Despite having already written a review of the book Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon I find myself feeling like I must bring it up again; it is one of those books that speaks to you long after you have finished reading it. However, this time my goal is to pull you into the struggle I have been having.
The process adds value
There are certain quotes from Solomon’s book that have been coming back to me more than others. These isolated recollections seem to be triggered by a combination of recent conversations I have had, some blogs that I frequent, as well as my experience as a husband and father. Certain quotes will pop into my mind and I find myself jotting it down in the notebook I carry with me or the Evernote app on my phone and tablet.
If I write a thought down it’s because I want to write about it; I want to expand on the idea and develop the thought. However, these thoughts coming from Solomon’s book have been difficult for me to verbalize. It is kind of weird, almost like my thoughts are not happening in words but some type of concept that is several ideas wrapped together. Also, as I looked over what I had recorded there seemed to be both common threads as well as conceptual gaps.
Over this past week there were at least four different times in which I sat down to write a post and as I began I changed my mind about the topic. I knew that I wanted to discuss these quotes but I couldn’t figure out how to approach them. The few approaches I thought were possible seemed to come up lacking when I stepped back to gain some perspective on them. Then it hit me. The missing element was the struggle I was having. I saw that the more I tried to create a framework the less power the quotes seemed to have. So I gave up on the framework.
The missing structure
The quotes I have chosen to include below are all from Andrew Solomon’s book Far From the Tree. It was published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. in November of 2012 and all of the references listed are for the Kindle Edition. The first quote sets the stage for the others and is based on the premise of horizontal identities that runs throughout the book.
The quotes below contain ideas that I believe to provide important insights into the experience pf parenting a child with Down syndrome or other disability. Those of us living in this reality often fight internal struggles. These are struggles over things like accepting our kids as they are or if we should push our kids to do more, to stretch their abilities. I don’t believe that many of life’s big questions like this have singular answers that work for all but we all need to arrive at an answer. What is your answer? If you don’t have one I understand but maybe we can talk about it together. Please let me know what you think about all of this.
Passages from Far From the Tree
The timeworn adage says that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, meaning that a child resembles his or her parents; these children are apples that have fallen elsewhere – some a couple orchards away some on the other side of the world. Yet myriad families learn to tolerate, accept and finally learn to tolerate, accept, and finally celebrate children who are not what they originally had in mind.
(Kindle Locations 125-127)
Parents’ expectations “invariably include that the child will be able to surpass, or at least attain, the parents’ level of socio-cultural accomplishment.” He continues, “When the child does not conform to this image, the parents often need help in adapting their behavior to the reality— they must learn to cope with the dissonance between their image of ‘a child’ and the reality of ‘their child.’” The tension often has less to do with the severity of the child’s disabilities than with the parents’ coping skills, the dynamics among healthy members of the family, and the importance the parents place on how people outside the family perceive them.
(Kindle Locations 7626-7631)
It is always both essential and impossible to tease apart the difference between the parents’ wanting to spare the child suffering and the parents’ wanting to spare themselves suffering.
(Kindle Locations 761-762)
The problem wasn’t that she wanted to control my life— although she did, like most parents, genuinely believe that her way of being happy was the best way of being happy. The problem was that she wanted to control her life, and it was her life as the mother of a homosexual that she wished to alter. Unfortunately, there was no way for her to fix her problem without involving me.
(Kindle Locations 217-220)
Michelle Smith, a financial adviser at Wachovia Bank, is a perfectionist, and it is not easy for perfectionists to have children with disabilities. She has displaced her perfectionism onto mothering; if there is a perfect way to handle having a child with a disability, Michelle Smith has found it. She has even done a perfect job of renouncing perfection.
(Kindle Locations 4104-4107)
Studies suggest that among people who carry to term, those with fewer material advantages may be less perfectionist and ambitious for their children, and therefore more readily accepting of the permanent dependence of children with DS. Some agencies specialize in arranging adoptions of children with DS; the head of one said to me, “I wish I could show you a list of the people who’ve given up their babies to me. It would read like Who’s Who in America.”
(Kindle Locations 4177-4180)
The more privileged woman had spent years futilely trying to make her son better. The less advantaged woman never thought she could make her son better because she’d never been able to make her own life better, and she was not afflicted with feelings of failure. The first woman found it extremely difficult to deal with her son. “He breaks everything,” she said unhappily. The other woman had a relatively happy life with her son. “Whatever could be broken got broken a long time ago,” she said.
(Kindle Locations 774-778)
Recent academic work suggests that people who know their condition to be irreversible are happier than those who believe their condition may be ameliorated. In such cases, ironically, hope may be the cornerstone of misery.
(Kindle Locations 734-736)
Wealth and ability are both relative concepts. There are broad spectra in all these areas, and wide, shadowy borderlands in mental and physical disability as there are in socioeconomic status. A broad range of people can feel rich— or able— in relation to the context they live in. When a condition is not stigmatized, the comparisons are less oppressive.
(Kindle Locations 685-687)