When Jeni Decker approached me about reviewing her memoir of life with her two autistic boys I Wish I Were Engulfed In Flames, she got me at just the right moment: I was looking for something new to read and while I looked, I was rereading David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed In Flames. I figured a fellow Sedaris-fan was going to turn out something funny. She also won my heart by telling me about another book she wrote called Waiting For Karl Rove wherein two women undertake a road trip to wrest an apology from Karl Rove.
This lady? Sounds like my kind of people.
Jeni’s book is not specifically the story of autism. It’s not a chronicle of diagnosis, IEPs, therapies failed and succeeded, victories and setbacks on the road the understanding her children and finding ways for them to understand the rest of us. This is the story of a woman with a life that includes autistic children along with a marriage, a mother, a writing career, occasional forays into raising pigs for meat, and one episode involving waist-length hair extensions that her older son did not like. Her boys and their quirks and idiosyncracies are part of the fabric of a larger life. She is living with people who have autism: autism is not the defining characteristic of her world.
For the most part, the stories that Jeni tells are funny and smart alecky. She gives us a glimpse into her eccentric, creative family with her mother who records every conversation they have and her grandmother who talks at uncomfortable lengths about her vibrator. She recalls conversations with her older son, an inquisitive boy who peppers her with questions both mundane and unanswerable. Sher terrified me with a tale of her then 4-year-old finding his way onto the roof.She talks of her flawed marriage with raw honesty. She talks about her hemerrhoids in excrutiating and hilarious detail.
What she does not do is pity herself. Or her children.
If you want a sentimental journey into the life of one of the millions of families coping with an individual (or two) with autism, Jeni’s book is not the book for you. If you want a book by a mom with a wicked sense of humor and a pragmatic streak a mile wide, Jeni’s your girl. I finished her book and wished I could meet up with her for a drink. She’s the kind of mom I like to hang out with in real life because she’s the kind of mom who can laugh at herself and her world.
If you want to read I Wish I Were Engulfed In Flames (and why wouldn’t you?), leave me a comment on this post to enter into a giveaway of a copy. The winner will be picked at random on Monday March 5!