An Interview with Andrew Solomon | Field Notes | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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An Interview with Andrew Solomon 

The Heartbreaking Realization of Parental Love

Last Updated: 11/18/2019 4:05 am

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BS: I thought the autistic chapter was where the book presented really challenging material about love on a spiritual or existential level, like, how can I possibly love this person who is smearing their feces on the wall?
AS: Right.

BS: And you write a lot about attachment—not the Dr. Sears, baby-wearing approach, but the biological basis for bonding that happens between child and parent.
AS: I was working on the PhD at the same time as writing the book, and the PhD does deal in large part with attachment, so that's an area that's been very much present in my mind throughout. I have children and I love them, but if they murdered people, how would I ever come to terms with that? And I thought, well, you don't come to terms with it in the sense of deciding it's okay, or by ceasing to think about what happened. If you really have formed this profound attachment to your child, it doesn't go away because of what your child does. In the rape chapter, we see that it is possible to develop that attachment to your child even when your child comes from something horrific and from an experience that you wish you hadn't had.

BS: That chapter is almost unbearable.
AS: It was shocking work to do.

BS: And Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters—she seems like an extraordinary person.
AS: Oh, she really is, like a character out of Greek tragedy. And unpretentious and kind. She is one of the people who said she wouldn't want to consider having had any other child than the one she had.

BS: It's difficult to shake the idea that if we had a killer in the house, we would know it. You write that being a criminal could possibly be as much of a physiological event as something like dwarfism. Can criminality really be that disconnected from what we do as parents?
AS: I ended up thinking that criminality felt like more of a disease. And I ended up making a kind of unhappy but nonetheless profound decision that I had to be prepared for the fact that my own children, who seem to be so endlessly delightful, might someday prove capable of doing something really, really terrible. You and I started this conversation talking about the importance of parenting, and my sense that it's in some ways the most important topic out there, but despite all of that, I think having spent time with the Klebolds, I feel like you could be a terrific parent with a child who you love and adore, and he could go that way. I hope I'll never confront those issues, but I don't feel safe from them in the way I did before I did this research.

BS: And how did that realization affect you?
AS: Well, it's a heartbreaking realization. The time with Sue Klebold was shattering, really, and seeing what she's been through, the ways her hopes and her dreams were dashed by the horror of what happened. And she lives in a state of terrible pain. What was striking to me though is that she regrets terribly what happened, but she doesn't regret having had children.

BS: It's a very disorganizing thought. I think that's why the book is so great—because it's so disorganizing.
AS: Well, thank you. Throwing seeds of chaos everywhere. But I agree with you. I think "disorganizing" is a very good word for it, in fact, I wish I had thought of it to use in writing about the whole thing. What's impressive about Sue Klebold is that her structure of consciousness was completely disorganized and she's managed to reorganize it. It's different, but it's once again got a certain coherence to it.

BS: One of the women from the rape chapter told the story of a series of horrifying rapes and attacks, which involved various family members. One random day, the victim walks from the kitchen to the bathroom and her mother whispers in her ear, "This never happened." Wow. That really made me think about the porousness of our identities and the power that we have as parents to define our children.
AS: Yes. We didn't create or are responsible for our child's condition, but we may very well be responsible for how our child feels about his or her condition. We have enormous power in that regard.

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