Sunday, June 01, 2008

Beyond FANTASTIC: ROAD MAP TO HOLLAND by Jennifer Graf Groneberg

The month of May zipped by for me not only because it was crazy busy but because it was FULL; full of spring weeding, spring cleaning, spring kid stuff as yet another school year wrapped up (yippee!), spring celebrations, spring rejuvenations. Not the spa-type of rejuvenations (though I’m way overdue), but the thinking type. Reading Road Map to Holland by fellow mom/writer/blogger Jennifer Graf Groneberg proved to be one of the highlights of my ongoing journey to rejuvenate not only my reading mind but my education regarding the myriad challenges faced by women of my generation. During this past month, reading Jennifer’s book also provided the gentle prodding I often need to keep from dwelling on what I’m doing wrong in my various roles and focus on the next steps that need to be taken to do everyday things well.

“Leaving without the babies feels like a failure.” This line socked me in the stomach; it captures bluntly what many women feel at different stages of their lives, whether or not they’re moms. Jennifer and her husband had a little boy at home when they discovered they were going to have twin baby boys. When the babies arrive early and have to stay in intensive care, Jennifer reveals this utter sense of failure when she realizes she’ll have to commute a long way every day to see her newborn sons after her own hospital stay has ended. To top it all off, she’s just been told one of the babies shows possible signs of Down syndrome and is going to be tested for the chromosomal anomaly.

The first few chapters reveal how raw and vulnerable Jennifer not only felt but knew herself to be immediately following Avery’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. “We have a little house on a hilltop near a pretty lake,” Jennifer repeats at times, as though reciting a mantra. Indeed this little house represents much more than a home for her and her growing family throughout her story of finally bringing her babies home and of teaching her older boy, Carter, how to best help...especially how to help Avery. Her references to beloved books I shared with my son so many years ago (Carter calls their closest town “Busy Town” and compares Avery to Clifford the Big Red Dog when Clifford was a baby and grew and grew because he was so loved; Jennifer also refers to Margaret Wise Brown’s The Big Red Barn, which I can still recite from memory, and probably always will) contributed to the impression that I was listening to a really good friend talk about struggling through a series of events that not only altered her life but dismantled it, leaving her to pick up the pieces and figure out how best to rearrange them.

The repetitions of those first few chapters provide layers of meaning and impact I’ve rarely noted in a work of nonfiction. I can only imagine Jennifer wrote to herself in her darkest days in such a way to remind herself of what really mattered; to keep herself on track through a series of reminders that wrapped around her like an overlapping shawl, the same way she swaddled her babies in so many layers of love despite the weight of her fears and doubts, her concerns, her guilt.

Regret, too, plays a role here, but I did not find this book depressing. Instead, the demands of caring for three young children and the steps Jennifer took to help herself and her family infuse every section of this story with inspiration and hope. Frank hang-ups about asking for assistance are overcome, acceptance coupled with wonder are celebrated. All while tough lessons are learned as a new parent of a child with special needs.

“I missed so much,” Jennifer confesses, “irreplaceable moments lost to sadness and worry. It didn’t have to be this way. I wish I had known better. I wish I had known that all I had to do was love him.” What a relief for a new parent of a child with Down syndrome to hear that, or to read: “He asks so little of me, really—all the rest of it I put upon myself.” Or: “I’m struck by the moment. That life goes on.” The overall message I took from Jennifer’s writing is an immense sense of wonder and acceptance. This is a story of a woman who discovers her greatest joy is not to improve or push her loved ones to excel, but to realize she’s giving the greatest gift simply by teaching those she loves how to love. Sometimes we all need a friendly reminder—or a dramatic one if we’re really hard-headed—that THIS is what really matters. Or at least what ought to matter. Thanks, Jennifer, for the wake-up call.

11 Comments:

Blogger Lisa said...

This post made me want to cry. How true the ultimate lesson is. We always try to make things more complicated than they really are, to try to read more into the messages the universe sends than is really there and in the end, it's all about love, really.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Niksmom said...

think this is one of the most beautiful reviews I've read! But then , Jennifer's book IS pretty wonderful, isn't it?!

2:46 PM  
Anonymous jennifergrafgroneberg said...

Thank you for reading my book, and for writing about it. And thank you most for your open heart, that was willing to hear the words I was trying to say...

xo

5:57 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Hey, ladies! YES, Niksmom, I agree this book is a wonderful, insightful read. Jennifer, I'm so glad you enjoyed the review! It was a pleasure to write it. And Lisa, you're spot on. All we need is love. K.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Carleen Brice said...

What a powerful post and it sounds like a powerful book. I don't have children but I (sadly) can list way too many occasions that I too missed because of needless concern.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

I think we all can, Carleen! Which is why this book rings so true and has the potential to impact so many. Fingers crossed it gets the promotion it deserves! K.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Sherry/Cherie said...

What a journey. And Jennifer learned this valuable lesson -- of how much we miss when we are lost in our sadness or grief; lost in sorrow and worry. And then to realize -- sometimes just loving is enough. It's all we need. It covers all the bases. Powerful woman and a powerful story.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Mary Ann said...

A beautiful posting. Thank you for the reminder not to push the ones we love to excel. I may even stop pushing myself.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Mary Ann, such a good point we so often overlook! Thanks! K.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Burgess said...

Beautiful post. I nearly cried--imagine what the book will do.

Thank you for discussing this book. It sounds like a wonderful resource for all moms because, let's face it, all children have special needs. We sometimes get so wrapped up in all the day to day minutia, we forget to step back and be thankful for the bigger picture.

This will also be a wonderful recommendation for me to provide to parents I work with who are dealing with the sometimes overwhelming prospect of raising a child with moderate to profound MR. It sounds like it would offer up more than just the practical issues involved, but also address matters related to the heart of a mother and her precious family.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

You nailed it, Rebecca. This book offers all that and more. I read your comment the other day and tried to guess what MR refers to. I'll be touching base soon to learn more! K.

9:08 PM  

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