We received this book last year from our wonderful, kind and beautiful (inside and out) babysitter, Lauren (aka- LoLo). I read it in less than 24 hours and then I cried and cried and cried. Lauren and I both think that this would be an incredible movie.
Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son provides a time capsule of what it was like in the 1960's (John Mark Stallings was born June 11, 1962) to have a child born with Down syndrome. As Coach Bryant's assistant football coach at Alabama, Gene Stallings was thrilled to have a son. He and his wife, Ruth Ann, had two older daughters (Anna Lee and Laurie), but he writes that there was no question about his excitement over having a son-- a possible football player for this football loving family.
He found out about Johnny's diagnosis when a doctor told him, "We think maybe your baby is a mongoloid." It was then up to Coach Stallings to let his wife know about the diagnosis. He writes, "The word 'mongoloid' thundered in my head. It was such an awful-sounding term. Mongoloid. All I could think of was an ogre, or some kind of monster. It wasn't until years later that 'Down syndrome' replaced 'mongoloid' as an accepted term."
The Stallings family were pushed by both doctors and friends to institutionalize their son, Johnny. They were told that it would "be easier on the family" and that their baby would become "such a burden to your girls."
What is so interesting and moving about Coach Stalling's story is the uphill battle he and his family faced in the early 60's and 70's. They were truly trailblazers in a time when children with differences weren't always accepted, loved or celebrated. He says, "Just like most new parents we were eager for others to love our new baby and show their approval." This is a sentiment that I would wager every single parent of a child who has Down syndrome feels at some point. You want people to celebrate your beautiful baby. You want people to ooh and aah over your little one. You want people to treat you normally. I had someone email me a suggestion for a blog topic-- she wanted to know what you are supposed to say to someone who has just had a baby with Down syndrome. I wish I could devote an entire post to that topic, but the answer is much too short and simple. You are supposed to say exactly what you would to anyone who has a new baby. Whether that baby is adopted, is experiencing health difficulties, was given a tough diagnosis or is perfectly healthy-- in my opinion, what to say to a parent of a new child is so very simple and straightforward--Congratulations. Then follow with oodles of oohing and aahing.
Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son was hard to read at times because it takes place during a time when people who had Down syndrome were seen as a burden on their family and society. It was during a time when the right for children to be included in mainstream education was just beginning. It was during a time when there weren't blogs, Buddy Walks or online communities for parents to network and feel connected to other parents of children who have Down syndrome.
What was uplifting was the very honest journey Coach Stallings shares with the reader. He goes through the initial grief and anger over the diagnosis to the eventual road of being an advocate and cheerleader. He juxtaposes his personal career struggles as a college football coach with those that Johnny faces on a daily basis. I enjoyed witnessing Johnny and his father's relationship blossom as well as learning about all of the other people Johnny's life impacted.
Johnny's story is hard at times because of his heart and health problems-- when I read the story we knew about Joey's need for open heart surgery and we spent the first 9 months of his life making sure he was not going into heart failure. Every time Johnny's fingers turned blue in this story my eyes welled up for both Johnny and for Joey. Johnny was born with a heart condition that his parents were told was inoperable and that plagued him throughout his life and that eventually causes his death at age 46 in 2008.
Coach Stallings concludes this incredible story by saying, "August 2, 2008, the day that Johnny died, was truly the saddest day of my life. It's hard to remember that I once thought that June 11, 1962, the day Johnny was born, was the saddest day of my life."
This is a sentiment that summarizes what Down syndrome has become to our family. What we once thought was the most agonizing, depressing diagnosis has become one of the greatest blessings we have every known. If you enjoy stories of victors and fighters who fight the good fight-- this is for you. Johnny's journey is a lesson to us all. Thank you for helping to pave the road for Joey and kids like him.