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Book Review: The Present Giver


The Present Giver: A Memoir, Bar Scott, ALM Books, 2011, $12.95.
  • The Present¬†Giver: A Memoir, Bar Scott, ALM Books, 2011, $12.95.

Woodstock singer/songwriter Bar Scott welcomed in the new millennium with a wonderful baby son. Anyone who has a child knows the delight babies bring and the sense of infinite possibilities that comes with new parenthood. Among those infinite possibilities is the nightmare no new parent can bear to contemplate: having this fresh and all-consuming love ripped away, as painful as having an arm or a leg pulled off very slowly.

We ache and strive to keep our babies safe, turning to tigers at the least hint of a threat, but against some horrors there is no defense. A rare and aggressive form of pediatric liver cancer separated Forrest from his adoring parents at the age of three and a half, after a 21-month battle—literally, half a lifetime.

"All great love stories should be told and this is the best one that I know," Scott writes on the first page, and she tells it on key throughout. Toddlers and small children bring life into tight focus, revolving around things that might once have sounded small: stickers, sippy cups, the dusty flavor of teething biscuits, sneakers. Scott's memoir evokes the sweet details that make up early parenting with a precision that leaves the reader breathless at her raw courage.

Not that she tries to portray herself as any sort of a heroine. Scott and her husband Peter are just doing what must be done, putting foot in front of foot on an unthinkable climb, as they learn about Hickman catheters and AFP blood counts and somehow incorporate Forrest's diagnosis into their everyday lives, making sure that Beach Day at Supertots and friendships with folks around town do not disappear under a mountain of agonized necessity.

The story is told as a series of vignettes and musings, a form that is somehow more evocative of both early parenthood and extreme crisis than a straightforward narrative would be. Scott will stop in her tracks for a moment and list the many nicknames she and Peter called their son or describe a favorite toy; parents will find themselves lost in their own remembered silliness and nonparents will catch a glimpse of something precious and intense.

The portrait of Forrest that emerges is precise, not a gauzy melodramatic evocation of Everybaby as hero. This was, in fact, a very special little man; his mother can't help telling us so here and there, but more important, she shows us how, capturing the sweetness and preternatural wisdom of her beloved son in anecdotes of an everyday life that happens to include Ronald MacDonald House and the Make-A-Wish Foundation alongside Supertots nursery school and playtime at Andy Lee Field.

Having been forced to think about the unthinkable, having to normalize things that can never feel normal, and having experienced the beginning and ending of a loved life pressed so close together, Scott brings the reader the gifts she's gathered on her journey with honesty and great tenderness. "I don't think anyone has a choice about whether they handle something like this or not. You just do. The only real choice you have is how you're going to handle it," she observes. Scott's reflections on the gift of being Forrest's mom are a gift in themselves, to the rest of the world.

Reading at Golden Notebook's Wordstock Salon at the Kleinert/James Arts Center, 2/10 at 8pm; book party reception, reading, and concert at Photosensualis, Woodstock, 2/26 at 6:30pm.

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