In All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism, Kim Stagliano tries to keep on her best, perky face, despite some rather bad luck. Stagliano is the mother of three girls with severe autism. Autism is much more prevalent in boys than girls, and the odds are against having three kids in a row with autism. Then her husband loses his job, and they face years of economic hardship.
This wasn't the life that Stagliano envisioned for herself. She was meant to be the president of the PTA and the mom who could still wear a bikini at the yacht club. Instead she receives charity gifts from church and changes diapers on her older children. Stagliano feels like she pulled out the loser present from the grab bag and there is an undercurrent of resentment in the book, despite her best efforts to be perky.
This book isn't a literary gem. The writing is weak, and she attempts to bring chick lit/girlfriend chatter to the world of autism. (What next? An autism love story?) She goes into long Jenny McCarthy-inspired rants about curing autism and ridding the world of immunization. Truthfully, I just blipped over those sections of the book.
I liked this book for what she doesn't say and what she hints at.
Why is Stagliano trying so hard to be perky? Because it really sucks to spend your adult life as a caretaker. It is especially hard today when we've been brought up to imagine ourselves as leaders, in the PTA or in the office, and it's very hard to feel very Mary Tyler Moore when you can't even get to the grocery store easily.
Why is it so hard to parent special needs kids? Here we get some hints, as she relaxes toward the end of the book. She writes,
When I gave birth to Bella, Mark and I ate like a king and his queen for two straight weeks with hot dishes appearing magically at the door nightly at five o’clock. Five months later, when Mia’s seizures began and I was struggling with two youngsters with autism and a newborn, the phone never rang, the doorbell was silent. Playgroup moms do not sign up to make a month of homemade dinners so that [a] mother of a newly discovered child can have a break.
Stagliano is a pissed-off mom who is trying to make her life work, and I like her for that. She's not quite sure who she should be pissed off at — society for neglecting her or doctors who plugged her daughters full of poison or the gods for sending her so much bad fortune. She tries to restrain the anger and make light jokes, because that's what cute girls do, but her anger leaks through her story and makes for a much more interesting and dark tale.