That’s what you get when you have a baby: unknowns. Its birth date is often a guess, length and weight are surprises. Will it have your eyes, long fingers, dad’s smile, grandma’s nose? Fill in the blanks: not boy, not girl, but as in the new memoir, “Raising Ollie” by Tom Rademacher, neither, thank you.
When his daughter, Olive, was an infant, Tom Rademacher says he “struggled in those early months…to enjoy much of parenting…” There were vast amounts to learn, and little “Ollie” was a patient teacher.
As a toddler, Ollie was particularly talented in language and arts, attributes their teacher-father and therapist-mother encouraged. Early on, they were super-observant, wise, and curious about completely everything; when they were in second grade, suspicions that they were an intelligent kid were confirmed when they were labeled as an “advanced learner.”
But school was a trial, even for an uber-smart seven-year-old.
Ollie suffered from anxiety. They hated crowds and making friends and unwanted attention; they had the wit, open-mindedness and understanding of an adult sometimes, but with little-kid coping skills. Normally a voracious lover of learning, they began to dread each school morning, and they seemed tearfully fearful of some classes and teachers. Obviously, a change in schools was needed; Ollie did their own research.
Shortly after starting third grade, Olive, who prefers “daughter” and uses they/them pronouns began loudly, confidently, assertively identifying as a nonbinary kid.
At around this same time, their father had school issues of his own. A 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Rademacher had been unemployed due to budget cuts but was beginning a semester teaching language arts to eighth graders in northeast Minneapolis. He was also working on how to offer the best support for his students, just as he wanted for his child…
“Raising Ollie” is absolutely delightful. It’s filled with funny stories that will make you laugh. It’s a peek inside today’s classroom with a teacher who offers relatable lessons to a notoriously tough audience of teens.
It’s also less than half about actually raising Ollie.
Author Tom Rademacher starts this memoir with a teasing warning to readers that stories are important in his family. He fulfills his promises to tell tales about his life, his parents, racism and his efforts to eliminate it in the schools where he works, and the stellar students he’s had. His stories make you want to be seated at his table at a conference and yes, he tells stories about his smart, funny, talented child who is an “art-nerd” and loves cosplay and wore girly dresses until about age seven – but just not enough.
These are sometimes-hilarious tales of a Midwesterner growing-up, idyllic and happy and nostalgic, followed by a typical, angsty, identity-searching teenage-hood.
But Ollie? Just not enough. Sigh.
Teachers will adore this book. There are laughs all over the place for just about every reader who can appreciate a little self-depreciation. But, if you’re looking for a parenting book about rearing a nonbinary child, “Raising Ollie” may leave you blank.