"Faith in the baby" and "Mommy's little monster"

Readers respond to two stories about the agonies and joys of raising kids who don't fit the norm.

By Salon Staff
Published April 6, 2001 10:35PM (EDT)

Read Faith in the baby by Kristin Ohlson.

I have never responded to anything on the Web, but this story moved me and had such an effect on me that I must share its emotional impact. I am an 80-year-old man with a terminal illness and not emotionally related to many of the usual family relationships. But this story had such a profound effect on me that it has shifted my perspective from almost "gone" to wanting to live a social life again. At the moment I feel that it may extend the time my illness remains terminal. My congratulations to Kristin Ohlson for this story and to Salon for printing it.

-- Merwin Moskowitz

I deeply appreciate the sensitivity with which Kristin Ohlson has told her story in the extraordinary essay, "Faith in the baby." Ohlson writes with both honesty and dignity: She honors her son, never stoops to ridicule, never presumes to take excessive credit for the man he has become. It's rare to read a piece these days that is so considered and respectful. I admire Ohlson's integrity, and salute Salon.com for making the essay the day's feature story.

-- Beth Kephart

"Faith in the baby" was just great. It made me cry -- both happy and sad tears, hopeful to see such a great story of acceptance and unconditional family love, while also wishing that more of us were accepting of, and able to learn from young people like Matt.

When I taught public school, I didn't specialize in teaching special needs students, but they followed me around, often getting placed in my classrooms. It gave me a lot of joy -- laughing with them, getting to know the parents, enjoying the gifts they brought to my classes and their classmates. I am both proud and happy to have served as a mainstream teacher singled out for what I saw as a privilege, an honor and a learning opportunity for myself.

The Matts of this world have a lot to teach us, and I congratulate Matt and his family for all their successes. Best wishes to them all.

-- V Cravens

I read Kristin Ohlson's story about her son, Matthew, this morning at work and then closed my office door because I was afraid I was going to cry. Maybe it was because, as a father of 5-month-old twin boys who are "normal," I was being selfish and thinking to myself "Thank God that isn't Stuart or Henry." Maybe it was because I realized what I fool I was to be worrying about the S&P falling like a rock or this year's income taxes or fixing everything around the house and how if that's what I've got to be worried about just how ungrateful I am. Or maybe just sleep deprivation caught up with me. Whatever it was, her story cut to the bone.

For me, please tell Kristen that as long as Matthew is happy she has been a good mother, since so many children who don't hold up the line at cash registers or shake their fists in joy are not happy and loved and that's the most any parent can do for their child.

Finally, after reading her story, maybe I'm more confident that there is a God. And if so, I hope he continues protecting Matthew for the rest of his life.

-- Paul Fechelm

What a moving piece of writing. As a 40-year old father of four, I'm not used to weeping while I read. Makes it tough to read the words after all ...

-- Name withheld

Wow! Blew me away. Am crying because your story made me simultaneously happy, sad, and much more.

Point 1: I went to school (we all did) with some kids who were smart, good looking, straight, popular, wealthy, good at sports -- the complete package a parent would wish for a child, as a parent only ever wants the easiest ride possible for their kid. Some of them were sadly also narcissistic, mean-spirited, cruel, narrow-minded and spiritually bereft. I am sure their parents would swap places with you in a second.

Point 2: At the moment, I am in the process of leaving a job I despise, without another to go to -- frightening in these economic times. I have recently been unexpectedly and unceremoniously dumped by a lover I thought much of. I am also worried sick about my father, who is going through all kinds of horrors in his business. THANK YOU for reminding me that I most assuredly deserve to be slapped if I ever have the gall to complain about my charmed life again.

-- David McFadden

I am a freshman at college, and my 17-year-old brother is special, too (as well as a great guy). The experiences my family has shared with Raymond in dealing with autism have been similar to yours, and it's great to know that others have shared in the same hidden joys and awkward, sometimes painful situations that we experience when we have loved ones like Matt and Ray. Take care, best wishes for your son, and thank you for a wonderful story.

-- Name withheld

I've been reading Salon every week for the last three years, and this is really just a thank-you note from a Brit who loves what you do, inspired by Kristin Ohlson's article. It's everything I love about your site, including the length of it. Salon is the only site I can think of that gives its writers the space to tell the story, and trusts its audience enough to follow. Anyway, like I said, you guys rock the house every day -- keep it up.

-- Paul Trueman

I, too, have a son who is different. My son has fragile X syndrome, the most common genetic cause of mental retardation (not all individuals with fragile X are retarded). I share with Ms. Ohlson the belief that people can be rightly judged by their reaction to our sons. I use my Simon as a gauge of goodness. He, too, cannot make sense of money, but he can certainly make sense of human nature.

-- Nancy Abrams

Read Mommy's little monster by Amy Benfer.

Reading Amy Benfer's review of these two books brought back my own memories of adolescence and parental conflict. The key difference was that I grew up in the ghetto. But even though my experiences were different, I suspect that my wife and I will face similar issues with our own children. Having become part of the middle class, I wonder how much of Lara and Dudman's story lines are doomed to be repeated.

While I agree with Benfer's point about the mother's melodrama and the teenager's own fortitude, it does sound as if Lara and Dudman have stumbled onto another issue that is larger than teenage angst and rebellion: How do you convey a sense of grace and responsibility to your children? I have seen the phenomenon described by Lara and Dudman so many times -- middle-class parents who are finally able to give their children opportunities that they never had, and their children who abuse, reject and squander those opportunities. Whether it is music lessons, travel or simply growing up in a household where reading is valued, all of these things are intended to help children. Having grown up in a household devoid of all of these things, I intend to provide my children with choices and opportunity. But in the back of my mind, I worry whether my kids will understand how hard it was to get to this point.

Benfer is right when she argues that there are a number of young people who take risks, make mistakes and manage to land on their feet. But there are a number who never figure it out. Then there are those of us stuck on the outside, desperate for an opportunity to learn, who just look at some of these well-off screw-ups and wonder.

-- Jeetander Dulani

Amy Benfer is smugly certain that she'll know just how to deal with her not-yet-teenage daughter because she understands herself, and understands how teens work. Let's hear how she's doing in, say, about four years ...

-- Rhoda Weyr

I found Amy Benfer's article on hellcat daughters to be both enlightening and aggravating. It spoke volumes about unfathomably narcissistic parents who see their children as reflections of themselves rather than individuals. They secretly relish their children's flaws because they give definition to their own waning sense of self. The two authors' child-rearing techniques were questionable at best; parading their daughters around now as "success stories" is downright tasteless.

-- Dan Avery

These books are an insult to teens and their parents. I have to agree with Amy Benfer: The books say a lot more about the drama-mamas who wrote them than about their daughters.

The daughters probably picked up early on that not only was there no point in being "good girls" as teens in their household, but that their mothers probably wouldn't respect them as much if they were. These mothers purportedly wanted to give their kids a better time of it than they had, while simultaneously slipping the girls their own Troubled Teen blueprints.

I certainly had more than my share of arguments with my very strict parents while growing up in New York City. But I also respected them, and myself. No matter how heated things got between me and my mom (herself a teen bride and the product of mercilessly strict Caribbean immigrants), I would never have uttered the words "I hate you." For one thing, I know the hurt would have cut too deep. I also know the authorities would never have been able to find my body.

-- Deeanna Franklin

Salon Staff

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