Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Filling my mind up

"I have a story that's really going to fill your mind up: Jack and the Beanstalk. Will that really fill up your mind?"  (Molly, 4)

Molly's use of language often makes me stop and think. What does the expression "fill your mind up" mean? I had to wait for her to use it a few times to learn that she uses it in two senses: to become completely interested or absorbed in something; to restore the mind to its natural state, as she sees it, maintaining an intellectual homeostasis of sorts.

I have been trying to fill my mind up in more than one sense, too. Procrastination takes many forms and mine is usually black, rectangular, and has at times a sluggish WiFi connection; recently, however, thinking about Molly's words caused a tinge of guilt because I would have happily set aside my Kobo Vox for a while just to watch some television.

Luckily, instead, I found Dani's Story: A Journey from Neglect to Love (by Diane and Bernie Lierow with Kay West) the other day while browsing on my ereader though I should have been more concerned about a deadline.

Dani's Story  traces the relationship between a family hoping to adopt and an eight-year-old girl so seriously harmed by her upbringing that she functions at the level of an infant. Definitely, this is heavy subject matter and might not work its way easily into casual conversations that begin with, "So, read anything interesting lately?"

It sounded so promisingly similar to books that I had read as a teen* which usually dated back to the late 60s, 70s or early 80s, were written by a sociologist, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, a teacher, a parent...and which told a story about life/work with a child that had special needs. I devoured those books! (And I only just recently thought to ask myself: why were these books scattered throughout my childhood home?) 

Generally, in these books the trajectory started at a poor/devastating prognosis and ended at an against-all-odds reversal of a condition but not always. There was oftentimes a bittersweet ending and, less often, a very sad one; but each book that I read (and the number must be in the dozens) required some sort of emotional commitment that I did not mind (and, admittedly, that can be a deal-breaker because reading decisions are often mood-linked for me).

Because I was unaware of Dani's story through the media, I am glad that I stumbled upon this book because it speaks to the remarkable qualities of fragility and resilience that can be found in a human being in equal measure and by which I have always been both bemused and amazed. I was engrossed from the outset--the description of the initial meeting of everyone involved in Dani's story--until the topic of the eventual media coverage that culminated in appearance on Oprah.

At any rate, I think that I can seen why Molly enjoys the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Among others, it contains a very apt message: what appears to others to be an unwise or incomprehensible decision can actually yield wonderful, unexpected results.

Think about it. Jack sold his impoverished family's cow for beans but ended up restoring his family's rightful material status, and he lived happily ever after with his mother.

I laboured at the last minute to meet a deadline because I had chosen to read when I should have been working, but the book reconnected me to the nonfiction of my youth; it also unburied memories of discovering the books around my home. My ostensibly unwise decision enabled me to experience the story of Dani and her family. I spend so much of my reading life these days absorbed in the details of the human body that it is great to be reminded of life itself and of the powerful surge of admiration that the sheer mental strength of another such as Dani can inspire.

Naturally, the Lierows' decision was by far more important than my own. They chose to adopt a child with different needs than they had originally imagined for their family, and, as they note, the decision was met with skepticism at best or outright discouragement by some unexpected sources. Certainly, the details of Dani's past are horrifying and unfathomable but in the details of her recovery there are so many rewards.

In Dani's case, the Lierows watched a child come to life as her world filled with love and light. Where others saw only futility and tragedy, the Lierows saw potential and happiness; where others assumed Dani could not form attachments, the Lierows recognized that their initial meeting with Dani established a connection. As a result, they all ended up with the family that they wanted and, it appears, needed.

At several points, the Lierows mention that their other children helped throughout the adoption process because their behaviour was unencumbered by prejudice and bias. Coincidentally, shortly after I had finished reading Dani's Story, Devyn said, "Why can't everyone just see that everyone is different and then help whenever someone else needs it?" I then realized that Devyn, at eight years old, is so very strong. She defends others on the playground even if it means losing friends; she, too, sees ability where others see disability.

How easy it is to forget that children are great teachers! After reading Dani's story, I paused to gather my thoughts before jumping into another book. I realized that it is impossible to keep track of just how much and how often I learn from my children, but I do, in fact, learn: from Molly because she thinks outside the box, has her own special language that causes me to think, and reminds me that the veil of common sense sometimes distorts; from Devyn because she becomes the voice and the strength of others when they need it on the playground and because she instinctively is the change that she would like to see in the world. So, problem-solve creatively, express yourself, and trust your judgement; help others and don't preach about it--just do it. I like those messages. Thanks, girls.

Dani's website: http://www.danisstory.org/


one of the few titles in my recollection:
Lovey: A Very Special Child 
Mary MacCracken
(Signet, 1978).  


This Stranger, My Son 
Louise Wilson
(Signet, 1969).

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