“The Year My Son and I Were Born” A Review (for guys too)

The_YearIn an instant life can change. A single event can change all that happens downstream from that moment. This not a new insight and there are few who could not point to an occasion where a tiny blip in time caused entirely new trajectories to bubble up and change everything about their life. Perhaps a wrong turn at the library led to finding a spouse. Maybe a decision to not to stop for a burger led to a major accident, or a job was found through a chance encounter a shopping market. These kinds of events are the hallmark of what are known as chaotic systems. Chaos, unlike what we commonly mean when use this to describe the confusion of the uncontrollable, is defined formally in complexity theory as sensitivity to initial conditions. A small effect upfront has enormous downstream effects. Look at your children and you will see an example of this. Which particular sperm and an egg met, is an occurrence conditioned on zillions of possibilities and bifurcation points. Recombination in DNA ensures that our children are built half from the male genetic code and half the female, but it is a random draw as to which half gets taken from each. Also, chemical reactions at this level vary and many divergent pathways are possible. Tiny changes. Huge downstream effects. Chaos.

Kathryn Lynard Soper’s new book, The Year my Son and I were Born, explores the downstream effects of a nondisjunction event in chromosomal separation causing her child to be born with extra-genetic material in chromosome 21. Down Syndrome. That’s the techno-jargon for the very real human story that is the subject of this book—a book about chaos in all the meanings of the word we ascribe to it.

Soper describes challenges that made my head spin. She does this with gorgeous, graceful writing (and if you’ve read her blog posts you know what I mean), shining wit, playfulness and with breathtaking honesty. It’s the honesty that struck me most. She is devastated to find out her son Thomas has Down Syndrome. She does not pull any punches in describing the nuances of what she goes through and the upheaval she experiences in facing a lifetime of changed expectations and hopes. Kathryn has to rewrite much of the script she had penned for her life. This readjustment is hard work and she faces it with confusion, dismay and depression. That’s why this book is so important. She (according to our expectations set by Ensignesque stories) should be facing it with courage, determination, and faith that all is according to God’s plan. But that is not how it plays out in the book. And that is why this book is so important. She takes us to the trenches of how it feels to face this sort of life’s rewriting without suggesting that it all turns out OK in the end or that she has figured it all out.

The insights gained from my reading have real heft. I was going to hold up some of the gems of wisdom I took from the book—about everything from motherhood to Down Syndrome. But I’ve decided that reading the book itself, rather than filtering her insights through my own lens is the best way to experience these. She is a stunningly refreshing realist. And as such she torpedoed several stereotypes I had about Downs—and in doing so, does not sentimentalize their place in the world.

I also learned lessons about motherhood, so a shout out to men (and as far as I can tell this is the first review by a male). I’ve never read a book like this that took me into the mind of a woman expressing herself so honestly and completely. It made me rethink some of the expectations men and woman have of each other (And by expectation I don’t mean how much men help, Kathryn’s husband seems to be almost saintly in his efforts compared to how I think I would run in circles of cluelessness and inaction). So I’m not talking about the division of labor in a husband and wife’s responsibility. I suppose I did not see before the emotional depth of what it means to be a mother. The self-doubt. The confusion of multiple expectations. The constant demands. And demands. And demands. I learned things I never quite got. So this is not just a woman’s book (as I expect the target audience will be), for me it was a window into the female side of things. Deep and wise existential stuff here. Of course ‘Let’s give men some insights’ is not why Kathryn was writing, but it was a side benefit I lapped up.

In short, this is an important book for several reasons. Read it. Give it as gifts. Ladies give it as gifts to your husbands.

And um don’t read it in public. Here is the scene. I’m laying on the hammock stretched between our apple trees in my backyard reading. My wife comes up and I don’t notice she is standing there.

She accuses me, “Are you crying?”

I answer, “NO.”

“Yes you are, what are you reading?”

I, embarrassed at being caught, hold up Kathryn’s book.

Bookmark “The Year My Son and I Were Born” A Review (for guys too)

Comments

  1. SteveP,
    This is the best review of Kathryn’s book I’ve read. A lot of the reviews seem to see it only as a book for people who have a child with Down’s Sybndrome, or for people to understand what it is to have a special needs child. It is not. I got so much out of this book.

  2. Amen. I cried all the way through. Every parent needs this book.

  3. Steven thanks for this review, and Kathryn, than you for writing this book.

    It is wonderful, and I have a testimony that it is true.

  4. I almost cried just reading the review. Sounds like a book I will definitely need to get.

  5. I think that a lot of people need to read this book. We had a young man in our ward that was father and mother to his down’s daughter. When I was RS president I had a lot of opportunity to work and visit with him and was amazed at how he handled things. Amazing review.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I bet this is the only review of the book that makes its entree to the subject via chaos theory. A great approach to the subject, SteveP.

  7. Thomas Parkin says:

    The best thing, of all the great things, about Sister Soper’s wonderful book, imo, is her willingness to show woundedness. There are very few things our LDS culture needs more than a willingness to show our wounds.

    I also felt an immense amount of personal pride that I not only share a first name name, but also a middle name, with her “luminous” son. :) ~

  8. Thank you, SteveP. You know a review is successful if it makes someone want to actually go and read the book. You = WIN!

  9. Clay Whipkey says:

    My wife’s brother has Down Syndrome. He is 34. He is in some ways the heart of this extended family, and in some ways the catalyst for chaos. Think of all those times when your young children are moody, stubborn, or throw little tantrums when things don’t go their way. Many parents comfort themselves by thinking its just a phase and it won’t always be like that. For my parents-in-law, this phase has never ended, and never will until either he or they pass away. They have raised him and loved him with extraordinary grace, but not without some pretty hard moments.

    And that is not to say its all hard roads. He is often a beacon of innocence and simple love for us. I am personally proud to call him “brother”.

  10. What a great shoutout.

    I love your perspective on how it helped you as a man to understand the depths of motherhood. For all that Kathy’s life has faced extra complexity, I was moved that you sensed that some of the complexity is inherent in motherhood.

    I feel privileged to call Kathy a friend, and to learn from her as a writer and wise woman.

    One quibble I have with this review is that I felt somehow by laying it out in stark contrast w/ “Ensignesque” material, somehow it left me feeling a little like the “courage, determination, and faith” that is also present in her journey was not acknowledged. I don’t think the realism and honesty left those characteristics out. (As a side note, I also think Ensignesque material sometimes does a better job at realism than we want to give it credit for.)

  11. o learn from her as a writer and wise woman.

    Just to be clear — I learn from her skills as a writer, and from her wisdom as well. (I’m tired.)

  12. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Steve, this review means a great deal to me. Thank you.

    Thanks, also, for these generous comments, everyone. I’m grateful to have such readers. And m&m, you’re a wise woman yourself.

  13. You are welcome Kathy, your book deserves much attention!

    And if you want to see Thomas’ first year look at this:

    –Wonderful!

  14. I loved the book, and I honestly don’t know anyone with Down Syndrome. But my second child’s delivery was sudden, traumatic, and left me with severe PPD so I could easily relate to that aspect of the book. I also appreciated the honesty and the love that come through; even though we love our children, parenting also includes a lot of difficult moments too.

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