NEWS

Celebrating the imperfect world in new book

Meghan Kelly

Sisters Gina Gallagher and Patty Konjoian are imperfect, and they’re not afraid to admit it.

During a joint interview, the Maynard natives (née Terrasi) both peppered their comments with statements about their lack of perfection. After getting this reporter’s name wrong, Gallagher apologized and said, “I’m terrible with names… I’m imperfect!”

This quest for imperfection is chronicled in their book, “Shut Up About… Your Perfect Kid!” Both women have daughters with disabilities and use their natural sense of humor to vent about society’s obsession with perfection and some of the challenges they’ve faced with their daughters.

Gallagher’s daughter, Katie, is 12 and has Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by normal intelligence and cognitive skills but with some social and emotional awkwardness, according to the Autism Society of America.

Konjoian’s daughter, Jennifer, is 14 and has bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic depression. Those with bipolar disorder often suffer from dramatic mood swings, along with severe changes in energy and behavior, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.

The book tackles a delicate subject, but one that has garnered the sisters a “fabulous” reaction, said Gallagher. They expected a lot of criticism but people read the book and see it’s not angry or making fun of anyone — it’s celebrating their daughters’ differences.

“Our book is a lot like what we’re asking people to do… don’t judge the book by its cover,” said Gallagher, who lives in Marlborough.

“The alternative is just too darn depressing,” said Konjoian, who lives in Andover.

Historically, people wanted to keep mentally ill or disabled children out of sight and out of mind, said the sisters. But with their book, the women are able to talk about and discuss their daughters in the same way any parent would.

Their book has also been well-received by parents of “average” children fed up with society’s emphasis on perfection and high standards, the sisters said.

Gallagher and Konjoian began writing the self-published book about two years ago and it was published in February 2007.

The sisters kicked off their Imperfection Tour 2008 — part book tour, part support group and part comedy troupe — this week. They will read excerpts from the book and speak about the imperfection movement, said Konjoian.

The talks are “a lot of fun,” said Konjoian. At some previous talks, the sisters have the audience list their imperfections, something many audience members were proud to do, she said.

They wear it like a badge of honor: “I’m imperfect and damn proud of it,” said Konjoian.

It’s also a parenting workshop, said Gallagher. The talks are appropriate for all parents — those with children with disabilities and those without. Teachers and clinicians can apply it toward professional development credits, said Konjoian.

The women’s parents, also known as their “senior shipping department,” still live in Maynard and mail out the books.

“When our talks weren’t that well-attended we could at least count on [our parents] being there,” said Konjoian.

Despite the laughs, the sisters acknowledge the strength they and their respective families have in each other.

“[Jennifer] and Katie are close. They are each other’s confidantes because some days, despite their different diagnoses, they feel like they’re the only ones who understand each other. We’re very lucky,” wrote Konjoian in an e-mail.

The sisters will be speaking as part of their Imperfection Tour 2008 at the Maynard Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. They will also be at the Bedford Library on Tuesday, Jan. 22 and Westford High School on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Their book is for sale at shutupabout.com.

Author appearances

Monday, January 14: Weston PAC, Weston, MA

Thursday, January 16: Newton PAC, Burr Elementary School, Newton, MA

Tuesday, January 22: Bedford Library, Bedford, MA

Thursday, January 24: Maynard Library, Maynard, MA

Thursday, February 7: Sturbridge ASK-PAC, Sturbridge, MA

Thursday, February 21: North Shore Children's Hospital, Salem, MA

Tuesday, February 26, 2008: Westford, PAC, Westford, MA

Saturday, March 1: Federation for Children conference, Boston, MA

Wednesday, March 5: Springfield PAC, Springfield, MA

Thurs, Fri and Sat, March 6 - 8: NAMI East Madison County, IL

Thursday, March 13, Billerica Public Library, Billerica, MA

Thursday, March 20, Dedham, SEPAC, Dedham, MA

Saturday, March 29, Bradley Hospital, Providence, RI

If you have an event you'd like the Shut Up Sisters to speak at, please e-mail  them at info@shutupabout.com. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it or call the Shut Up Line at 978-857-4566.

Reporter Meghan B. Kelly can be reached at 978-371-5758 or mkelly@cnc.com.