“Far From The Tree”: Our Children Are Not Us

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I’ve basically given up on listening to music when I run. It’s all podcast everything these days. In fact, this morning I was so riveted by an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air¬†that I was thinking about keeping the run going, long past mileage goal, just so I could hear the last bits of the show. The rain made the call for me, but I stood there by the front door mat, just listening.

Fresh Air host Terry Gross was talking to Andrew Solomon about his new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. It’s a giant book (1,000 pages) tackling an enormous idea: learning to accept and love your exceptional child. And by “exceptional,” Solomon means children who are profoundly different and atypical and “by external standards” possibly hard to embrace. Children coping with autism, dwarfism, Down syndrome, schizophrenia, and severe disabilities. Children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who are transgender, and who become terrifying criminals. He even interviewed Susan and Tom Klebold, the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the two teenagers responsible for the Columbine school shooting.

In the NPR interview, Solomon does the best job of explaining what the book is about:¬†“Parents can love almost anyone who is presented to them as their child and that love has a compelling urgency to it that rises above any difficulty.”

Hearing Solomon talk so eloquently and with such compassion for the 300(!) families he spoke to in order to write the book makes me eager to read it. I did some poking around on the book’s Flash-y web site too. Reading some of the excepts and themes of this hefty work, I can see how some might say, Yeah, this is not for me. However, reading Solomon’s first few lines (“Our children are not us.”) tells me there’s probably a solid message about true unconditional love that we could all use.

You can listen to the Fresh Air podcast below:

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    Thank you so much for bringing this up. In a minor sense, I went through an evolution of thought about this as an adoptee who could have “passed” – but looked different enough from my family that it was often remarked on. The intense love and compassion (and discipline!) that my parents have showered on all three of us – one adopted and two birth-children – is one example of parental love as powerful.

    In another vein entirely, I’ve sometimes thought about “what if” when I’ve heard horrific stories – like Columbine, Sexual Abusers, extreme bullying, and so on – of children, and the first comments always have to do with “it’s the parents.” What if my child is involved in an aggressively mortifying act? I’ve known enough teenagers in my time as a teacher to know that no, it’s not always “the parents.” And no one should feel like their kid would NEVER be involved. Complacency is dangerous.

    I look forward to putting this book on my holiday gift list.

  • 2
    Catherine says:

    Thank you for sharing this podcast! I was really drawn to it and more than once I had tears in my eyes. The discussion on Columbine reminded me of another book an online buddy had read recently, Lionel Shriver’s “We need to talk about Kevin” (2005 Orange Prize winner) written from the perspective of the killer’s mother.

    Andrew Solomon sounds like a lovely man. Whilst most of the interviews he did for his book sounded really sad, I am glad that, on the other hand, here is a person whose children were wanted so much.