About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#17: The Anti-Romantic Child

The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy, by Priscilla Gilman (New York: Harper, 2011)

"Priscilla Gilman had the greatest expectations for the birth of her first child. Growing up in New York among writers and artists, Gilman experienced childhood as a whirlwind of imagination and creative play. Later, as a student and a scholar of Wordsworth, she embraced the poet's romantic view of children -- and eagerly anticipated her son's birth, certain that he, too, would come 'trailing clouds of glory.' But her romantic vision would not be fulfilled in the ways she dreamed. Though Benjamin was an extraordinary child, the signs of his remarkable precocity were also manifestations of a developmental disorder that would require intensive therapies and special schooling and would dramatically alter the course Priscilla had imagined for her family.

"In The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir full of lyricism and light, Gilman explores the complexity of our hopes for our children, our families, and ourselves, and the ways in which experience can lead us to reimagine those hopes and expectations. Using Wordsworth's poetry as a touchstone, she speaks intimately of her poignant journey through crisis and disenchantment to a place of peace and resilience. Gilman illuminates the flourishing of life that occurs when we embrace the unexpected, and shows how events and situations often perceived as setbacks can actually enrich us. The Anti-Romantic Child is a courageous and inspiring synthesis of memoir and literature, one that resonates long after you finish the last page."

Opening Line:
"A few weeks after my first child, a boy named Benjamin, was born, a box arrived in the mail from a beloved former professor."

My Take:
As established in my last post (and probably long before that), I'm not a literary scholar ... but I really enjoyed this one nonetheless. Sure, it was a bit overly full of Wordsworth poems for my taste, but they were easy enough to skim (true confessions time), and the overall idea -- deriving meaning and inspiration for the challenges one faces in everyday life from the literature and other art we love -- is an appealing one. (Heck, I may not be a Wordsworth expert, but I've been moved to tears by many a Springsteen or Cohen song and even the occasional cummings, so perhaps my tastes are just a bit more contemporary.)

I'll admit to having been a bit skeptical at the beginning, partly because Gilman seemed to have a rather privileged childhood (especially until her own parents' separation, but even beyond that) and the first few chapters had a bit more name- and place-dropping than my chip-on-the-shoulder blue-collar-upbringing tastes tend to like. (The story about looking at the moon with Dad late one night would be just as sweet if it hadn't been in Spain, for example.) But this largely calms down later on, even if it never totally goes away, and I came to appreciate this sketch of an idyllic childhood as something she remembered and treasured and wanted for her own family precisely because it was both so precious and so fleeting.

And once we (OK, I) got past that stuff, this was one of the better books about parenting a special needs child that I've read. It seemed more honest than both; too many are a bit too syrupy and saint-like, and this one seemed ... I don't know, just more balanced.

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