Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams

The offending photograph of "privilege."

The offending photograph of “privilege.”

After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself.  So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome.  I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving.  I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.

Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule.  One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood.  She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose.  She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic:  before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.”  (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know?  Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!)  When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82).  Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.

Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.:  Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry.  Continue reading

Competitve motherhood and envy meet the oppression olympics.

Just go read Cristina Nehring’s review of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013). I don’t want to exerpt any of it, it’s just so unbelieveably mean. So go ahead–I’ll wait.

I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me as completely appropriate (insofar as I can tell through this rather nasty review) that Adams writes about her own experiences of parenting a child with Down syndrome, as the subtitle suggests. As one commenter at the Chronicle notes: “I admire Adams’s restraint in focusing on herself. I am alarmed when parents seem to think that all aspects of a child’s growing up are theirs to tell. Adams has told a story about herself and is clearly careful to draw boundaries between her story and her son’s story, as any thoughtful writer would do.”

Word. Too many parents rush in to tell their children’s stories, making them props in their books or characters in blog posts.

I also think it’s an interesting and rather brave choice for a woman memoirist not to make herself the virtuous heroine of her own story. (I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think I could do it.) Continue reading

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down: Historiann wings it to NYC

It’s a wonderful town! I’m looking forward to my trip to New York, as I haven’t been there in thirteen years.

Tell me what you think: Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly? I’m a Kelly girl, myself. (We’ll just leave the unfortunate Jules Munchin out of this contest.)

See you at NYU next Tuesday for lunch, and at the Columbia Early American seminar that evening. I’m very much looking forward to my visit, which was coordinated by Zara Anishanslan at the College of Staten Island, Eric Herschthal at Columbia, and Nicole Eustace at NYU. (Eric has been writing for Slate lately–have you seen his latest on Governor Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment? I especially liked his commentary this summer about why popular histories of the American Revolution ignore the current scholarship. He writes:

These pop histories make arguments I haven’t seen scholars of the Revolution make in years. Continue reading

Election Day 2013: secesh fever!

seceshIt’s election day again here in the U.S. of A.! And in northern Colorado, we also have the opportunity to vote on secession from Colorado. Crazy? We haz it! It’s probably best that we remain attached to Colorado so that it can help us dilute the crazy. (The pro-secesh campaign signs say something like, “vote yes–send a message.” I considered voting yes, because the message would be, “we’re idiots up here!” but I thought the better of it in the end.)

Long story short: the more conservative and agricultural parts of Colorado feel like they’re a “disenfranchised minority” because Colorado is an urban state and more people live in Front Range cities and towns in or proximate to Denver than live in small-town northern and eastern Colorado, and because sophisticated urbanites tend to favor things like civil unions and responsible gun safety legislation. So the secessionists are half-right: they’re a “minority” of voters, but they’re certainly not “disenfranchised.” Here in Colorado, where we don’t labor under that bull$hit Connecticut Compromise, it’s people and not acres of land that get to vote, and they’re sore about that. Continue reading

Denver, you have a drinking problem.

bovinemetropolisI’ve just returned from another weekend getaway to Denver, and once again I’m completely appalled by the use of alcohol there by putative adults. I’ve written about this here before, and last night’s exposure to pathological drinking was pretty epic.  To wit:

  • Waiting to check into our swank “boutique hotel,” Magnolia Hotel, the guest ahead of us commented that “I’m not drunk!. . . at least not yet.
  • We had a terrific supper at Euclid Hall, where we sat at the bar right in front of the kitchen and where one of the fun, young chefs slipped us a sample of the Pad Thai Pig Ears while we were waiting for our orders.  After supper I went to the bathroom where at 8:20 p.m. I was treated to the sounds of someone puking up her beer.  I repeat:  it was 8:20 p.m.
  • At 9:20 a.m., I got into an elevator in which I could smell that someone was still metabolizing alcohol from last night.  Eeewww.  Seriously?  Can you just stay in your room until you sleep it off? Continue reading