Back in the 1970’s Buzz Bissinger, best known for the book Friday Night Lights, watched as his twin boys were born 13.5 weeks early and three minutes and three ounces apart. And although it doesn’t seem like it should, those three minutes and three ounces made all the difference to you younger twin, Zach. Because of them, Zach, unlike his brother Gerry, suffered irreparable trace brain damage that have left him mentally retarded, unable to process the abstract, but with a savant’s memory, especially in the field of calendaring. This book chronicles a road trip Zach and Buzz made one year to all of the places in the country they had once lived. For Zach, it’s a pleasurable chance to visit places and people he wants knew (and still remembers as if it were yesterday), and although he enjoys the trip, he would have rather flown. For Buzz the trip is a much more complicated endeavor that has him trying to reconcile the guilt and difficulties he’s had not just with a child with special needs but with his parenting and relationships in general.
And that is where the bulk of the book lies. The road trip provides the metaphorical journey and the setting for various revelations and epiphanies, but real the heart of the book is Buzz coming to grips with his own perceived flaws: his vanity, his insecurities, and his guilt that he still can not set aside the preconceived notions of what a “son” should be as opposed to the son he actually has. When worded that way, the book sounds harsh, and Buzz is harsh on himself. There is no hiding behind his pen; every gut-wrenching, heart-breaking feeling is explored and analyzed, sometimes with devastating consequences. It’s one of the most honest, and hard-to-read memoirs I’ve ever read, yet I had trouble putting it down.
It’s also one of the few books I’ve ever read that actually made me cry. This wasn’t because the book or even the material is so sad, but merely because I identified so much with the content. Especially powerful for me was the idea of tiring of the stagnation of life — for Buzz it was the fact that he’s been playing the same night-time game with his son since the age of six — nearly 20 years at this point. I have felt a similar despair when at the almost age of 3 my child still can’t tell me what’s wrong when he’s sick. The only thing I can tell a doctor is that he’s lethargic with a fever, the same information I used to give when he was an infant. It’s hard to get past that feeling of being trapped by something that can’t be controlled. It was refreshing for someone else to also admit how hard it is.
In fact, in many ways this book was what got me to start this blog. Many people, knowing I was a writer, have wondered why I haven’t written about this emotional roller-coaster that my husband and I have been going through with our son. Many people find it to be thought-provoking, possibly even useful to others. And that, may or may not be true. But even placing the possible usefulness of such a site aside, I was reluctant to write about what I really feel because frankly it’s embarrassing and not politically correct. It’s easily open to misinterpretation. Many people (especially those who have never dealt with evaluations and possibly autistic children and the like) don’t understand the feelings of frustration and anger and occasional hopelessness that I have. Well-meaning (but incredibly annoying) people have said I shouldn’t have them. Sometimes I agree, but of course that doesn’t make feelings go away. The point of this blog is to help me and people like me — the frustrated parents of normal and special children alike — find a place where we can help one another cope.
And for all this I have to thank Buzz Bissinger for having the courage to write about the good and the ugly side of dealing with a special needs kid. I want him to thank him for bringing his guilt over his parenting into the light for the rest of us to see. After all, his guilt isn’t that different from mine or many other parents; he just had the guts to tell us about it. And for that, I am greatful.
If you have ever felt guilty over not being happy with every single aspect of your child, read this book.