Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Letter to Our Son on his Sixth Birthday

Dear Rohan,

Six years ago today (October 26, 2007) I saw your little face for the first time, peeping out from under a pink-and-blue striped hat. You were swaddled so tightly that that was all I saw: your scrunched up little face, your eyes closed against the glare of lights in the delivery room, your wriggling body a small burrito in a baby blanket. As you rested in the arms of the attendant who held you just far enough away that I could not touch you, I drank in your face greedily, knowing I was only going to have the chance to see you for a few seconds before they whisked you away to the NICU.  And I saw enough, that you were a healthy pink color, you were breathing, you were alive.

It is enough for me that you are alive.  The fact that you have ten fingers and ten toes, two lovely brown eyes, and a rosebud mouth are all extras, icing on the cake.  You are alive, and that is enough.

I try not to take anything about you or your brother for granted. You were born at 29 weeks, 11 weeks early, and only weighed in at 2 lbs 12 oz.  Your skin was a thin membrane through which I could see the blood in your capillaries, the color of your internal organs.  We were not allowed to touch you for ten days after you were born because your skin was too fragile, and could tear with our touch. Your whole body trembled with the respirator that kept your oxygen saturation levels high enough in your neonatal blood.  They told me you required three plasma transfusions and dopamine to keep your pressure high enough and your respiratory functions going.  That you had needed CPR to get your Apgar score up from 1 to 9 at birth.  That you would need a PICC line inserted into a vessel leading to your heart for IV fluids. That you would need brain scans to check for brain bleeds and neural damage, and later, eye exams to check for abnormal retinal development due to the low oxygen levels you were exposed to at birth. As I watched you through the NICU incubator walls, saw all the tiny leads leading from your body to different machines, machines that monitored your heart and respiration, your oxygen saturation levels, and helped you feed and breathe, I saw you wriggling. You were a fighter, even then.

After a few weeks, the nurses started to jokingly call you "Tiger," because of the way you screamed at them in protest to any procedure, from changing your electrodes to changing your diaper.  You would turn bright red from the crown of your head to the tips of your flexed toes and scream so loudly the plexiglass incubator walls could not keep the sound from reverberating throughout the NICU.  One nurse covered a name card with tiger stickers and placed it on top of your name placard. I saw you, in a fit of rage, throw your binky out of the incubator at a nurse once, as well.

As I saw all this, I knew you were going to make it.  You were a fighter, you wanted to live, and nothing was going to stop you. I respected that.  I quietly delighted in it, and it was that knowledge that pulled me through the long days and nights without you at home with us, your family.

Two months later, you were home.  You continued to scream in protest at anything we did that bothered you.  But you also started to smile, and when you smiled, the whole world lit up.  You share the internal bright flame in your eyes with your father and your older brother, and that sparkle is a joy to see.

On this day, your birthday, we celebrate the boy you have become, the vegetarian-by-choice who decided he did not want to hurt animals and stuck to his commitment despite being surrounded by omnivores, the friend to everyone who always strives to make others laugh, the openly, fearlessly loving boy who can laugh through his own tears, the goofy dancer who can shake his booty like no other.  We celebrate the fighter in you, and the passionate smiler as well. We celebrate you, and we are also unspeakably grateful that you are here, gracing our lives every day.  Your existence started off very fragilely, and that is why, every day, and especially every birthday, we are grateful beyond words.

With so much love,

Mama and Papa

Monday, October 28, 2013

What does the FOCS say?

The setting is the Doubletree Hotel, perched on the edge of the Berkeley Marina. It's evening, and participants in the Annual Symposium of Foundations of Computer Science (referred to fondly as FOCS) mill around, some shaking hands and chatting, others sitting on lobby easy chairs staring at laptop screens, starting to unwind after a long day of talks. The conference reception takes place in one of the hotel's ballrooms in which a bar has been set up in one corner and tables laden with hors d'oeuvres line the walls.  Conference attendees, name tags still prominent on jeans pockets and lapels, start to spill into the ballroom while the evening's entertainment, a band called the Positive Eigenvalues, sets up to play.

The Positive Eigenvalues, as the name suggests, is no ordinary band.  It is comprised of computer science faculty and graduate students*, two of whom are also FOCS conference goers.  One of these happens to be my husband, who decided joining these guys and gals would be a very 'sabbatical' thing to do. For the set tonight, he plays guitar, bongos, cowbell, egg shaker, and he's also lead singer for the band's encore song, Radiohead's "Creep."  Here's a video clip:

The band was entirely enjoyable to listen to, and some of the more adventurous CS folks were really getting into it and boogeying along by the end.  Aditya, Rohan, and their new friend Emilio, son of the drum player Michael Jordan and honorary Positive Eigenvalue,  bopped along as well.  The three female vocalists, grad students of Cal's CS Department, were outstanding.  Two highly entertaining geek songs with original lyrics (by keyboardist and faculty member Christos Papadimitriou) paid tribute to CS Theory and theoreticians.  The lyrics can be viewed  here.   So this year at FOCS, we had a Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding-e-ring-e-ding and Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow of a good time (to borrow from Ylvis).

* Credits to the Positive Eigenvalues:
David Culler (Department Chair) - lead
Ben Recht (Assistant Professor)  - bass
Michael Jordan (Professor) - drums
Christos Papadimitriou (Professor) - keyboards
Suresh Venkatasubramanian (Visiting Professor) - guitar, percussion, vocals
Rebbeca Sorla Pottenger (Student) - vocals
Emmeline Kao (Student) - vocals
Aminy Ostfeld (Student) - vocals
Emilio Jordan (age 7) - percussion