The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that in this bitterness delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
“The Poems of Our Climate”
All parents have to learn to accept and love their children for who they are and not what they want them to be.
This lesson comes that much sooner and harder for parents of children who are significantly different than they are. In their cases, the apple, or child, falls from the tree.
Andrew Solomon‘s recent book “Far from the Tree”, describes situations that could cause major disappointment and regret– kids who have schizophrenia, autism, down syndrome, dwarfism, and other disabilities, as well as children of rape, who are prodigies, who are transgender and who commit crimes. Solomon is interested in how these parents come to love their children.
Andrew Solomon’s posits that most children learn their identities through vertical relationships, that is from their parents. Children who are significantly different from their parents learn who they are from horizontal relationships, or peer groups. Parents of these children must learn to love “across the divide” and if we can learn how they do this, we will also learn to accept difference and thus develop a more tolerant society.
While Solomon sets out to tell us how these parents have crossed the divide, sadly, I think he failed in his purpose. Despite the myriad of stories and facts about each of the types of children who fall far from the tree, I could not understand why most parents continue to love and some do not.
It was as if Solomon could not keep on task. He wanted to tell us so much, in such great detail, the larger picture failed to emerge. He needed a good editor of the 700 pages.
Despite that, the reading is fascinating. The chapter I found the most compelling was the one on parents whose children had committed crimes. The interview with the Sue and Tom Klebold, almost broke my heart. They are the parents of Dylan, one of the two senior students behind the Columbine Massacre, who killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves.
When asked what they would want to ask Dylan if he were in the room, his mother replied ” I would ask him to forgive me, for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head, for not being able to help him, for not being the person that he could confide in.”
What mother hasn’t felt that way at times?
That interview, more than anything else in the book, reminded me how vulnerable we all are as parents. And while the book may be confusing sometimes, it’s value lies in teaching us how important it is to be compassionate and understanding of each other as parents. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
That lesson, and others, are there is be learned, but wading through the material is difficult. Readers may like to limit their reading to the first chapter, “Son” when Solomon talks about his own experiences as a child growing up dyslexic and gay; another chapter that might reflect your personal experience, one other chapter and the final chapter “Father” in which he speaks about his experience about becoming a father.
If you want to read more, take it slowly and read something else in between chapters. It’s too daunting otherwise.
How has having an exceptional child affected your life? Has it changed you? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments in the Reply Box below.
You may also like to read the Guardian review of this book.