lives could lead to very little benefit for us. And potentially much the opposite. Although I have a rather sedate web presence in comparison with others, I still harbor fear of repercussions to my vocal and public opinions posted here and elsewhere.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Geek and Gaming worlds have been exploding recently with stories of harassment, abuse, misogyny and horrific tales of relentless online bullying of women and other minorities. It’s extraordinary to hear the stories of courage and bravery in the face of some terrifying behavior. I encourage you to read some of the stories that resonated with me, mostly because I hope that you’ll understand what is at stake for those of us considering entering a public space as an advocate for various controversial topics.

Caroline Criado-Perez speech on Cyber Harassment

The Cult of the Angry Young Man

I don’t have any answers about how to move forward, as the tech and social media world is a living organism of developments, releases and gradual obscurities. But pulling back from an online presence has helped me to identify the things that I do miss. I miss connecting with people that I respect and am interested in following, both personally and professionally. I miss sharing thoughts, ideas and essays on my website. Things that burn me from the inside out, that develop slowly in my head until I simply have to get them down onto the computer and know that they are being read by those who love me and who are interested in what I have to say.

Most of all, I miss developing my professional life as a writer. This has been on hold for quite some time now as I was consumed by a difficult pregnancy, a cross-country move, home schooling and attachment parenting two busy children. But I’m easing my way back into the idea of getting my stories out on submission, continuing to work on my novels, and contributing to my blog as frequently as I can.

I make no pledge about the form of my online participation in the future. It’s all a grand experiment of life and sharing and reception and experience. I will try to be here on Digilutionary more frequently, as a professional place of reflection and progress. I hope you’ll join me.

What does a rainbow mean to you?

There was a rainbow, sprouting nearly out of the edge of the parking lot at school when I stepped out of the school office this morning. I had just completed the withdrawal paperwork pulling my eldest son out of public school at the end of the year – merely five days away. It occurred to me that I’d made the right decision to homeschool him because the only thing I wanted to do at that moment was go yank him out of class and admire the rainbow together. We would draw pictures and read about water droplets, weather patterns, light reflection, the color spectrum, and the earth’s atmosphere. We might even read poems about rainbows and pretend to be leprechauns in Ireland. We would make rainbow cupcakes and paint a Roygbiv painting. We might even create our own rainbow with a prism and a glass of water. Then we’d have a rainbow lunch and pack up the chalk to go draw rainbows on the pathways at the local park. We’d sing rainbow songs as he conquered the monkey bars and pretend we were gliding down a rainbow on the slides.

Instead, he was going to spend the next six hours inside getting lost in the crowd. And what a crowd it is – 30 high demand 5 and 6 year olds. One teacher. No aids or assistants. At least 10-15% of that class consists of children with serious mental and emotional problems, as well as very immature kids. The result is an environment where the loudest, neediest children demand, and receive, the complete attention of an over-worked, under-paid teacher who is doing her best with the limited resources available to her.

And then there’s my little guy, relegated to the “good kids table” in the very back of the room, where the teacher doesn’t have to keep as close an eye on the activity. My amazing guy, who comes home complaining that he keeps getting distracted and can’t finish his work. My guy, one of the kindest, sweetest, best mannered kids I know, who never gets recognized for being a good citizen in class because he’s not a hand waiver or a type-A kind of kid. He’s his own goofy, quiet, serious, focused, active, peripheral participating kind of absolutely normal, wonderful kid. A child who adores learning in every form.

There are lessons here that I think he has learned with grace and shown remarkable moral differentiation about in such a short time. He learned quickly at the beginning of the year how to ignore the bullies and how to avoid being shoved or body slammed off the top of the playset. It only took once…or twice…maybe. No one knows because there’s rarely enough adults to monitor the children on the playground. He’s learned how to keep his head down and skirt getting blamed for bad behavior, because when no one’s watching, it’s easy for the bullies to get away with nearly murder. He’s learned how to follow inconsistent or incomplete directions from a distracted teacher. He’s learned to turn a blind eye when something’s wrong. Keep his head down. Don’t make waves.

What parent wants that world for their children? Not many, if the parents of this class are any indication. In chatting with several other Moms, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t alone in my concerns this year. Does this make us all helicopter parents, that we wish the best for our children, to allow them to be joyous, creative, silly KIDS for as long as possible? It was a hard choice, because the little dude adores school. He craves structure and knowledge. He thrives on his own, and with other adults in a safe and open environment. But when we started talking about other options with him, his eyes brightened and he threw himself at us in an enormous hug. “Can we really, Mom? Can you and I do school together? With experiments, and crafts, and books?”

I have significant reservations about extended homeschooling, although I’m increasingly surrounded by like-minded parents who have chosen to keep their kids out of public school. Was it this bad when I was a child? I am a product of a top notch public education, but my catch phrase has always been that I learned in spite of school. I have a few great memories of transformative educational experiences, but the vast majority of my schooling involved teaching me how to hack the system. And here’s where it gets tricky. I’d like my sons to learn the hacker mentality – change your perspective, challenge all assumptions, dive in and experiment, subvert oppressive authority, teach yourself, make incredible things and never doubt who you are. How can you pass those values on? How does one create an environment that fosters that kind of independent, creative problem solving?

I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to give you an answer. But I plan on trusting my instincts and letting my incredible little man have a chance to shine on his own for a little while longer. With the cost of private schools nearing a monthly mortgage payment, who knows if we’ll be able to afford to send him somewhere with a compatible teaching theory. We’re going to revel in our freedom to follow our instincts and interests. Move it, move it Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays, Wandering Wednesdays, Thinking Thursdays, Fun Field Trip Fridays, Silly Saturdays, Sleepy Sundays, karate, piano, rock climbing, soccer, and more. We’re off to explore this wonderful world. Wish us luck.

And we moved on.

New York is a city where rain can wash away just about any stain. And to be certain, New York City is full of the stains of life, like sin, and shit, and guilt, and fear as much as it’s full of hope, and possibility, and luxury, and money. Rain in New York echoes down the avenues and soothes away the white noise of taxi horns blaring, cop sirens trilling, garbage trucks booming, delivery trucks slamming and the murmur of millions of people talking at every hour of every day. From high up atop the canyons of steel and granite and bomb-proof glass, rain clouds shield the whole festering city from view, revealing only glimpses of dotted grids of light and the tips of the iconic buildings lit in garish commercialized colors.

It wasn’t raining on 9/11. I’ve heard someone say that they now have a uncontrollable urge to flinch low to the ground on days as clear and blue as that day in September 2001. I want to tell them to take a healthy dose of California and call me in a week. Every day here feels like living within an elementary science experiment, where you shine a powerful beam of light through a crystal and watch the rainbow scatter across the table in a darkened room. I awake early these days, usually to the cheerful babbling of a five month old who finds ways to stick his tiny fingers up my nose at ungodly hours of the morning. I can look to the West and see biblical upthrusts of clouds rising over the Santa Cruz mountains and settling over the South Bay most mornings as we come to the end of the baking summer. Within minutes of the rising of the sun, the clouds disappear over the Eastern ranges and the sky and sun resume their escalating intensity through the day. Though there is no water, no moisture, no humidity in this long season, the heat is surprisingly mild. It’s a dichotomy that brings a measure of awe from those of us who have spent the majority of our lives sweltering in the misery of long, sultry, melting Mid-Atlantic summers. I gladly pay the devils fee here to teach my son to wear his hat every time we’re in the sun, and slather sunscreen on each recess at school, in exchange for the ability to tolerate being outside all day, any day, all year long. The sky is blue, the sun is high and there’s no possible way to look at it as anything but beautiful.

When it rains, which it has only done twice since we moved here in May, California does not accept the moisture with grace. Santa Clara takes on a near rancid perfume, as the accumulation reactivates the stenches of rotting fruit, patches of urine and the general smell of desiccation. Rain merely shows us how parched our world really is, and prevents us from continuing to live in ignorant, unsustainable bliss. It’s a desert here.

My world view upon arrival those first few weeks felt as though reality was two clicks out of focus. The greens were just as lush as Virginia, but instead of oak and dogwood and maple, there’s palm and hibiscus and olive, diligently and artificially irrigated every day. Roses grow just as pink, but they’re manicured into strange bulbous decorative shapes alongside walkways and driveways. Roofs are as red as the thick Virginia clay, but the soil is pale and dusty, covered in seed pods of prehistoric size. Houses feel smaller and lower, as though some giant has taken his thumb and smushed every structure a few feet into the ground. A facet of having no basements or storage attics in construction out here, for earthquake and fire safety. Dry as a bone. Kindling dressed in stucco.

We’ve worked hard over these past few months to move past the culture shock of West Coast living. The chronic sleep deprivation and the ever-present reminder that time waits for no tired parent regardless of the number of screaming children in your life has forced us to simply get on with it all, to enjoy it as it comes. Kindergarten has commenced for a very excited five year old who has leapt into the fray armed with pleases, thank yous, laughter, curiosity and the desperate need to assert his identity in a new world of order, rules and structure. He’s in heaven.

The schedule on the classroom board this week said “Patriot Day – 9/11.” I stayed after pickup today to have a brief chat with the teacher. And what did this event entail, I asked? Tempered by her brief mental placement of me as the parent who frequently forgets to wipe smears of yesterday’s peanut butter off the five year old’s face, or put clothes on the five month old, she informed me in the dulcet tones that only a Kindergarten teacher can muster that she would be wearing red, white and blue and that the class would be talking about what it means to be a hero. No discussion of New York, I insisted? Well, no, not really with the little kids, she replied. And as though the mental pathway had opened into her adult communication skills, she proceeded to inform me about exactly where she had been when the planes had hit. And I, with a squirming, teething, urping bundle of wiggling need in my arms, and a sugar-crashing, catatonic bundle of whining, barely standing on two feet…I didn’t know what to say.

“I was there. In New York,” I finally said. The parents around me got very quiet, and the teacher repeated what I had told her, word for word, slowly. And then I realized they were waiting. For me to continue. And I couldn’t. “And I’m not ready to have that conversation with my five year old, if you understand,” I stated, with the finality of ending a line of discussion that made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure she did truly understand, but she nodded and we all went on our way.

I posted on Facebook earlier today that I was going media dark for the next 48 hours or so. 9/11 has become a chance for everyone to remember how their lives were changed on that day. Reliving the shock, horror, numbness, and pain. Telling others exactly where they were when they heard the news. My grandfather once told me that this was the Pearl Harbor of our generation. That we have lived wartime lives, up close and personal. I understand the need for catharsis, the need to share with one another. But I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to really put into words the depth of impact, the way that it changed the entire course of my life. That’s not something that can be codified, because it changes every day, every year of my life.

Trying to navigate through new relationships is hard enough without having to describe our experiences in New York, though the topic inevitably arises. We have developed phrases and statements to share some of the story, and adjust them depending on the seriousness of the conversation, how long we’ve know people, what they’ve been willing to share with us. It was only within the past year or so that I was able to share with my father that I will never forget the arching trajectory of bodies willfully diving into the sky from 100 stories above Manhattan. That look on his face that night during our conversation was one that I never want to have with my children – the idea that as a parent there are horrible things in the world that we simply will not be able to spare our children from. That will brand them, shape them and scar them.

I have a picture of my Grandmother, who I never met, that I secreted away long ago during one of those compulsory family history projects from school. It’s a black and white photo, diligently colored in tans and oranges and musty browns to highlight the blonde in her hair and the drab coloration of her nurse’s uniform. She’s standing in the open embrace of a dark haired man with an officer’s overcoat wrapped around them both. The illumination from her lighter touching his cigarette shows her face turned up toward him, her hair perfectly coiled, his chin tilted. Intimate. And not my Grandfather. My memory fails me, but I retained the sadness of knowing that my Grandmother was engaged once, or perhaps twice, during WWII, and that her fiancé was killed before she met my Grandfather. Of course, as my Mother tells it, the small photograph of the Parisian can-can girl that fell out of my Grandfather’s wartime journal still had the power to make him blush. The power of memory, so far removed.

My husband and I used to joke that we were a wartime marriage. We bought our engagement rings only a month after 9/11, and we would have marched down to City Hall right after graduation if my Father hadn’t made it abundantly clear that good Southern girls let their Daddy’s walk them down the aisle. We soldiered on, through our last year of school, through our first years of marriage in New York City, poor as door mice and ready to conquer anything the world wanted to throw at us. Jobs on Wall Street, graduate school, teaching at our alma mater, a fabulous pad in Battery Park, clubs and raves, booze and haute cuisine, international travel, life lived at the fastest pace we could take it. We left when the fear became too much. It wasn’t that we couldn’t sustain that life indefinitely, as seductive as life on the top of the world can be. It was that every day, every bomb threat, every CBRE drill, every random mugging report on our block, every time we were trapped on the subway because of a suicide on the tracks, made us question whether we would actually survive NYC.

I cannot imagine how difficult it is for my Grandfather to deal with his memories. And I feel as though comparing my memories of 9/11 to the years of his bloody, traumatizing, heroic service cheapen and degrade him and everyone of his generation. I marched in the great protests post-9/11 in New York as a proud and adamant pacifist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t honor his service. Or the service of my friend who lost his life to a IED in Iraq 10 days after my first son was born in 2007. Scott joined the Army after 9/11, in a time where he and I had drifted apart from each other. He was a writer, a slam poet, a warrior who fought demons and words and wrested them into a beautiful life, marrying a wonderful woman, starting his life anew with meaning and promise. Before he died.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to have a conversation with my son about being in New York on that day. I worry that he will see only the lessons of what horrible things people are capable of doing, rather than the beautiful way that we all came together in that incredible city in the months after the towers fell. The tangible experience that he will have will be through pictures of common elements of his life, sky scrapers and planes and New York City, forced together in a way utterly inconceivable to nearly the entire population of the world. That singular act, repeated, where plane meets tower changed the way that we look at our world in a fundamentally fearful way. I don’t want my child to see fear. I don’t want to introduce that threshold within his developing moral sense of the world around him, to see the point at which he crosses into understanding of the evil within people. Bad guys are only vague antitheses to super heros in this too precious world of childhood innocence right now. Please let it stay that way just a little longer.

The freeway was on fire several weeks ago on the hottest day of the summer. Smoke blanketed the roadway, and flames licked up against the metal of the guard rail and consumed the scrub brush and tumbleweeds along the concrete overpass as we drove by. And just like that, with my boys chatting about the inner workings of siphon pumps, and how to construct the internal organs of dinosaurs out of Legos, while the baby took one of his rare naps – just like that, I tasted the burn at the back of my throat of asbestos, steel, concrete and flesh. And then it was gone, and we emerged into the clarity of the California sun. And we moved on.

Two Weeks

The signature’s been sent. The paperwork is done. We’re moving west. 

It was bright in the living room this morning when I woke from dreams of standing on the Marin headlands, gazing over the Golden Gate as the woolen fog coating the Pacific peeled back and revealed the sun, golden and perfuse, as only it can be in California. 

I suppose the eastern dawn had come gradually, but I wasn’t aware enough to appreciate its approach. I slipped in and out of California dreams during those hours of the morning between the instant awareness and narcolepsy that comes from having a sleeping newborn stir and soothe while cuddled to your chest. The sunlight through the blinds seemed green and pale, as though the impermeable cloud of spring pollen had made its way into our home and coated even my eyelids with fertile particulate matter. It occurred to me that in a few short weeks, we’d be free of pollen and humidity. But we’d also be leaving behind the distinct lushness of the approaching Spring. Arid climates cannot replicate the feeling of anticipation just before the whole world erupts into moist, honey-scented bloom.

When I was young, I used to imagine the world turned black and white when the sun went down. That the colors of the world leeched down into the soil and out the other side of the earth to where the sun was rising. Then we moved when I was 7, and the street lamps across from my window in our new home showed the world in sickly neon shades of buzzing orange and purple.

“San Francisco. Dawn like tarnished silver.” – Virtual Light, William Gibson. 

I wonder what will shift in my son’s world, what his new life will be colored with, all the way across the continent in California. 

Four days after our second son was born, my husband got a call from Apple. THE call. They wanted him and they wanted to make it happen fast. And, we supposed, in our few lucid moments in between bouts of hysterical laughter and morose tears, it really wasn’t a bad time to take a chance on a company that sounds like a perfect fit for everything that my husband wants in a job. I’m feeling gloriously improved just from the mere fact of NOT being pregnant anymore. I have powerful hormones running amok through my body that make the sleep deprivation and fatigue seem like inconsequential trivialities. The little bundle of urping, burping, squelching, screaming need is healthy, hale and utterly beautiful. Our eldest is adjusting to being a big brother with grace, patience and love. After a year of recovery from the karmic kicks in the ass that afflicted us in 2010, we find ourselves balanced enough to actually consider the job offer on its merits, rather than succumb to the overwhelming panic of moving barely a month post-partum.

We have two weeks now to say our goodbyes to the loveliest place we’ve lived so far. Two weeks to help our sensitive, shy, structure-craving, consistency-needing 4-year old understand how this will affect his life. Two weeks to pack up the chaotic mess of a post-partum home. Two weeks to help my family, my parents to understand that we will visit, we do love them, we’re not being irresponsible, this is the right move for our family. Two weeks to say so long to best friends and neighbors who have made our lives so much richer and happier over these past three years.

I know it’s not fair to remind everyone that we’ve always been a flight risk. Because even my husband and I, self-professed technomads, played around with the idea of making this home, this neighborhood a permanent stopping point in our lives. The place where you grow up together, letting your kids hop fences after school and play until dinner. Where you joke about whose child is going to be the trouble maker or heart breaker, and you share a beer together on the back deck with parents just as caring and down to earth as you aspire to be. 

But California’s always been there in the back of our minds. Like London, Sydney and Paris are, figments of possible realities, the what-if’s tempered with the could-be’s. Maybe. Until recently, I wasn’t ready. I kept falling back on the old standard retort that I had too much black in my wardrobe to be happy in California. A pointless defense. My wardrobe is covered in spit up, grass stains, snot, breastmilk and drool. Parenting has granolaed us gradually to a point where we can’t imagine not composting, being part of an organic co-op, or biking to work. If there’s any place for us to find like-minded spirits, I expect we won’t have to look far around SF. 

And so we find ourselves dreaming about Yosemite, Napa, Monterey, redwoods, sushi, surfing, cable cars, and twisty hills in between diaper changes and late afternoon naps. And in those moments when we start to worry, when the details seem impossibly complex and the logistics near impossible, there’s nothing quite as calming for the blood pressure as a peaceful sleeping baby in one’s arms or a cuddling four year old as he whispers “I love you.”

Wish us luck.

Literature of recognition versus estrangement, China Miéville

From Sarah Crown and the Guardian, one of the more interesting perspectives on SF/F’s exclusion from major literary prizes. Miéville has spoken on this topic before, but this is one of his clearest descriptions of how muddied and messy the lines can be between defined genres.

The one you can’t get out of your head

I’ve been working on a novel for several years now. My writing process has been filled with fits and spurts of frantic production, and periods of rejecting the project all together (sometimes for more than a year). I’ve often referred to this novel as the project that I get to make all my mistakes on before moving onto something brilliant. But I cringe slightly at the metaphor, because I truly believe there’s still something in this book that is wonderful and extraordinary. There’s just a certain tone to the way the scenes play and the way the environmentals build that feels like nothing else I’ve written or read. Every time I try to put it aside and buckle down on other projects, I just can’t help but come back to it. My personal black hole.

It’s hard to stay motivated on the project. I’ve had several mental setbacks, most often dealing with real-world news events that so closely mirror some of the elements in the book that I worry about how it would be accepted, if it would be too gauche so close to a tragic event. I worry about whether it’s even possible to publish the book, since several of my naming conventions have recently been used in other media to describe similar entities or elements in the book…that I came up with in 2007 (grrr). Either of these things can be handled with care and sensitivity – adjusting the story slightly, or simply having faith that the fictional elements of the plot are strong enough to compensate for what now seems like reliance on reality.

It’s also hard to know how to approach the book again after having shelved it for so long. It’s nearly 70,000 unedited words, still missing a completed climax and ending. A monster of a manuscript. The plot is gnarled and twisted after so many revisions that a massive retooling and restructuring is needed before I can fit those fantastic scenes and elements where they really need to be. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to cram so much information and so much action into this one novel that it needs a prequel for the reader to make sense of it all, or to even become invested in the characters. But that’s not right either – I just need to find a way to charge the scenes with background and engagement every step of the way.

It’s been helpful recently to get back into reading other novels and short stories (which I rarely do when I have the time to sit down and write). I’ve been able to step back and consider some of the elements of my plot that come off as too familiar, tropes that have been used too frequently in the exact same plot outlines. It’s a lovely challenge for me, something that keeps my mind dreaming and scheming during swim practice and play dates and the monotony of second trimester bed rest with this pregnancy.

Telling my husband that I’m working on it again is almost painful – I avert my eyes from his predictable sigh of exasperation each time that he discovers I’m taking the plunge yet again. He’s my most ardent supporter, my sounding board, the one who picks up the pieces when I’m falling apart in misery over something that’s just not working. It’s like admitting to a regression for a terrible habit that we both thought I put behind me long ago. I think the angst and agony over this project is rooted in the length of its presence in our lives, the fact that it’s my first novel, and that it’s a story that we both really love that just hasn’t found the right form yet.

I fortify myself to dive back into the stygian depths with an ample amount of Trader Joes peanut brittle and large quantities of ginger ale (about all my pregnant stomach can handle). Please ensure a ready supply of wiggly, squirmy, giggly “Mama Hugs” from the four year old are available to sustain motivation and forward progress.

Corpus Pretereo on sale now

It’s available! Escape Collective Publishing has released it’s first anthology, Corpus Pretereo, this week for the Kindle. Click through to to purchase the anthology and it’s collection of fascinating short stories exploring the idea of “Escape the Body,” including my own “Curl of the Wave.” The Nook version will be available within the week. UPDATE: Here’s the link to the Nook version of Corpus Pretereo.

‘Corpus Pretereo’ from Escape Collective

In a few short weeks, Escape Collective Publishing will be putting out it’s first anthology, titled Corpus Pretereo, which will include my short story, “Curl of the Wave.” I’m delighted to be one of the 15 authors included in this premiere anthology from this cooperative group of writers. The available format for the anthology will be limited to ereaders (more specific details about file formats to follow). If you have a moment, click through to read a little more about their philosophy about why they only publish online, and the benefits it allows them to afford their authors and their organization. Look here soon for a link to the anthology as soon as it’s available for purchase!

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