‘The Shape of The Eye’ by George Estreich Tells One Dad and Daughter’s Journey Through Down Syndrome

Check out The Shape of the Eye by George Estreich that hits shelves in paperback today. This memoir centers on a stay-at-home father and his Down syndrome daughter, Laura, as they learn what it means to be ‘different’ in our society. George recently answered a few questions for me about his beautiful book:

KK: Tell me a little bit about the book.
GE: The Shape of the Eye is a book about raising a daughter with Down syndrome—my daughter Laura, now 11 years old, and the girl pictured on the cover. I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home dad since before Laura was born (my older daughter, Ellie, is in high school), so the book reflects on parenting in general, and being a dad in particular. It’s as much my story as my family’s. Being a parent connects to everything—you can’t be a parent without reflecting, and reflecting on, your own parents—and Down syndrome has its own strange history too, suggested by the old diagnostic name: “Mongolian idiocy.” (The doctor who discovered the condition thought that his patients had “degenerated,” taking on the appearance of a different race.) Those histories are connected, for me, by a strange coincidence: my mom is from Japan, which meant that when Laura was first born (she wasn’t diagnosed in utero), her appearance made the doctors wonder. Were they looking at a child who had Down syndrome, or a child who was one-quarter Japanese? Were they looking at disability, or ethnicity, or somehow both? I wanted Laura to be real to the reader, not as a “special needs kid,” or as someone extra cute and appealing, but as an individual. But that meant debunking some of the misconceptions that attach to her syndrome, as well as setting her firmly in the context of her family.

KK: Why did you decide to write it?
It didn’t feel like a decision. It was something I had to do, though I resisted it at first. I’d always been a poet, but I stopped writing poetry after Laura was born; writing prose filled a need for continuity. I wouldn’t have put it this way then, but shifting forms was a way of preserving a link to the way things were before, while acknowledging the magnitude of the change. It was a way of saying that what I’d learned still counted—which turned out to be true not only as a writer, but as a parent.

The book took about nine years to write, so naturally my reasons for writing hanged as the project developed. In the beginning, I was mainly writing a narrative of shock and adjustment. In time, I got interested in more public concerns: who belongs in our society, the way we imagine disability (or fail to imagine it), and the impact of technology on the family. We can predict more and more about prospective children, so the way we describe those children matters deeply.

I’m excited about this new edition of the book, because I’ve written an Afterword that follows up on some of these questions. It also brings Laura’s story up to date: much of the book takes place when Laura was very young, and so readers are surprised to find out that she’s in middle school already.

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  1. [...] Oh! And George recently did a Q & A with Parents.com – here it is: http://www.parents.com/blogs/mom-must-read/2013/04/18/parenting-advice/the-shape-of-the-eye-by-georg… [...]