photo by Nell Mednick

About Survivor Mom

I am the surviving, 75 year-old mother of Peter Weisman who died of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in 1980. I wrote a book called Intensive Care: A Family Love Story about the experience. The book is about how a family struggles and often thrives, even under the constant threat of death. This blog is my cyber-sequel. From a survivor's vantage point, I'm going to blog, in honest detail, about how life was then, and how it is now. Expect to feel better.

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About Mary-Lou

I was born in 1937 in Fairfield, Connecticut to a mother who believed that writing thank you notes was a high art, and to a father who convinced me that one of life’s great joys was the pursuit of “le mot juste.”

I was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston in Weston, Massachusetts and at Bryn Mawr College and Brandeis University. Since the left side of my brain is the size of a chick pea, I had no option but to major in English and American literature. My professors suggested that I consider a career as a writer, but I wasn’t paying attention at the time. I had fallen in love with a classmate, Larry Weisman, and being a child of the 50’s, couldn’t wait to commit myself to a life of stunning conformity.

Upon graduation, I did what was expected of young women at that time, I got married. While Larry yawned his way through Columbia Law School, I supported us by working as a clerk-typist at the Oxford University Press. Once Larry had his law degree we moved to the suburbs, had two children, Adam and Peter, in the prescribed rapid succession. It wasn’t until I had met my child-bearing expectations that it dawned on me that decades of uncharted nothingness lay between me and my next role, grandmother. 

Just when I was wondering what I would do with the rest of my life, our two and one-half year-old son, Peter, was diagnosed with a fatal disease – Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He might live as long as twenty years, growing steadily weaker, becoming wheelchair bound by the age of seven. Suddenly I had two lives to save, Peter’s, if I could, and my own. I became a freelance writer, first working for a start-up regional newspaper, then for the New York Times, and ultimately for many major national magazines.

The feminist movement influenced me profoundly. For several years, I wrote a nationally syndicated column, “One Woman’s Voice,” and following that, the “Hers” column for the New York Times. Most often I wrote humor, often satire, which proved to be the perfect refuge from grief, although I also concerned myself with social issues, sometimes served up straight, sometimes with a dash of satire. I wrote a prize-winning cover story for The Atlantic Monthly on the controversial subject of institutionalizing children.

Peter died in 1980, at the age of 15 ½. In 1982 Random House published my first book, a memoir, Intensive Care. Two years later Liza Minnelli did a fine job of playing me in the movie version of the book.

Unable to make anything up except lies, I have always written non-fiction, often using myself, my husband and our marriage for inspiration. Larry has been saintly about allowing himself to be portrayed in one book or another as a thoughtless sonovabitch (Intensive Care) or a klutz and an obsessive compulsive (Traveling While Married).

My (Middle Aged) Baby Book, a best seller, was published in 1995 by Workman and is a parody of a baby book and a satire of middle age. Its premise was that the “firsts” of aging bear an uncanny, if retrograde, resemblance to the precious “firsts” of babyhood. In order to write this book, I had only to rely at my own graying hair, bulging tummy, upper arm swag, knee flaps and liver spots. Ten years later I wrote a revised edition, with an up-dated title, My Baby Boomer Baby Book.

Both Larry and I love to travel, but the very concept of vacationing often means different things to Larry than to me. Traveling While Married (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) is a collection of essays that resulted from 40 years of eccentric adventuring, from honeymoon to Elderhostel.

One of my favorite places is Provincetown, Massachusetts. For twenty years Larry and I owned an apartment in the same converted net drying shed where Al Jaffee and his wife, Joyce lived. I never intended to write a biography, but when Al told me the story of his life as a “reverse immigrant,” I felt compelled to write Al Jaffee’s Mad Life, which has turned out to be the happiest of collaborations, with words by me and over 70 original illustrations by Al. The book also represents a breakthrough of sorts in my writing career; it is the first time I haven’t cannibalized my own life or the lives of my loved ones. This has proven to be a great relief to a number of people, myself included.

I’ve taken some detours from the literary straight and narrow, including writing a movie script for Paramount Productions, working as an editor at Womans Day, teaching memoir and personal essay writing at Norwalk Community College and the New School University in New York, and contributing on air essays and commentary to Public Radio International.

I am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, PEN and the Authors Guild. I live in Westport, CT where I’m still married to Larry who is still a lawyer. Our son, Adam, his wife, Rebecca, and our three grandchildren live too far away, in Tucson.