December 31, 2007

And a happy new year...

Tough girl
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
It's weird, 2007 felt like it lasted about thirty minutes.

You know, this time last year, I had a pretty good idea what I'd be doing a year in the future. Turns out, I'd be doing exactly what I was doing then: waiting for the book to come out.

(Forty-nine days, yikes.)

Today, as we get ready for 2008, we have less of an idea what the next year will bring than we have in years. The last time this family's future was so uncertain, maybe five years ago or so, it was because Schuyler's monster was still unidentified and romping through her world with impunity. Back then, we would watch the new year roll over with something akin to dread, with no idea how or even if Schuyler would find her way. We'd sit watching the celebrations on TV, silently pushing down the fear at what the new year might have in store for Schuyler.

On the whole, I like this kind of uncertainty much better. Happy new year, everyone, and thanks for sticking with me this long.

December 30, 2007


It's funny, because we both sort of lose our composure a tiny bit in this one, and yet despite that (or maybe because of it), I think it's my favorite.


Rob: So when Schuyler was about eighteen months old, her pediatrician determined that there was some sort of developmental delay with her speech. She wasn't speaking, she wasn't trying to form words, and it was a concern. Initially she was tested for hearing problems, and she went through a whole series of, of different types of hearing tests that, that ultimately she passed. She went through a lot of different evaluations and tests. She at one point was given a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder that, it didn't, it didn't fit. And so she... It took a while for us to finally to figure out what was going on.

When she was three years old she received an MRI scan, and that took the picture of the problem. The problem was a brain malformation, a very rare disorder called polymicrogyria, and it affects the formation of the brain, the shape of the brain, and in her case it affects her speech area. There are other kids who suffer from it with a really wide range of symptoms. Most, some, most kids will suffer some level of mental retardation. Speech, swallowing disorders are common, and almost all kids who suffer from this suffer from seizures. Some of them are pretty bad, too. It can actually, it can actually... kill really young kids who have this. So there were a lot of concerns on a lot of issues.

When she first got that diagnosis, it was hard, it was really hard for us. Because you think you want an answer, you say, "You know, I just want an answer." But sometimes you get that answer, and it's, it's not the answer that you're looking for.

Julie: That was rough because we went into it thinking nothing was wrong, and we'd been told that if something was wrong, they would have called us right away. And so, I think we sat back on our heels and we got comfortable. And we thought, "Nothing, no big deal, we're just going to go in for a checkup." And then as soon as we stepped into the room, you felt, you felt this air of like, something was wrong, something was really wrong.

It just seems like yesterday still. And it was so beautiful outside. It was such a beautiful day. Because I remember, she was impervious, and she just played, she didn't care at all. And I just tried to keep it together, and tried not to cry. We did a lot of crying after that, I know.

I still do, to this day. There are days that are good and days that are bad. And it just, it gets to you, because it's just, it's so unfair. You know, this beautiful little creature, caught under glass. She can't, she can't, you know, maybe that's my charming mixed metaphor, but that's the way I feel like sometimes. She's this beautiful butterfly that's pinned down and caught under glass and she can't fly away. But she tries. She tries pretty damn hard.

December 29, 2007



Rob: So for years, I wrote online about my life and my life with Schuyler. I didn't write a lot about Julie. She had asked early on for her privacy. I think she thought that the blogging thing, it was like the Truman Show and she was going to be on display and have her life on display all the time, so I respected that. And so she was sort of the silent partner.

Julie: I'm a hermit, and I don't like people who don't know me to know about me, I guess. In person it's fine, but I don't know. I just got a little spooked, I guess?

Rob: The book certainly reflects more of Julie's role in Schuyler's life. She's a fantastic mom, she's incredible. But it's still my story. Julie's story is hers to tell. I would not feel comfortable trying to tell her story. And so instead it's a book about a father, and a book about my experiences with Schuyler, certainly.

Julie: I just feel that fathers need to have a good say in things as well, and it's not just, you know, "Here, you play with the kid and then go do your thing." You really, you interact with her really well, and she really loves you a lot. I think it's nice.

Rob: Maybe one day Julie will tell her story. I think that would be kind of cool.

December 28, 2007

SCHUYLER'S MONSTER: Being Schuyler's Mom


Julie: She is the embodiment of extraordinary, and I don't say that lightly. She is like the best part of me. She's, she's this amazing person and it's, it's crazy because if you're having a bad day and you see her, it just, pfft, it just makes everything different and she's - she is extraordinary. I mean that's the best way to describe her. Everyone that we come into contact with tells us how amazing she is and it's kind of, kind of an empowering feeling knowing that I helped to facilitate that.

December 27, 2007

SCHUYLER'S MONSTER: What’s the book about?

Transcript: (Thanks to our good friend Pat!)

Rob: So I guess it's the first question that most authors get: What is your book about? I'm not sure that I have a real easy answer for that. On the surface, at least, it's a story about a little girl, with a crazy, cool attitude, and an independent spirit, but also with a problem, with a serious problem, her monster, that affects her quality of life pretty seriously.

And it's also the story of her father, me, and how I had to learn to become the person that she needed for me to be, even though I had my own insecurities, and even though I was convinced I was the wrong person for the job; but I had to step up and is the story of how she taught me to be the person that she needed and the father that she required. I guess if I had to, if I had to give an easy answer I would say even though it sounds kind of corny, I would say it's a love story. It's a story about love and how sometimes, that's all you have, sometimes that's the only, that's the only weapon you've got against, against a monster – is you've got your love. And it may be dumb love and it may be uninformed and just blind, but sometimes it is enough, at least to get you to the places that you need to be.

So I guess I've written a love story; which I'm not sure what I set out to do, but...

Ho Ho Hum

At last, ultimate power
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Have a nice holiday, whatever flavor you celebrate? We had a good one, which is nice for us but boring for you. Sorry. I could make some stuff up, because I don't anticipate the next week or so to be filled with much more than relaxation and more children's programming than any adult should be expected to endure without alcohol.

So for the next few weeks, as we get closer to the book release (fifty-three days and counting, by golly), I'm going to feature the videos that Julie and I put together a few months ago for the book site. The production values are pretty bad, but there's love in them videos, you hear me? Love!

I hope everyone's having a nice holiday break. Brace yourself for the new year. I have a feeling that 2008's going to be crazy time.

December 23, 2007

Santa Claus Conquers the Martian

Schuyler & Santa, 2007
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Schuyler saw Santa tonight, in what is apparently becoming a holiday tradition of going on the 23rd. Well, I'm not sure if it's actually tradition so much as "Oh shit, tomorrow's Christmas Eve!", but I sort of like doing it on the last non-holiday shopping day. I mean, after seeing Santa, what's left? I never understood all the parents who took their kids to see Santa the day after Thanksgiving. If I were a kid, I'd be afraid he was going to forget what I wanted by the time Christmas Eve actually rolled around. I mean, the man never even writes anything down. You're really going to trust some minimum wage elf to jot that down for him?

Schuyler prepared for her audience with Santa just like she did last year, although her list was shorter and weirder this go around. ("I want magic wand and roller skates." I hate to tell you, little friend, but Santa might just veto the skates. That idea has tragedy and the emergency room written all over it.) The wait in line wasn't as grueling as last year, thanks in large part to a balloon-artist elf (she asked for and received "monkey and banana") who also did magic, much to Schuyler's amazement. Pull a ball out of her nose and you've got her undivided attention.

This year, Santa was different from last time. He wasn't in his full-on red suit uniform, but was in his "hanging around the toy shop, throwing back some nog with the elves" outfit. Just like last year, however, Schuyler seemed to tap into some deeper well of attention from him. When she broke out her device and said "Hello Santa!", he asked me if she signed. I said that she did a little, and once they were done, he signed "thank you", to her delight. He listened intently, and his voice cracked a little when he told us sternly "You make sure this little girl gets what she wants!"

(I was thinking, "Dude, you're Santa, you're the one bringing presents, remember? Don't be outing us like that!")

Schuyler wrote out what I thought was supposed to be a list, but the whole thing was in an undecipherable Martian scribble, except for the last few words, "...for me. Love Schuyler" She brought it with her, but in the excitement of seeing Santa, she forgot about it until we were standing at the cashier's station paying. Julie gave it to the cashier elf to give to Santa. She tried to hand it to him, but he waved Schuyler back, sat her back in his lap as they looked at it together.

"Now, you go home and put this under your tree, and when I come to your house, I'll see it and remember what you asked for." She nodded, carefully folded the note and walked reluctantly away, turning to wave goodbye to him a few times.

This was only Schuyler's second visit with Santa, but like last year, it was a good one. Her visit with Santa last Christmas was so special that it made it into the book, but this year was just as good in its own way. This year, she was more confident and relaxed, a big girl who had already met The Man before. No need to be so nervous this year. She and Santa are buds now.

I have no idea how much longer she'll believe in Santa, or how much she even believes in him now. Sometimes she'll act like a pill, and when one of us hauls out the big guns ("Do you want us to call Santa and tell him what a turd you're being?"), she gets genuinely upset, so clearly he's got plenty of power in her world. I sometimes wonder if she'll be too jaded for Santa one day, but I suspect that even after she figures it out, she'll keep playing along, just for her poor father's benefit. I think she probably knows how sad I'll be when Santa's gone, and as she's shown time and again, she won't abide my sadness if she can help it. And she can usually help it.

I don't know. Perhaps Santa is Schuyler's gift to us, and not the other way around.

The Unbirthday Song

Schuyler's Edible Monster
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
In regards to her birthday, I think we really screwed with Schuyler's head this year. First she had her birthday party a few weeks ago, with her best friend from the Box Class. That was trippy enough for her, sharing her birthday celebration with another kid, but as it turned out, the party happened to fall on Julie's birthday as well. So there she was, at a birthday party on her mother's birthday, but the party wasn't for Mommy, it was for Schuyler and her friend, neither of whose birthday it actually was.

Right about the time she managed to wrap her head around that, her actual birthday rolled around last Friday, celebrated with a dinner at her beloved Purple Cow. (Oh Cow, how we adore thee. They even know her by name.) Then yesterday, we went to see my brother and his family so they could have birthday cake with Schuyler and give her a birthday present. THEN we'll be going back over on Christmas Eve for family gift fun, followed by Christmas Day here at home, all of which will involve more gifts and food and whatnot.

January's shaping up to be one long, sad, giftless month. At least she got a kickass birthday cake.

December 21, 2007

Eight? How can that be possible?

Happy birthday, Schuyler. You mean more to me than I know how to say, although I'll never stop trying.

(By the way, if you've sent Schuyler anything from Amazon, please drop me a line and let me know. They keep coming from third party vendors with no indication of who sent them.)

December 17, 2007

Box Days

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
The monster was unusually present this weekend, albeit held at bay. Schuyler participated in a caroling party with other kids who use AAC technology, and while it was a fascinating and occasionally heartbreaking experience, it also involved a lot of other people whose stories aren't mine to tell. I'll simply say that it was yet another one of those experiences with other, more broken kids where I felt despair, while Schuyler just saw an opportunity for seasonally appropriate merriment. (At one point she decided to take over and conduct the performance.) One day, I'll learn to see this grand rough world like Schuyler does, rather than in my old sad bastard way.

I recently heard from a magazine editor who wanted to do something on Schuyler's Monster for the magazine's February issue. After he got a copy of the book, he suggested something different. Rather than a standard minireview of the book itself, he wanted to do a story about us and the book, but with a twist.

He wanted to interview Schuyler, on her device, via email or instant message.

I initially hesitated, although I'm not entirely sure why. I mean, I try to insulate Schuyler from all of the book spazzing and hype, but that's perhaps a little naive, considering that she is the title character of the book, her face splashed across the cover. For better or for worse (better, I feel pretty sure), Schuyler's along for the ride on this. Furthermore, I dig this magazine, which is both a little fancy and a little shit-disturbing at the same time, and I like the executive editor, whose writing I am familiar with from his days at a now-defunct Dallas weekly alternative paper. It was an interesting idea, one that simultaneously triggered my defensive dad reflex and my curiosity. After consulting Julie and Schuyler, curiosity won out.

In the end, we opted for an interview conducted over email, partly because I wanted to be able to take time with Schuyler to make sure she understood the questions, and partly because I wasn't entirely sure how to make the Big Box of Words work with an IM client. (Incidentally, it turns out that it is stupidly easy.) I won't go into the details of the interview itself, since that's obviously for someone else's publication, but I felt like it went pretty well. Schuyler was very careful and particular in her unusually long-winded responses, and the only help she needed from me was in spelling some words she couldn't find on her device.

There was a question about her dreams, and while I'm not 100% sure she entirely understood it, I was nevertheless interested to see what she'd have to say. Schuyler's dreams have always fascinated me, mostly because of all the parts of her life that we are occasionally privy to, her dreams remain the most unreachable. She has never shared them with us in any meaningful way; I can only think of one time before now, after she was troubled by a bad dream about monsters of some kind. But even then, she didn't seem frightened, only very sad, and she wouldn't share any details.

That's how it is with Schuyler. As she gets older, some doors open up to us, and we can see parts of her world that were closed off to us before. But she can slam them closed whenever she wants, and sometimes she makes that choice, particularly when she's pissed off. She stops using her device, throws her arms in frustration, and starts jabbering in a stream of Schuylerese that is two parts Martian and one part whine. Schuyler can be a pill when she chooses to be.

Even when she's happy, though, there are doors seemingly forever closed to us. Her dreams are her own, and so are her songs. She breaks into little melodies of her own creation, with lyrics that go forever untranslated. I'm learning not to ask her about her music, as that is the fastest way to make her stop singing. When Schuyler sings, you listen and you take the part that is meant for you, the sweet and untethered melodies that flit around like moths, never landing, always moving. The lyrics we just have to live without. They are hers alone.

December 10, 2007

She's here about the reaping.

Two Jaspers and a pug
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Well, okay, enough of the PajamasMedia idiocy. I'll just have to be more discriminating when choosing what part of the Internet lawn to step in next time. I feel like I just ruined a good pair of shoes.

Besides, as someone pointed out to me, the opponents of inclusion lost their war. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the law of the land and it protects the rights of about six and a half million kids from the assmonkeys who would ghettoize them. (Although I do not believe that assmonkeys are explicitly named in the legislation. So, you know, watch out for loopholes.)

So two little things tonight instead.

First of all, if you go to my book's Amazon page, you'll see that the cover is finally showing up. (While you're there, why not buy a few copies for all your friends? You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss fifteen dollars and sixty one cents goodbye... Okay, I'll stop.) One more step towards the big day, which is now only seventy days away. I have no idea why that little "tent" is still there, however.

The other small item tonight is sort of weird, but like most things that Schuyler conjures up out of the Martian atmosphere, I just ran with it. For the past few weeks, Schuyler has been asking about death. She originally brought it up in a question about my father (whom she now believes resides in every cemetery we drive past), but after I answered her questions honestly, she's become fascinated by the topic in general.

Tonight, while we were playing, she told me that I was dead. (She even made up a sign for it; her hand touches her forehead, similar to the ASL sign for sick, but then it flies off like, well, your soul, I guess.) She instructed me to lie motionless on my bed while she concocted a ceremony of her very own, singing a jaunty little tune to herself as she went back and forth from her room to fetch supplies and mourners.

If you should attend my funeral in the hopefully distant future, here's what you might expect from Schuyler. First, she ritualistically waved various pieces of plastic jewelry over my head. (The gesture seemed oddly Catholic to me, heathen that I am.) She then took a play fork and offered me invisible food. But if I tried to eat it, she gave me a stern "No!"

"Daddy, you're dead," she reminded me.

After I explained to her that at a funeral, someone gives a speech to say goodbye to the person and tell why they'll be missed, she wisely selected Jasper, the elder statesman of her toy animals, to put my life in perspective. He chose to deliver my eulogy in Martian, of course.

I know this all sounds wildly creepy, and I must admit, it wasn't my first choice of a game to play, especially not two weeks after my fortieth birthday. But I'm proud of her for asking about such a rough concept, and for continuing to turn it over in her head as she tries to make sense of it. Like so many other things in her life, she doesn't find it sad, only puzzling.

At the end of our game, Schuyler decided she wanted to be dead, too. I'm not sure real corpses giggle that much, though.


As you'll see when you finally get a chance to read SCHUYLER'S MONSTER, I don't shy away from talking about my own shortcomings as a father. No one's perfect, and sometimes I feel farther from from that perfection than most. And today, I need to address something.

I owe an apology. To Schuyler.

The first time I wrote an article for, I wasn't completely aware of just how conservative their readership was, but if I had gotten a better feel for the site, I probably would have written for them anyway. My own liberal outlook doesn't mean I'm closed to conservatives and their beliefs. One of Schuyler's most adamant and consistent supporters, going back for years, is standing out on the very leading edge of the right wing, his toes dangling happily in the wind. Julie's parents are pretty conservative, and few people do more for Schuyler on a daily basis than they do. One of the themes of my first essay on PajamasMedia, and a big chunk of the book as well, addresses how wrong I was to prejudge the conservatives of Plano in the first place. I don't believe that the issues surrounding special needs parenting fall into partisan ideological areas, any more than the monsters that stalk these kids do so according to how their parents vote.

Nevertheless, after some of the personal comments left on that first essay, I wrote a second essay with some hesitation, and sure enough, the reactions were incrementally worse. I wasn't bothered by the personal attacks this time, either, although I did make an attempt to clarify a few things and also to defend myself against one particularly dishonest remark. (And a reminder to the kids: RESPONDING TO TROLLS IS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS A MISTAKE.) I was accused of being bitter and rude, as if the opponents of inclusion would happily invite our broken kids into their kids' classrooms, if only we'd just ask politely. I was accused of ignoring the plight of kids whose problem is that they are too gifted for their public schools, which is absolutely true. I certainly don't oppose the same kinds of programs for exceptionally gifted children as for those with disabilities. Not one bit. Why would I? It's simply not my fight, and it's not an issue that I know much about, so I didn't take it on. And best of all, I was even accused on one site of being a wealthy, pretentious snob, mostly because I have a hyphenated last name. Everyone knows that hyphens are plated in gold. I keep mine in a special vault.

But when someone posted at length last night about how my "feeble minded" child was destroying the schools for the rest of the kids, it bothered me. It bothered me even more when PajamasMedia deleted the comment today. The comment was rude, and it was vile. But it wasn't obscene and it wasn't threatening. I feel like perhaps they cut it because they were embarrassed by having one of their readers say something so ugly about a little girl, but I can also accept that they chose to delete the comment because they felt responsible for exposing Schuyler to something like that.

But they're wrong. They're not responsible. I am.

This blog and the upcoming book are going to open the door for all sorts of experiences for Schuyler, and while I expect most of them to be positive, we're prepared for the occasional ugliness as well. But in the case of PajamasMedia, I chose to go back into an arena that I knew from experience was likely to be hostile, and I took her with me. My only excuse is that I didn't think it through, and once again I underestimated the capacity for people to become animals when sitting safely and anonymously behind their keyboards.

Schuyler is a warrior, and she gives her monster a thorough beatdown on a regular basis. I suspect that if she were old enough to understand the worst of what was being said about her online, she'd simply fire up her Big Box of Words and send a two word response (hint: not "happy birthday") before going off to live her life, loudly and unhesitatingly.

Nevertheless, I invited more monsters into her home, and for that, I can only say that I was wrong to do so, and I am very, very sorry.

December 8, 2007

The Boy in the Moon: Part 2 The Boy in the Moon

You say it's your birthday

Schuyler and Tiny Schuyler
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I've written another essay over at PajamasMedia, adapted from a recent blog entry on inclusion. Go check it out, since the comments might just end up having some schadenfreude value, if my last essay over there is any indication.

It's worth pointing out that while this is an issue which Julie and I are always ready to take up, it's one that Schuyler never faces, not directly. I'm not even sure if she realizes that there are people out there that don't want her around them, or their kids. Schuyler turns eight in two weeks, which is certainly old enough to understand that people can be dicks when you're different. Largely because of her family and her teachers and friends who take up that fight on her behalf, however, Schuyler strides forward largely unhindered, and for now she seems unaware that it could be any other way for her.

If you've ever watched curling (and really, who hasn't?), imagine Schuyler as the player who throws the stone, and the rest of us out there with our little brooms, clearing the ice for her. (Wait, or perhaps she's the stone in this metaphor. That seems unflattering, now that I think of it.)

Today is a double birthday whammy for us. It's Julie's actual birthday (for which I set her alarm clock stereo to play this poignant musical tribute this morning), but we're also having a joint birthday party for Schuyler and her best friend from her Box Class today. It's causing all sorts of happy confusion for her, but I'm sure it'll all sort itself out, and by the time her actual birthday rolls around, Schuyler will be ready to do it all over again.

(I got her a pterodactyl, by the way. She's digging pterodactyls these days, like only a dainty little girl can.)

The interesting thing about this birthday party is that when Schuyler and her friend get around neurotypical kids (and there'll be a lot of them at this party, maybe half the total number), they tend to blow them off and ignore them in favor of their own little world, one in which they communicate with either their devices or their own secret little language of Martian and special sign language. When Schuyler and her friends get together, inclusion gets turned on its head.

Which I find to be strangely satisfying, speaking of schadenfreude.

December 4, 2007

Stalkerpalooza '08: Lone Star Edition

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
For those of you living here in the fine, fine Republic, I am happy to announce the dates and details of my Texas book tour. Details can be found over here, but I'll be appearing in Plano, Dallas, Arlington, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

I know it's early yet, but I wanted to give any deranged readers time to make room in their freezers for my head.

I share because I care.

(Seventy-six days and counting...)


UPDATE: Look, I got a write-up in Unfair Park, the blog affiliated with the Dallas Observer. The Observer is the weekly alternative paper in the Dallas area, and I've been reading it since I was in college, back when former Dallas mayor Laura Miller was a troublemaking Observer reporter. Showing up on the blog was a happy surprise.