Following Ezra

17 Aug

I happened on Following Ezra by chance. It was available as an electronic book from my library. I downloaded it and started reading it and was very happy I had.

Following Ezra depicts itself as: What One Father Learned about Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son. The author, Tom Fields-Meyer, has written for years including for People Magazine, so he knows how to tell a story.

An often quoted incident from the book involves when he first heard his son was autistic:

When Tom Fields-Meyer’s son Ezra was a toddler and showing early signs of autism, a therapist suggested that the father allow himself time to mourn.
“For what?” he asked.
The answer: “For the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

Mr. Fields-Meyer didn’t feel like mourning (which is a rather extraordinary take on his own). His memoir covers about a decade. A decade of discovery and growth for his son and for himself. It’s a memoir, not a preachy message book. But the underlying theme Mr. Fields-Meyer has is one of acceptance and

Here is an excerpt I bookmarked:

I understand the instinct so many parents have to fight battles, trying to nudge children towards more mainstream pursuits. I gauge our other sons’ progress by the kinds of standard measurements most modern mothers and fathers use: We have watched Ami’s evolution through the ever-larger trophies he collects at the end of each baseball and soccer season, a series of student government positions, and friendships; Noam rises through the ranks at the Karate studio, each new belt and patch marking another level of accomplishment, and makes his way through the Suzuki violin book, showing ever-increasing ability and focus. Tracking Ezra’s advancement is different. With each passing month and year, he grows more singular.

At some point I realize that is precisely the way to build a relationship with my son: through the trains, the Gumby figures, the endless trail of red. Instead of seeing his obsessions as traits to change, Shawn and I come to view them as opportunities to build a bond–a quirky, unpredictable, whimsical bond, to be sure, but a strong one. Instead of lamenting that we can’t have an ordinary conversation with our son about the Dodgers or sitcoms or what happened in school that day, we join him. We follow his lead.

Sometimes that brings me to unexpected places. I find myself sending my hard-earned dollars via Paypal to a guy in Missouri selling decadesold clay-animated characters, or standing in line at the Target story, my shopping cart filled with red jerseys and pajamas. Sometimes I pause and wonder whether we are doing the right thing.

Over time, though, I come to realize a reward: Ezra understands that another human cares about what he cares about. Slowly, over time, our connection grows, and so does his potential to have other relationships with people. relationships based on something more than Gumby.

Like I wrote above, it isn’t a book about acceptance, but a book about a family that incorporated acceptance into their lives from an early point. There is a great deal of misinformation about acceptance (it’s “giving up”, for example), that it’s good to have a book like this to point people to put a real-life picture to the idea.

I’ll admit that I’m only about 1/2 way through the book. Given the way that my life often takes me away from side projects–blog posts, finishing books (what was I thinking buying the Shelby Foote book on the Civil War?) and the like–I thought it good to get something out now. The book only seems to be getting better the more I read.


By Matt Carey

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8 Responses to “Following Ezra”

  1. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 August 17, 2012 at 11:14 #

    “Giving up”. Giving up control? Nothing we do is going to change who our children are, I think it means giving up chasing normal. Sounds like a good book. We did the same, followed the interests, despite some people’s advice against it.

  2. Julian Frost August 17, 2012 at 14:18 #

    Spammer.

    • Sullivan August 17, 2012 at 14:19 #

      Thanks.

      Removed spam.

      –Matt

  3. Yasser Ad-Dab'bagh, MD August 19, 2012 at 21:42 #

    I am wondering whether you, and perhaps this father/author, misinterpreted the recommendation of the therapist. What this father did is precisely what the therapist suggested, despite how difficult that is to achieve. As a psychoanalyst and a child psychiatrist, I can confidently say that mourning the “expected” child is not the same thing as mourning the child or giving up. Instead, it eliminates the need to mould the child, to “nudge children towards more mainstream pursuits”, or to pursue as much conformity as is possible. It means giving up the parent’s unconscious dreams that may even predate the child’s conception, and embracing what dreams that will emerge as the child “takes the lead”. What this father did was exactly that, and it is heart-warming to read about and courageous of him to write about, Thanks for sharing!

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) August 19, 2012 at 22:08 #

      From the book:

      grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be

      And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve.

      (Any transcription errors here and above are mine)

      The father /author goes into a few paragraphs discussing how he didn’t carry any obvious notion of what his children would be. He only planned to love them.

      • Yasser Ad-Dab'bagh, MD August 19, 2012 at 22:23 #

        In that case, and if true, it seems he never needed the recommendation in the first place. It is very rare for a parent not to have notions of what the child would be, and very common for those notions to be completely unconscious, even if obvious to trained observers. Regardless, I do hope his book is a success… Many parents need to read about such stories. Thanks again. Keep up the great work! Your posts are thought provoking and meaningful.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) August 19, 2012 at 22:20 #

      Sorry for the terseness of the previous reply. I just wanted to put the author’s own words out.

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  1. End-of-Summer Reading | San Diego special education attorney - August 20, 2012

    […] Following Ezra « Left Brain Right Brain. […]

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