Loving a child with challenges: Review of The Book About James

  1. Review by Kathy Kuhl of The Book About James by Julia Gray – Thoughts from a parent of a child with challenges

When you discover you have a child with learning difficulties or any disability, you start on a journey. In The Book about James, Julia Gray frankly shares her story about her life with a son with disabilities. Her honesty, humor, raw emotion, and wisdom make this a good, quick read for anyone, especially for parents of children facing any challenges: visible or invisible.

Written in 21 short articles, The Book About James covers many topics, including:
  • homeschool and other schools,
  • therapists, and professionals,
  • siblings,
  • “It’s not all about soccer,” (and other good things we want for our kids)
  • fellowship with other parents of kids with challenges.
When her son was born, Julia admits that her initial, internal response to her now beloved son was that if he was a blessing, he was “a blessing I don’t want,” saying:
Friends …  will tell you of someone they know with Down syndrome, and you will hear the inevitable, “They are such a blessing.” To me, that phrase meant either they didn’t have the heart to tell you that your life would pretty much be drudgery from this point on, or they didn’t want to admit how uncomfortable the situation made them. (Kindle Location 549-551).
She traces her changing perspective on many things as she and her husband become something they never expected: parents of a child with special needs. She quickly became smitten with this child, and is quick to explain why she considers him a great asset to their family, but she is not saccharine.
While her perspective is based on faith in Christ, she has plenty to encourage and challenge any of my readers, regardless of your views.
She obviously doesn’t think she’s saintly. Her bluntness surprised me. I appreciate her frankness about herself:
  • “Proof once again, that I never worry about the right thing.”
  • “There are those who are purely in love and in awe from the moment their children are born… When I hear of people who have this story, I sincerely have to admire how together and assured they are. I always think, Wow, they are so much nicer than I am.”
I enjoy her insight not just into herself, but into human nature. In article 3, she challenges us to imagine we could choose our children in advance from a notebook describing what challenges each would face:
Hmm, let’s see. Page one . . . now here is a lovely little girl who has her father’s beautiful blue eyes and dimples. Oh, she has bad acne and some scarring as a teenager; we don’t want that. Flip on through to find a handsome young fellow with an incredible IQ. Unfortunately, he is also going to have asthma. We are a family of athletes. What if his asthma keeps him from being able to compete? Keep going. Difficulty learning to read— no… . Prone to tantrums until he is five— not a chance. Becomes a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys— horrors!
Would our own parents have chosen any of us? Would you have chosen the very children you so dearly love today? None of us are perfect. In fact, we all look downright undesirable on paper. (Kindle Locations 257-264).
On people she met because of having James:
So many interesting people came into our lives. Some people were helpful and filled with much-needed information. Some people were needy and gave me a chance to serve them, which is very empowering. Some people were arrogant and single-minded and had lots of knowledge about their “right” way, and I would benefit from their research. There were lots of families with lots of different philosophies from whom I could observe and gather insight. It was like I had my own experimental laboratory, and I could cherry-pick just the paths I wanted to pursue.
Fortunately, that was not all I would gain. We have made good friends, and they became the people we wanted to be around not just because we had to be with them. These were not miserable people making the best of what had been given to them. They were folks who knew the sadness we came from and knew that we had been wrong but held us under no judgment. (Kindle Locations 487-494).
 Watch a short interview with Julia Gray here, though the book is wiser and funnier.
How has your view of your child and of other people with visible and invisible disabilities changed since you discovered your child is different, or as I prefer to say “exceptional”? Answer in the comment section below, please.

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