Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World

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Overview

From Debra Ginsberg, the acclaimed author of the surprise hit Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, comes a new book that unflinchingly documents her fears and frustrations as well as soaring moments of joy and satisfaction in raising her son, Blaze.

Debra Ginsberg knew that her son was unique from the moment he was born. What she didn't know was that Blaze's differences would be regarded by others not as gifts but as impediments to his social and academic success. Blaze ...

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Overview

From Debra Ginsberg, the acclaimed author of the surprise hit Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, comes a new book that unflinchingly documents her fears and frustrations as well as soaring moments of joy and satisfaction in raising her son, Blaze.

Debra Ginsberg knew that her son was unique from the moment he was born. What she didn't know was that Blaze's differences would be regarded by others not as gifts but as impediments to his social and academic success. Blaze never crawled; at one he simply stood up and walked. By the time he was four, he knew the complete works of Miles Davis. At five, he assigned colors to days of the week. When he turned ten, he asked to reenact his own birth, so that this time he could have "enough breath to cry." But from his first day of kindergarten, Blaze was considered a "problem" in the classroom. All his life he's defied diagnosis by a host of experts who have sought to label him.

Writing with blistering honesty and irrepressible humor, Debra Ginsberg chronicles the extraordinary journey she has taken with her son through meetings with administrators, doctors, psychologists, and a host of other professionals, all with their own ideas about what makes Blaze "different" and all convinced that their answers were the right ones.

A powerful advocate for her son and a compelling voice for those raising special kids, Ginsberg interweaves her moving personal story and her hard-fought battles with schools and medical professionals to create a book that speaks to all parents. Raising Blaze is also a message in a bottle for all the square pegs who refuse, in one way or another, to be shaped, shoved, or squeezed intounyielding round holes.


About the Author

Debra Ginsberg is the author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and the San Diego Union-Tribune "Books" section.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
A specific diagnosis of a disability may provide a welcome explanation for puzzling behavior, and even offer relief through medication or therapy. But as Debra Ginsberg explains in Raising Blaze, her memoir of bringing up her own "extraordinary" child, a diagnosis can sometimes create more questions than answers. Blaze, who was choked by his own umbilical cord during delivery, expresses himself with enigmatic figurative phrases; loud noises send him screaming around the room. The doctors' assessment was vague to the point of tautology: "pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified." Ginsberg struggles with the public-school system and its rigorous notions of acceptable behavior, where even happiness is monitored: "I am struck again by how difficult it is to navigate a world where we have to be mindful of when laughter is appropriate."

According to Jeanne Safer, in The Normal One, the families of disabled or difficult children also suffer. Inspired by her own troubled relationship with her brother, Safer sees "normal" siblings as suffering from "Caliban syndrome." Her book tries to peek under the sentimental surface of most representations of disability (such as the TV star who told Us magazine that her mentally retarded sister was "my love, my heart, my angel"). She writes, "Guilt is rarely absent from the thoughts of healthy adults about their damaged siblings because no amount of devotion or care can make the damaged whole or blot out the dark victory of their own normality." Though some draw away, others become martyrs, feeling inextricably bound to care uncritically for their less able brother or sister. And some, like Safer, reject the sibling, then write a book about it..(Andrea Thompson)

Publishers Weekly
Ginsberg (author of Waiting, an insider's look at the world of restaurant service) offers an extraordinary view of rearing and educating a child with special needs. Upon entering school, Ginsberg's son, Blaze, was put in a special education class because he didn't fit in smoothly with the behavioral demands of the regular classroom teacher. Required to come up with a specific diagnosis in order to place him in special ed, the school officials chose "speech and language impaired" after Blaze's first day of kindergarten. Resistant to testing, Blaze defied simple categorization and over time collected a variety of contradictory labels, including autistic, "of above-average intelligence," "eccentric," attention deficit hyperactive and "a gifted manipulator." A single parent with a large supportive family, Ginsberg spent much time and energy working with Blaze, having him tested, reading about diagnoses and treatments and helping him through elementary school with teachers ranging from helpful to hostile. She sacrificed her nascent career in publishing to spend more time with Blaze, took a job at his school, temporarily home-schooled him and even ingested a dose of his Ritalin to see how it felt. Ginsberg skillfully describes all the frustration, anger, fear, shame, worry, love and joy she's experienced in addressing her son's unique gifts and difficulties. She also describes a public school system generally more concerned with collective standardized test scores than with recognizing and serving the various innate abilities, talents and needs of its diverse students. This is an unusual and fascinating memoir that refutes many common assumptions about single mothers, special-ed kids, "experts" of all kinds and American public schools. Agent, Amy Rennert. (Aug. 2) Forecast: A 25-city radio campaign, seven-city author tour and a national broadcast and print media campaign will raise this book's visibility. Ginsberg's previous book was a sleeper hit; expect success for this one, too. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is the poignant and compelling story of raising a child with an undefinable disability centering on emotional/behavioral issues. A devoted mother and ardent advocate for her son's educational rights, Ginsberg (Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress) lets the words pour onto the page yet manages to keep the story of her son's battles accessible and engaging. The reader can, at times, become incredibly frustrated with both the ineffective mandates of the school and Ginsberg's own stubbornness. Her unwillingness to heed the diagnosis of doctors or the suggestions of educators can appear detrimental to all parties, but the reader comes to understand that as Blaze's mother, it is her job to question authority. In the end, this mother and son's tale not only reveals the beauty and strength in struggle but also acts as a supportive text for parents and guardians of disabled children. Among the qualities we all share as humans "are our differences and thus our sameness," writes Ginsberg, and she hopes people use that tenet to establish a common ground; this book is the foundation for a new understanding. Highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/02.] Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Memoirist Ginsberg, who waited tables for 20 years to support her writing habit (Waiting, 2000), movingly details her experiences with a “different” child. Ginsberg’s memoir is refreshingly free of “Why me?” whines; her devotion to her son is exemplary, her criticisms of unhelpful doctors and educators fair. She begins with Blaze’s difficult birth in 1987, when she was 24. A single mother who had recently broken up with the baby’s father, Ginsberg had a long labor, and Blaze was born with his umbilical cord wound around his neck, scoring low on post-birth tests. At home, she began rearing him with the help of her supportive family (her father accompanied her to most appointments). Like most mothers, Ginsberg loved her baby from the first moment and was determined to do the best for a boy who seemed bright and intelligent. When she enrolled Blaze in kindergarten, she expected him to be “a star in his class.” Instead, she was asked to meet with his teachers and the school psychologists, who told her Blaze should be transferred to the Special Education program. From then on, her life became an endless round of arguments with teachers and doctors who never made an exact diagnosis. Blaze hated loud noises (fire engines, garbage trucks, etc.) and found it hard to sit still, but he was sensitive to feelings and had a remarkable knowledge of music. Some suggested he was autistic, and most wanted her to put him on medication; she eventually tried Ritalin, stopping when he reacted badly to it. As the author chronicles her struggle to raise Blaze right, she celebrates the heroes (her family, some teachers) and nails the villains (obtuse, even cruel doctors and educators). Though Blaze’s difficultbirth affected him in ways that cannot be specifically diagnosed, Ginsberg has learned that raising a child is an act of faith. A stirring record of a mother’s battle fought with zest, humor, and love. Author tour
San Diego Union-Tribune
“It is a journey…filled with humor and horror and above all, honesty. Ginsberg…is a gifted writer.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641847356
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/5/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 293
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Debra Ginsberg is the author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and the San Diego Union-Tribune "Books" section.

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Read an Excerpt

Raising Blaze

Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World
By Debra Ginsberg

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Debra Ginsberg All right reserved. ISBN: 0060004339

Chapter One



Enough Breath to Cry



Any story about a birth must have its origin in a story about conception. And if the story is about conception (at least, a conception that happens in the traditional way), then there has to be a story about the two people responsible. This is usually where the complications and intricacies come into play for the first time; two people creating a third. Our story is like this too - complicated, intricate, ongoing. If it had just stayed the two of us - John and me - this would have been a very short story, indeed. But, we created a third. And, despite our best efforts to dissolve the connection between us, that third person links us together forever.

I met John in the most mundane way possible; at a party in Portland, Oregon, where I was living in 1986, introduced by a mutual friend who thought we would hit it off because we were both aspiring writers. As we stood talking, drinks and cigarettes hanging casually from our hands, I didn't even think John was my type. He was good-looking, I thought, but not nearly dangerous enough for me. At that point in my life, I was still mostlyattracted to men who were dark, edgy, and damaged in some way. In short, a challenge. John seemed a bit too smooth to fit this profile but I gave him my phone number anyway (like I said, he was good-looking and he could string an intelligent sentence together - both real bonuses) and when he called me a couple of days later, I agreed to a date.

It was during that first, very simple, just-coffee-and-dessert date that I decided I really liked John and the fact that he wasn't my type was probably quite a good thing. So there was a second, more elaborate date. We went to dinner and then to a play. John walked me home to my apartment and I asked him if he'd like to come up for coffee. He kissed me in the middle of my tiny kitchen and then everything just ignited.

The word ignited seems particularly appropriate to me. John and I didn't just start dating each other; we burst into flame. We fell into intimacy quickly, easily, and without thought. Our relationship was so passionate and so physical that I kept thinking we were getting along like a house on fire. But there was more to it than just remembering the aphorism: I could visualize the burning house, I could feel the two of us consuming each other.

Aside from the few hours every day when we worked at our separate restaurant jobs, John and I spent every moment together. When we weren't caught in the throes of passion, we were talking about it. We spent hours discussing how neither one of us had ever experienced the white heat we were generating between ourselves and what did that mean? What could it be? Was it love? Maybe something even deeper, we thought.

John started calling me "Juliet" and stood in the parking lot under my fourth-floor apartment, pitching small rocks at my window. "I can't leave you," he wailed up at me. "You are bliss." He read a draft of my novel and said I was a gifted writer. I read a draft of his novel and thought it was deep. He cooked lasagna for me in my little kitchen. I bought him a black wool sweater. Every time he appeared at my door, he brought a small gift; daisies, a bottle of red wine, a rare old book titled Devil in the Flesh. He had a "meet the family" dinner at my parents' house and seemed to enjoy the experience. He put me on the phone with his mother who said, "I've heard so much about you."

After three weeks of this intensity, John turned to me and said, "I think this might be It. You, I mean. You and I." It might be, I thought. Yes, it might indeed be. Admitting this felt frightening, as if I were relinquishing what little control I had over my fate. Falling in love is still falling and making that leap scared me. I remembered what a painful process picking myself up after one of those falls could be. still, I let myself fall. I was twenty-four and not in the least bit concerned with protecting myself emotionally.

Nature is direct and its laws are specific. Anything that burns as ferociously as we did in those first couple of months will eventually consume itself and, ultimately, that is what happened. John and I began quarreling over issues that hadn't even factored in the previous weeks of passion. He became irritated with my insecurity. I thought he was lazy and moved on his goals too slowly. He said I was too impulsive. I accused him of being selfish. He said that I was the most demanding person he had ever met. I told him that he was unable to see a point of view other than his own. We began arguing late at night when we were tired and frustrated. Our barbs were sharpest then and most likely to do real damage. We fought in bed and we made up there too, but this roller coaster of emotions became nauseating after a while and we started showing signs of wear. That flaming house had burned to the ground and we were lying in the ashes.

I wasn't really surprised when John showed up one day dressed in tan slacks and a beige, cashmere sweater. This was breakup attire and I knew it. He started talking about how we had gone so fast - perhaps too fast - and now we weren't making each other happy and we should probably give each other some space. I have to say, John was terrible when it came to breaking up. He was predictable...

(Continues...)


Excerpted from Raising Blaze by Debra Ginsberg
Copyright © 2003 by Debra Ginsberg
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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First Chapter

Raising Blaze

Chapter One

Enough Breath to Cry

Any story about a birth must have its origin in a story about conception. And if the story is about conception (at least, a conception that happens in the traditional way), then there has to be a story about the two people responsible. This is usually where the complications and intricacies come into play for the first time; two people creating a third. Our story is like this too -- complicated, intricate, ongoing. If it had just stayed the two of us -- John and me -- this would have been a very short story, indeed. But, we created a third. And, despite our best efforts to dissolve the connection between us, that third person links us together forever.

I met John in the most mundane way possible; at a party in Portland, Oregon, where I was living in 1986, introduced by a mutual friend who thought we would hit it off because we were both aspiring writers. As we stood talking, drinks and cigarettes hanging casually from our hands, I didn't even think John was my type. He was good-looking, I thought, but not nearly dangerous enough for me. At that point in my life, I was still mostly attracted to men who were dark, edgy, and damaged in some way. In short, a challenge. John seemed a bit too smooth to fit this profile but I gave him my phone number anyway (like I said, he was good-looking and he could string an intelligent sentence together -- both real bonuses) and when he called me a couple of days later, I agreed to a date.

It was during that first, very simple, just-coffee-and-dessert date that I decided I really liked John and the fact that he wasn't my type was probably quite a good thing.So there was a second, more elaborate date. We went to dinner and then to a play. John walked me home to my apartment and I asked him if he'd like to come up for coffee. He kissed me in the middle of my tiny kitchen and then everything just ignited.

The word ignited seems particularly appropriate to me. John and I didn't just start dating each other; we burst into flame. We fell into intimacy quickly, easily, and without thought. Our relationship was so passionate and so physical that I kept thinking we were getting along like a house on fire. But there was more to it than just remembering the aphorism: I could visualize the burning house, I could feel the two of us consuming each other.

Aside from the few hours every day when we worked at our separate restaurant jobs, John and I spent every moment together. When we weren't caught in the throes of passion, we were talking about it. We spent hours discussing how neither one of us had ever experienced the white heat we were generating between ourselves and what did that mean? What could it be? Was it love? Maybe something even deeper, we thought.

John started calling me "Juliet" and stood in the parking lot under my fourth-floor apartment, pitching small rocks at my window. "I can't leave you," he wailed up at me. "You are bliss." He read a draft of my novel and said I was a gifted writer. I read a draft of his novel and thought it was deep. He cooked lasagna for me in my little kitchen. I bought him a black wool sweater. Every time he appeared at my door, he brought a small gift; daisies, a bottle of red wine, a rare old book titled Devil in the Flesh. He had a "meet the family" dinner at my parents' house and seemed to enjoy the experience. He put me on the phone with his mother who said, "I've heard so much about you."

After three weeks of this intensity, John turned to me and said, "I think this might be It. You, I mean. You and I." It might be, I thought. Yes, it might indeed be. Admitting this felt frightening, as if I were relinquishing what little control I had over my fate. Falling in love is still falling and making that leap scared me. I remembered what a painful process picking myself up after one of those falls could be. still, I let myself fall. I was twenty-four and not in the least bit concerned with protecting myself emotionally.

Nature is direct and its laws are specific. Anything that burns as ferociously as we did in those first couple of months will eventually consume itself and, ultimately, that is what happened. John and I began quarreling over issues that hadn't even factored in the previous weeks of passion. He became irritated with my insecurity. I thought he was lazy and moved on his goals too slowly. He said I was too impulsive. I accused him of being selfish. He said that I was the most demanding person he had ever met. I told him that he was unable to see a point of view other than his own. We began arguing late at night when we were tired and frustrated. Our barbs were sharpest then and most likely to do real damage. We fought in bed and we made up there too, but this roller coaster of emotions became nauseating after a while and we started showing signs of wear. That flaming house had burned to the ground and we were lying in the ashes.

I wasn't really surprised when John showed up one day dressed in tan slacks and a beige, cashmere sweater. This was breakup attire and I knew it. He started talking about how we had gone so fast -- perhaps too fast -- and now we weren't making each other happy and we should probably give each other some space. I have to say, John was terrible when it came to breaking up. He was predictable...

Raising Blaze. Copyright © by Debra Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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