This is less a book review, more an admirer’s letter to an astonishing family, my oldest chum and the under-appreciated hundreds like her who (put simply) make life possible for children every, damn, day.
Exiting the safety of the womb when you’ve still got over half your cooking time left puts you at a distinct disadvantage. With your human form only recently set, you enter the world with barely functional organs, muscles and zero defences against infection. Immediately putting you at conflict with the conditions for life.
Imagine the frailty of such a child, then amplify it. As a twin born at this time the hand you’ve been dealt may as well be from a trick deck – your fate sealed before you’ve even had the chance to review your cards.
Twin 1: 670 grams / Twin 2: 660 grams
Babies Thomas and Alice survived the unsurvivable during their first nine months on Earth. They decided on life, discounted the alternative and held on tight while their bodies both grew with and fought against them. All the while parents, Georgie and James, willed their babies on through the plastic of their incubators.
In Two for Joy, proud father James Melville-Ross retells the twins’ story from conception to school age with honesty, calm and incalculable pride. And who wouldn’t be proud of children whose show-stopping smiles refuse to budge, despite all that’s stacked against them? Of course, Thomas and Alice survived their premature birth but will forever suffer the consequences, including an over-arching diagnosis of Quadraplegic Athetoid Cerebal Palsy.
‘He [Thomas] bursts into tears now that his body has been freed from the grip of the spasms… He lies sobbing in my arms, his eyes intermittently closing and then he looks up at me again as he feels the force of another spasm coming upon him like a tsunami.’
Thankfully, I knew that the twins would come into some luck in the form of the PACE centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. You see it was my aforementioned chum, a former employee at PACE, who thrust this book into my hands. Over the years, I have heard lots about the amazing, hilarious and talented children who pass through the doors of this specialist centre. I have even had the honour of meeting some. However in listening to all of my friend’s great stories it seems that I had been overlooking something fairly conspicuous — her.
‘“Oh, no, she doesn’t walk,” I interject, smiling uneasily.
“Oh,” says Josie. “What do you think Alice? Would you like to give it a try?”’
Josie was the employee at PACE who assisted Alice in taking her first steps – steps that were not expected to happen. Without fuss and with a sort of warm nonchalance, Josie demonstrated to the family (as if they didn’t already know) that odds aren’t immovable and nor are Alice’s legs.
For the formidable team of learning support assistants and therapists at PACE, this is all in a day’s work. They teach children to be the best they can be, often far past the best that had been imagined for them. My friend has been loving and nurturing these terrific little human beings for almost five years and I ashamedly hadn’t put this into any kind of perspective until now. It’s physically exhausting but intensely rewarding work and as she continues on in her career I’ll listen all the more keenly to the stories of the lives she’s changed. Because that is without a doubt, what she does.
The example of Alice’s first steps is just one of so many utterly delightful moments in this book. When I told people what I was reading their general response was to ask what enjoyment I could take from such a sad story. My answer: “so much”. Whilst books aren’t always to be ‘enjoyed’, this one certainly is; the fingers repeatedly stuck up at the odds, the happiness the twins exude from their very pores and the giggles brought about by, well, seemingly anything… I implore you to read this book then do your bit to support PACE.