Reviewed by Molly Martin
Natural Harmony: Jade’s Story
by Gail Albrechtson
Paperback: 204 pages, June 13, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-1412003926
I first read Gail Albrechtson’s Natural Harmony: Jade’s Story several years ago. Albrechtson’s work is one to be read and read again, and again. I do not keep all the books I receive for review, this is one that I did keep, have read again more than once, and, since my son’s marriage and his becoming dad to a little boy born with Down’s syndrome; I am especially happy I did. I am an educator of small children, public elementary classrooms, and I am a QMRP. Through my work for a period in a residential care facility for developmentally disabled adults, our residents included more than one person born with Down’s. Albrechtson’s work is one to be read and read again, and again.
Jade came into this world, diminutive, exquisite and drowsy. Her parents smitten from the first glance at their daughter could not ponder there might be something atypical with their child notwithstanding their pediatrician’s words that she suspected there were variances needing testing before she could explain her concerns. As the worried young parents wondered about possible horrible things that might be wrong with their baby test results were held up at first for hours and then days. Natural Harmony: Jade’s Story is not a story book in the sense of a pleasurable account, rather, it is a mother’s affectionate celebration of the little girl with whom she shared her life for a short period and the treasure of recollections she kept when Jade’s life ended.
As children do, Jade learned to walk and to talk, even though her progression took place at a slower rate than do the mile stones met by the ‘normal’ child. During the early days following her daughter’s birth Gail struggled to come to grips with what it meant to care for a child who is not terribly dissimilar, nonetheless is still not just like her peers; Jade spent some time with a foster family during her early months. As is the case with many families having a handicapped child born to them; Jade was destined to be raised by one parent alone. Gail and her daughter journeyed a path not traveled by all parents and children for over six years. Most children are ‘normal’ and their interactions and progress are ‘normal.’
Jade was diagnosed as having Down’s Syndrome. Gail came to appreciate and adore unconditionally the little girl who never spoke quite so well as does the ‘normal’ child, took longer to reach physical milestones, and required extraordinary attention due to a congenital heart defect. Both Jade’s speech pattern and the heart irregularity are characteristic for a Downs child. While there were many things Jade could not perform as well as her peers, there were many things she could and did do well. Jade’s recognition and love for animals permitted the little girl to face the tenant mouse with no consternation. Her resolve to reap a ‘papo’ for knowing her address led Jade to learn her address when others in her school class were also struggling to state their own.
Gail devoted much time to her daughter. She rapidly discovered what other parents of a child who is different often will face. While there is frequently much talk about ‘programs’ and the like; in truth, parents of a handicapped child face many brick walls: day care, schools and society at large regularly do not want any in their midst other than the ‘normal’ kid. Jade was born during a period when many Downs and other ‘different’ kids were thrust into accommodations where they were permitted to live as perpetual children solely because no one recognized or acknowledged that these kids can and will learn.
While developmentally disabled children tend to learn a bit less, at a slower rate, and lose ground fast if teaching is not continued; they do learn. As Gail and Jade sat by the lake and watched ‘wheeshes’ fly by, or visited the mall at Christmastime the pair behaved as any ‘normal’ parent and child enjoying the day and time spent with each other.
I appreciate Gail Albrechtson’s aptitude for setting aside her own private sadness to set down this tribute to her child. Natural Harmony: Jade’s Story is a compelling read. The Reader is drawn right into the account. I found it difficult to put the book down as I read. I smiled as Jade progressed and achieve goals, nodded my understanding at her absolute determination. I too have a handicapped child: my oldest son survived early birth and was destined to always walk with a limp and he has cerebral palsy. I wept as I read the ending of Jade’s short story.
I am an educator of small children, public elementary classrooms, and I am a QMRP. My work for a period in a residential care facility for developmentally disabled adults, our residents included more than one person born with Down’s. I know those with Down’s face an uphill battle, but are very like others who are considered ‘normal.’
Smiles and laughter, sense of humor for small things, joy of life, love, loveable, and loving are part of the child or adult with Down’s. Counsellors, teachers and new parents of a Down’s child alike will find comfort and value through reading of Jade’s life and her joy of life as told through the eyes of her mother. Natural Harmony: Jade’s Story is an outstanding addition to the home library for those who enjoy a true slice of life type work with a twist. We all have some tussle in our lives. Few of us face the struggle this little girl and her mother faced daily.