On Parental Dread



I had a dream the other night that my nine-month old daughter died. She is my third daughter, and I’ve had this dream about the other two as well. It’s a completely jarring experience. In this most recent dream, Hattie died from an illness, and she was scheduled to see the pediatrician the very next day (thanks for that twist of the knife, subconscious.) The other lasting image was that of my older two girls playing outside, oblivious to the fate of their baby sister.

It’s not surprising that I had this dream. Hattie recently spent a night in the hospital with pneumonia. While concerned, my conscious self did not consider it a life or death matter. She was being monitored and taken care of by well-trained doctors. I am grateful for our proximity to health care; I am grateful for health insurance. My subconscious, however, turned my low-level anxiety into full-on dread.

A sick child need not be the catalyst for these  nightmares, however. I am constantly living with the dread that something bad will happen to one of my children. It is unavoidable. The worst part of it is that I can take every precaution in the world, and bad things can still happen. I do my best to submerge those fears, but of course they can’t be held in check forever. Every once in a while they bubble up as nightmares that take several days (or weeks) to shake.

Dread is a parent’s constant companion. And from what I understand about my own parents (and in-laws,) it doesn’t go away when the kids grow up. I can’t watch the news anymore. I can’t deal with school shootings. I can’t deal with war, poverty, and our nation’s (maybe species’) deranged drive to annihilate ourselves. So I do what I can to mitigate those fears. I turn off the television. I play with the children. I read. I write.

For me, so far, and I say this with humble gratitude, my worst fears have not been realized. My children have been safe, and more or less healthy. But my dread understands that all of this can change in a blink of an eye: a car crash, disease, a person with a gun. Other parents have been made to confront their worst fears – tragedies that nobody would face in a just world. The randomness of it all is unsettling, and feeds the dread.

A few years ago, one of my coworkers came face to face with the fickle nature of this existence. His daughter was diagnosed with cancer. My coworker is one of the best people. His family is one of the best families. It wasn’t fair. Of course, it’s never fair. His daughter overcame her diagnosis, and my coworker dedicated himself to helping other families overcome cancer as well. He became involved with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a group dedicated to providing funding for research into childhood cancers.

I have agreed to help with this endeavor. I am raising money and will have my head shaved in front of hundreds of middle school students. For me, it’s just another way of fighting the parental dread. It’s one way to work towards a positive outcome. Finding a cure to cancer is possible.

When I examine my own parental dread, I fear the things I can’t control, like a drunk driver smashing into the car my kids are riding in. They are girls, so I fear toxic masculinity, which contributes to our rape culture and means that if my girls decline an amorous invitation they could lose their lives for it. I fear diseases that we don’t have cures for yet.

But I don’t fear polio, or measles, or smallpox. Childhood diseases that once menaced generations of parents are gone (as long as we continue to vaccinate our children.) I believe the same can be true of cancer. I would love it if we could eliminate it from the expansive list of things for parents to dread.

Dread is unavoidable if you’re a parent. But contributing to a just cause may help to mitigate some of those nagging fears.

Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers


Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Assassin’s Heart is a Young Adult fantasy about Lea Saldana, a seventeen year old assassin who belongs to the top family of assassins in Lovero. In total, there are nine families of assassins, and they are allowed to legally “clip” people because their city’s patron goddess is the goddess of Death and Resurrection. The families earn money for their jobs, and they provide a service as well. When they kill a person, they guarantee a rebirth for him or her; the alternative is that they would wander around as a ghost, angrily looking for a new body.

The families compete for jobs, and are rivals. So when Lea’s family is murdered by the Da Vias, she sets out on a path of vengeance. She intends to repay the Da Vias by murdering all of them, but she’ll need help. She travels to Yvain to find her disgraced uncle, Marcello.

Lea is a very skilled assassin, but the limits of her abilities are tested by assassin families, crooked lawmen, ghosts, and her stubborn uncle. The book is hard to put down when Lea is faced with challenge after challenge. She proves herself a capable protagonist – someone worth rooting for.

The world building in this story is incredible. Cities develop around a deity (and the gods and goddesses are active in the story) and the implications of that completely make sense. There are ghosts who kill people and try to take their bodies (something that has important implications for how the residents in the world order their lives.) Now, throw the political intrigue of nine rival assassin families into this world, and you’ve got a well textured story.

I keep thinking about the world in Assassin’s Heart, long after I’ve put the book down. For what it’s worth, I belong to the Zarella family, according to this quiz.

Go read this book. Seriously.

I'm in the acknowledgements. I'm kind of a big deal.

I’m in the acknowledgements. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Sarah Ahiers Writes | @SarahAhiers

Worm Loves Worm, by J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato

Worm Loves Worm, by JJ Austrian. Illustrated by Mike Curato

Worm Loves Worm, by JJ Austrian. Illustrated by Mike Curato

Worm Loves Worm is a charming picture book about two worms in love. Since they love each other, then logic dictates they should be married. And so the story begins. Worm and Worm love each other, and simply want to get married, but weddings are never a simple affair. Insects chime in with their ideas about what is needed for the wedding. Worm and Worm roll with the ideas and adapt the traditions to fit their needs. When Cricket complains that they aren’t following the traditions in the manner in which they’ve always been done, they simply agree to change the way it’s done.

After all, the most important thing, more important than rings, gowns, and tuxedos, is that Worm loves Worm.

The book succeeds because it isn’t didactic. The concept is simple: love is love. The text and illustrations are light and fun, as weddings are joyous occasions.

My children enjoy the book a lot, and often request it as their bedtime story.

Signed copy. I'm kind of a big deal.

Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Lion, Lion by Miriam Busch and Larry Day

LionLionCoverLion, Lion is a picture book about a little boy who’s looking for Lion. He encounters a giant, vaguely threatening lion, and tension increases when the lion says he’s looking for lunch. I don’t want to give too much away, but the boy endeavors to help him find some lunch. Along the way, the boy proves himself to be exceedingly clever, as he discovers many ways to irritate the lion. The illustrations that accompany these pages are hysterical. My daughters delighted in describing all of the things happening to the lion, and then were extremely satisfied by the surprise ending (I recall gasps of “OHHH” the first time we read it.)

My children continue to enjoy this book, reveling in “predicting” the ending. They know something that the lion doesn’t know. While the story is sly, the illustrations are also fun to look at again and again. Larry Day does wonderful things with scale, and the second to last spread is simply delightful. While the lion is big and menacing, he’s not overtly scary, so the book is accessible to my younger daughter. Plus, it’s hard to take a lion too seriously when there’s a snapping turtle hanging from his ear.

Signed copy. I'm kind of a big deal.

Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

The final page turn confirms the acumen of Busch and Day as an author/illustrator team. I look forward to their next book, Raisin, the Littlest Cow, due out next winter. For now, I highly recommend that you purchase Lion, Lion.

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I defy you to find a better group of people.

I defy you to find a better group of people.

I graduated from Hamline’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults this past Sunday. I knew the journey would be a quick one, and it was. It’s hard to believe that I won’t be working on a writing packet and I won’t be assigned an advisor.

It’s been a great ride. I learned so much in two years, though there is still much to learn. I take solace in the fact that every writer is always learning. It does not end. I’m thankful to everyone in the program. It is truly a remarkable community.

So remarkable, in fact, that one of the professors, Gene Luen Yang, was just named the national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress. And just this past week, faculty members won major awards: The Newbery Award went to Matt de la Peña and the Printz Award went to Laura Ruby. That’s amazing, but it doesn’t even begin to characterize the faculty. They are great writers,  yes, but more importantly for the students at Hamline is that they are great teachers, patient and generous.

And now I begin post-grad life, with a project to work on and a promise to myself: I will continue to make time for writing. I’d like to complete another revision on my novel before the end of the month, and I hope to do more blog entries (though, that’s always tough for me because I never have anything that interesting to say.) I’m counting on my fellow graduates in the Front Row (those goofballs pictured above) to hold me accountable and keep me on track.

A great and wonderful chapter has ended, but in many ways this is only the beginning.