"Incredibly funny. . . A bird's–eye view into what it's really like
to love and raise kids with autism." —Jenny McCarthy, from her foreword
ALL I CAN HANDLE: I'm No Mother Teresa
(A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism)
By Kim Stagliano
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Release date: November 01, 2010
How one woman raises three autistic daughters, loses one at Disneyworld, stays married, Has sex, bakes gluten-free, goes broke, and keeps her sense of humor.
"Dr. Spock? Check. Penelope Ann Leach (Remember her?)? Check. What to Expect When You're Expecting? Check. I had a seven-hundred–dollar Bellini crib for God's sake!" So begins Kim Stagliano's electrifying, hilarious tale of her family's journey raising three daughters with autism. With her funny, startling, and illuminating first book, Stagliano joins the ranks of bestselling memoirists like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. With her willingness to lay everything on the table—family, friends, and enemies to basement floods to birth days to (possible) heroin addictions—she eviscerates and celebrates the absurd.
Whether she's going commando to rescue a daughter from a potentially embarrassing situation or accidentally stealing electric fans, she and her family are seemingly always on the edge of a Stagtastrophe. From her love of Howard Stern to her increasing activism in the autism community and exhaustive search for treatments that will help her daughters, she explores her life with vigor and humor. Always outspoken, often touching, and sometimes heart breaking, Kim Stagliano is a powerful new voice in comedic writing—her "Kimoir" (as she calls it) will be a must-read for everyone within the autism community. More than that, it's the debut of a new voice that will entertain everyone who reads it.
The Things we do for Love.
I have a strong sense of Catholic guilt. At my core, I'm honest--a poor liar who tries to make the right choice when presented with a quandary. Sometimes autism and caring for the girls stands in the way of quality decision making. It happens. It's like a robbery at a Piggly Wiggly where the man is holding a gun and a teddy bear. When you learn that he's out of work and was stealing diapers for his son, you give him a pass, don't you? (I'm waiting!)
I hope you'll give me a pass.
I've never been arrested, although as the autism world heats up, I think there might be a protest or two in my future that could land me in the clink. Once, I was chastised by the Main Street traffic cop in Hudson, Ohio for mouthing off to him about a parking situation. Hardly the stuff of Lockdown. I don't even park in the "pregnant customers only" spot at the local plaza. I'm waiting for the "customers with an autistic child" spots to appear. I could walk perfectly well, even at nine months pregnant. Navigating my three darlings into a store can be treacherous though. My friend Carrie and I snuck into a firehouse in South Boston and slid down the pole after too many cocktails about a million years ago. Was that illegal?
My brushes with the law were always Lucy and Ethel, not Bonnie and Clyde. Until the Summer of 2008 when I broke a Commandment, and not even one of the fun ones.
I was sitting in the yellow house at my computer--just a few weeks before we were to move into the little green ranch.
The kids were upstairs or in their rooms. I think. They weren't under my feet. Mark was out. I was researching moving companies online. Our landlady was selling the house, and we were moving across town in a matter of weeks. I was stressed out about the move, worried about how to pay for it, and generally in a bad mood.
A sound caught my attention.
"Plink! Plink! Plink!"
I looked around, glanced at the floor, shrugged my shoulders and went back to work.
Plink! Plink! Plink! Shshshshshshsh!!!!!!
My eyes went up to the kitchen ceiling. Water was gushing out of the ceiling fan (the light was on!) over the movable granite island in the center of the room.
OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod, I thought as I raced up the stairs two at time.
Bella had a stuffed a Poise pee pad into the toilet, (we used those to prevent embarrassing accidents at school.) The pad had dutifully expanded from a small strip to a bloated, gel filled pontoon that stopped up the toilet completely. As she flushed several times, the water had poured out of the bowl. How did I know this? It wasn't the first time this had happened. It was just the worst time. The water was now gushing onto the floor, across the bathroom, and had soaked several feet of the hallway carpet. It was at least three inches deep.
Sink or swim, Kim?
I turned off the water at the bottom of the toilet then splashed to the hall closet to grab every towel and blanket we owned. I could have used a bale bucket. I sopped up as much as I could until we ran out of dry towels so I began to wring them out in the tub and reuse them. The carpet was destroyed. The baseboards were soaked. Time for damage control. We were moving out, and while I had no love lost for the landlady, I didn't want to trash her house. Always with the guilt.
Mark came home to the catastrophe and just looked at me.
"What the hell are we going to do?"
I'm sure he was imagining a lawsuit or worse. We contemplated for a moment.
"We need a shop vac," he suggested.
"We don't own one, and we can't afford to buy one."
"What the hell are we going to do, Kim?"
Fear not! An autism mom has more badges than an Eagle Scout, and more household hints than Heloise herself.
"I know! I can run up to the Stop & Shop to rent a Rug Doctor carpet cleaning machine. If I use it backwards, it will suck up the water."
"You're crazy," Mark responded.
"You got a better idea pal?" I yelled, as I changed into dry shorts and a fresh T-shirt.
"Lock the bathroom door, I'll be right back. And don't kill Isabella!"
I flew up Church Hill Road to the Stop & Shop plaza, slammed the minivan into park and raced into the store. My cell phone rang and Mark said, "Toonces, get a box fan while you're there to dry the carpet."
I grabbed a cart and whooshed over to the everything but the kitchen sink aisle that looks like an Ace Hardware-Staples-Wal-Mart hybrid.
Please let them sell box fans, please God let them sell box-jackpot!
I grabbed the biggest fan off the shelf and a small one too, for good measure. I careened over to the self check out.
"Scan. beep! Scan. beep!
Cash or credit?
I swipe my card.
"Cannot accept card."
Crap. Swipe again.
"Cannot accept card."
Find teenage employee who resembles the kid in the obnoxious Free Credit Report dot com ads but is working at the Stop & Shop instead of wearing a pirate costume.
By now I'm hopping back and forth on one foot like I have to pee the mother of all pees. My ceiling is falling down, my drywall is disintegrating and my carpet is busy sprouting into a lung-choking strip of death. I do not have time to dawdle. I need to buy the damn fans and go rent a carpet machine.
"What's wrong with this machine? It won't take my credit card."
The kid, whose idol is Mr. Rogers or Diane Rehm drawls, "Oh, the card readers aren't working. You'll have to use cash."
Cash? What the f*ck is cash? I haven't seen cash since Ohio for God's sake.
By now, my armpits are soaked with sweat. I'm doing that thing that my dad does when he's pissed off. It's a sucky sound you make while your tongue rolls around as if you're trying to dislodge caramel from every single tooth in your head. In Rossi parlance it means, "about to blow a gasket, please stand back."
Then the lights dim.
"Attention shoppers. We apologize for the inconvenience, but we have lost power and will have to close the store. Please find the nearest exit."
Now I'm eyeing the Drano in the aisle behind me, and wondering how much I'd have to drink to kill myself right then and there.
No way. I'm not going down. I need the carpet cleaner. I need the box fans. Now.
Move over Lucy, here comes Bonnie.
I rolled my cart, with the two fans inside, over to the Rug Doctor equipment. Drat, it's chained to the display. Off to customer service I go. I recognize the kid working the cash register. He looks like he's in a heavy metal band. His hair is long, his knuckles tattooed, and he has a smile like Antonio Sabato.
"Hi. Craig," I say,, reading his name tag. "I have an emergency at home, and I really need to rent a Rug Doctor, right now."
"We can't take any money now, there's no power," he says.
God almighty, hasn't this kid ever seen "Little House on the Prairie"? He has a pen and paper, right?
"Craig, I am really in a bind here. Could you maybe write down my credit card information and enter it when I return the machine tomorrow?" I asked in a sweet, slightly strained voice.
"Yeah, I guess I could do that," he said.
Thank God, metal boy has a brain.
He wrote up my order for the machine, I gave him my card info and headed for the door.
The store was in chaos, people still trying to check out, take their groceries, leave their groceries.
I put my head down and sailed out of there as fast as I could.
With my items in the trunk, I eased out of the parking lot and went home.
I haven't paid for the two box fans.
I pulled into the driveway and schlepped the Rug Doctor from the car to the front door. The house was a New England, "garage under" which means it's built into a hill, so the garage is on the basement level, and I was not bumping the machine up two flights of stairs.. Mark opened the door for me.
"I stole two fans. They're in the car. Go get them."
"It's a long story. Now let's go clean the carpet," I said.
We did manage to repair the house fully. I called an electrician who said the light would be fine—to aim a fan at it for a couple of days and then spray the ceiling with something called KILZ paint. Sure enough, the light and the fan worked. The ceiling got a fresh blast of paint and the carpet dried out just fine.
No harm. No foul.
Except that I'd stolen the fans. I didn't know if I could go back to the store and tell them. I ended up putting fifty dollars into the Salvation Army's red kettle outside the door as soon as it appeared during the holidays. I told God (because we know how closely attuned he is to my prayers) that I was sorry for stealing them. A few weeks later we had a major flood in our new house, so I'm not sure if God forgave me.
Now you know I've stolen for love. How about public indecency?
Elise Allen, author and children's television writer
...You've also made me much more aware of things that weren't on my radar before. I was driving to my Saturday run when I heard the "renowned autism doctor"—the guy in your book who never actually sees patients—on the news debunking any possible connection between vaccines and autism. He specifically warned about the internet, and I waited to see if he was going to mention your site in particular. He only did so by omission—he named only 3 government sites to listen to. And he did indeed cite "herd immunity" as what's being sacrificed. Before I read your book, his argument would have made perfect sense to me, but I was doused with cold water by your comment about herd mentality being fine... until it's your little calf that falls. Your life could be any of our lives, which makes what you're saying relevant to everyone.
I think your book is just as important for us civilians as for those families on the spectrum. It'll make us think, and if enough people start paying attention and thinking, then things can change.
Karl Taro Greenfeld, journalist, author of Boy Alone A Brother's Memoir
"I knew Kim Stagliano as the generous, humorous, and always informed autism advocate she is, but this is the first time I've ever had an inside look at her life with her husband and three (3!) autistic daughters. Wow. Kim tells the truth on every page and this is one of those books that you can't turn away from, and that you SHOULDN'T turn away from. The families of the autistic know too well how hard this journey can be—and when Kim recounts some of the trials and anguish her daughters' have faced, I want to shout, first with anger, and then with recognition. Thank you Kim."
Dr. Bob Sears, pediatrician, author, www.askdrsears.com
I have three kids, and they don't have autism. But as a pediatrician, I see kids with autism (and their parents) everyday. I've never fully appreciated what life is really like for these moms and dads - what they go through on a daily basis. Kim has opened my eyes to what life is like raising children with autism (three children, in her case). There is no doubt that autism continues to increase. It will eventually affect us all, whether it's in our own family, a close friend, a neighbor, or a distant relative. We all must learn how to love, accept, and support these families. Kim teaches us that the last thing they want is pity and judgemental glares in the grocery store. They want understanding and help. Kim describes in heart-warming (and heart-wrenching) detail how she is genuinely happy in the midst of her anguish. Reading these "Kimoirs" (as Kim likes to call her tales) has made me want to grab any parent of a child with autism and give them a big hug. Not to say "I feel sorry for you," but to say "Now I (almost) get you."
Charles Busch, Actor, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director, drag legend,
Star of the film Die Mommie Die and Author of Broadway's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife
Did I know I'd be moved by the story of a woman raising three daughters with autism? Yes. Did I know it would make me laugh out loud, over and over? No! Somehow Kim Stagliano has managed to find that Sweet Spot that hovers between hilarity and pain. I've never met the lady, but I finished this book feeling as if I'd just spent a couple of hours in the company of a fabulous new friend.
Barbara Loe Fisher—President www.nvic.org
Paul and I thank you and Mark for being so gracious welcoming us to your home today. The lunch was gluten free yummy and the company was wonderful. You have beautiful daughters who are clearly as joyful as they are a constant challenge. They would not be filled with such light if you had not given them the gift of your remarkable parenting.
I want you to know that I was exhausted tonight but started your book and could not put it down. I am on page 55 and need to go to bed and will doubtless pick it up tomorrow.
What you have done is make yourself a woman who is accessible to the reader from the first chapter. The reader is invested in knowing you, like the reader becomes invested in the thoughts and feelings of a protagonist in a well written novel. That is why when the reader gets to the parts where you recount the hard times (like Mia's seizures) the reader wants to stay with you. And you add just enough humor and an "Unsinkable Molly Brown" attitude that regardless of the hard times you are describing, the reader is confident you will prevail. And so you have accomplished what you set out to do - tell a compelling story about living with autism that will help others without autistic children "experience" autism without having gone through the experience themselves. It also is a book that will give hope to those who have for so long been hopeless when they get the diagnosis of autism for a child.
And I sure hope is sends a message to Dads out there that it takes a real man to stay and not skip town when the going gets rough.
The Reverend Michael L. Dunn, Pastor St. Francis of Assisi, Weston, CT
"Kim's dedication and love for her children, along with her persistent search for successful treatments for autism knows no bounds. And she continues to give hope and strength to other parents with autistic children."