1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (CDC). When a mother’s expecting her first child, how are her expectations & hopes affected when she learns that such statistics will rapidly affect her new life?
I recently spoke with Priscilla Gilman, author of the acclaimed memoir The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy (Harper), a beautiful exploration of our hopes and expectations for our children, our families, and ourselves, & the ways in which experiences may lead us to re-imagine them. Gilman reveals her journey through crisis to joy, illuminating the flourishing of life that occurs when we embrace the unexpected.
I truly appreciate her time speaking with us. Priscilla also has agreed to give one of our readers a FREE signed copy of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy. Further details will be at the conclusion of this post.
Tell us about becoming a mom. How did it change you?
Oh, in so many ways!! Becoming a mother, especially a mother of 2 children with special needs (autism & dyslexia), has made me a much more patient, accepting, & compassionate person. It’s made me less fearful, judgmental, & less concerned about others’ opinions of me. I’m much less perfectionistic & much more open to experience. Having children has humbled me, surprised me, upset every expectation I had for the way my life was going to turn out, & allowed me to bloom into the person I was meant to be: a writer, a teacher, & an advocate for children, for literature and the arts..& for all people who don’t fit easily into boxes and are a little “different”.
Was there a specific experience that inspired you to write?
My book evolved organically out of talks I gave to parents, daycare providers, & teachers beginning in 2003, about a year after we discovered that our older son, Benj, had a rare disorder called hyperlexia. A few years later, I shared all these talks with my dear friend from Yale graduate school who was now a literary agent, and with her encouragement & guidance, I combined them into one cohesive article, which she submitted to numerous magazines and newspapers in 2007. When everyone passed on the article, my agent friend suggested that the material might be a book instead!
What were some of the challenges you encountered while writing the book?
1 big challenge was that the subject of my book was continually changing, growing, evolving, & that the story was ongoing! The other challenge was telling the truth while being kind, in particular when writing about the disintegration of my first marriage.
What have you learned since writing the book & talking to your readers?
What I thought was a very private & personal story has a universal resonance. There are so many gorgeous souls & good people in this world. That sharing, commiserating, empathizing, & connecting rather than withholding, judging, competing, & distancing are what make our lives meaningful & valuable.
I know you have reached a lot of moms with your story. What are some gratifying responses you’ve received?
Here’s an amazing letter I got about a month ago:
“I have to say that if it weren’t for your book, your beautiful writing attached to all of the personal experience I never would have made it through that 1st year. I have gone back & read the book about 10 times now. It is a book that changed my life forever…it was through reading your book that led me to take Jackson to a Developmental Pediatrician & Psychiatrist. If I would have just listened to our pediatrician & early intervention therapist who knows where he (or I) would be!
I can’t thank you enough for this book…I feel as though it could be our family you are writing about. Jackson has made me a better mother, daughter, wife and friend. I actually do stop and “smell the roses” because of Jackson. He has shown me that beautiful things reveal themselves when you take your time and have to wait patiently for them. I had to wait 3 years for him to address me as “mommy” & it was like the most beautiful symphony I had ever heard. I still love hearing his voice call me mommy.
Thank you Priscilla for your wonderful gift, you & Benj will always be like those beloved characters we never forget from our most favorite books.”
I know that you and I share a love of Fred Rogers. Can you talk about why he means so much to you?
Fred Rogers was not only a calm, caring, wise, steady presence in innumerable children’s lives; he was also a wildly inventive, funny & magical being. There’s a scene in my book that describes the overwhelming sense of grief I experienced when I learned of Mr Rogers’ death. I write: “As children, my sister & I had adored the gentle, compassionate Mr. Rogers & the whimsical imaginative world he created. Watching him again with Benj, I’d newly appreciated how ahead of his time he was in his emphasis on emotional intelligence & his respect for the uniqueness of each individual child.” He exemplified everything I think is most important in approaching, teaching, and working with children.
I also recently did an interview with the Fred Rogers Company about their new DVD to help children with autism & their caregivers. If I had to pick the greatest influence on me as far as being an advocate for children goes, it would unquestionably be Mr. Rogers.