The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman

Unbeknownst to me, Amy Jameson, my long-time and superb editor at A + B Works shared Dare, Dream, Do with author, Priscilla Gilman; Amy had worked with Priscilla at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. Amy’s kindness led to Priscilla interviewing me here, and to my reading, rather drinking deeply, from her award-winning book, The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy (Harper).

From her website:

As a teacher of romantic poetry who embraced Wordsworth’s vision of childhood’s spontaneous wonder, Priscilla eagerly anticipated the birth of her first child, certain that he would come “trailing clouds of glory.” But as Benjamin grew, his remarkable precocity was associated with a developmental disorder that would dramatically alter the course of Priscilla’s dreams.

In The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir full of lyricism and light, Gilman explores our hopes and expectations for our children, our families, and ourselves—and the ways in which experience may lead us to re-imagine them. Using literature as a touchstone, Gilman reveals her journey through crisis to joy, illuminating the flourishing of life that occurs when we embrace the unexpected. The Anti-Romantic Child is a profoundly moving and compellingly universal book about family, parenthood, and love.

My reflections on the book include:

Growing up is about making choices. As I wrote in Why I Still Dream of Having It All, women often think of themselves as safe harbors, especially within the context of family life, while many men think of themselves as ships, navigating new territory, boldly sailing the sea of life, exploring and pursuing dreams. Though being a harbor is instinctual for many women, according to developmental psychology, we must also learn to navigate uncharged waters. As a consequence, we are often required to make choices that feel Solomonic; we simultaneously feel the tug of our ship full of dreams while trying to keep one foot grounded on the dock of family life. The Anti-Romantic Child beautifully captures this struggle.

Sometimes dreams die. Whenever we dare to dream, we are preparing to birth a new piece of ourselves. Never is this more true than when are about to have a baby. Something wonderful is about to be. But sometime the dream dies. And we are terribly sad. When Priscilla Gilman realized the idyllic, Wordsworthian childhood she had imagined would never be, she acknowledged the pain, and honored her grief. This vital part of the healing process allows us to eventually make meaning of the experience, and to tell our story. After we grieve, we pick ourselves up and dream again, precisely what Priscilla has done.

It often happens that whatever wounds us is instrumental in our healing. Quoting from Ms. Gilman directly, “Measuring the space or distance between Wordsworth’s radiant visions and the reality of my experience with Benjamin initially heightened my sense of wrong and feelings of betrayal and disillusionment. I was more vulnerable to experiencing the situation as poignant, heartbreaking, even tragic because I was invested in the mythology of childhood….I

[also] found in Wordsworth a language with which to express both the depth and breadth of my loss and the possibility of its recompense. Wordsworth gave me an elegiac vocabulary. He assuaged my sense of wrong. He gave me solace and comfort.”

The best and truest dreams bind us to those we love. Born to a literary agent mother, a drama critic father, and as a former professor of English literature at Yale and Vassar, Priscilla has the bona fides of a prospective bestselling author. Interesting to me, however, that not until she found herself attending to her children, reconciling her romantic vision with the unromantic reality, did this touching memoir of parenting —one that I suspect will resonate with all parents— spilled forth.

There is so much more… such as she makes poetry accessible… Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:


“… a child, more than all other gifts…brings hope with it, and forward looking thoughts.” – Wordsworth via @priscillagilman

“Parenting is… about a child prospering under your care…the unfolding and preserving the mystery of self.” — @priscillagilman

“A world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul.” – Keats v @priscillagilman

“To recognize my [child's] singleness, to make breathings for powers is my primary aspiration as a mother.” – @priscillagilman

“May books and nature be their early joy!” – Wordsworth, on children v @priscillagilman

“Our childhood…sits upon a throne that hath more power than all the elements.” – Wordsworth v @priscillagilman

“The distance…between me and my child, is no longer a terrifying void, but rather a blessed opening, an aperture of respect and marvel.” – @priscillagilman

A poem begins… as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness.. it finds the thought and the thought finds the words. – Robert Frost v @priscillagilman

“the glory and freshness of a dream” – Wordsworth v @priscillagilman

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star…cometh from afar. – Wordsworth v @priscillagilman

Priscilla Gilman received her B.A. summa cum laude and with exceptional distinction and her Ph.D. in English and American literature from Yale University. She was an English professor at both Yale and Vassar before leaving academia in 2006. From 2006-2011, she worked as a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, representing a wide range of literary fiction, inspirational memoir, wellness, and psychology/education books. Gilman writes regularly for The Daily Beast, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, MORE magazine, and Huff Post Parents. She blogs at, and maintains an active Facebook page with over 32,000 fans. She lives in New York City with her family.

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