How is Ian?

“That happened back when Daddy was still alive, so it was a long time ago.”
- Ian, this week

I love how kids live in the moment. They’re like dogs only with slightly less fur. 

I used to be asked every time I saw someone, “How is Rich?” Now that the question is no longer relevant, the new request is, “How is Ian?”

The status of Ian is a complex one, just like the status of most humans. He slept with me every night once Rich went into hospice. When Rich died, I dragged Ian’s twin mattress into the master bedroom so he could still see me and be near but I would stop getting elbowed in the head all night.

A week after Rich died, we moved the queen bed up into Ian’s room and gave the twin bed away. Ian spins himself in circles with at least one dog and cat each night in his own bed in his own room right down the hall. I set an alarm for 30 minutes before we have to get up and go to snuggle with him in the mornings. That has worked well for us both, whether at home or at Shrop’s house.

Ian was riding his bike to and from school since just before December. This worked out in that the house was always unlocked and there was at least one caregiver in the house for Ian. He largely managed himself but he didn’t get lonely. 

Once Rich and the caregivers were gone, I made sure I was home after school so that he wouldn’t be lonely. Work has been exceptionally understanding about my need to work from home after 3pm the last month. The house is significantly less hectic than it was before, and while that’s good, it’s unnervingly quiet as well. So Ian doesn’t like to be downstairs alone. We’re working through that. For now, he’s hanging out with my folks after school.

Ian has had trouble getting along with other kids the last month. He’s super sensitive to even the slightest perceived injustice or inconvenience and will cry victim, overreact, and stomp off. I reminded him that if he has a problem with literally six different children in the same day, maybe it’s not all these children being awful, maybe it’s just him being an asshole. 

He still sucks his thumb when he’s tired and takes a blankie to bed. He’s also added Charlie Bear to the mix for certain outings. I’m not bothered by any of this. He won’t suck his thumb forever and if he takes a blankie to college, I think he’ll still get laid provided he not choose the blankie over a potential bed partner. There are enough people in the world who will pick on him over stuff like that, I’m not going to be one of them.

He’s 4’8” tall and 108 lb. That’s huge. The pediatricians lecture me about excess sugar consumption and snacking. Both of the pediatricians in our practice are obese. Ian only drinks water, he has one 100 calorie dessert every four days or so, and he runs around during the day as much as the public school system will allow. He dug a gigantic hole in our yard with a full-sized shovel. The boy is active and strong. He’s also moon-faced and pot-bellied, just like his dad was at that age. What I’m determined about is he won’t have food and body image issues like his father had. 

He asked me last weekend why he doesn’t have a sister or brother. I told him that Daddy got too sick when we were about to make another baby and now Daddy is gone. He offered, “Well, maybe you and Shrop can make a baby.” I reminded him that a baby would take away from some of the attention I could give him, but he was adamant that he wants a sibling and he would gain another family member to snuggle if we got a baby up in this joint. Kids live in the moment. 

School is either good or the worst possible place I could force him to attend. It changes daily. He doesn’t like change, like a substitute teacher. And he is all about some fairness, or at least his version of what fairness is. 

He’s very concerned that people won’t love him anymore. We’re still working through that to find the root of the issue. I remind him that even when he’s being a jerk, I love him. I perhaps love him most when he’s being a jerk. Love is not the issue at stake. He just needs to be empathetic and patient with others. And we will be empathetic and patient with him. There’s a difference between being heard and getting your way. 

I hear echoes of my own anxiety in his worries. He sobbed about the potential of getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day if he somehow lost the green clothing item he was already wearing. There are many “but what if” questions in rapid form over most potential social hazards. I know from experience those are hard voices to silence. 

He loves people and he wants to speak for himself. Some people aren’t always willing to listen. When I took him to the doctor about his cough, Ian asked me, “Why don’t you just wait out in the lobby? I can tell the doctor what’s wrong.” I agreed that he could speak for himself, but most doctors like to get confirmation from parents because we’ve had more experience. The doctor teased Ian for talking non-stop and I just rolled my eyes. He has to practice conversation if he’s going to get better at it. I know adults who can’t listen well versus just waiting impatiently for their turn to talk.

Overall, we’re good. Things are settling down, but there are spikes of upset that pop up here and there. 

Breakfast at Rooster's 

Origin stories

My senior year of high school, Mom got breast cancer and Daddy lost his job. I only applied to two colleges, both in state. I find it ironic that since they were both engineering schools I never had to write a college entrance essay. I suppose I’ve been making up for it ever since.

After my first semester at Virginia Tech, I ditched all of my engineering courses and changed majors to Communication Studies. My father was very distraught. He was convinced I would serve fries for a living.

I will be the first to admit that Communication Studies is not a particularly hard degree. It’s so simple they require a minor to go along with it. I chose Creative Writing. I always imagine Daddy clutching his chest like Fred Sanford at that news.

Having such a simple major allowed me to work a lot of hours in the library. I had gotten a job at VTIC (Virginia Tech Intellectual ... Corporation? Cooperative? Coalition? I forget.) It was basically the business version of interlibrary loan in the library. They would only give me seven hours a week to work so I needed another job. My bestie Kim got me a job in shelving.

Shelving is a fantastic job, provided your Walkman never runs out of batteries. I could have as many hours as I wanted, my schedule was flexible, I could dress like a homeless person, Irene gave us all great snacks, and I could walk the stacks putting away books or satisfy my OCD by shelf reading or building carts from the book return.

I still worked those seven hours at VTIC, though. I remember they wouldn’t let us students use the OCLC terminal that had Passport installed on it because it was “too complicated” for us. I will never understand university departments who don’t believe young adults taking microbiology can handle that F11 is the how you send a request.

I wanted more money and more hours because I was planning on working that summer full time and staying in Blacksburg. I had worked my way up to a Team Leader position in the shelving department which paid a little better. I was still making basically minimum wage at VTIC to hold down that rolling office chair, answer the phone, and do a few simple filing tasks.

All of a sudden, VTIC said that they would consider letting me work more hours and would pay be 10 cents more an hour. I felt like shelving had maxed out for me. There were no other positions there other than “student assistant” jobs and those were slim pickings. If I wanted to make more money, I needed to switch over to VTIC full time. They even agreed they would train me on how to use Passport. (I know. It makes me laugh too.)

I was working behind the circulation desk and had decided that after my shift, I would tell Bossman that I couldn’t work in shelving anymore because VTIC offered me 20 hours a week at a higher wage. I was sitting on a stool, loading books onto a cart, Walkman blasting in my ears, when Bossman walked up behind me.

A man of few words, he said, “I was wondering if you were interested in a student assistant position. It pays $1 more an hour and you could do that for all of your hours versus shelving.” I stared at him. “Uh. Yes!” “Great. You can start next week.” Then he walked away.

That afternoon changed my life. I worked for Bossman as a student assistant. He taught me how to write code and build a database. I wrote the program that created the new call number labels on all the stacks in the building. I helped write the scheduling system we used in the shelving department, a web-based system in 1995 allowing students to switch shifts on the fly. I became his Girl Friday.

When he moved over to the interlibrary loan department, I followed him. When he left Virginia Tech, I got his job as a programmer for that department. When his company was able to start selling ILLiad across the country, I left my safe state job, took a pay cut, paid COBRA prices for my health insurance, and drove back across the state to work for him.

I still work for Bossman. I’ve only had three bosses in my entire life and I’m not planning on changing that any time soon.

Today is the 20th birthday of ILLiad - the interlibrary loan software system that launched on St. Patrick’s Day at Virginia Tech. I’ve been supporting it in one way or another all that time. I just spent three days with a bunch of librarians who adore me as much as I adore them. We’ve found all kinds of new ways to help them too. Server hosting, workflow analysis, integrations with other vendors, discovery services, site visits.

I love my job. I love librarians. And I still dress like a homeless person at work.

Casual Friday

Casual Friday


"There are very few Hitlers in the world. Most people are just doing the best they can."
- Rich Stryker

I'm still getting used to referring to Rich in the past tense. My last entry caused a bit of a stir on Facebook. Some people got pretty uncomfortable that I would say things about a dead man that were less than high praise. And I get that emotions are high right now for everyone. But the fact that he was jealous of my other friendships and refused to discuss his mortality is as real as his phobia of sharks. 

Many commenters said that they shouldn't judge my infidelity, that my situation was more than most people could bear. And if you don't want to judge, so be it. If you do want to judge, I welcome that too. But if you are going to judge harshly, I welcome you to talk to me about it. We don't have to agree. 

The way that people behave when under pressure matters. No one gets a free pass, including me. We can be patient and understanding, but we still need to remind that person that they're kinda being unreasonable. 

Shrop (my pretty great boyfriend) and I had a huge ongoing fight while Rich was in hospice. If I talked to other people who love me, their response was largely that I was going through the hardest thing a person ever has to do and I am allowed to do whatever I'm doing so he should just deal. And while that may have felt good to hear, it didn't work. It's the same logic that says Rich had cancer and was therefore allowed to do whatever he wanted. That didn't work either.

Shrop fucked up here and there. So did I. And look at us all livin' and shit. If either of us held steadfast to the idea that one or both of us were perfect, we wouldn't be having dinner together tonight and we'd probably both be a lot more miserable.

Rich was a fantastic person. I adored him. I pined for him when he wasn't mine to have. He was one of the most clever people I've ever met. He was self-sacrificing. He was nurturing to friends, children, students, and people who he really couldn't stand. He was forthright. He positively impacted hundreds if not thousands of people on this planet, including Ian and me. 

And he was a shitty cancer patient. If cancer never happened, I believe Rich and I would still be happily married. We'd have at least another kid if not two more. We'd have vacationed in Europe. But cancer happened. And plans changed. 

However, cancer is not at fault. It's just a thing, like a flash flood. How people behave when the flash flood wipes away their house is the real issue. And there were some times that Rich let the water knock him down and wouldn't get back up. 

And I still love him to pieces. He was so amazing in so many ways. And I will keep telling you all about that. But heroes are still human, and we do best by learning from all of their actions. 

Think about your own heroes. Not people like Captain America or Spider Jerusalem. I mean real people. Your parents. Your knight. Your best friend. Your college professor. Every single one of those people is human. They all have personality wrinkles. To ignore them, in life or in death, is a disservice to all parties. 

Vegas in 2004

Look at that picture. That's the man I fell in love with. Isn't he gorgeous? I would have cut a bitch over him. I miss that man so much it hurts. I have lots of other pictures and videos and writings of that amazing man and I'm so grateful for that. 

And that gorgeous man in the picture was terrified of flying. He was a 6'4" baby about the whole thing. And that pretty girl next to him was an anxious perfectionist obsessed with her job.

And they both still had a lot of people who loved them all the same. Hopefully that's still true.