Just Like Other Daughters
About the Book:
Alicia Richards loved her daughter from her very first breath. Days later, when tests confirmed what Alicia already knew—that Chloe had Down syndrome—she didn’t falter. Her ex-husband wanted a child who would grow to be a scholar. For Alicia, it’s enough that Chloe just is.
Now twenty-five, Chloe is sweet, funny, and content. Alicia brings her to adult daycare while she teaches at a local college. One day Chloe arrives home thrumming with excitement, and says the words Alicia never anticipated. She has met someone—a young man named Thomas. Within days, Chloe and Thomas, also mentally challenged, declare themselves in love.
Alicia strives to see past her misgivings to the new possibilities opening up for her daughter. Shouldn't Chloe have the same right to love as anyone else? But there is no way to prepare for the relationship unfolding, or for the moments of heartbreak and joy ahead.
With grace and warmth, Colleen Faulkner tells an unflinching yet heartrending story of mothers and daughters, and of the risks we all take, both in loving and in letting go.
Some of the most difficult decisions parents of handicapped children have to make involve deciding how normal to allow their child to be. My autistic son isn't interested in social relationships so I'm not particularly worried about him coming home one day declaring he is in love. For us, the main decisions so far have involved driving, and our choice has been a compromise--yes, he does drive but we limit where and when. Chloe in this book isn't autistic, she has Down's Syndrome, and like the stereotypical Down's Syndrome, she's affectionate. This is the story of her love life. Eventually, her mother makes much the same choice about marriage that we have made about driving--yes, she allows Chloe to marry, but she puts up limits in an attempt to protect her daughter (and herself and society).
The book is told in the first person in three voices. Most of the story is told in flashback by Alicia. Every now and then we hear Chloe's take on the scene Alicia has just related. Then, there are periodic episodes that tell us how Alicia is feeling now, but we don't realize until the end why the story is told that way.
The characters were an interesting lot. Alicia is a college professor of English at a small liberal arts school. Her department head is her ex-husband, Russell, who seduced her when she was a graduate student, and who left her for another graduate student. Her best friend lives next door. Jin is a lesbian who raised a son with another lesbian. Jin and Abby have gone their separate ways but are considering a reconciliation. Mark is a plumber who becomes a good friend to Alicia (who of course would not consider a relationship with a blue collar guy). Thomas is Chloe's love and he loves Thomas the Tank Engine too. Chloe loves kittens and Disney movies. While Alicia is a Quaker who quit believing when God gave her a handicapped child, Thomas's parents are still married to each other and are devoutly religious. They see the sexual attraction between Thomas and Chloe as and indication that they should marry.
One topic the book makes you consider is the nature of marriage and intimate relationships. Thomas and Chloe love each other and enjoy being with each other. They also enjoy sex with each other. However, they are also like a couple of six year olds; when it comes right down to it, they'd prefer to be home at night and of course each has a different home. Their relationship reminded me of a couple of six or seven year olds, with the addition of sex drives.
The book also deals with Alicia's romantic life. She remembers how she became involved with Russell, and why they split. She tries dating several guys and listens to a counselor tell her that she is using Chloe as a shield from romantic involvement. Will she find love? Will she recognize it?
Another topic touched on is what to do with adult handicapped children as far as living arrangements. Russell and the counselor wonder if Alicia is overly protective; not allowing Chloe as much independence as she is able to handle. It is mentioned that one advantage of a group home is that it provides continuity of care even after the parents pass away. That's another topic we've thought about. My son has made it clear that he has no desire to move out. Now, his level of independence is far higher than Chloe's. He has real high school diploma, he can get himself where he needs to be when he needs to be there. While I might not trust him to babysit a helpless infant or a clueless toddler, I don't hesitate to leave my nine year old with him, and have done so for a couple of years. He cleans my house and is able to fix meals. What he hasn't been able to do is find a job. I also question whether he could manage the details of life like bills, though we've never given him the chance to try. Do we allow him to live with us indefinitely? It is certainly no bother for us, and honestly, having someone else to do the housework is handy. But what about when we are gone? My dad wanted him to live with him as a caretaker/housemate, but my son didn't want to be away from home long-term (my dad lives 80 miles away). If we don't provide some sort of transition plan, dealing with my son will be left to my daughters. Who knows where they will choose to live, or how their husbands (if they marry) will deal with their autistic brother.
You'd think that having a handicapped child would make you more compassionate towards and less judgmental of other handicapped people, and I'll admit that I'm a work in progress in that regard. I had to smile when one of Alicia's response to realizing Chloe was in love was to think how retarded Thomas looked and acted (he did not have Down's syndrome, his physiological appearance was normal) followed by a realization that the term "retarded" was offensive to her. I get the same reaction when I see the autistic young adults in my son's group. My beloved son isn't like that, is he? Yes, he is. He's not the same of course, just like my daughters aren't just like their friends but yes, I can see why people who do not know him do not react well to him.
Well, I've written quite a bit. Yes, this book touched me. I liked the characters, I liked the respect for all human life, I liked the realization that even the parents of handicapped kids aren't perfect when it comes to attitudes about the disabled. I'm giving this one an A. Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.