Buska (Time Outs for Grown-Ups, 2004) offers a collection of anecdotes about caring for a son with disabilities.
The author’s son, Paul, came into the world slightly smaller than his three older siblings and was given oxygen shortly after birth. By his second birthday, he still wasn’t walking. A diagnostic team test at the Children’s Hospital in San Diego couldn’t pinpoint a cause, but they made a diagnosis of cerebral palsy given Paul’s “spasticity in his muscles, a wandering eye, and balance problems.” Later in life, doctors would add Asperger’s syndrome as a possible, if also unproven, diagnosis. “Maybe he has one disability; maybe two,” writes the author. “It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s Paul.” Buska, Paul’s devoted caretaker, dispenses the health history of her now-49-year-old son’s life in brief chapters, including a few written in Paul’s voice. This book lacks the narrative, chronological arc of a conventional memoir; instead, it’s closer to a series of anecdotes. It’s unclear if the author’s intent is to inspire compassion for the disabled in general or simply to make her son’s everyday life relatable to nondisabled readers; for example, she repeatedly mentions that Paul frequents Starbucks, is a fan of the rock group Kiss, and is uninhibitedly friendly. However, although she shows that Paul’s physical struggles are different from his peers’, she also shows that his emotional ones are universal: “I’m not perfect,” Paul says. “I get angry. I feel better when I’m happy, and I like to make other people happy.” That said, the author’s consistently cheery tone when discussing her caregiving results in a book that reveals little of her own turmoil. Indeed, the closest it comes to doing so is on the last page, when Buska describes a difficult, frustrating night, and even this seems too neatly resolved: “I was crumbling, falling apart, saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ Often, God teasingly addresses me as ‘Ms. Fix It’….On this particular night, he didn’t call me Ms. Fix It; he told me to lower my expectations—of myself and of Paul. I did. Peace returned to earth.”
A heartfelt, if overly upbeat, caregiving account.