I discovered Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s writing too late to include her in my anthology, but hers is one voice I covet. Groneberg was clearly a writer long before she became the mother of Avery, a fraternal twin with Down Syndrome. Her essays about mothering and being a woman in the West (she lives in small mountain town in Montana) have been published in several anthologies. A few years ago, her essays on Avery started popping up on Literary Mama, Mamazine, and other websites. Now Groneberg is the author of a memoir, Road Map to Holland, a moving and beautifully written account of her first two years as Avery’s mother.
We’ve all heard that children with Down syndrome are sweet and loving, God’s chosen ones, or whatever, and that parents of special needs children are somehow saintly and blessed. We’ve also heard about would-be parents who automatically abort fetuses with Down syndrome in order to avoid suffering (supposedly the child’s suffering, as well as the parents’). These cultural assumptions are easy and comfortable and allow us not to think too much.
In this book, Groneberg goes beyond the stereotypes. She doesn’t seek to comfort, but instead offers an honest account of giving birth to and living with Avery – an individual with likes and dislikes and various abilities.
The obvious audience for this book is mothers of children with special needs, but I think it would be great if everyone read Road Map to Holland. Until very recently, the lives of families with special needs children have been pretty much absent from literature. Reading this book is like stepping into a new frontier. The world of special needs families is indeed another country. Maybe not Holland, exactly, but someplace wondrous and surprising.