When Fort Lauderdale author Dawn Davies moved to South Florida as a child, she wasn’t really a fan.
“In Florida the outside is always trying to get in and dank Florida smells are everywhere you go,” Davies writes in her latest book, “Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces,” the Sundial Book Club pick for January.
Davies writes about how making friends was hard and she felt like a misfit everytime she moved. She never wanted to be a memoirist, but growing up with little friends led her to read and write nonstop.
Davies opens up her life in her collection of essays as she tackles her difficult pregnancies, postpartum depression, dating, finding love, going through a divorce and raising a child with special needs. She finds humor in these challenges and is often vulnerable with the readers about the most intimate details of herself and her family.
Davies talked to Luis Hernandez on Sundial about her love/hate relationship with Florida, and how her book has resonated with many mothers. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited lightly for clarity:
WLRN: People who live in Florida, a lot of people are transients. We came here from somewhere else and just end up here. What was your impression when you got to Florida? Because you had gone, from Virginia to New York, then you came to Florida. That first impression of Florida for you wasn't really pleasurable, right?
DAVIES: No, it wasn't, because I was angry. We were leaving. I didn't know anything. And we moved in the winter. My parents moved us during the winter break so I could start at a new school fresh in January, which is very nice. But, you know, I got here and said: What is this place? These aren't trees. What is this? It looks like Dr. Seuss, right? It smelled funny and it was so hot. And my hair did bad things. And so, yeah, it took a while to grow more slowly.
One of the essays is called Mothers of Sparta, the title of the book. It’s about your son. He was diagnosed with autism. Seemed like no one at the schools could do anything for him at all. They just thought that he was being disrespectful or that he was being a troubled child. But really, he was struggling with so many things. They didn't spot that?
No, they didn't. We were in Broward County at the time. I really did try and we tried a lot of different ways. I think that there's a certain type of person that falls between the cracks when you're not like in an inclusive classroom. He shouldn't have been in regular classes and no one ever, ever got that. I tried very, very hard. He needed an aide and by the end, we finally had some testing and I think in 11th grade I said we had to do something because he's failing basic functioning here. Can we do something? And I had something in mind that I wanted to do involving sending him to a special school. And he was denied that.
I wonder about the conversations you have with other mothers about maybe some of the stories that they can relate to. What are those conversations like?
It's funny because this was the essay I least wanted to publish, but I also felt like if it was published, I'm selling my kid out in order to have people read my work. I spoke with my son about this. He would turn 18 right around the time it was getting ready to be published. I said, 'We can do this or we can scrap the whole thing and we won't do it.' He says, 'Mom, if it helps somebody else, then put it out there, even in all of its hideousness.' The essay talks about some really horrible hard things. He thought maybe it'll help someone and I thought everything was going to go to hell.
I thought it's going to be really bad, my son's going to be targeted and I'm going to be targeted. I'll never work in this town again. After it published, I did find that it did seem to resonate with a certain group of parents and they're all online. It's called conduct disorder, which people under the age of 18 would be diagnosed with when they have a specific set of behavior problems. That was the community I found where people said, 'Oh, yeah, that's all your kid did?' There's a whole group of very, very thirsty, angry, frustrated, desperate parents out there who have children whose needs are not being met by psychologists or by school systems just like us.
Is reading more on your list of resolutions for 2020? Join the Sundial Book Club.
Host Luis Hernandez and WLRN producer Chris Remington contributed to the production of this interview.