Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book #82: The Anti-Romantic Child

The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected JoyTitle: The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy
Author: Priscilla Gilman

This is the book I read on the Denver to Salt Lake leg of the trip this morning. Gilman writes evocatively about her son Benjamin, who was diagnosed with hyperlexia at the age of three. At the time, Gilman and her husband were both PhD candidates at Yale, great lovers of language, and it came as a blow to her that although Benjamin could read fluently at two, he couldn't absorb normal human conversation. Gilman writes honestly and evocatively, and I found myself feeling a kinship with her-- both of us have bright and difficult oldest sons whose greatest strengths are part of what could be classified as a disability. Both boys struggle socially and in school, and require constant vigilance from their parents. Honestly, Gilman is much more vigilant than I have been-- I've been relatively content to throw Bryce at the public schools and hope for the best, but she's been extremely proactive with therapists and special schools for her son, who has made progress. In the end though, Benjamin is still different. Bryce is still different. It's the "being different" that's both wonderful and hard. While I loved Gilman's memoir and appreciated her honesty in her journey with Benjamin, the thing I liked least about the book is how she viewed everything through the lens of the romantic poets. If found the passages of poetry a little distracting and a little affected, but eventually I just started skipping them and I liked the book a lot better after that.

Book #81: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me (Stead, Rebecca)Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead

I've been interested in reading When You Reach Me since I picked it up in Chris Crowe's YA Novel class last fall, but I decided I was too busy to read it just then. Annie took it out of the library a few weeks ago and it was lying around after she finished it on our vacation, so I decided to read it on our plane ride home this morning. It's a quick read. I zipped through it between Minneapolis and Denver. It's also an interesting read-- twelve-year-old Miranda lives in NYC in 1979. She's obsessed with Madeline l'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (which you sort of have to read through the lines a little bit to get if you're not familiar with the book-- I haven't read it in a quarter of a century and didn't get the references for a while). In fact, I'd probably call When You Reach Me an homage to A Wrinkle in Time, since it too deals with time travel. Miranda is a preteen, dealing with normal preteen things (her best friend has abandoned her, she's trying to navigate the social world of sixth grade, her mom feels ambivalent about marrying the fantastic boyfriend), but shortly after the story unfolds she starts finding mysterious notes that show her that her obsession with A Wrinkle in Time and with time travel might be more than just fantasy. Annie loved this book and I liked it too-- the characters were all fun and interesting and it was just deep enough without requiring a physics textbook to understand the science of it.

Book #80: Lucky Girl

Lucky Girl: A MemoirTitle: Lucky Girl: A Memoir
Author: Mei-Ling Hopgood

The girls who have been adopted from China are not, as a rule, old enough to be writing memoirs yet. I'd expect that in the next decade or so, we'll start to see these girls' stories being set down in print. As a potential adoptive parent, I'm very curious to see how our daughter might learn to navigate her world. In Lucky Girl, Mei-Ling Hopgood writes about how she was born as the sixth daughter of a Taiwanese farmer and his wife adopted as an infant by a family from Detroit. I was heartened in the early chapters of Lucky Girl to see Mei-Ling's positive relationship with her parents and her general sense of well-being. However, Hopgood's adoption had one significant difference from what we'll likely experience adopting a child from China: it was an open adoption, and eventually Mei-Ling reached out to her birth parents. What follows is more than a decade of coming to reconcile herself, not with her relationship with her adoptive parents (about which she never seems in doubt), but in the Mei-Ling she might have been if she had been raised in her birth family instead of with her adoptive family. Initially she's charmed by her birth family, but as she builds a relationship with them she begins to see that the family has significant problems.

One of the things I like most about Lucky Girl is Hopgood's honesty. She does not paint herself in a perfect light with fallible people all around her doing terrible things. She acknowledges that she likes to be the center of attention, she shows herself being cranky and doing things that might not be smart. I think that's one of the things that makes Lucky Girl so endearing as a book. I also think it's interesting and significant that Hopgood wrote Lucky Girl not at the time that the events were unfolding, but more than a decade after her initial trip to her birth family, at the time when she was starting her own family. It makes me see that both open and closed adoptions have their pros and cons, and that our daughter's cultural identity will be something that she will work through throughout her life, not something to be confronted and then set aside.

Book #79: Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing: A NovelTitle: Caleb's Crossing
Author: Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is one of those authors whose books I will always read just on the basis of her reputation. I bought Caleb's Crossing on the day it was released, and it waited on my nightstand, like a reward, until I went on vacation, where I planned to relish every word of the novel. Brooks moved to Martha's Vineyard several years ago, and it provides the main setting for the novel, which follows Bethia Mayfield, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the island's first minister (we're talking 1640s here) and Caleb Cheesshahteaumauk, the native boy who her father takes under his wing to educate and serve as a bridge between the two cultures on the island. The story moves to the early years of Harvard College and involves a little bit of romance, a lot of early women's lib, and way too much death by disease, murder, and drowning.

It took me a little while to get interested in Caleb's Crossing (which probably has more to do with the fact that while this was a "vacation" it was not at all relaxing and I fell into the bed I was sharing with both girls completely exhausted by the end of the day. And while I like the spunky heroine who is smarter than her brother but can't go to college herself, I feel like that's become kind of too predictable a character from what I'd expect from a Brooks novel and the whole "white men did bad things to then noble savages" theme feels a little heavy-handed (not that it's not an important issue). There's also this one weird passage in the middle where Bethia writes as her elderly self, which feels out of place because it only occurs once (the first half of the novel is basically a diary of one year and the second half is an old-age reflection on the next few years) Eventually, however, I did get caught up with in the story. Brooks's passages about Bethia's little sister had me crying into my pillow at night, and I got to the point where I pushed through the fatigue and just kept reading to the conclusion (even though you'll know how the book ends if you read the afterword before you come to the end).

Book #78: The Man Who Loved China

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle KingdomTitle: The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist who Unlocked the Middle Kingdom
Author: Simon Winchester

I'm not quite sure how to classify The Man Who Loved China. It's not a biography in the strictest sense of the word, like Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra or David McCullough's Truman. I think this fact is evident in the title, since neither the main title nor the subtitle even includes the name of Joseph Needham. But then again, the book is unequivocally about Joseph Needham. I don't know exactly what the difference is, but there is a difference-- this book feels more like journalism instead of biography. It's richer and more embellished and focuses more on the minute details and quirks of the subject's life. I'm not even sure if that makes any sense.

I've been a fan of Winchester since I read his book The Professor and the Madman about a decade ago (that book is about Dr. W.C. Minor, who is a distant cousin of Eddie's and every time someone in the family reads the book they draw inevitable conclusions to the eccentric, quirky Miners living today). Anyway, I picked up The Man Who Loved China because these days I'm drawn to any and all things China. Needham, a brilliant Cambridge biochemist, fell in love with a Chinese scientist and, by extension, with China. He spent the next 40 years of his life working on a series of books Science and Civilization in China, and spending as much time as he could in the country, both as a diplomat and as a scientist. While I'd picked up the book because I'd admired Winchester's previous works, I was surprised at how it gave me something I'd been eager to gain but didn't know where to find-- a foot in the door about reading about Chinese culture and civilization. After reading half a dozen (more?) adoption memoirs, I feel like I know the process as well as someone who hasn't been through it before can known it, but I know very little about China. This book exposed me to a tiny picture of what life was like in that nation from the 1940s to the end of the 20th century. Winchester also does a lovely job characterizing Needham.

Book #77: If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town AlaskaTitle: If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name
Author: Heather Lende

Eddie and I are leaving for Alaska this week (we're going on a cruise with both sets of parents) and a few weeks ago my friend Catherine said that I should read If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name in preparation for the trip. She said it was funny, and it was about a woman who lived in a small town in Alaska who wrote the obituaries for her local paper. I have a morbid fascination with the obituaries (they're often the only part of the paper that I read on a regular basis) and when I got home from our run that morning I looked up the book on Amazon and realized that Lende was writing about Haines, a town we'll be visiting on our cruise. So naturally I had to read the book.

I often think of books in terms of other books that they remind me of. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name reminds me quite a bit of Kate Braestrup's Here if You Need Me. I know that Kate and Heather live just about as far away as possible from each other and still both be Americans (Kate in the woods of Maine, Heather in the woods of Alaska) but both of their books are testaments to family, place and community. Both have large families, a flair for language, and a genuine love and sense of generosity for the hometowns they've adopted. And both see their jobs as somewhat of a calling, a ministry. In addition, their books are comprised of essays that could stand alone, but work beautifully together as a collection.

When we're in Haines next week, wandering the town and kayaking, I'll be on the lookout for a tall, skinny runner of a woman, and maybe for her husband, who owns the local lumber yard. She may live way, way out in the most beautiful small town in Alaska, but she still has a loyal fan club. Heck, if I were a little more emboldened, I might even call her up (I'm sure she's listed in the phone book) and have her show me the best running trails.

Book #76: My Life as an Experiment

My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No Lies, and Other Radical TestsTitle: My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No Lies, and Other Radical Tests
Author: AJ Jacobs

I twas charmed by AJ Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically. In that book, he spends a whole year trying to live by the rules of the Old Testament, tackling one specific goal each month and growing a massive beard in the process. In that book, Jacobs laid bare his compulsions and idiosyncrasies in a way that felt brave and interesting. Jacobs wrote another book, which I haven't read, in which he reads the entire encyclopedia from start to finish. I'd imagine that that book is also organized around a sole theme. In My Life as an Experiment, there's still a lot of AJ Jacobs being slightly zany and neurotic, a lot of his longsuffering wife, Julie, putting up with his antics, but what is missing is a single unifying theme.

Instead, we get a bunch of short essays which take place over the span of many years, and in each of them Jacobs does some different crazy thing (like posing nude for a magazine or giving up lying entirely). Unlike the other two books, I got the sense that most of the material for My Life As An Experiment came from the articles he wrote for Esquire and Entertainment Weekly, slightly repackaged for the book. In fact, I know I've come across the second chapter of the book, in which he talks about outsourcing his life to two Indian assistants, in some other place, but I couldn't remember where (This American Life, maybe?). Anyway, Jacobs's antics were still entertaining (the naked photoshoot chapter is especially fun) but I felt like I was being sold repackaged goods instead of a cohesive book. It's worth reading, but I got the feeling that Jacobs's editors said something along the lines of "You've written two books now, let's pull together some essays for a greatest hits album." It works, but I like the concept albums a little bit better.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book #75: Witness

WitnessTitle: Witness
Author: Karen Hesse

I'm finally getting to read all of those books that I bought during my writing seminars (with such good intentions) during the last year of my MFA program. They're threatening to make my nightstand buckle under their weight, so it's about time I start reading them. My YA novel professor, Chris Crowe, suggested I read Witness when I was working on a YA novel with multiple protagonists. Witness is an interesting book. It could be the love child of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and Carol Lynch Williams's Glimpse. When the Ku Klux Klan came to a small town in Vermont in 1924, the whole town felt its presence, and Witness tries to show how each of the 20 or so characters either played a role or was affected by the Klan. It's written in what looks like verse (it reminds me a lot of Glimpse), and through the 150 or so "witnesses" we gain a picture of what happens over the course of about six months in the town.

On the one hand, I appreciate that Hesse is playing with form. I do think the book is very powerful, and that we get a good picture of certain characters. On the other hand, I feel that we lose some of the richness that a more fully fleshed-out narrative would give us. I think the book does what it sets out to do very effectively, but I ultimately the story wasn't as satisfying or engrossing as it would have been if it had focused on two or three characters. All in all, I enjoyed the book, but I would have liked it better if there had been more of it.

Book #74: Ex Libris

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderTitle: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Author: Anne Fadiman

If I had to choose three words to describe myself to grace my tombstone (a la Thomas Jefferson), "reader" would definitely be one of the three. I do a lot of things (writing, running, baking, raising kids) but I'm probably more defined by the fact that I read 100+ books a year than by anything else. So naturally I'm intrigued by any book where the author defines herself as a bibliophile in the title (and even more when that author is Anne Fadiman, who wrote the wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). I've read similar books by other authors (this reminds me a lot of Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life, although I'd say that Ex Libris is more erudite (the title is even in Latin). Anyway, the book is a series of about a twenty short essays that Fadiman wrote over half a dozen years about her love of reading and of books. In the first essay, she writes about the agonizing process that she and her husband undertook to combine their books (ten years after they met-- they had a child together before they made their libraries as one).

Reading Ex Libris made me realize that there are thousands of books, good, "important" books that every educated reader should know (for example, I've never read one of Updike's "Rabbit" books) that I'll never read. I felt the same kind of pain I do when walking into a Barnes and Noble-- so many books, so little time. I even feel a twinge of "I'll never conquer it all" when I look at the pile on my nightstand (but it doesn't prevent me from reading crap, you know). Despite finishing Ex Libris with an additional score of books on my reading list, and a bit of an inferiority complex, one of the things I loved most about Ex Libris is how the essays are not just about how she loves reading, but how her love for her family is demonstrated through her love of books. She touches on just about everyone close to her-- parents, sibling, children, and most especially, her dear husband George, and I felt that including these personal stories in the essays made the work about a lot more than just words on pages stuffed on shelves.

Book #73: One Was a Soldier

One Was a Soldier: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries)Title: One was a Soldier
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming

This book must have ended up in my cart at an Audible sale, where they sell random books for $4. Apparently I was seduced by the blurb, which said something about One was a Soldier being a novel about soldiers trying to reintegrate themselves into civilian life after a tour of duty in Iraq. For the first half of the book, I was so caught up by the way Reverend Clare Fergusson battles with PTSD and substance abuse after spending a year flying helicopters. At the urging of a fellow veteran, she starts attending a support group and meets up with other people from the small upstate New York town where she lives who are also damaged from the way. Meanwhile, Clare's trying to decide if she's too damaged to marry her longtime boyfriend, police chief Russ Van Alstyne. This part of the book felt smart and realistic, and I was hooked just reading about Spencer-Fleming's characters and their struggles.

Then, about halfway through the book, one of the characters in the veterans group dies, and suddenly I found myself in the middle of a murder mystery. I usually scout out my books pretty well before reading them, but there seems to be a recurring theme in the books I've read over the last few weeks-- they're not what I expected them to be. I expected One was a Soldier to be straightforward contemporary fiction, and this soon became a whodunit (a very good one at that). Furthermore, it wasn't the first whodunit featuring Fergusson and Van Alstyne (I had sort of gleaned that earlier-- there were some references to things the two had done before Fergusson left for the war). In fact, One was a Soldier is the seventh Fergusson/Van Alstyne book in the series. Once I readjusted my expectations for the novel I had lots of fun with it. I'm sort of tempted now to go back and read the first six in the series (although I wonder if knowing that the two do live happily ever after will diminish the sexual tension that I expect are a driving force in the first six novels). Either way, this was both a smart book about a serious issue and an interesting mystery.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book #72: The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great MigrationTitle: The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Title: Isabel Wilkerson

Here's another book I picked up based on a recommendation from Amazon, and the third book in a row that I read without knowing much about it beforehand. Based on the subtitle "The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" I had guessed that the story would be about immigrants to America, or about people moving westward. I was surprised to find that the "Great Migration" about which Wilkerson writes is a migration north (and sometimes west) of blacks from the South, beginning in the first years after the turn of the twentieth century and continuing through the 1960s.

When I thought about it, I realized that the African American kids I grew up with in Connecticut were the grandchildren of this great migration. It was an exodus that I never realized had existed. Sure, I knew that most African Americans living in the north had relatives "Down South" but I didn't know that the lines of migration were formalized enough that there was, say, a Monroe, LA club in Los Angeles.

Wilkerson does a fantastic job bringing the story to life by following the Great Migration through the lives of three families. First Ida Mae Gladney and her husband and children moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1937 where she worked as a janitor, a factory worker and a nurse's aide until she retired. In 1945, George Starling and his wife moved from Florida to Harlem, although he continued traveling back to Florida several times a month with his job as a railroad porter. Finally, Robert Foster left Louisiana for Los Angeles in 1953, where he established himself as a successful surgeon. It was these stories that made the book come alive. I can imagine the exhaustive hours of interviewing that went into getting Ida Mae, George and Robert to tell their tales, especially since all three were elderly and quite infirm by the time they met Wilkerson. She did a magnificent job bringing her three main character, and indeed the Great Migration itself, to life. It's a book I won't quickly forget.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of pictures in the Kindle edition. When I opened up the Amazon page to verify dates, it has a whole slew of pictures of the three principal characters, as well as photos of Wilkerson's parents (themselves part of the Great Migration). If I'd known I was going to miss out on the photos, I think I would have bought the hardback version of the book.

This was an interesting and illuminating read, but as primarily a fiction reader, digging into a three dense nonfiction works in a row was a little heavy for me. I feel like I need to read another adoption memoir or a YA novel to cleanse my palate.

Book #71: Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A LifeTitle: Cleopatra: A Life
Author: Stacy Schiff

For the last few months, every time I've opened Amazon, Stacy Schiff's biography of Cleopatra has stared me in the face as one of their "Recommended for You" reads. When I read Leaving Van Gogh a few weeks back, Schiff was one of the book jacket commenters. Although I didn't love Leaving Van Gogh, I decided that if Amazon thought I'd like her book, I'd get it from the library. After all, I do like good historical fiction.

The book came in, and I picked it up, eager to delve right into it. Within the first paragraph it was obvious that I'd misjudged the book. Just because Schiff commented on a work of historical fiction, I'd assumed that her work on Cleopatra was also historical fiction. Not so. It was a biography. I don't read a lot of biographies. I feel a little dumb for saying this, but I find them boring. They're the vegetables of the reading world, and I'm more of a hot fudge sundae kind of a reader.

As far as biographies go, Schiff's Cleopatra is a good one. I'd say that the greatest strength of the book is the picture she creates of the entire Mediterranean world in the decades Cleopatra ruled Egypt. She talks a lot about the social systems in Egypt, Rome and Greece, and about how Cleopatra followed and broke traditions. Alexandria in the time of Cleopatra sounds a lot like an educated Vegas on the sea (which does not equal Atlantic City). However, because there's so little hard facts out there about Cleopatra herself, I felt a little bit like Schiff pieced together a mosaic to create a picture of the woman, but the picture was still a little bit fuzzy.

Book #70: At Home

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeTitle: At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Author: Bill Bryson

I've read a few books by Bill Bryson and have always been a little bit charmed by his thoughtful, folksy ways. So when I heard he had a new book out about houses and how people use domestic spaces, I was really interested in picking it up. Bryson goes through his house (a Victorian era parsonage in the English countryside) room by room. Each chapter of the book is devoted to a room in the house. I had assumed when I started reading the book that he would talk about how, say, the library or the nursery was used throughout history. And to a certain degree, I guess he does that.

But instead of giving a broad view of the use of the nursery, Bryson gives us a narrow view into something related to the room that strikes his fancy. For instance, when talking about the cellar, instead of talking about how cellars have been used throughout history and how they are used today (maybe giving some time to the rec rooms of the 1970s and the walkout basements prevalent today) he dives into a lengthy discussion of concrete. At times the subject Bryson chose to study seemed only tangentially related to the room itself. And when he did talk about the purposes of the rooms, his discussions seemed to end with the dawning of the twentieth century. It's an interesting book for what it is, but what it is is not what I expected it to be. As a result, I was a little bit disappointed. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

My new jeans

A few weeks ago, our babysitter's mom called: "No one's going to be home at our house tonight, and Bonnie's wondering if she can come over." Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Ed and I decided to go out. We ended up at the most romantic place in Salt Lake on a Friday night-- the Costco next to the hospital. Ed wanted to check out bikes, and we were out of milk, and where else can you buy a nice mountain bike and two gallons of milk at the same time? On our way to the checkstand, we walked past the jeans display. When we moved to Salt Lake two years ago, I found the holy grail of jeans at the Downeast outlet. They fit better than any pair of jeans I'd ever bought, so I bought all three pairs that the store had in stock (weirdly enough, paying $15, $8.50 and $5 for three identical pairs). Triple score, right?

Well, after a few years of wearing them basically every day, two pairs of the jeans look like they've seen better days. A few weeks ago I went back to Downeast, and of course they didn't carry them any more (not like I really expected them to) and I bought another (less cheap) pair that I wore to Disneyland and spent the whole week hiking back up to my hips. When I saw that Costco had 7 for all Mankind jeans and they were on some special discount, I snapped up the one pair that I thought was in my size and took it home.

It fit like a glove. A slightly snug glove at first, but still, those jeans are hot.

So the next day, I got online to find myself another pair. I found a pair on eBay that seemed to have the same specs as the pair I'd bought (not that I got out a tape measure to actually verify that fact), and they were only $28. Score!

A few days later the jeans arrived. I closed the front door, checked to make sure none of the neighbors were watching, and slid out of the perfect, new pair of jeans that I'd been wearing all week. I expected the new new pair to fit just as well. I slid them up over my knees, so far so good, and they got stuck on my thighs. I tugged and tugged, but they'd go no further.

I set them aside and returned to the comfort of the other pair, feeling a little bruised. I'd have to return them, which meant I'd have to take an entourage the post office. Ugh.

A little later, just before the kids got home for the last day of school, I decided to give the jeans one last try. I'd seen a commercial where dieting women laid on their beds and got the jeans to zip. So I tried it, and voila, it worked. Sure, I could hardly breathe, the legs (advertised as a 32" inseam) barely reached my ankle bones, and the crotch hung a good inch below where it should be,  but I was going to conquer over these jeans. They'd stretch, right?

I've been wearing them for three days. They haven't stretched. I still have to lie down and hold my breath every time I zip them. I've stopped drinking so I won't have to pee. And the famed "expensive jean" stretch just isn't happening. But they're buttoned. That means they fit, right? I'm a little worried about tonight's ward party, though. What if I have to go to the bathroom? I can just imagine someone coming upon me, stretched out on the bathroom floor, trying in vain to get the dang jeans buttoned.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The last eleven years

It had been an uneventful pregnancy. I'd been a little bit sick, gained a little bit of weight, and felt a little bit like a beached whale when I walked into the doctor's office for my 37-week checkup. My doctor was on vacation, so his partner did the exam. "Have you measured small throughout your entire pregnancy?" she asked as she held the tape measure to my belly. "You're only 31 centimeters." She checked the chart, gave me a puzzled look, and scheduled me for an ultrasound four days later. "Try not to worry," she said as I left the office.

I worried. This was before the days of Google, so I did Altavista search after Altavista search, coming up with so many scary articles on low amniotic fluid, IUGR, knotted umbilical cords, and enough other frightening possibilities that I hardly slept at all the next three nights. That Friday, the radiologist estimated that the baby weighed four and a half pounds, and we elected to induce right away. When Bryce was born, tiny, screaming and apparently healthy, we thought we were in the clear.

As first-time parents, we didn't know what to expect. When he wouldn't nurse, we thought it was normal to rent a hospital pump and work on it until he finally caught on (a month of struggle later). When I noticed that he nursed better when Eddie was doing the dishes, I started nursing him sitting on the floor with the water running. When he screamed every time we put him in the car, I just thought that was what babies did.

Bryce was a hard baby and toddler, but we just chalked it up to having two high-strung parents. When he started preschool and the teacher wanted to have him evaluated because he wouldn't play with the other kids and didn't sit at circle time, we thought she was a little high-strung too. Our little boy was perfect-- she just didn't have the energy or the ingenuity to keep up with him. Eventually we did consent to an evaluation, once the principal of his preschool said he wouldn't be allowed to stay unless we did. A woman from the school district had us fill out forms, then she talked to the teacher at length, and then she observed him at school a few times. On the day when she was supposed to observe him in his home environment, I greeted her at the door, and instead of watching him playing with his little sister or dressing up like Buzz Lightyear, she told us right away that she had enough information to determine that he was on the autism spectrum.

Autism? That was crazy. My boy didn't have autism. He had great language skills. He was already reading, in fact. He was just busy, that's all.

But along with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, the school district would let him go to five days of preschool (including two days at the fancy preschool we were sending him to but really couldn't afford), at no cost to us. At the time Ed was a resident, and we were poor, and free preschool sounded like a pretty good deal, even though we knew in our hearts the diagnosis was wrong. It didn't do much to establish credibility that three or four of our friends with boys Bryce's age were evaluated by the same team of people and also put on the spectrum. It seemed like our town's answer to busy little boys.

The next year of preschool was great. The special ed teachers were incredibly encouraging, and he did really well in the mainstream preschool too. In fact, at the end of the year, the preschool teacher pulled me aside and said, "I know I shouldn't tell you this, but I think that Bryce has ADHD, not PDD-NOS."

We moved to Texas a few weeks later, had him reevaluated by our pediatrician there, and he met the criteria for ADHD but not PDD-NOS (in all fairness, the criteria are pretty subject to interpretation). He started mainstream kindergarten that August.

For the next few years, Bryce did pretty well. He'd have years where he flourished (first and second grades were great) and grades where he didn't, but I figured that was normal. I didn't harbor any illusions that he was an easy kid, and I felt like I spent a lot of time apologizing for him, but I also thought that we were on an upswing. He had as many friends as he wanted to have, which wasn't many, but I figured that not wanting to have a lot of friends was just a guy thing. After all, Eddie never had a best friend, and he'd managed to achieve some pretty great things in life. Bryce was just quirky and a little hard. If he studied presidents obsessively, if he insisted we see every animal in the St. Louis zoo in the same order every single time, that was just one of the quirks of being a kid.

Two years ago we moved to Utah. When we took him to meet his fourth grade teacher, I could see her eyes growing wider and wider as he paced around the room the first time. We added anxiety to his diagnosis. Soon, my nine-year-old was taking three pills every morning. Fifth grade started better, but by the time you're in fifth grade, there's not as much allowance for pacing the classroom, people notice that it's weird when you pick your nose. It became evident that Bryce was not just busy, not just "a little quirky" (as we overheard one of his teachers and the counselors discuss strategies for confronting us while in the hall during parent-teacher conferences), but that he might, in fact, actually be on the autism spectrum.

If it hasn't come across yet, I'll admit that I did not want Bryce to be on the autism spectrum. I didn't feel in my gut that it was right seven years ago when they diagnosed him with PDD-NOS. I didn't want to think about what it would mean for my child-- would he be able to go to normal school? Would he drive? Would he serve a mission? Live on his own? Get married? Hold a job? I knew lots of people with ADHD who did all of those things, but I didn't know a lot of people on the autism spectrum who did. Truth is, I just didn't know a whole lot of people on the autism spectrum at all. Eleven years after the fateful day when we brought him into the world, we were still filled with worry when it came to Bryce.

But over the last year, I've started to give up some of that fear. If we had him reevaluated today, I know he'd meet the qualifications for having Asperger's Syndrome. The things that could have been quirky at four are definitely more than quirky at eleven. But Bryce is also smart, sweet, and endearing in his own way. At times he can come across as incredibly clueless or insensitive, and then there are times like the other night when Isaac was upset over a lost toy, and Bryce took twenty bucks out of his wallet and told me that he wanted to buy Isaac another one.

I want the best for my son. I want him to be with people who appreciate him, quirks and all. I don't want him to be someone's "project." If the best thing I can do is fully embrace a diagnosis of Asperger's, even if it's belatedly, that's what I'm going to do.

A few months ago we talked with Bryce about it. He doesn't like it when I tell people that he has ADHD, so I didn't think he was going to be happy when we told him we thought he had Asperger's. When we told him what Asperger's was and said we thought he had it, his response was "sounds about right." If he's not worried about it, I guess I shouldn't be either.

This summer, in an attempt to be (belatedly) proactive, Bryce is going to eight weeks of camp with other kids like him-- kids with ADHD and Asperger's, kids living in the gray area where no one knows exactly what to call it. His counselors are confident that he'll have a great summer, and I hope he goes back to school in the fall ready to be a success.