Natania Barron of Chapel Hill won't mind if you call her a geek. In fact, it's part of her job title.
Barron is a senior editor at Wired magazine's "GeekMom" blog and a co-author of the new "GeekMom" book, which offers up ideas for activities and crafts aimed at family bonding in a high-tech world (though some of the tips, like those for super-cool homemade Halloween costumes, are delightfully low-tech).
In addition to keeping tabs on the geek world, she is raising two children, including an eight-month-old, and writes speculative fiction. Her work has been published in several anthologies and she's the author of a novel called "Pilgrim of the Sky." She recently served as moderator of several panels, including "Women in Geek Culture," at the IllogiCon science-fiction conference right here in the Triangle.
It's not always easy being a geek mom, Barron says, but it is pretty awesome. So step aside, damsels in distress, and let's meet this princess of power.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
A. I'm a writer; my husband, Michael, is a web analyst; and we have two kids: Liam, who is six, and Elodie, who is eight months. Currently Michael and Liam are really into geocaching and Minecraft, and we're building Liam his first computer. He's a spectrum kid, so every day is a new adventure, but we're all learning from the experience. Elodie is just learning to crawl and starting her first forays into sign language. We can't wait to discover what she's like! We're a very musical family, too; I've just started guitar lessons for Liam, and Elodie loves dancing along when I play the ukulele. When I have spare time and am not working on day job stuff, I'm writing novels. We also having a weekly gaming group that's been getting together for almost four years–they're like our extended family!
Q. You're a senior editor of Wired's "GeekMom" blog and co-authored the new "GeekMom" book. What's your definition of a "geek mom," and what do the blog and the book offer to your fellow geeks?
A. I like to think of Geek Moms as moms who never grow up. We're always learning new things, we're endlessly curious and we're up for new adventures around every bend. The book is both for geeky moms who are a part of our community and who get the "Doctor Who" and "Star Wars" references (the experience of girl geeks is something that's brought a lot of us together) and for moms who have a geeky side, too. Technology is a feature, but it's not central to the book. It's more about learning and experiencing learning with your kids.
Q. Is it lonely being a geek mom? Do you find a lot of other moms to talk gaming with on the playground?
A. Yeah, this is a struggle for us. I actually write about it in the book. I didn't expect to fit in with other moms because growing up I never fit in with girl groups, either. I've had some really weird and awkward playground conversations over the years ("Oh, you blog? My friend has a blog and I read it every day!" to "Ugh, I just wish my kid liked something other than 'Star Wars,'"… meanwhile, I can't get my kid into it at all). Thankfully, the GeekMom community has been there to help!
Q. You also write speculative fiction. How do you describe that genre?
A. Speculative fiction has many definitions, but I like to think of it as the fiction of other worlds and possibilities. Maybe it's science fiction or fantasy or alternative history or steampunk–maybe it's got tons of wizards and aliens, maybe it doesn't. It's fiction that pushes the boundaries of reality, and I love it.
Q. Has your approach to writing and thinking changed since you became a mom?
A. It's gotten so much more focused! After I had Liam I had a major epiphany. I called myself a writer, but I'd only written one book. And it wasn't very good. And I lived in a little writer hidey-hole where I didn't talk about writing speculative fiction to anyone other than my husband and my best friend. Having my son made me realize I wasn't being true to myself, and that if I couldn't look at him in 10 years and tell him I'd done everything in my power to follow my dreams, then I was doing it wrong. Ultimately, that's how I ended up meeting a great community of online writers and eventually publishing, myself. I have to be very disciplined (and, honestly, I'm not always) since I don't have a ton of time to write. But I make it count!
Q. Does your son show any geek tendencies yet? Do you hope he will? Is it hard to go through life as a geek?
A. Liam is a car geek and he loves video games. He also is a little socially awkward, in part due to ASD. But his geeky interests are how he connects with the world, and we do all we can to support him while simultaneously trying to show him new things. I hope he'll embrace his geekiness because it'll be hard if he ends up a preppy quarterback or something, just because I have no touchpoint for that. I had a pretty straightforward geeky high school experience, and have no concept of what it is to be popular or anything! It's hard going through life as a geek, or at least in those formative years, but it's absolutely awesome when you grow up.
Q. What's your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?
A. There's so much to do here, it's amazing. We love downtown Durham and Chapel Hill, the various museums (particularly the Life and Science Museum and the Raleigh museums). Another family favorite escape is Duke Gardens. You can go there a thousand times and it's different every visit. Michael grew up here in Durham, but we've recently started geocaching, which is a great way to learn about the secret places where you live.
Q. What's your favorite thing to do when you get a few hours to yourself?
A. Read! Drink wine! Actually, usually I end up writing. I'm grateful that it's so therapeutic for me. I love getting lost in a character's journey. And I get a bit of a power high actually being in control, something I rarely get to experience in the real world these days. Otherwise it's watching "Doctor Who" or "Justified" with my husband or playing one of my favorite video games.
Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?
A. Let your kids teach you. Save your "no" for when it's really necessary. Be flexible. Tickle lots.
Q. What's the best advice someone has given you about being a mom?
A. Enjoy snuggle time. Our kids are almost six years apart, and the first time went by so fast. With Elodie I'm really cherishing the softer, quieter moments. They really do grow up before you know it.
Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of being a mom?
A. Least favorite? The noise. Once upon a time I lived in a world that wasn't full of constant chatter and demands. No longer! When it gets quiet, I know something's up! My favorite part is seeing my kids interact. The look on my daughter's face when she sees her brother is probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen!
If you know a cool mom in the Triangle with a story to tell, we'd like to feature her in our next "Meet" Q&A! Drop us a line at email@example.com.