Deborah Winking PhD’s new book, Capable: A Story of Triumph for Children The World Has Judged as Different, is that rare and effective combination of memoir and the clinically observational. While painting a complete and detail-oriented portrait of her son ‘Jack’, Winking never falters to focus more on the humanistic angle many of these retrospectively hybridized stories lack – an emphasis on the human being at the center of the character study, not what makes them so-called ‘unique’, ‘different’, or the cursed phrase ‘unable to fit in’.
It’s this kind of compassionate spirit within Winking’s recounting of sometimes joyful, sometimes tremendously painful and challenging, and even at times magnificent twists and turns parenting a non-mainstream child that solidifies Capable as unique to its peers, and outside its intent and structure as a story worth telling. It’s passages like the following that serve to reinforce this warmth, adding a sense of emotional urgency to the more textbook clinical and developmental psychology descriptors Winking also depicts within the pages.
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“Just as we continue to feel the searing pain of our kids’ hurts, we also continue to kick up our heels in that happy dance with their every success,” she writes, penultimately within the book. “In fact, the degree to which we feel pain and pride for our children may intensify with time and space…But when he FaceTimed me…I wanted to throw open the kitchen window and shout to the world, ‘My kid has friends!’…Wonder of wonders, the boy who would not be left behind did go on to do everything his twin sister did…Jack, the ‘labeled’ kid who began his school career in the multiply handicapped preschool class…(has) lived with students from all over the world, and is following his interest in environmental sustainability.”
It’s this kind of humanization that serves a two-fold purpose. It simultaneously makes one empathize with someone or something intellectually inscrutable, concurrent to being a reminder never to condemn those who are – again, ‘different’ – to a severely truncated, compartmentalized set of expectations. Small victories today may just spell out major ones tomorrow. The latter concerning a specific kind, a kind universally exceeding any and all expectations of those both ‘mainstream’ and those who are non.
It’s the knowledge there’s a happy ending that adds to the poignancy of ‘Jack’’s less certain days. The cast of characters – medical, therapeutic, and otherwise – who come between Winking and the immediacy of her relationship with her child is something coming across as, sometimes, maddening, and sometimes bittersweet. The rupture of normalcy, the constant overhanging of what new challenge to overcome next shifts the reader’s empathy back-and-forth in realtime between Winking and ‘Jack’ himself. To her credit, Winking is sometimes willing to paint herself and her good intentions in less than flattering light.
What she never loses sight of literarily is her genuine love and awe for her son, serving to balance some of the chapters that devastatingly recreate the claustrophobia of a pale white doctor’s office, or alienation occurring within the classroom. It’s that ability to juggle all the elements – that’s how Winking succeeds…