'Road map to Holland'

You know you're in trouble when you can't look at the front cover of a book without crying.

Even if you have the stoutest heart, Jennifer Graf Groneberg's "Road Map to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son's First Two Years With Down Syndrome," just released from New American Library, will make you cry.

The front cover shows a mom with disheveled blond hair pulled back in a ponytail hugging a little boy, her eyes closed, her smile full of love. In a small box below the picture you see the little boy: straight brown hair, hands on his cheeks, sleeves of his too-big red turtleneck rolled up. The little boy's name, you find out when you start reading, is Avery. He has a twin brother named Bennett and an older brother named Carter, and it's not until after he's born that Jennifer and her husband Tom learn that Avery has Down syndrome.

The first chapter of this exquisitely beautiful, honest and well-written book is called "At First, It Hurts to Breathe." When the doctor gives Groneberg the results of the genetic test that shows that 5-day-old Avery has a genetic anomaly, Groneberg is completely unprepared:

"But what does this mean?" I ask again, feeling as if I were suddenly speaking the wrong language. The doctor's demeanor, the sadness in her eyes, tells me it is something bad. Broken, I think. She's telling me my baby is broken.

Because her water breaks and the twins are born prematurely at 33 weeks, they have to stay in the NICU while Groneberg, who lived in Polson, Montana, 75 miles from the only hospital with neonatal facilities, has to go home without them and tell her husband the news. Tom sits on the couch and cries.

And so begins their journey. With little idea of what Down syndrome is, virtually no experience with mentally or physically disabled people, Groneberg tries to adjust to her life not just as a mother of three sons, and a new mother of twins, but as a mom with a child with special needs.

It's an adjustment that takes time and heartbreak. Her best friend, who at 40 is seven months pregnant with a second child, refuses to see her or acknowledge the babies' existence; the friendly bakery lady at the supermarket &

the same one who sneaks Carter a free cookie &

s ighs about how much she loves babies and how she would have had more if she hadn't got too old: "If I didn't stop having babies," she says, "I'd have a retard. A Down's kid, one of the ones that drools all the time." And &

perhaps most wrenching of all &

Groneberg has to deal with the guilt she feels at having such a hard time adjusting to her new life.

Groneberg's honesty in acknowledging her myriad feelings about her son is nothing short of heroic. As she learns to see Avery as a person, not a Child With Down Syndrome, she slowly lets go of feeling responsible for his condition. She learns that people with Down syndrome are more like people without Down syndrome, she gets early intervention for Avery (physical therapy that seems like so much fun that the reader can't help being a bit envious that Bennett doesn't get the same attention), and finally stops blaming herself for having wanted more children in the first place.

When the book ends, Groneberg has not only made peace with her new family (as much peace as can be made with twin toddlers and a 5-year-old), she has come to appreciate what a gift her son is and marvel at his fearlessness. She listens to him say "Ahluvyou" for the first time with tears of joy and surprise. She describes how Avery likes to put his favorite toys into the shoes guests leave at the door: "Despite the startled guests and the stubbed toes, it's hard for me to be mad at him," Groneberg writes. "He's the child that I wanted, that I did not know I wanted. He is my son."

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