So Say We All: Finding Our Way as Geek Parents

One of the many things that overwhelmed me as a new mother was trying to figure out where I fell on the spectrum of parenting philosophies: Attachment parent? Tiger mom? Ferberization fan? Dr. Sears subscriber? Bringing Up Bébé believer Not to mention a chorus of friends and family with their own sets of best practices. There were so many voices to sort through…from my mother to Mister Rogers to Super Nanny to Dr. Spock, and so many questions: Will you let your baby cry? Does she sleep in bed with you? How long do you plan to nurse? Will you do sleep training? Will you speak to her in different languages? Each question carried its own opinion and the answers seemed to place a parent in some camp or another.

I cannot speak for all new parents, but I certainly felt nervous and tentative. I was trying to do my best and secretly hoping I might find the “magic combination of rocking, swaddling, and shushing” that would help my baby (and me!)  to sleep better, or overcome whatever the next challenge was to come along

I felt like I should “belong” in some camp or another, because how I identified seemed to be important in helping me to figure out what I should do. So I did what I do in most unfamiliar situations–I read everything I could get my hands on and then considered the advice of people I respected. Mark and I tried a few different strategies (some worked, most didn’t), and we eventually fumbled our way into what worked for us: trusting our intuition.

We came to realize that when you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, mentally-drained, and trying to care for your family, it’s really not the time to try on new philosophies or adopt a new world view. Not only did it feel unnatural, but it didn’t stick. Sure, there were things that could be learned, and there was value in educating one’s self about developmental milestones and needs; but we came to feel quite strongly that we needed to trust our instincts–drawing from our inherent strengths, gratefully leaning on the people who offered support, and being humble enough to ask for help when it was needed.

The thing we didn’t realize at the time was that we already did belong to a group, one that was built upon decades of wisdom that we had already integrated into our core being…We were “geek parents.”

We may not have specifically called ourselves by that title at the time, but we did discuss and draw from a common frame of reference that was shaped for years by a steady stream of sci-fi’s pseudo-familial starship crews, comic book examples of courage and persistence, and beloved fantasy characters full of compassion and integrity. Everything we had read and watched and loved had become a part of us and ultimately helped us to be better parents.

Children learn from the world around them, but their first and most important teachers are their parents. They are always watching us, and we teach them with our countless mundane, everyday examples. So in many ways, the path of trying to be a good parent was a continuation of the path of trying to be a good person.

Geek CoverWhen Stephen and I started working on the book Geek Parenting (What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family (Quirk Books), our idea was never to create a definitive book on parenting or a revolutionary approach toward raising children. Geek Parenting does not claim that any one philosophy should be adopted when making choices about development or discipline. On our pages, there are dozens of parenting gems from a wide range of sources from a diversity of voices, because at its core, that is what it means to be a geek parent.

Every geek parent is made up of a unique patchwork of geek ideas and ideals shaped by their own particular interests and fandoms. Very few are strictly “one kind of geek.” We may have started with Superman or Star Wars, but those led to other characters, other stories, other worlds.

In his “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman wrote some of my favorite oft-quoted lines:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

Of course Whitman was not talking about geeks. Of course we all contain multitudes. But geeks contain particular combinations of multitudes not often found in others: it may be fairy tales and robotics, or gothic architecture and zombies, or steampunk crafting and Slavic mythology. These highly speculative and imaginative stories show us different ways of envisioning the future, revising the past, and relating to all manner of humans, aliens, gods, creatures.

Geek Parenting celebrates those multitudes. It highlights just a fraction of the hundreds of relationships that have made an impact on geek culture and have provided geek parents with tools and examples for how to cope, how to heal, how to teach, how to forgive.

Geek Parenting is not a book that someone can read to understand the secret to being a good parent. Because there is no secret. There is no one path, no one-size-fits-all philosophy that works. Truly, it goes against the imaginative geek spirit to assert that there can only one way to do…anything.

As part of the promotion for Geek Parenting, we’ve launched a website (www.geekparentingbook.com) that will feature, among other things: quote cards from the book, reblogged parenting or geek material that seems pertinent, Geek Parenting memes, and real-life geek family portraits..

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This last part is the most exciting to us because it brings Geek Parenting to life. The portraits will show the beautiful diversity of geek families and the range of geek wisdom that has influenced them.

Geek parents have been outsiders and underdogs, lonely and misunderstood; geek parents have also been heroes and leaders, happy and victorious. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We are scientists, gardeners, teachers, programmers, baristas, firemen, writers, and electricians…Geeks are everywhere, and in many ways our numbers are growing. That gives me hope.

In his now famous TED talk (that has been seen by more than 37 million people), Sir Ken Robinson discusses at length his concern that the schools are educating our children out of their creativity. He argues that the future is going to need creative thinkers more than ever before. “You can’t just give someone a creativity injection,” Robinson said, “You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.”

I would argue that geek parents are especially good at cultivating environments for curiosity. The multitudes that many of us contain are by their very nature visionary. Whether in life, on the screen, or on the pages of our beloved stories, geek parents have experienced a wide range of what is means to be human, and we have seen countless examples of different possibilities for our future.

That is what Stephen and I want to celebrate in Geek Parenting–the creativity, empathy, and innovation that seem to lie at the heart of so much geek wisdom.

If we can use those lessons to love our children and teach them to question and imagine and strive for a better future, perhaps we will give them the tools they need to make it so.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy, 2016.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy, at  Locust Moon Comics, 2016.

 

Writers in Chicago in the Summertime

Next month, Chicago is hosting the 50th Annual Nebula Awards and Nebula Weekend! A few years ago, I had no idea about the rich resources and networking opportunities afforded by something like the Nebulas. I really wish I had known, and so I’m passing this along to writer friends in the Chicagoland area (and those looking for an excuse to visit Chicago…Come!)

The Nebula Weekend is an amazing opportunity, and it rotates cities. This year (the 50th Anniversary!) and next, Chicago will hosting the weekend. (Chicago in June is so lovely–finally warm and sunny, but not yet sweltering. The lake breezes are perfection, and we have such lush, green spaces.)

The panels offered are targeted at authors. There will be a self-publishing workshop on Thursday, and experts are participating throughout the weekend to discuss things like the future of cities, intellectual property law, and selling your work to Hollywood.

On Friday evening, the Mass Autographing session is FREE to the public, with more than 50 authors expected to participate, including Cixin Liu, Larry Niven, Greg Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jody Lynn Nye, Connie Willis, Aliette de Bodard, Daryl Gregory, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Fran Wilde, Alyssa Wong, Usman Tanveer Malik, Sam J. Miller, and so many others!

There’s also the Awards Banquet and Ceremony on Saturday evening with toastmaster Nick Offerman, best known for his role of Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation!

Incredible writers and editors who are brilliant and inspiring and delightful are coming in from all over the world. So because I adore many of them, and I adore many of you…you should meet!

Do let me know if you’re coming because I will be there all weekend.

Register to attend here! 

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Early Morning Writing

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Summer, with its lazy afternoons and glorious nights, is challenging for me as a writer; not because of the distractions of sunshine, but because of changes to my routine with the appearance of three children who are suddenly on the scene all the time.

I don’t like to over-schedule the kids, especially during summer vacation. I believe in the importance of creativity that comes out of the eventual “boredom” of unscheduled free time. However, it is harder to get consistent writing done when they are around; plus they are growing up so fast, and I want to enjoy our summers together. My solution is to adopt a new schedule–waking up at 5:00 am to write.

Those who know me well, know this is a significant departure. I’m usually the one writing UNTIL 5:00am, preferring to delve into my fictional worlds under the cover of darkness. However, I’m learning that after a full day of 7, 9, and 11-year-old wrangling and mediation, I’m not able to be as productive into the wee hours of the morning.

In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield writes, “Someone once asked Somerset Maughham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.'”

Ultimately a writer has to write.

To try and carve out a few precious child-free hours, I have been getting up at 5, checking facebook/email/twitter while I brew my coffee, then sitting down to write for a few hours until familiar kid-clamoring triggers my shift in focus from fiction to family…somewhere around 8.

And so it goes.

It is not my favorite routine, but it’s allowing me to write and make progress.

I still try to set aside time during the day whenever I can, to get additional work done. I’ve had a few writing dates while the kids are with friends/family, and if the kids are otherwise engaged and not feuding with one another, I usually pull out my laptop to write or research.

I’m at the beginning of this next novel (we’ll call it MC); it’s the one I began a few years ago but set aside to work on The Supper Club. I’m enjoying the process of getting reacquainting with it, allowing that bookworld to fill the spaces of my brain and imagination. It’s at that terrifying and exhilarating stage of beginning, where there are more blank pages than written ones.

I also continue to write at night whenever possible and seldom get to bed before 1am. However, by making sure that I get a few hours to write each morning, I find that I’m happier heading into the day. There’s also less pressure at night to be productive; so when I do write after the kids get to bed, it’s bonus time–almost an indulgence.

We’ll see what happens when the kids go back to school and the schedule shifts once again, but this is the routine for now.

It hasn’t been easy to wake-up early, but when I slip out of bed and down the stairs into the kitchen, I try to be mindful of the good things: to appreciate the cool air of dawn, the clarity of early morning writing, the joy of a brighter kind of stillness in the house.

There is also the power and delight of a really good cup of coffee. 😉

Cheers.

(Photo by Mary Anne Mohanraj)
Writing date at Mary Anne Mohanraj’s amazing home. (Photo by Mary Anne Mohanraj)

 “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”  ~ Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art