Twelve Years Ago + CRM Review: “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

 

I came across this Facebook post from seven years ago, and it started me thinking:

Five years ago today I was staring at the doctor’s face, listening while she told me my daughter had Down syndrome and she needed a blood transfusion (sort of, easier to explain it that way). I was shocked and didn’t know if I was up to the job. I was not sure what it meant to be the parent of a child with Down syndrome, even though I knew what Down syndrome was and had worked with kids with DS for years. It was scary. Ted was home, showering, coming back in a few. I called him to tell him what the doctor had said. We cried (now, knowing Katy, I wondered why I cried. It was the unknown) and he told me we would handle it. He got off the phone with me and Googled and learned everything he could. When he came to the hospital he was my light, my rock. “did you know they have a hockey league for DS kids?” he said excited. “When we open our restaurant, we will always have a job for her,” he said.

Two days ago, Katy turned 12. So let me expound on those seven year old thoughts a bit.

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about one week old

 

The doctor told me my daughter had Down syndrome, while also explaining that she had polycythemia–too many red blood cells. Really, though, I barely remember that part. I mean, I knew something was up, because the doctor was talking. But the first part of the conversation was blocking all other words.

 

My daughter had Down syndrome.

(A couple months later I was reading all the discharge papers about Katy, and realized what they had done the first few hours of her life. The had taken her blood, washed it, and put it back –basically — to get rid of some of her red blood cells.)

We had no idea before birth that she had Down syndrome. All the blood tests had come back normal, and, although I was on the edge of the age bubble, I didn’t have an amniocentesis, because it didn’t seem necessary and it wouldn’t have changed anything. Everything seemed ‘normal.’

I went into labor early. When she was born, both Ted and I wondered — she seemed to have some features of a baby with Down syndrome — but we only got a quick glimpse before they rushed her out to get her on oxygen (they had done the same with Libby, so we weren’t too worried about the oxygen part), and newborns are just plain squishy. Besides, it was almost 3:00 in the morning, and no one said a thing. So we put that worry aside. (Note to all: don’t do this to parents. Don’t rush the baby away and get all silent. A baby with Down syndrome may not be what parents are expecting, but it’s not a bad thing. Seriously.)

It was about four hours later when a doctor from our pediatrician’s office stopped by to tell me. And I did cry. I didn’t want to, I wanted to be better than that. But it wasn’t what I expected. I was crying because suddenly this was all unknown, pretty much, and I had no idea what I had done wrong (nothing).

In all honesty, at that point I was also wondering what people would think.

But mostly I was worried about how I was going to do this. Because, although I had worked with some individuals with Down syndrome as a volunteer, I had no idea how to raise a daughter with Down syndrome.

(I had no idea how to raise a daughter at all, as I was learning and still continue to learn with my both girls, but this added another dimension to what I didn’t know.)

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Katy at 4 months

I think this was the scariest day of my life. As I have the luxury of hindsight, I can say my fears were mostly unfounded (there were a lot of things I had to learn, but they pros have heavily outweighed the cons), but that doesn’t change how utterly terrified I was on that early morning.

And I was all alone. I don’t want you all to think that Ted (my husband) abandoned his wife who had just given birth. I SENT him home after I was settled in my room, before the doctor came to see me. He needed to shower and to get a few hours of sleep. And, in all honesty, I knew this was the quietest my life would be for awhile, the last few minutes of calm before we had two children under the age of two, and I wanted quiet. And I wanted to sleep. So I sent him home and was thankful for those few hours.

Until I needed him there.

But I called him, breaking the news quickly while I was crying. Bawling. He told me we could handle it (he was right). I called my mom. And then I let them make calls to others.

Ted came back to the hospital a couple of hours later and was full of information. Thank you, Google. He knew who to call and what was coming. He knew the good and the bad, thanks to Google. He was my strength and my calm.

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Katy at about 10 months

 

Those first couple of months were a whirlwind. She was healthy, and easy, and slept through the night at a pretty early age (I think about six weeks? Libby slept through the night after 2 weeks. We were lucky). She was a little fussier than Libby, but she was also easy to calm (hugs and love did it every time). She looked at her family (especially her sister!) with wonder and love.

And I remember looking at her when she was about three months old and thinking, “Huh. What was I so worried about? What was I upset about? I cannot imagine this girl any different. This is Katy, this is who she is. And she’s perfect.”

So, those are my thoughts two days after my daughter’s 12 birthday. She still amazes me everyday with her joy, her understanding of the others, her need to know and learn. She’s amazing, and she’s Katy. She’s our girl.

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12th birthday!!!!

 

Now, a review of the beautiful Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.


“Bad habits were all a matter of perspective, and as long as the present was viewed through the lens of the past, anyone would say he was doing a spectacular job.”
― Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

The Premise

This is the story of two families interminably intertwined through divorce, remarriage, and loss.

Fix and Beverly Keating are celebrating their  christening of their younger daughter, Franny, on a hot summer day in Southern California. Their small house is overflowing with people when Burt Cousins shows up uninvited. See Burt, a DA, needed to get out of his own house on a hot Sunday, away from his three kids and his pregnant wife. He remembers a fellow DA (as a former cop, his connection to the new father, also a cop, is as real his invitation to the party) mentioning the christening party, and he decides to drop in on the fun.

Unwilling to show up empty-handed, Burt grabbed an unopened bottle of gin, which he presents to the host upon arrival. The quiet party of overheated guests suddenly has a spark, as oranges begin to be juiced from the tree outback, and the gin seems to flow like water. Neighbors bring their own oranges as well as their alcohol, and the party slips into legendary status.

It is during that unlikely, legendary afternoon that Burt Cousins kisses beautiful Beverly Cousins, changing the life of everyone involved.

A few years later Burt and Beverly marry, and he takes her back across the country to settle near his family in Virginia, bringing the Keating girls, Caroline and Franny, with them. Fix is left behind in California, along with Burt’s ex-wife, Teresa, and his four children; Cal, Holly, Jeanette, and Albie.

During most of the summer, all six kids are left to their own devices in Virginia (which isn’t that different than the rest of the year for the Cousins kids, with a single mother forced to work long hours as a paralegal). This is the story of their triumphs and tragedies, their lives together and apart.

It’s years later, when Franny is lost without direction in her twenties, and she meets the famous author Leon Posen. The two begin an affair and she becomes his ‘muse.’ But, after years of not writing, the book Posen he finally publishes is based on the stories Franny tells him of her childhood, of her sibling and step-siblings, “ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another” (from the back cover).

My Thoughts

Oh. My. Goodness. I love this book.

Ann Patchett tells the story of the Keatings and the Cousins with honesty, grace and truth.

Told in shifting timelines and perspectives, Commonwealth is a very character-driven story. There are a few core stories and hidden truths that are shared between the characters, but much of is told through differing characters’ memories. The publishing of Posen’s novel, thinly disguised as their lives, doesn’t come until later in the book, but it is a catalyst making them all realize how much they all meant to each other.

Each of these characters is so alive and real, so well drawn and fleshed out, creating a bond between the reader and each character. Or at least for this reader.

Even the most minor of the characters seems real. That’s a feat.

This easily could have been a story of siblings and step-siblings that hate each other and fall into dysfunction. And I’m not saying that they don’t grow up with their issues, each living an adult life that is, in part, a reaction to their childhoods.

But they aren’t hateful about each other, at least not mostly. Observing kids and steps and halfs and all sorts of siblings, it seems that’s mostly the way it goes. Kids bond together, making their own sort of society, no matter what, in some way, shape, or form.

Commonwealth stunned me emotionally. Heart-wrenching, stunning, poignant, and eloquent.

Thank you Ann Patchett. Thank you. I needed that.

5 stars. And then 5 more stars. And then a few more. It’s that beautiful.

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Letting the Little Angers Go + CRM Review: “The Unseen World” by Liz Moore

10689830_10204796102963790_4910210136918653776_nOur Katybug is a bit of a Zen master. She’s very good at helping us put things into perspective. She has a way of forcing us out of our everyday rat-race cycle–you know, that whole groove that your life gets into? That groove, that when One. Little. Thing gets in the way or goes wrong, and you lose it because that One. Little. Thing just slowed your roll.

I call them

THE LITTLE ANGERS

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Those little eruptions that cause you to use the bad words under your breath. Those things that ruin you day just a little.

Katy’s world is very people driven. It isn’t about the ‘things’ that get in her way–she doesn’t let them ruin her moments. for her it’s all about how to make the day better, how to make herself and those around her happy from moment to moment.

(Note to all: There is no stereotypical individual with Down syndrome. There is no one individual that fits that stereotype “they’re always happy!” That includes Katy. She has her ups and downs, and she cries quite a bit. But her personality is more happy than not. That’s just her personality.)

Lately (since about this past summer) she’s been taking larger and larger exceptions to our little angers. When we trip over the shoe in the hallway or can’t get the remote to change the channel and let the bad words spew from our mouths (and we might get ‘angry eyebrows,’ as she calls it). When we get upset, she gets upset.

Katy (after an eruption of little anger): “Are you mad at me (or anyone else in my immediate vicinity)?”

Me (or whoever has erupted): “No, I’m mad at the (shoes, remote, t.v., whatever  . . .)”

Katy: “Oh, okay.”

Except one day, not too long ago, when I was particularly upset about the dishes not fitting JUST RIGHT into the dishwasher. This was the moment Katy did her Zen thing and put it all in perspective.

“Mom, the dishes can’t help it. Just do what you can and deal with it.”

DUH!!!

She’s right. All those Little Angers just raise the blood pressure and do nothing to alleviate the situation.

See-Zen. For Katy, a hug is real. A smile is real. Those are the things that should matter. I’m in charge of the dishwasher. The dishes can’t do anything — they can’t change their placement or their size or shape (or color for that matter–but how cool would it be if they COULD!!!).

Of course, she doesn’t see that sometimes getting angry at the dishes in the dishwasher is just a way to redirect the anger I feel at someone else. A boss, a client, a spouse. Sometimes it’s nice to vent over that door that won’t close right rather than the ruin a relationship that you need to remain intact. In other words, screaming at an inanimate object is much safer than yelling at your boss.

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But, beyond that, I’ll try to take the lesson. I’ll stop getting angry at the remote or the dishes or the door. At least while Katy’s around.

Now, onto my thoughts on The Unseen World by Liz Moore.


“Only humans can hurt one another, Ada thought; only humans falter and betray one another with a stunning, fearsome frequency. As David’s family had done to him; as David had done to her. And Ada would do it too. She would fail other people throughout her life, inevitably, even those she loved best.”
Liz Moore, The Unseen World

The Premise

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, computers and what the could do were the future. And David Sibleius was in the forefront of this new world.

And he’s raising his daughter to understand it all. As a single father, David teaches takes her to his computer lab at a Boston university, where he sort of home schools her. She’s part of the lab, understanding their research and mathematics at an early age. More comfortable with this group of adults than children, Ada longs for friends her own age, but is content in her cocoon.

One of the lab’s projects is a computer program called Elixir, which is a very early form of artificial intelligence. Throughout their lift together, both David and Ada use Elixir as a sort of diary, chronicling their lives, but there is so much more that it is learning to do.

At 12 and 13, Ada starts to notice cognitive changes in David. He starts forgetting basic things, gets flustered and angry more easily, and disappears for longer periods of time. After prodding by his friend Liston (a lab assistant and a single parent herself), David sees a doctor, and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His condition deteriorates quickly, and soon after he’s placed in a nursing home.

Suddenly Ada is forced into the world. She moves in with Liston and her three boys. She’s thrust into Catholic school, where she must learn the rules, both written and unwritten.

Ada also starts to realize that the few things she did know about her father are not real, and that she has no idea who he is. While coming of age in a new world, Ada must also unravel the mystery of her father.

With the help of the lab and Elixir (where David left clues to his true identity and his life before Ada), Ada attempts to unravel the story of her father. Where The Unseen World can finally be seen.

My Thoughts

The Unseen World is a beautiful story. Multi-layered and multi-dimensional, this book has so many facets that blend beautifully.

At its heart, The Unseen World is a coming of age story for the most socially awkward of teenagers. But it’s got a bit of everything: history, illness, family, love.

The computer science component is fascinating, taking readers back to a time when being ‘online’ was fantasy, and the precursors for the things that run our lives were being imagined and created from 0’s and 1’s.

The Unseen World also gives readers a glimpse at the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s, and the fast decline that can come from it.

But mostly this is a tale of Ada and her difficulty in adjusting not only to the ‘real’ world (as a young teen!), but also the mystery of who David really was, and hows and whys of how he became to be David Sibelius, the father of Ada.

Set mostly in the 1980’s, this book jumps forward with Ada to 2009, and backward with David to his earlier years.

I  loved The Unseen World. It’s different and smart, but with a lot of heart. Ada is a great character, and David’s great mystery brings it all together.

spicoli-awesome5 stars. Intelligent, heartfelt and original.