Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Child Who Never Grew

Here is another piece I wrote for the Waterloo Region Family Network (WRFN) blog a couple of years ago. Apologies to those of you who have already seen it. 

The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck 2nd addition, Woodbine House 1992, 107 pages.

The first cry from my heart, when I knew that she would never be anything but a child, was the age-old cry that we all make before inevitable sorrow: “Why must this happen to me?”

So begins The Child Who Never Grew, a story written by the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winning author, Pearl S. Buck. The book is based on a magazine article Buck wrote for the May 1950 edition of Ladies Home Journal about raising her daughter, Carol who was born in 1920 with phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is the inability to metabolize specific amino acids which can result in problems with brain function. As stated in the introduction, written by Martha M. Jablow, “Buck was the first prominent person to acknowledge publicly a child with mental retardation.”

The 2nd Edition of The Child Who Never Grew not only contains Buck’s first person narrative about life with her daughter, Carol, but it also contains unexpected wisdom in three additional sections of the book. The Foreword, the Introduction and the Afterword add significant history and detail that make this book complete.

The Foreword, written by James A. Michener provides a detailed account about Pearl S. Buck’s humanitarian work that involved the launch of “Welcome House, a meticulously run orphanage for unadoptable Asian-American children, most of them fathered by American G.I.s.” The American soldiers had served in Japan and Korea during World War II. Buck made it her personal mission to find homes for these babies.

After having read the original edition of The Child Who Never Grew, Michener felt he gained a better understanding about what spurred Buck on in her humanitarian work with Welcome House, “… I now understood the secret of Pearl Buck’s drive to save damaged children. Most were less crippled mentally than her daughter, but each was disadvantaged in her or his own way.”

The Introduction, written by Martha M. Jablow contains a historical time line that outlines the changing attitudes, beliefs and practises around people with developmental disabilities. The time line covered by Jablow stretches from a time in history where it was believed that mental disability was caused by evil spirits, to 1990 when legislation (Americans with Disabilities Act) was put in place to “bring down barriers and make workplaces more accessible to disabled individuals.” Jablow’s historical overview is detailed and informative.

The Story itself is timeless. It is a “moving portrayal of parents’ conflicting emotions as they come to terms with a child’s limitations.” When Buck, “writes from her heart about her personal pain and struggle with her daughter Carol’s condition, her voice is universal. She speaks to all parents who have travelled the same road – or who are just embarking on that journey as they discover that their child has some form of developmental delay.” (Jablow)

Buck explains that she writes the story because she wants her daughter’s life to “be of use in her generation.” The story is written in 1950, a time when attitudes concerning people with developmental disabilities are slowly starting to shift. Although Buck says her daughter has grown past a point where changing attitudes will make much difference to her, Buck wants her daughter’s story to in some way help this movement.

The Afterword is written by Janice C. Walsh, Carol’s sister. Janice feels that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. She explains that she was witness to Carol’s growth. She watched Carol “achieve her own potential”…at…”the Training School at Vineland”.

While Buck’s story tells of the emotional challenges experienced while parenting Carol, in the afterword we’re given a more detailed look at Carol’s personal interests and personality. Janice gives details of Carol’s accomplishments throughout her lifetime at the Training School in Vineland, New Jersey.

This book touched me on many different levels. Not only could I relate on an emotional level with what Pearl Buck went through as a parent, but I also gained a vast amount of knowledge about the history around mental retardation. The Child Who Never Grew could easily stand alone and while I found the story authentic and relatable I feel the book is enriched by the addition of the three sections described above.

I would definitely recommend this book to any parent raising a child with special needs. Buck’s emotional struggles are easily relatable. The book is rich with historical information that illustrates how far we’ve come as a society over the past few decades with regards to the acceptance of people with special needs. The Child Who Never Grew is an interesting read not to be missed.


  1. Stacey, what a truly insightful piece. I am so happy that you did repost this because, had you not done so, I would have missed it. Just last night I had a conversation with someone who is educated, generally well-read on current educational issues etc. and was very surprised by his belief that children with special needs should be taught away from the general population. He simply had no idea that a non-verbal child, for example, could be intelligent. Thankfully, he was open to hearing that the range and scope of abilities in people really are infinite and the merits of inclusion. I got home feeling troubled by the conversation nonetheless. Your post and the description of the gains made over time came at a perfect time!

    1. I would have been troubled by that conversation as well, Ida Mea. Too often stereotypes and assumptions like those are the reason that our kids are kept from reaching their true potential. I'm glad the gentleman you spoke to was open to hearing what you had to say. Thank you for your part in raising awareness around this subject and thank you for sharing your comment here.