Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a portal in her basement. During the daylight hours, it looked like a watercolor painting of a kite that she had made with masking tape in kindergarten, but she knew better. At night, she could go down to the basement and crawl through the diamond-shaped portal that opened only for her. That's where she visited the Other Life.
The Other Life was where her unicorns and dragons lived. Usually, her trips to the Other Life were all about fulfilling her responsibilities to her creatures. Unicorns and dragons eat a lot, after all. They also need a lot of exercise. And boy, do those unicorns demand grooming! Occasionally, a unicorn or a baby dragon would run off. She'd have to climb on the back of a dragon and search for the lost creature. These visits were the most fun.
Once, a volcano threatened her Other Life ranch. She had to relocate dozens of frightened unicorns and dragons that night. Her parents asked her why she looked so tired the next morning. She made up something about a bad dream.
One dragon often came back through the portal with her. He was the only one on her ranch with the ability to be invisible. He often got her into trouble- eating food in the school cafeteria or flying her up to the top of the monkey bars and getting too distracted to fly her back down (that happened more than once- dragons have short attention spans).
Of course, she tried not to talk about her dragon. No one would believe her anyway. None of the adults, anyway. Even some of the other children would tease her about her "imaginary friend." Didn't they know? He wasn't a friend, he was a pet. He was family. And he wasn't imaginary, he was invisible. BIG difference.
As she got older, she realized she had to leave this world behind. She'd still tell stories and write about adventures, but This Life would pull on her harder than the Other Life. More and more, the Other Life was pushed to the back of her mind, only to make appearances in dreams or as passing thoughts while stuck in LA traffic jams listening to trippy music.
If you haven't figured it out yet, the girl is me. As I have grown older, I have been faced with challenges that have required me to leave the world of fantasy and makebelieve. I haven't left it entirely, but I have had to quiet it. Dragons and unicorns and space travel are "escapism." Reality is all about survival and paying rent.
Occasionally, I have excuses to indulge in escapism. I try to close my laptop and play with my five-year-old whenever I get the chance. He so wholeheartedly believes the floor is hot lava or that we are the Teen Titans that he will cry if I step on on the ground, worried I will burn my feet, or call me out if I accidentally switch from being Raven to being Mom.
His world is inspiring. He sees so much that I do not, but I remember. I remember how vividly I saw my unicorns and dragons. Well, except for the invisible one. I only heard him, but I knew he was there. I digress.
A couple of nights ago, I turned his lights out after story time. My usual habit is to stay by his bedside for a while reading a book on my iPhone. This night, he protested.
"Mom, you're always working," he told me. I jumped a little. I thought he was already asleep.
"I am?" I answered.
"Yeah. You are always on your computer and then you are on your phone to check your mail and stuff and you shouldn't work so much."
"Oh. Do you want me to turn my phone off?"
"Yeah. And then come in my bed and snuggle me?"
I did what he asked. I doubt I will be getting these requests in a few years and I want to take advantage of them while I can.
I think it's important to note that he didn't scold me for "working too much" when I was making my short film a few weeks ago. Even when I had to leave him for a whole day to get some tricky shots on the coast, he seemed cheerful about it. It's like he knew that was a different kind of "work." And it is.
Reality work tenses me. My back hurts. My neck and shoulders hurt. Some nights I have headaches from staring at my screen for too long. And worst of all, my brain hurts.
It's been like this since about two weeks into my maternity leave (over five years ago). As a newly single parent who was freshly laid off (thank you, Fox Broadcasting), panic mode kicked in. I researched everything I needed to make myself competitive in the world of development.
I read books, took online courses, built sample projects, applied for all the jobs, took contracting positions and freelancing gigs, wrangling both doing the work and getting money from various clients after the work was completed. I stuffed my head full of angular, react, WordPress, laravel, web standards, whiteboarding, git, all the things a person needs to be a "rockstar developer." And still, the doors stay closed.
The dislike of moms in this industry is palpable. A lot has been said on this subject and that is not the point of this post, but I can feel it.
"We would like you to speak on our panel on women in tech," one emailer proclaimed.
"Great!" I replied, "I will bring my four-month-old with me! He's tiny. He will just sleep in his baby wrap." I thought it would be a great visual and message. Like that image of Licia Ronzulli wearing her baby to a European parliamentary session?
"I'm sorry. We can't accommodate that. And it sounds like you have your hands full! So we will search for another speaker. Take care!"
Not even a suggestion of finding a sitter.
"Oh! We thought you were a man!" was how one interview started out when I walked into the room. I guess "over ten years experience as a front end developer" just screams male? I do know male Courtneys, but I still thought it was a strange assumption (and an even stranger thing to blurt out upon meeting someone).
After years of being told I am not a good "culture fit" for this company or that team or for being told my skills are not up to the level they require, I'm beginning to feel a big fat NO to the question of "should I continue trying to level up on this path?"
There are definitely benefits to doing this type of work. Work from home opportunities do exist. I have friends who tell me how "lucky" I am to be able to do this kind of work ("luck" has nothing to do with this, my friends- it has been a difficult and challenging path to get to this level). I do enjoy solving problems and "tinkering." Some people tell me it's just downright stupid or irresponsible to put my energy into anything else after working so hard to be a good developer.
With my digital book by my side in bed, my sleeping mind wandered into the world of Dreaming. In my dream, I was trying to fix an application. My script files weren't loading in, and no matter what I did, my code just wasn't firing right. I could feel my face tighten, my eyebrows scrunching together in an attempt to thwart my Botox avoidance. And then all at once, the world around me had enough.
The house shook. Sustained rumbling and booming filled the room around me. For a moment, I thought we were being bombed.
I stumbled out of bed, raced to my window, and opened the blinds to determine the source of this noise. It was raining. Lightning lit the sky, and the sky collapsed all around it.
September is not typically thunderstorm season here. I opened up my NOAA weather radar app, and sure enough, there it was: a single storm cell inching its way over my house. The only cell in the entire state. I felt like it was there just to save me from my dream.
The sky rumbled again.
"Where is she?" the sky demanded. "Where is the little girl who dreamed of dragons? Release her from your mind-prison and stop destroying yourself with the rules of logic and money in both your waking and dream lives!"
I made my way to my son's room. He was fast asleep. The thunder didn't even register on his peaceful face. My heart rate slowed, and I returned to bed, grateful to have been released from my stress dream.
I drifted back to sleep, determined to make more space for my creative mind and to find another portal to that Other Life that felt just as vivid as this one.