Susan Tom
Mothering disabled kids

Susan Tom is a 53-year-old single mother making it on her own in Fairfield, California. That alone is inspiring, but Susan is also a mother of thirteen, including eleven adopted children who suffer from a cruel range of handicaps and diseases.

Susan isn't a saint. She is far from wealthy. Her husband walked out shortly after the second child was adopted. But somehow-with no steady income or savings, but with tremendous love, compassion, and dedication-Susan provides a home and family for children so outwardly damaged, their biological parents can't or won't care for them. Susan's adoptive children come from as far away as Korea and Russia, as well as closer to home.

Teenagers Hannah and Xenia were born without legs. Anthony has a degenerative-and usually fatal-skin disease, but against the odds, he's starred in a school play and celebrated his 20th birthday. Eight-year-old Faith, who has disfiguring scars and no hair from being badly burned as an infant, is a great student, even though other kids taunt her for her appearance.

Life is normal-sort of-in the Tom household. There's a lot of laundry, a lot of groceries, and a few family parties. And yes, there's quite a lot of the usual sibling bickering found in almost any household with teenage kids.

But then there are the physical and emotional issues-any one of which would challenge the most dedicated parent. There are daily baths for son Anthony, whose skin falls off at the slightest touch; the pressures on daughter Margaret, 18, who is Susan's chief assistant in caring for the other kids; and frequent hospital stays, one of which ended in the death of son Joe, 15, of cystic fibrosis.

Susan and her family are the subject of a compelling new documentary by first-time director Jonathan Karsh, entitled "My Flesh and Blood." (The film won the Documentary Audience Award and Documentary Directing Award at Sundance, and is a contender for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar.)

Susan's kids have many difficult moments in their lives, but when legless daughter Xenia appears on film, ice-skating on her hands, doing flips on the trampoline, or flirting with a boy at school, you get to see the joy these kids experience as well.

So what Susan achieved? She has managed-despite frustration, exhaustion, and all those other regular parental emotions-to create a loving family, one that's more similar to than different from families everywhere.

More on Susan Tom:
Film review of "My Flesh and Blood" on Spirituality and Health.
The Tom Family Website and Education Fund

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