COWBOY AND WILLS by Monica Holloway
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment (Oct 6 2009)
First of all I would like to thank the publicist for Monica Holloway for sending me a copy of this book! And not only that, I will say right of the bat that this is one of those books that I hope to do justice with my review!
Right on the cover of Cowboy and Wills it says "A Love Story", and you better believe this is one, from the first page all the way to the last. After reading a largely self absorbed and depressing as hell memoir last week, I was very reluctant to pick up another memoir about a family who may or may not be struggling. But because I was sent this book before Christmas, I knew I needed to get it read, so with a little apprehension I opened the book and started reading.
"The day after Wills was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, I took him for a ride to Ben's Fish Store in Sherman Oaks to buy a large freshwater aquarium. We picked up all the equipment; a ten-gallon tank, a filter, multicolored rocks to spread on the bottom, an imitation pirate ship made out of clay, tacky neon plastic plants, a large rock with a hole in the middle for the fish to swim through, fish food, a small green plastic net, a special siphon with a clear hose on the end to clean the tank, and replacement filters. It totaled $462.84 -- a high price that I could barely afford to squeeze onto my overextended Visa. I didn't care; my three-year-old had autism."
What I know is this - every single parent out there can relate to this paragraph. In the wake of devestating news the urge to run out and buy something so ordinary, so down-to-earth, so "normal", is very strong. It's like a message to the parents mind and the childs that, "Hey, we're okay, this is okay, life is still normal." But soon after the initial shock wears off about the diagnosis, the reality of what is now their new "normal" begins to sink in.
Autism is not a fad.
Autism is not a buzz word.
Autism is a disorder that affects many children and the families that love them. My great-nephew is on the spectrum, and one of my very dear dear friends has a son who is now 13 and is autistic as well. These two young men are two of the finest most loving and brilliant young men I know. And when I see them, my immediate thought is never "autism", it is "Oh, there you are!" They are incredible human beings who we could all learn a lot from. Like most kids!
Monica Holloway is very much like any mother out there. Here is why I adore her. She is tenacious, but fragile, she is funny, but cautious, she is loving and firm. In short, she is REAL. I love her. Sometimes she uses the word "shit", isn't that fantastic? I have been scouring the book trying to find the quote, maybe by the end of the post I will have, something about being the "shittiest mom in the universe". Believe me, when you read it you will -- A) laugh and B) RELATE.
When Monica finds out her son has autism she quickly begins dealing with the situation in the way many of us would, she starts to buy stuff. In her case it was animals. A LOT of them. First it started with the fish, then hermit crabs, then frogs, then hamsters, a rabbit, and all the while Wills is begging her and her husband Michael for a puppy. Knowing that may just be too much to handle, she keeps buying smaller critters. Meanwhile, Michael is largely absent, but not in a way you might expect. He is a television writer and is across the country working, but very much as present as he can be on the weekends when he's home and via the phone. I have to say, Michael is amazing. They both are. There are many statistics about married couples and the toll autism takes on their relationship, and a large percentage of people end up divorced as they make their way through the maze of treatments and stress of daily life. This couple does not, and their marriage is a beautiful thing to witness, even if it is on the pages of a book.
Wills starts preschool, and it goes fairly well. But then kindergarten is looming around the corner. At this point Wills has a very difficult time in social situations, cannot use a public restroom (this will take years to accomplish), and is very disturbed by any loud noises, among other things. After searching for school after school they finally find one that celebrates every single child and that will nurture Wills in a way that no other school could. Monica arranges a playdate with one of the parents from the school, and here's what happens:
"Wasn't it crazy trying to get into a school?" I asked, letting my guard down.
"CCS was the only school we applied to, and we got right in." She shruggeed, looking out at the two boys, who were jumping up and down in the trampoline.
"We applied everywhere," I said, squeezing my sandwich into an unrecognizable ball of dough. "But Children's Community School was our first choice."
"Well, that worked out." She smiled with unbelievably perfect teeth. "Nicholas was kicked out of every preschool I enrolled him in, but now he's doing so well that CCS let him in without my saying a word about it. They observed him and he was accepted." Her left leg, which was crossed over her right, bounced up and down, her flip-flops and manicured toenails distractingly adorable.
"What was 'it'?" I asked. "If you don't mind me asking."
"Nicholas used to have autism," she said, nonchalantly. My head jerked up and my crystal cut glass of lemonade hit the kitchen table with a thud.
"But I cured him."
What were the odds that the first family we met at CCS had dealt with autism? And she cured him? How does a person cure autism? Had my head been up my ass all these years? Had I missed the "Big Cure" segment on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw?
"Yeah, he used to be autistic but not anymore." She shrugged her shoulders.
Did she actually have the audacity to repeat it? She REPEATED IT? I didn't know what to say.
"Wills is autistic," I said, hoping it would help rein in her bravado or, at the very least, implore her to enlighten me. Any of us who'd been through it knew that you couldn't cure autism. But here she was right in front of me, adorable, chesty, and confident.
"Oh, you can cure him. You just need to change his diet." Her right eyebrown arched and her brown eyes popped with enthusiasm, realizing that a possible recruit was sitting across from her in denim cropped pants.
She meant well, she must have meant well, so why did I feel like kicking her teeth in?
After weeks of Wills having a brutal time in school, Monica finally realizes that maybe a puppy could help him adjust to his new life in a new school. Little did she know it was not only exactly what Wills needed, but what her whole entire family needed.
Enter COWBOY. One of the cutest little golden retriever pups you will ever see. Wills and Cowboy immediately became inseperable, and the biggest miracle of all was what Wills could accomplish with Cowboy by his side. Suddenly the bubbles in the bathtub which literally hurt Wills skin were tolerable and even fun! Who wouldn't want to have a bath with a six month old puppy! He could talk to other kids with Cowboy in his arms! The entire world was opening up for Wills, and all through the help of this incredible animal. You would think that a book like this would be extremely heavy. I assure you it is not. Monica has a way of making many situations funny. Here is what she tells us when one of the many doggie poop episodes comes into view:
At six months old, Cowboy pooped with the fierceness of a miner, eyes fixed on the pear tree near the fence, ass barely hovering above the ground as foaming tan goop swirled out of her. A solid poop was cause for celebration; a Carvel foamer, not so much.
And her artistry with words will have tears streaming down your face. After years of having to share their bed with their growing son, he finally was able to sleep in his very own room, with a very large furry gold dog cuddled up with him on his bed. This was the first night:
Soon Cowboy was licking Wills's face and pushing herself against his stomach, settling in for a long night. Wills didn't look so sure.
"Stay here, Mommy," he said, sniffing back tears.
"I'm not going anywhere," I told him, lying on the floor.
He reached his hand down and patted my arm. Then he wrapped it around Cowboy.
I lay there, looking up at the ceiling fan with the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the bottom of every paddle. When it turned, each glowing star blurred into a solid circle, and it looked like Saturn was twirling above us. I'd put those up so many years ago, I'd forgotten they were even there.
Later that night, Michael and I snuck quietly into Wills's room to find him sound asleep in the bed we'd ordered for him four years earlier, his freckled cheeks rosy from the heat of Cowboy wrapped around him like a sarong.
"What if he's too hot?" I worried, realizing exactly what this moment meant---Wills was separating from me. I'd imagined I'd be giddy, relieved, happy for all of us, but I was overcome by a sense of grief I hadn't expected.
"If he gets too hot, he'll wake up," Michael assured me.
Cowboy lifted her head as if to say, I've got him. You guys get a life.
As Wills gains social skills, friends, and confidence, Cowboy's health begins to decline. Suddenly the focus is not just on Wills but also on his beloved Cowboy, and trying to find out what exactly is wrong with her.
Monica's book is beautiful, heartwarming, heart breaking, and powerful. If you have anyone in your life that is affected by autism, if you love reading stories about the awesome power of mans relationship with his dog, than this book is for you. If you are a parent, then this book is for you. If you are a human being who believes in love and the triumph of the human spirit, then this book is for you. Basically anyone with a pulse should read this book. You will LOVE IT.
RATING: 5/5 and if I could give it more stars I would!
For more information about Monica Holloway and her extraordinary family click here.
You can also find her on Facebook here
For more information on autism click here.
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