Daughter’s disability inspires Concord author’s story of compassion
By Francine Brevetti For the Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/29/2015 04:19:10 PM PDT
PITTSBURG — Concord writer Stefanie Boggs-Johnson said her “brain crumbled” when her newborn Naomi was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke in utero. The infant had also suffered brain damage and then multiple seizures in her first few days of life. She was not expected to walk, talk or take care of herself.
Few parents would be able to see beyond such a devastating prognosis, but not Boggs-Johnson and her husband, Eric Johnson. “When the doctors gave us an option to take her off the ventilator, we said no,” Boggs-Johnson recalled. Instead the family persisted in caring for her.
At 4 years old, their daughter was diagnosed with a “mild case” of cerebral palsy. Today 6-year-old Naomi wears a brace on her right leg. But she walks and talks — rather sassily, according to her mother — and can be seen tumbling and swinging from jungle gym bars at a local playground.
Yes, it’s a success story. But before it was that, the author and mother felt compelled to provide a book to explain Naomi’s condition to her son, then 8.
Boggs-Johnson found the available books on childhood disability did not adequately cover the topic that she was most passionate about. She was concerned that her daughter would face bullying and ridicule as she grew and went to school. The available literature had a long way to go toward instilling compassion in young readers, she reckoned.
So she did something about it, and proceeded to write a book that would educate children to see the disabled as intelligent human beings with feelings.
The result was the illustrated 28-page “I See You, Little Naomi,” published By Tate Publishing
In simple but accurate terms the story describes Naomi’s stroke and what it meant for her brain. Boggs-Johnson writes about the care Naomi gets every day and how she is improving. But most of all the intent of the story is to teach kindness to children who may otherwise ridicule or become frightened by the sight of the disabled. The book explains:
“When you are at school, a park, party or out (shopping) with your family, you may see a person who looks, talks, or walks ‘funny’ to you. It may be something you don’t understand because you don’t see it all the time.”
The book shows young readers that everyone has feelings that can be easily hurt. “Everyone wants to have friends and be liked,” the book points out.
Children who are confronted by an unusual person with different capacities should ask a grown-up to explain the situation to them, the book suggests. The disabled are not “weird.” Children must know there are medical issues behind what they see, the author stresses.
“What you don’t understand, you make fun of. I want to pave the path for my daughter, so that she can live in this world. I wanted Naomi to have friends. I want her to be able to work independently,” Boggs-Johnson said.
“I See You, Little Naomi” is written for the 3-7 age group. But the author hopes that parents also will take courage in reading it.
“My message to families of such children: you’re not alone. Stop grieving and dream new dreams,” she urged.
Boggs-Johnson will give a book reading at the Railroad Book Depot in Pittsburg at 1 p.m. on Oct. 17. “I See You, Little Naomi” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or at the publisher’s website, www.tatepublishing.com.
Naomi’s challenges have been an awakening for her mother. Boggs-Johnson admits she had to overcome her own preconceptions about disabilities to face those of her daughter.
“When I entered the special-needs world it really humbled me. I came to see that these are human beings with feelings and intelligence. I want to bridge the gap between the mainstream world and the special-needs world.”
She has since committed herself to that effort. She works as a special needs job coach at Contra Costa ARC, which serves people with developmental needs, and she offers cosmetology services for special-needs people at the Orinda Hair Studio where clients can make appointments outside regular hours if they prefer privacy.
Boggs- Johnson also will go to clients’ homes to attend to their beauty needs. She can be reached at 925-787-5817 and www.facebook.com/foreveryseasonbeauty.