The Year My Son and I Were Born is an ideal title for book clubs and other small-group discussions. While the story explores in detail the dynamics of mothering a disabled child, it also addresses the challenges of motherhood on a much broader spectrum. Subtopics include my struggle with clinical depression as well as related aspects of my spiritual journey. But more than anything else, it’s a story about coming to terms with being human.
Below is a list of questions to spark conversation. I’d love to participate in the dialogue! Contact me if you’re interested in having me join your group, either in person (in the Salt Lake City metro area) or via Skype.
1. Discuss the Kahlil Gibran quote used as the epigraph. Why do you suppose the author chose it? How does the quote relate to her story?
2. How does the author define the ideal mother? How does her relationship with her own mother affect her perspective? How and why does this perspective change over the course of the story?
3. Discuss the recurring themes of safety and protection. In what ways is the author concerned for Thomas’s safety, and how does this affect her parenting decisions? Under what circumstances does protecting a child backfire? How does the story illustrate this possibility?
4. What stereotypes regarding children with Down syndrome does the author confront? Why might these stereotypes be troubling to some parents and comforting to others? How do these stereotypes relate to those regarding mothers?
5. Throughout the story the author struggles with the belief that “smarter means better, and better means happier.” Why is this a common belief? How does Thomas help the author come to a different understanding regarding the value of academic intelligence?
6. Discuss the dynamics of grief in the story. What did the author need to grieve? Why did she hide her grief, and what were the consequences? What finally enabled her to release her grief?
7. How does Thomas’s diagnosis affect the author’s marriage, both positively and negatively?
8. Discuss the benefits and limitations of community during a personal crisis. What’s the significance of the title of Chapter 2 in the Fall section (“Solitaire”)? Why does the author struggle as a member of her family and church communities, and how does she find reconciliation?
9. What kinds of choices does the author face regarding Thomas? Why is she hesitant to make decisions? How does her approach to decision-making change over the course of the story?
10. Towards the end of the book the author asserts, Thomas’s disability had enabled me to face my own. And his diagnosis, which once seemed like a burden, had granted the sweetest relief. (303) In what ways is this true? How does the author grow because of complications she might have chosen to avoid?
11. How does the structure of the story add to its meaning?
12. The book ends with Thomas’s family participating in the Buddy Walk. Why didn’t the author choose to end with the return to the hospital (which brought the story full circle)? What significant epiphany occurs in this final chapter?