September 24, 2007

No-fly zone for monsters

The Plano Balloon Festival took place this weekend, and unlike last year's Elmer Fuddlike weather ("Awise storms! North winds bwow, south winds bwow..."), this year the skies were perfect. We spent the weekend chasing balloons around town and watching them land in front yards and in the middle of city streets, as well as in the little park adjacent to our apartment complex. We attended the launch on Saturday night and stuck around for the nighttime lighting of the balloons and a surprisingly cool fireworks show.

It was fun and perfect and absolutely and totally devoid of the monster. Schuyler made a friend at the festival who simply asked if she could talk. After we explained Schuyler's situation, the girl shrugged as if she well and truly did not give two shits, and the two of them ran off to play, only pausing briefly at one point to collide, bonking heads cocoanut-style and crying for maybe 30 seconds before shaking it off and taking flight again.

Only now, looking back on it, is it clear what a nice weekend it really was. I suppose like most of the best moments in life, we were enjoying it too much at the time to notice.

September 18, 2007

Not exactly "Snakes on a Plane"

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Schuyler and I were discussing our impending trip to New York City (impending as in "as soon as I get paid my last installment of crazy book money"), listing the things we want to see while we're there. She's jazzed about seeing the Mythic Creatures exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, of course. There's also apparently a butterfly conservatory, too, so her little head may explode by the end of that day. I told her that she's going to meet my agent and my editor and the people who are making the book, and she seems excited about that as well.

And of course, she wants to see the Empire State Building. Her Kong love never wavers.

As we lay on the ground outside our apartment last night, letting Max roll in the grass and looking up at the stars, we discussed the trip. You'd be surprised at how well we communicate, even without the Big Box of Words. I can understand most of what she says pretty clearly, and Julie can understand almost everything. We'll usually repeat what Schuyler says back to her, just to make sure we got it right, and when we do, she says "Yeah!" with an excited smile.

"Are we going to take Maxie with us?" I asked her. She'd had a scary moment earlier when Max had gotten away from her and had almost run in front of a car, so he was still very much on our minds. She looked at him as he lay on his back, chewing on grass.

"No," she finally said, and then started laughing. She was cracking up, hard, and I had no idea why.

"Why not?" I asked, as if taking a puppy to Manhattan were a perfectly reasonable plan. "What's so funny?"

She finally stopped laughing long enough to say that we couldn't take him because he would pee and poop on the plane. She continued busting up about the idea for the rest of the evening, and she brought it up again this morning.

Two important things to note about Schuyler's observation:

1) She's absolutely right, actually.

2) She thinks poop is funny. This is also absolutely true, if only to us.

September 17, 2007


At play with the wolf cub
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
We were watching a pair of documentaries on television about the world's tallest man and woman yesterday, which Schuyler and I both found fascinating. It sparked a surprising dialogue.

I've always had a morbid fascination with people who suffer from gigantism, ever since my own freakish growth spurt in fifth grade, which sent me from being a normal, even slightly smallish kid to a 5'11", size 11 shoe-wearing monster who towered over most of my classmates by the next year. I had no way of knowing that I was only two inches away from my eventual adult height. I thought it was the beginning of the end for me. In my mind, I was going to be one of the tall, lonely people detailed in the Guinness Book of Records, shambling around sadly with a cane and a crowd of onlookers, waiting for my giant heart to fail. I'm not kidding, it was a very real fear for me.

I don't think Schuyler has any such fear. She is getting tall, but not unusually so, and probably only to my eyes since she was a tiny little infant, what, like two weeks ago? I understand the inevitability of Time and its steady march, but with a bad birthday coming up, I feel a little like that march is happening right over my face. And Time might just be wearing rollerblades.

The documentaries we watched discussed the inevitability of unwanted public attention for their subjects, and for some reason, this really caught Schuyler's attention. Schuyler is luckier than a great many broken children in that she doesn't get a lot of stares. Her condition isn't one that attracts stares or comments, not immediately. It sneaks up on people who see her as a normal, even precocious kid right up until the moment that the Big Box of Words comes out of its bag, or she starts talking loudly and excitedly about something.

But she's aware of her difference, and last night, she wanted to talk about it.

She pointed to the woman on TV as she stood in a crowd of gawkers, and she signed to me that the woman was sad. I was a little surprised by this observation, since it wasn't an obvious thing to notice; the woman was smiling for the photos, after all. I suppose Schuyler has seen her share of sad smiles.

"Why are all those people looking at her?" I asked.

Schuyler put her hand on top of her head and then thrust it up in the air as if she were being measured.

"She's different, isn't she?" I said. "Who else do you know who's different?"

She indicated herself, pointing to her throat. She then went on to name her classmates one at a time, signing the things that made them different. We'd had a discussion earlier in the day about treating people who are different with respect, after she had pointed to a waiter and signed that he had a red nose. The topic was apparently still on her mind.

"Everyone's got something different about them, don't they?"

She gave this some thought and then pointed to me and indicated that I was also very tall. (Well, when you're four feet tall, isn't everyone?) She reached out, rubbed her hand on my beard and laughed. Well, it does look different, and not necessarily in a flattering way. I didn't need a seven year-old to tell me that.

Interestingly, when asked what was different about her mother, Schuyler couldn't think of anything. Julie wears her freak on the inside.

September 11, 2007


Monument in Lights, 2/02
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I was channel surfing this morning and came across MSNBC's replay of the NBC live coverage from the morning of September 11, 2001. I came in after both towers had been hit and watched until the second had collapsed and reports were starting to come in about a plane crash in Pennsylvania, and was there a connection?, etc.

In my own 9/11 remembrance routine, the only thing I actually plan every year is a listening of On the Transmigration of Souls, the New York Philharmonic's 9/11 commission by John Adams. I usually skip the memorial ceremonies broadcast on television. I find it weird to visit the WTC site in person now, with its weird combination of new construction looking to a Bright Shining Future and all the reminders of the Day the Music Died Past, neither of which feel right to me. Watching it on TV is even worse.

But while I wouldn't exactly say that I enjoy watching the replay of the actual coverage, I do find it to be more affecting and real to me. It serves as a reminder of how it really felt on that day, the "what the fuck?" feeling that washed over us all. It's easy to remember the fear we felt as we watched the individual moments of horror unfold on the screen, but we forget until we go back and watch it again how unprepared we were to process those moments as they unfolded in real time.

This morning I watched as the first tower crumbled while Katie Couric kept on talking about something or other, only to be interrupted a few seconds later by someone pointing out that it appeared something was happening, perhaps a section of one of the buildings falling off. It was at least five minutes before someone actually said out loud that the tower had actually collapsed. It reminded me how even when our eyes told us what we were seeing, our brains were still trying to find some context.

Now, six years later, we have an expanded context. The new president who climbed on top of the rubble pile and issued a warning to the terrorists as the whole world stood behind him has been replaced by a lame duck reviled by the international community and even some members of his own party. The war we've been fighting and losing has replaced our capacity for horror and citizen outrage with a numb weariness. If there were another terrorist attack on this country today, I suspect the reaction, both from our citizens and the rest of the world, would be very different. Less shock, more "okay, here we go..."

Six years. I think this year is the first one in which it doesn't feel like it just happened. So much has changed in my own personal life as well. In 2001, we lived in Connecticut and were only beginning to suspect that Schuyler's lack of speech might be something more than just a delay. The day we faced a big monster in Manhattan, Schuyler's smaller monster still lay waiting to be discovered. She was not even two at the time, stumbling into toddlerhood even as the world in which she would toddle was changing as well. Now she's a little girl of almost eight, all legs and motion, and the world that changed is starting to feel a little old and dusty again, as if it had always been this way.

Everyone's memories of September 11 are colored by their own lives and experiences, so it's probably no surprise that to me, 9/11 is infused with thoughts of Schuyler, like two different colors of paint that have been swirled but not mixed. Less than a year before the towers fell, we had taken Schuyler there, and I have clear memories of her gazing wide-eyed up at the towers as she put her tiny hands against the cold surface of their sides, and of the very first time I ever heard her braying, unashamed laugh, the one that I hear almost every day now. I also remember with sober clarity our trip to the site a week after the attack, and how Schuyler's smile made a weary police officer cry.

"Look at that smile," she'd said as she bent down to meet Schuyler. "You are just like sunshine to me right now!"

When I sent my book off to my editor at St. Martin's Press, I braced myself for one chapter in particular to be cut, the one called "The Saddest Place in the World". It was one of the few parts of the book that was drawn largely from what I had written online at the time, mainly because when I went back and reread it, it said exactly what I wanted to say about September 11th. I was ready to fight for my Chapter Five, because while it didn't have much to do with Schuyler's monster, it had everything to do with the lives we were living. I wouldn't know how to tell her story without talking about what it was like, living in America and particularly right up the road in New Haven, in the shadow of those Great and Awful Days. When Schuyler was diagnosed two years later, her monster was born into a world already made monstrous.

My editor left it mostly untouched. Of all the things she has done for me and this book, that might be the one for which I am the most grateful, or at least that's how I feel this morning.

The chapter concludes with almost the same words as an entry from those days:

"America when will you be angelic?" wrote Allen Ginsberg. I think about the people who died all those years ago, those faces on desperate, hand-lettered posters and ethereal voices crackling over cell phones. I think about all those souls, all those young lovers and sad lonely people, the greedy and the generous, the pragmatists and dreamers and gentle mothers and rowdy fathers. They were just like me, and probably like you, too. They weren't angelic. None of us is.

Even as I write that, however, I know it's not true. I do know an angel. I watched her bless doomed towers with tiny hands and grant absolution to police officers whose hearts were breaking. Schuyler's an angel and also a bit of a devil, a fragile flower who speaks in a howl. She remains, now as she was then, the reason I give a damn.

September 8, 2007

My Beloved Cyborg and Me

When Schuyler gets handed school projects that are beyond the scope of her monster, we roll up our sleeves and get creative. This weekend, she has to make a giant poster for her turn as the Second Grade Star Student of the Week, although it's unclear if she's actually the start student or if this is just getting the poster ready early. Apparently every kid gets a turn, which is probably as it should be in second grade. Let every little monkey get a taste of celebrity and power.

Schuyler functions pretty well in a mainstream setting, and she'll continue to improve as she goes alone. But like many of her projects, the big poster presented some challenges. Schuyler's handwriting is still very hard to read, for example, and she doesn't deal well with small spaces in which to write. We've been having her write out as much of her homework as possible, as opposed to printing it off the Big Box of Words like we did last year, but for her poster, we decided to use the computer and help her create something with a little zazz.

I know some people probably would disagree with helping her out with a project like this, as if we were ashamed of her monster-fogged work. I guess we felt that Schuyler's poster should reflect the girl behind the monster, rather than seeing all her interests and loves obscured by the Difference. Her artwork is good stuff, and her ideas of what she wanted to present were very cool and, yes, very Schuyler. (She drew King Kong, of course.) But since her writing is a problem and doesn't really keep up with the crazy race going on inside her head, we decided to do a few items for the poster as a family, and in doing so, bring some computer power into play.

Which was how Schuyler and I came to create a real artistic collaboration, a little comic book-style page telling about her new puppy, Max. She wrote the text and helped choose the photos, and I did the formatting for her, using basic Apple "drag this here and type this here and suddenly everyone thinks you know what you're doing" software.

(I was already thinking of comic book formatting because I'd been tidying up my old site, reformatting my old "pet blog" parody site, Flappo!, the night before. I know Flappo! was crude, and since the pet pages trend mercifully died out pretty soon after, the joke of vile, rude pets instead of cute, fluffy ones is sort of dated. Still, I have to admit, of all the pre-diagnosis things I ever did, Flappo! was maybe my favorite. It was my first attempt at humor after September 11th, although I'm not sure anyone else thought it was actually funny. Still, I sort of miss the guy who was writing that sort of thing, back before I became all Twenty-four Hour Tragedy Dad.)

When our Max page was done, we all just sort of looked at it and said, "Wow, maybe it looks TOO good." We didn't want it to appear that Schuyler just sat around playing with her dinosaurs while mom and dad obsessed over having the Absolutely Most Perfect Poster of all the Plano Kids, by golly. She served as both writer and director, after all.

But for Schuyler, with so much of her future waiting for her in the world of computers that will help her speak and create, even more so than most kids, perhaps it was fitting that she once again was able to compensate for her monster by electronic means. If Schuyler's going to have to engage in these compensatory measures to get through school, I think it's only fair that she be able to do so with style.

Schuyler's future looks great, so long as there's electricity. If civilization collapses and we all revert back to primitive life, however, I suspect she'll still be the kid holding the conch shell.

September 7, 2007

"How do you like me now?" - College Edition

The book release it still five months away, but I got my first press since the Publishers Weekly announcement a year ago. It felt sort of fitting that it should be in my college newspaper, if for no other reason than it'll give all my old professors a chance to marvel at the fact that I have a life with a family and a career and a book deal, and that I'm not working as the night manager at Taco Bell or editing the inmate newsletter in federal prison somewhere.

And just like Time's Person of the Year, the star of the story (or at least the headline), dear reader, is YOU:

Blogs, financial support help break girl's silence

(In the actual, kill-some-trees-mwuh-ha-ha printed version, the title is "Breaking Her Silence", which I like much better. Too bad they actually misspelled her name in the headline and again in the floating box on the continuation page. Welcome to our world.)

I thought the reporter, Courtney Sevener, did a good job. When she interviewed me, she didn't start off asking what the book was about or who the hell am I or whatever. She did her homework and hit the ground running with a good basic understanding of Schuyler's condition and how we got to where we are now. I hope the media I talk to in the future show as much professionalism as a sophomore college reporter did this week.

My only complaint about the article is that I don't appreciate the photographer apparently using Photoshop to give me a giant Robba the Hutt belly and boobs. That's just not right.

September 6, 2007

Someone probably touched his nuts

Do you remember in the scary and tumultuous days following September 11, 2001, when news sites like were so busy that the servers were overloaded? The amount of information being presented was constant, it seemed, and rapidly changing. It felt as if the world we'd known before would never return.

This morning, less than a week before the sixth anniversary of the attack, is linking to a story from an Orlando affiliate about a new, vicious attack on innocent, God-fearing Americans.

Squirrel Attacks At Day Care

I think it is important to read between the lines here, incidentally. When a child is bitten nine times by a tiny rodent, that is a child that is grabbing said rodent.

Anyway, my favorite line, the one that made me feel like despite it all, we're all going to be okay in this grand rough world, is the last one:

"None of the injuries seem to be life-threatening, officials said."

Thank God. When squirrels kill Americans, the terrorists win.


BREAKING NEWS: In the time it took to post this entry, they've updated the story. It is now a story about a three-year-old HOSPITALIZED because of the squirrel attack. Not so amusing now, I suppose. Apparently he was on a swing when the attack came, from a squirrel so nasty and cruel and unrelenting that it even took on a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

So my apologies if it seems that I am not giving this scary squirrel attack the gravitas that it deserves.

Although I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out the NEW, equally delightful last line:

"The squirrel in the playground attack managed to escape."

So, you know, be vigilant, citizens.