…a child, more than all other gifts,
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
And stirrings of inquietude, when they
By tendency of nature needs must fail.
-Wordsworth, “ Michael”
I first read an excerpt of Priscilla Gilman’s parenting memoir on the Quiet Rev website. I knew instantly that I wanted to read the entire book. There was something about the writing, the poetic references mixed with the emotion gave me comfort. I, like Ms. Gilman, love the study of literature, though she is far more qualified than I to throw around the prose of Wordsworth.
Ms. Gilman is a former professor of English literature at Yale University and Vassar College. She is a professor, a writer, a mom and I think, a pioneer of sorts in terms of her honesty. Similar to Ms. Gilman, I am the parent of an anti-romantic child. Our stories are certainly not identical, but our emotions toward our children are.
Ms. Gilman’s experience began as mine did, with a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite “right” about her son. He was so bright, but was not able to perform the same tasks and take pleasure in the same things that other children did. My son met all of the physical developmental milestones on time, but still struggles with emotional regulation. Ms. Gilman’s son lagged behind in motor skills but could read at 18 months.
“This is your first child, you are just over analyzing.” People told me. Well-meaning family and friends said similar things to Priscilla Gilman.
When you are told that your child is behind his peers, or is not behaving in preschool, you go searching for answers. You feel ashamed, like something in your parenting must be lacking. Ms. Gilman and I both chose not to tell anyone but very close family members about our fears.
As soon as you start seeing therapists and doctors it all becomes real. Way too real. You question everything. Can he go to public school? Will he be bullied? What if he is not as smart as I had thought? Priscilla Gilman puts all of these questions out there for the reader to contemplate in searing, thought-provoking detail.
My favorite passage from the book is on page 175. The author is describing her thought process when searching for a school for her son. She had kept him in a traditional pre-school who accommodated his needs and the educational values of his family. Similar to myself, Ms. Gilman was afraid of “labeling” her child.
“ …Why saddle him with a label that might stigmatize him, circumscribe his options, limit him in his life?”
Ms. Gilman deftly describes her search for first the perfect preschool, and then the perfect grade school for her son, Benj. She describes beautifully all of the aptitudes and particularities of her child in a way that only a parent could. Her words are both informational and therapeutic. Her story telling ability and recall of complicated and uncomfortable conversations is amazing.
I so appreciate the frankness with which she describes her feelings, the medical professionals, and her son. She even reveals how her marriage was affected by her son’s exceptionalities. It seems that the father of her children shared some of the traits that came to light in her older son. Throughout the book she is kind, understanding and even reverent of her now ex-husband.
You don’t read parenting books like this often. Part story, part self-help, part autobiographical. This book is wholly honest and written through the eyes of a parent, not the eyes of a practitioner.
This is a book for anyone who is on a journey with their own child. Not every child fits into a perfect mold, and not every parent is able to deal with that. Not every parent wants to put a name to what makes their child different. We live in a culture of labels: Emotional Disturbance, ODD, ADHD, Bipolar, Autism Spectrum….
Ms. Gilman eliminates the labels and celebrates the realities. This is hopeful and beautiful storytelling. If you enjoy romantic poetry or are a literary nerd like me, I guarantee you will love this one for the poetry alone. If you are parent to an anti-romantic child you will love this book for its poignant detail. Everyone who works with children with or without special needs will love this book.
I highly recommend it. You can learn more about Priscilla Gilman at www.priscillagilman.com.
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