I remember being pregnant with my first child, and having all kinds of notions about how it was going to be to have my own baby. I wondered what she would be like: I hoped she would have my love of reading and learning and her father’s musical abilities. I wanted her to be brilliant, of course, and kind and sweet and wonderful and perfect.
Of course she is all of those things—just not quite how I had imagined it. She loves to read and learn all right, but it surprises me that she chooses to read fantasy books (not my favorite genre) over Nancy Drew. And it really surprises me that she has an obsessive interest in spiders, reptiles, amphibians and other creepy crawlies. Whenever we go to the library, she always comes home with at least one book about tarantulas or lizards or something. Not quite what I expected my daughter to want to learn about! I had hoped she would love school, but she doesn’t really. She does indeed have her father’s musical abilities, but she really hates to perform in front of people. But she is brilliant in her own way, and she is kind and sweet and wonderful and perfect.
And she’s all mine.
It’s just she isn’t really mine, because she is 100% her own person. And as her mother, I have had to learn to understand that person. It’s a journey and a process and can be incredibly frustrating and incredibly joyful.
And it’s a journey that all mothers take, though some mothers have to alter their expectations much more drastically than others.
Such was the case with Priscilla Gilman and her memoir The Anti-Romantic Child. Gilman is a literature professor at Yale who specializes in Wordsworth. Pregnant with her first child, and having had a wonderfully imaginative and rich childhood of her own, she had all kinds of romantic aspirations for her unborn baby, just as most mothers do. Except, when Benj was born, he didn’t turn out to be anything like what Priscilla and her husband expected.
As time passed, they discovered he had something called hyperlexia, which is the opposite of dyslexia and often associated with the autism spectrum. This book is a lovely memoir of Priscilla’s journey through Benj’s childhood. Advocating, understanding, weeping, rejoicing—and always keeping the words of Wordsworth close by as her personal touchstone.
Other than a few of his poems, I am not super familiar with Wordsworth (let’s face it, unless I’ve sung a setting of a poem, I probably am not familiar with it at all, but after reading this book I am very interested to find settings of Wordsworth to sing), but I absolutely loved Gilman’s sprinkling of his verses throughout the memoir. They were always poignant and perfectly mirrored the emotions and experiences she was having at that point in her journey.
I must say, I absolutely loved this book. An author who understands the beauty of the English language draws me in every time, and Gilman most certainly has that gift. She weaves a beautiful tale of unrealized expectations and finding joy in the unexpected. While I don’t have a child that has special needs per se, I could easily relate with so much of her experience. In other words, you don’t need to have a child with special needs in order to love this book, I think there is something in it for everyone.
I respect Priscilla Gilman a great deal for the way she strives not to label her son, and to accept him for exactly who he is and what he brings to her life. I struggle with the labels we are so anxious to slap on our children. Autistic, ADD, gifted, etc. While I certainly appreciate the ways the label allows for needed interventions, I worry that it puts the child into a tidy little box and we forget that there is much more to her than that label. I loved Priscilla’s attitude about this—that though Benj may be on the spectrum, she has not tested him to be sure. She knows his quirks and his needs and she advocates for him as a whole person. It made me want to get to know my own children better, as it seemed to me Priscilla has dedicated her life to knowing and understanding Benj and his younger brother.
I am recommending this book to my book club next week when we meet to choose books for the year. I really hope the other ladies will vote it in, it is definitely one of the most lovely books I’ve read in a while.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my review.