I was an English major in college and have always adored reading. You might think the fact that I love books would make the prospect of writing one easier. In truth, it was the opposite. My reverence and respect for authors and books made the idea of writing a book intimidating. But I felt I had a story to tell a story that could help another parent whose child has a learning disability (or, as I prefer to call it, a learning difference). I travel around the country a lot doing trunk shows for my apparel company and I often hear women talking about children, nieces, nephews and children of friends who have LD. It always makes me think back to when I first found out about my daughter Charlotte’s LD almost 15 years ago. If I had known then what I know now, how different and easier those years would have been.
Since I wanted to write a book to help other parents who stood in my shoes, I realized that I would have to tell the truth. This, after all, was more a story of emotions than a straight narrative. If I were going to tell the story of how LD affected not only Charlotte, but me and our family, I’d have to make sure I told everything.
I’ve read that writers often don’t know what they’re going to say until they sit down and start writing, that the process of letting it flow of excavating the emotional story can be emotional in itself. That was certainly the case for me.
I wrote A Special Education: One Family’s Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities as a series of free-writes. The hardest part was mining my memory and feelings. I would get up early, while the house was quiet, make a strong cup of black coffee and type and type not stopping to correct grammar or to format the paragraphs, not correcting or backspacing for anything. If I wanted to go back and say something a different way, I’d just go forward and say it a different way. The flow was essential. I was afraid that any pause would distract me from the difficult, often painful mission of looking at each stage of Charlotte’s growing up. Of our family’s growing up. Of my growing up. I could always tell when I had unearthed something important. It was invariably what was most painful, most embarrassing, buried the deepest. I’d invariably stop typing. Stop. And almost look over my shoulder as though someone were looking. Sometimes I’d utter the words I can’t say that out loud to the empty room.
But I knew that I had to, because the message of A Special Education is about letting feelings, vulnerabilities and imperfections show. It’s about how doing that heals us and makes us better how we become more whole and more human. I hope the parents who read this book will know that they are not alone. At the time, I thought I was alone. I thought that I was the only one who felt confused, anxious, angry, ashamed and overwhelmed by having a child with special needs. Now I see myself as part of a community of educators, of specialists . . . of other parents. And I see Charlotte much more clearly for who she is a brave young woman with unique abilities.
Dana Buchman’s line of women’s clothing can be found in major department stores around the country. She lives in New York City with her husband, Tom Farber, and their daughter Annie. Their eldest daughter, Charlotte Farber, is a college student in New England.