“How do you value your child in a culture whose benchmarks for achievement and whose standards for evaluating and assessing kids are so out of line with your own values and who your child is?” The question might be posed by any parent who simply wants his or her child’s expression of self to be recognized and honored by those who encounter him or her. It takes on greater significance when asked by a mother of one with “special needs” of any sort, be it physical, behavioral, cultural or psychological.
When Priscilla Gilman was working toward a Ph D in English and American Literature at Yale, the question came as a delayed reaction to her discovery that her son Benj was one of those kids. At two he was reading everything that he laid his eyes on. He was reciting lengthy poetry with his parents, parroting their language and inflections perfectly. His physical agility was not up to measurable standards, and he seemed fussy about being touched and held, but everyone assured Gilman that all was well with Benjamin’s unique precocity and disconnectedness. She wasn’t so sure, but the demands of an intense academic pursuit seemed to dampen her attention to these anomalies.
In The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy, she describes her own seemingly idyllic childhood and her romantic dreams of creating a stable, enchanted family life for her own children. She intersperses the story with references to the works of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, capturing excerpts that magnify the rich feeling of childhood. As it turns out (spoiler alert here!), the relationship with own amazing three-year-old turns out to be anything but romantic, and she struggles to accept the reality of having birthed an exceptional-but-difficult child.
When Gilman’s intuitive fears are finally confirmed, she realizes with some maternal horror that her son’s word-perfect recitations of poetry and entire scripts from Sesame Street are, in fact, not the result of an appreciation of literature or an indication of an awesome power of memorization, but rather a symptom called echolalia. And his precocious ability to recognize and order letters and numbers is, in fact, a sign of obsession. In that moment of confirmation, she realizes that the outside world – doctors, teachers, specialists, friends in general – would now levy their labels and prescriptions on him, effectively altering the definition of Benj’s identity. “I didn’t want to think of Benj in terms of syndromes and categories and labels and diagnoses…Benj was still his same sweet self, but my entire sense of him, of our family, of his and our future had changed.”
What follows is a poignant account of hope, denial, possibility and heartache, having a second child who turns out to be “normal” and resisting the impulse to label either of her children with such denominators. Gilman explores the complexity of alternatives in lyrical prose that keeps the reader engaged and hopeful. She describes the condition of hyperlexia and how it falls within the spectrum of Asperger’s syndrome. She speaks with brutal honesty of her own doubts and fears as a parent. And she inspires all parents to become champions of their children, no matter what their circumstances might be.
Always relating to her own passion for poetry, she writes that at the same time that Wordsworth depicted the “romantic child” in his poetry – the iconic images of “blessed infants and cavorting, carefree children full of imaginative play” – she also notes his respect and fondness for the unromantic, anti-romantic, different children with odd, strange obsessions: kids who see the world in a unique and uncanny way, vulnerable and solitary and longing to escape from the conventions of society. “Wordsworth’s poetry argues passionately for the worth and value of society’s forgotten, excluded or less powerful ones: eccentrics and outcasts, beggars, radicals, old people, butterflies and children.”
“There is nothing less romantic, literary or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists…And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the list, as the problems grew in scope and seriousness,” she says. Connecting with the caring support of the family physician, Gilman came to understand how such intrusive evaluation could actually be viewed as “not harsh and distanced and aggressive acts of interrogation…but rather as investments of love and energy, care and attention.” And in the course of championing her son through the educational system available to him, she realized the importance of “striking a delicate balance between honoring [teachers’] feelings, expressing solidarity with their frustrations and advocating fiercely for Benj, showing them how to understand and support him in the best possible way.”
The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy brings much-needed light to the way in which we have processed the relatively new diagnoses of disorders on the autism spectrum, and has us refocus on the matchless qualities of each child so distinguished. Gilman will read from her memoir and discuss her experience at Oblong Books & Music at 26 Main Street in Millerton on Saturday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m.
At Barnes & Noble in Kingston:
Wednesday, June 1 at 6:30 p.m. – Kathie Lee Gifford will be in the store to launch her second children’s title, The Legend of Messy M’Cheany. An audio CD is included in this rhyming picture book that will delight and entertain your kids.
Sunday, June 12 at 2 p.m. – Meet Bruce Littlefield and Paul Heath, the author and illustrator of the highly acclaimed, eagerly awaited new title The Bedtime Book for Dogs. Told from a dog’s-eye point of view, the tale is one that dog-lovers of all ages will enjoy. Littlefield has interspersed the text with words and commands that your canine will understand, too! The title says it all.
Thursday, June 16 at 7 p.m. – Founder of collegetocareercoaching.com, Ellyn Enisman has written a guide for new grads and college students that offers unique tools and comprehensive information to help them land the perfect job in her book Job Interview Skills 101: The Course You Forgot to Take. Come meet the expert and get your questions answered.
Saturday, June 18 at 2 p.m. – Local award-winning mystery author Steve Hamilton launches his new title Misery Bay, a suspenseful murder tale if there ever was one. Featuring his series protagonist PI Alex McKnight (a retired Detroit cop), the demise of three young people – made to look like suicides – is investigated. Misery Bay is the eighth in the series.
Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m. – Saloma Miller Furlong will read from Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir. In a story that takes the reader inside the rural culture of the Amish in Ohio, Furlong describes her experience of growing up in a world ruled by men. Come meet the author and join the conversation.
At Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie:
Wednesday, June 1 at 7 p.m. – Ellyn Enisman with Job Interview Skills 101: The Course You Forgot to Take.
Saturday, June 11 at 2 p.m. – Join Sarah Espinosa as she reads Tribute to Mommies: a fun rhyming book, perfect for every mother whether the children are out of the house or still in diapers.
Sunday, June 12 at 1 p.m. – Get the lowdown on business management when Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek present Bare-Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All.
Saturday, June 25 at 1 p.m. – Meet author Victoria St. George, who will sign copies of her fun barnyard mystery adventure Barnyard Bandits. Your kids will have fun guessing what’s missing!
Date TBA – Kelly Cutrone, author of If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You will be in the store to launch her new title Normal Gets You Nowhere. Call the store for date and time.
At the Golden Notebook in Woodstock:
Sunday, May 29 at 7 p.m. at the Kleinert/James Arts Center on Tinker Street – Musician, actor and author Steve Earle will read from his first novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, a tale of woe and redemption centered on the “doc” who was rumored to have given Hank Williams his fatal dose of morphine. Billed as “a brilliant excavation of an obscure piece of music history,” the story reflects the author’s familiarity with the down side of the entertainment industry in all its grittiness, while introducing an unexpected positive influence in the character of a young Latina with stigmata tendencies. Earle has released more than a dozen critically acclaimed albums since his 1986 debut album (his newest, also titled I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, was produced by T Bone Burnett), has appeared in film and on television and has written plays and a collection of short stories. There is no charge for the event, but reserved seating is available with purchase of the novel at the Golden Notebook.
Saturday, June 18 at 6 p.m. at Oriole 9 Restaurant on Tinker Street – Joshua Margolin and Ted Sherman discuss their book The Jersey Sting: A True Story of Crooked Pols, Money-Laundering Rabbis, Black-Market Kidneys and the Informant Who Brought It All Down. It’s a tale of greed, corruption, betrayal, ambition, politics, religion, money and mortality Jersey-style, and revolves around a man known simply as “the rabbi’s son.”
At Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz:
Friday, June 3 at 7 p.m. – Meg Stafford, author of Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C, will be reading and signing books. Stafford’s personal account, told with wit and sensitivity, is not merely about surviving, but also about the living that happens during treatment. This event is free and open to the public.
At Mirabai Books in Woodstock:
Saturday, June 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. – Dr. Gerald Epstein, author of Healing Visualizations, Kabbalah for the Soul, Waking Dream Therapy and Healing into Immortality, will conduct a workshop titled “Dream Reading 101.” Epstein founded and directs the American Institute for Mental Imagery in New York City, a training institute for health care professionals and an adult educational center for the public. The workshop cost is $20 if registered and prepaid by June 2, $25 if registering after that date.
Tuesday, June 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. – “Reconnecting with Ancestors” is a workshop with Dr. Malidoma Patrice Somé, initiated elder of the West African Dagara tribe and author of Of Water and Spirit, The Healing Wisdom of Africa and Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, designed to expose Westerners to indigenous wisdom systems that believe that our ancestors play a central role in harmonizing, creating and maintaining peace and balance with all relations. The workshop cost is $25 if prepaid by June 12, $20 after that date.
At Oblong Books in Rhinebeck:
Wednesday, June 8 at 7 p.m. – Come to a Young Adult extravaganza tonight with the best and brightest young adult authors: Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars), Maureen Johnson (The Last Little Blue Envelope), Anna Godbersen (The Luxe) and Sarah Mlynowski (Ten Things We Did [and Probably Shouldn’t Have])! RSVP required to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, June 12 at 4 p.m. – The Book Doctors, a/k/a Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, will be making a house call! They want you to pitch your book at their acclaimed event, Pitchapalooza: kind of like American Idol for books. Writers get one minute to pitch their book ideas to an all-star panel of publishing experts. The winner receives an introduction to an appropriate agent or publisher for his/her book. Plus, anyone who buys a book gets a free consultation worth $100. Be there!
At Oblong Books in Millerton:
Friday, June 10 at 4 p.m. – Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted, reads from her new book A Tale of Two Castles at the Millerton Library Annex at 28 Century Boulevard in the Village of Millerton. Levine weaves a spellbinding tale about a clever heroine, a dragon detective and a shape-shifting ogre. RSVP required to email@example.com.
Attention all book people! Are you prepared to take the Summer’s Dozen challenge? Come on, you know that reading is your favorite sport, no matter what the season. So choose 12 new-to-you titles and read one book a week from the beginning of June through August! Check in with your local participating bookstore for their staff recommendations. Whether you prefer the literary romance of hard copy or the high-tech feel of a Nook or Kindle, there are a million great reads out there! Get your noses into a book!