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.

Parenting to Bring Out Your Children’s Best

“I don't have any homework,” says my freshman-in-high-school son.

Perhaps you've heard that too.

And then his next test comes back with a “B”, maybe even “C”, when an “A” was within the realm of possibility had he studied.

Apart from an “F” in geometry one quarter of my freshman year when I was trying to shuck off my good girl persona, I pretty much did what my parents expected of me.  So much so, to badly paraphrase Tolstoy, I wasn't always sure where their dreams left off and mine began.

Via Flickr

I'm working very hard not to co-opt my children's dreams, but after yet another “B” or “C”, pick your letter, our relationship may be intact, but what of his dream to go to a good college?

Enter the parental predicament.

What we say and do can summon the best in our children, and they need us to provide sunshine and sweetness in their lives.  But, there's a hard truth — emerging rain is also required.  (Which, let it be noted, I take for granted, because try as I might to quit piano my parents wouldn't let me, for example).  Without the rain, our children may plant plenty of dreams, but lack the ability to harvest.

Yes, we are the gatekeepers of our children's dreams.  But it's not enough to allow them to open the gate; they need to know how to walk through.

Where are you on this continuum with your children? 

Monica Vila, the Online Mom | Growing Up Digital

In 2008, when I started talking at PTA meetings about internet safety, the iPhone was still a few months short of its first birthday, nobody knew what an app was, and a tweet was still a cute little noise you heard from a bird. When I asked how many moms had a Facebook account, it would be unusual to see more than two or three raised hands.

Just four years later, most PTA moms would rather lose their cars than their smartphones, and no day is complete without checking in on that all-important News Feed or Pinterest!

But despite our new-found digital sophistication, technology always stays one step ahead. Remember how we carefully activated parental controls, downloaded kid-friendly Web browsers, and kept screens out of the bedroom only to discover that the Web had gone mobile? Now kids are carrying mini computers around in their pockets, complete with HD web cams, high-speed Internet access, and a treasure trove of mobile games.

Source: istockphoto

As technology changes, our role as parents must change as well. We can no longer build fences around the Internet the way we used to. Instead, we need to understand the powerful devices that we are putting in the hands of our young children and properly instruct them on how they should respond.

But there is another important social development and one that motivates me every single day. To truly harness the power of digital tools AND keep kids safe, we cannot view technology adoption in the home as a choice. While I co-founded The Online Mom to provide a resource for education and advice, I quickly realized the effort required me to think of this as a social movement.

And what happens when your passion becomes a movement? You live and breathe it every day and every moment. And hopefully you learn something along the way.

So now I spend my days leveraging decades of communications training (and a few language skills) to persuade parents that we can no longer abide by the “my house, my rules” mantra. We live in communities and for as long as our kids share classrooms, playgrounds, soccer fields and social networks, we cannot expect to keep one child safe and savvy without educating all of the people in those circles. It just doesn’t work. And I know this first hand.

And while I left the small village in Mexico a long time ago to move to this country, I find that in some way, I am drawing on my upbringing to persuade, cajole or otherwise convince parents to share what they know – to be open about the possibilities, to rely on technology safeguards but mostly to widen their net – to take care of all kids in their extended worlds, to step in when they see negative behavior and empower other parents to do the same with their kids.

This is hard in this country. It is not the way it’s done. We tend to “respect” other people’s rules – so it goes against the wisdom that we’ve lived by for hundreds of years. But not so in other places. My sisters and cousins will just as quickly correct my child if she’s forgotten to pick up her plate after breakfast or put on sunscreen before going to the pool. And there is no chance my daughter would ignore or challenge direction from them – to her, their instruction is as good as coming from her parents.

So why this and why now? Because we have no choice.

Technology has connected us in more ways than we understand and it is essential that we work together to learn and to teach our kids the new rules of the road.

The notion that our kids’ lives online mirror their lives offline may come as a shock to some parents, who see the Internet in general and Facebook in particular as a breeding ground for meanness and inappropriate behavior. Instead, we mostly see a rather familiar portrait of kids trying to get along in a world of uncertain expectations, shifting friendships, and over-active hormones.

The best thing we can do as parents is set a good example. If you constantly reach for your iPhone during mealtimes or when reading a bedtime story, then kids learn that it’s OK to always be connected and even the important child-parent relationship takes a back seat to the next incoming text or e-mail. If kids learn technology-dependence at a young age, we can hardly blame them it they find it easier to text rather than talk, to play a video game rather than read a book, to spend time with Facebook rather than the family.

Whether today’s gadgets and tech services have a positive or negative impact on our family lives is entirely up to us. We can use technology to help enrich our lives and enhance our relationships, or we can use it as an obstacle. It’s not the technology that dictates how we respond, it’s us.

And we need to work together – we cannot accomplish much alone.

What are you passionate about?

Does this passion fuel your dream?

Monica Vila is “Chief Technology Mom” and co-founder of The Online Mom, the market leader in providing online and off-line tools to make parents of kids K-12 smarter and more comfortable with the technology that touches their family. Monica Vila is a guest writer for Mashable, The Huffington Post and has regular appearances on CNN Latino and Univision.

Making and Owning Our Choices

The following post is dedicated to my daughter Miranda on her 9th birthday.

On my daughter's 8th birthday she was baptized into our church.  It was a wonderful day for our family, a milestone within our family's religious tradition, a day she described “as the most important day of her life thus far”.  In addition (and as part of) its religious significance, this day marked Miranda's willingness to make and own her choices.

A, M, EMiranda is in the center with friends A on the left and E on the right.

Here's some of what I learned as Miranda prepared for this milestone day:

Allowing our children to own their choices makes their dreaming less of a dare
Miranda chose where and when she'd be baptized, who she wanted to baptize and confirm her (dad and Aaron Hutchins), who would speak (Jen Riddle and Kristy Richards), sing (Sara, Emma and Anna), play the piano (me), pray (her brother and Jeff), and what kind of food she wanted (Swedish cake, cherry cake, and cheesecake).  It was also her job to ask the speakers to speak, the singers to sing, etc.

In the myth of Psyche, a story which outlines feminine psychological development, Psyche's first task is to sort the seeds, a task symbolic of learning to make choices and prioritize.  How are our children learning to make choices and prioritize?

In not making obvious choices, our children are likely trusting their intuition
Miranda chose two people to speak that she knew, but they weren't the obvious choices.  The insights of these particular speakers made the day that much more special.  She also asked David to give a prayer.  As he prayed that “whatever scares her will go away”, it was a tender moment.  He teases her and she knows he loves her.

As Psyche sorts the seeds, the ants, symbolic of intuition, come to her aid.   When was the last time you, or your children, made a choice that wasn't obvious?  How did it turn out? 

_D4O4453Photo courtesy LaNola Kathleen Stone

Be aware of the (seemingly invisible) hands that help us
Because I spend little time organizing meals, and certainly not for groups of 50 people, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of orchestrating a celebratory party.  Roger (my husband) and Kathy Dunnigan had prepared food, but once we were at the church, the food needed to be served, the kitchen cleaned.  Women such as Rachael, Lisle and Rebecca helped, and helped without my asking.  I was and am grateful, but it would be easy to overlook their contribution to making the day what it was.

As Psyche sorts the seeds, the ants are so small, she could have discounted their role.  What projects are you currently working on for which your contribution could be overlooked?  In turn, who are the ants, nearly overlooked contributors, in your life?

What are your religious traditions?  In Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog she writes All Career Issues are Religious Issues. Maybe.  Assuming you agree with her assertion, how can a faith tradition which involves learning to make and own our choices help us achieve of our dreams?

Any other thoughts?

Exploring Possibilities and Presidential Politics

On Saturday evening, my 11 year-old David announced, I think I'll watch the presidential debates.

You will?

My husband and I have talked about the upcoming election intermittently (upon telling our 7 year-old the basics of the democratic and republican platforms, she's already declared herself an Independent), but presidential politics isn't really part of our family's everyday patter.

Until yesterday.

Perhaps because early Friday morning, with the country astir over the Iowa caucuses, I thought — wouldn't it be fun to attend a Mitt Romney town hall in advance of the New Hampshire primary, and wouldn't it be fun if David went with me. I'd never been to a political rally, neither had he, why not make this whole presidential campaign more tangible?

Photo courtesy of Emily Anthon

David was immediately ‘in', so I called my friend Emily who is having the exhilarating experience of working on Mitt Romney's campaign (every presidential campaign is no doubt thrilling — talk about some genuine head-butting); I asked Emily where and when and we were off.

So often I imagine doing something, especially something spontaneous, but rarely do I actually do it. I (perhaps you are too) am primed to stop at imagine, whether it's because I don't want to try something I'm not good at. Or in this case, be impractical? After all, why date an idea, if I'm not going to marry it?

So let's look at what happened simply because we went to New Hampshire for a few hours.

1) I practiced moving from imagining to exploring, an important aspect of daring to dream, and, in turn, opened the door to David exploring his possibilities.

2) David not only came along, and is more interested in debate than ever, he has a picture of himself with a presidential candidate: images can wield a powerful effect, positively or negatively, else the advertising industry would be out of business. David also tells me this photo will garner some oohs and aahs from his surprisingly (because we live in MA) conservative 5th grade classmates.

Photo courtesy of Emily Anthon — I tried to take a decent picture, which is why they are looking at me, Emily gratefully got the shot

3) Presidential politics is now more real to us. David wanted to watch the debates, and when we wouldn't let him stay up to watch the democratic debate, thanks to Tivo, he watched it this morning.

Will this experience be pivotal for either of us?

Odds are no.

But isn't it true that the more we explore our possibilities, the more possibilities there are.

When have you recently listened to your gut, and not only imagined, but also explored?

Have you gone back and done a what if I hadn't, considering how your future changed because you explored?

P.S. There's a fun entry written by Elizabeth Williams sharing her experience of attending the democratic Iowa caucus. It just makes it all so more real, doesn't it? She's got great jewelry too.

Related posts:
Doorsteps, Doors and Dreams
Rock Climbing and Rethinking our Competence
Imagine and Explore
Getting Back in the Saddle of our Possibilities
What IF?

Children and the Call to Adventure

My 11 year-old son David recently got a 100% on his geography test.

I was thrilled.

In part, because I've handed my own ambition to him (if he looks good, I look good), but it was more than that.

David had studied, and because he'd studied, he knew the Asian countries and capitals cold. In light of a conversation we'd had just a few weeks prior, this was quite important.

Here's the redux.

“David, you got an 18 out of 24 on your Wordly Wise exam. I don't quite understand how you can be so articulate and not do well on vocabulary tests.”

“Mom, a B+ when I'm just winging it is pretty good.”

“You're right David, it is pretty good.”

Photo courtesy of Marcelo Wain

But David, “winging it” and “pretty good”?

“How are you going to do the good you were meant to do with “pretty good” as your watchword? The world will be just fine if you don't do that good, but will you be?”

What I didn't say, but thought, because this interchange was not entirely about him (one of the burdens of being the oldest child), was this:

If I dare and dream, and dream and dare some more, only to have my children Not dream, or they dream, but haven't the competence needed to make their dream happen, then what?

So, am I pleased that my son is learning about capitals and countries?


But his learning to be competent, to prepare for his call to adventure, to do the good he was meant to do — makes my heart sing.

P.S. My son has read and approved the publication of this post.

What can we as parents do to help our children feel a sense of responsibility to build on what we've given them (while forgiving us for our not-so-good) to make the world a better place?

Is framing their life as a hero's journey helpful?

How do we keep a vision of the “good our children are meant to do” top-of-mind?

Is the angst I'm feeling pretty typical for moms of 11 year-old boys? Or should I be more concerned, and re-read Madeline Levine's The Price of Privilege?

Related posts:

A Hero's Journey
The Hero's Journey and Accountability
Mum's the Word
Google's Lesson on Dreams vs. Expectations
Seeing with New Eyes

Tie-Dye, Daughters and Dreams

On the last day of Pompositticut Farm Day Camp, my daughter came home wearing a tie-dye t-shirt she'd made, eager to do more.

At the risk of my being a trifle embarrassed, I'd like to share with you what happened over the next five days.


Friday, July 6, pm
Miranda: Mom, let's buy a tie-dye kit.
Me: Ok, but not today, we'll buy the kit tomorrow.

Saturday, July 7, pm
Miranda: Mom, we have the kit, now let's do the tie-dye.
Me: But we don't have any t-shirts. It's 7pm; this'll have to wait until Monday.

Sunday, July 8, am
Miranda: Mom, can't we do something? Like mix the dye, and watch the how-to DVD?
Me: (Unenthusiastically) Yes, yes, you can mix the dye. Ok, I'll watch the DVD with you.
Miranda: Mom, isn't this fun watching the DVD (she's lounging in my lap)?
Me: Yes, it is fun (we contentedly smile at one another).

Monday, July 9, pm
Miranda: Mom, can we do the tie-dye now?
Me: Nope. We need to pre-wash the t-shirts. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, am
Miranda: Mom, the t-shirts are washed; can we do the tie-dye now?
Me: (Groggily, reluctantly) Ok.

Tuesday, July 10, am
Miranda: (Squeezing the dye onto the t-shirts) Mom, you're doing a good job of helping me.
Miranda: (While I'm driving her to camp) Isn't tie-dye fun? (Exuberantly) You can make anything with tie-dye!!

Comprehension. Understanding.

Had it been up to my daughter, she would have purchased the tie-dye kit, the t-shirts, AND done the tie-dye project on Friday evening.

In other words, she would have done her dream right then — do and/or dye.

But she couldn't, because for 6 year-olds, parents are the gatekeepers of dreams.

To be fair, to ourselves, and, more importantly, to our own parents, none of us are trying to be mean, or even difficult, we're just trying to make it through our own lives.

But children don't, and developmentally, can't know that.

Rather than seeing their parents' reluctance as being about their parents, they interpret it to mean something about them — they can't, shouldn't

Replay this script thousands of times throughout their (our) childhood, and by the time we're adults, we've become genuine, certified, “nothing gets past our gate” gatekeepers.

We are so good, that getting past the gate of our doubting self, may indeed require a dare.

I'm going to dare.

Will you too?

The next time our kids want to do a project (child-speak: dream), and we just don't have it in us that day, can we say I'm exhausted tonight, but I really want you to do this, I like that you are thinking resourcefully, creatively, and cannot wait to see what you will do?

Instead of taking 4-5 days to get to their dream, how about 2-3 days? Remember — baby steps.

Let's observe how we're interacting with the children in our lives. Are there any clues about what might be keeping us from our dreams?

And when we do learn from children (at their expense), why not tell the story of what they've taught us about how to dream?

P.S. The above photograph is courtesy of Miranda and her two tye-dyed shirts, and my learning how to upload a photograph onto the blog.

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