Friday, December 30, 2011

Letter to a child's therapist, teacher, counselor: Remember my kids.

Dear Therapist,

Dear Teacher. Dear Mediator. Dear School Counselor. Dear anybody whose job it is to labor largely unthanked on behalf of children day in and day out, trying to find some way to help the ones who no one can help, to patch up garish wounds that gape large and ugly and bleeding with small Band-Aids, to take a child with no background knowledge and no winter jacket and teach that child to read, to teach that child to think and imagine; I have to talk to you.

I have three sons. And I don't know about your children, if you have them, but mine come with some of their stitching showing on the outside. Some of that stitching is faulty impulse control, faulty attention-paying wiring, faulty mood-control, faulty auditory processing. These three boys are the most beautifully wrought works of art I have ever cast eyes on, and part of that beauty is this faulty thread-work. Like the lazy line across a Navajo rug, it makes each of them more authentic. It can also make them first class pains in the ass.

Let me tell you a story. I have to tell it so that you will understand me. It is my story. This story is the reason I am writing.

I was a gifted child. I brought smiles of indulgence to the lips of every teacher that had me, teased by the delight of having met a child who could take what they taught further than they they imagined. Teachers; you know the tickled amusement I mean. I can appreciate it now that I have felt it myself teaching, now that a kindergartener has asked me politely how to spell "ocean" correctly. It is the unparalleled delight of knowing that, for once, you are not needed, that this child has bettered you, and you can bask in the delight of their blazing unfolding.
But when I hit middle school, I moved to a cruel and image-driven community, my family suffered a divorce and alcoholism, and a flaw that lay hidden in the weft of my own stitch-work (clinical depression) was pulled. 

The thread unraveled. My grades plummeted. The child that had once been a source of delight for teachers became, when considered at all, someone to sigh over. I skipped school, spending days hiding six or seven hours under a blanket in my own bed, concealed, rather than face the confirmation of my personal worthlessness that was middle school. My English teacher would read my creative writing with pride to the class in my absence, but he didn't call my parents to ask why I wasn't there. No one pursued me into the darkness to try to get me to come out. I fell hard from great heights.

The world that had only cast its approving light upon me up til then, in expectation on my greatness, turned away from the embarrassment of my broken body on the ground. I made a lame suicide attempt, resulting in a traumatic trip to the ER, one psychiatrist visit and nothing. I made countless visits to a school counselor to tell him that I felt I was slipping off the cliff of sanity while he quietly nodded his head. Attempts to talk to talk to friends resulted ultimately in having no friends. I was twelve and I was alone in the dark, in a world suddenly changed from what it had been.

I spent six years of my life in active clinical depression, daily losing the battle fought with a darkness that consumed the edges of Truth and cast Life in shades of bloody, lonely pain. I developed drug addiction and later, bulimia. There were angels along my way who reached out to try and  do what they could, but, for the most part, the world in general was more than willing to lose me. Most of my angels were losing their own battles with Life. The people who were winning were too busy looking away to grant the gift of seeing me.

At the age of eighteen, I fought my way crawling on my stomach with my bloody fingertips to Alcoholics Anonymous and taught myself, with help, to live. I am still learning. But I have learned a lot, if only through having made such absolutely prodigious mistakes. I have recovered from problems and events that many people cannot say out loud without a shudder, and I have stitched them into the fabric of my life, so that they have made me stronger and more flexible.

I have this to say to you out of all this experience: We cannot afford to lose children. Not without fighting. We need to stop acting like it is OK or it is inevitable that children suffer unbearable pain in this world. If, in truth, we can do nothing to stop or ease this pain, we need not let them suffer it alone. If we lose them to drug addiction, to illiteracy, to mental illness, let it be only after we have unleashed the Spanish Armada on their behalf, after we have shot every bit of ammunition in our stores, after we lie out of breath, exhausted from the effort. Let it not be for lack of imagination, lack of focus, lack of compassion.

Think about the times you have suffered the greatest pain. Maybe you were injured. Maybe you were giving birth. Maybe you lost a loved one. I hope that you did not do this alone. I hope that someone held your hand and kept holding it, and that this person looked you in the eye and did not look away. I hope that they did not get up and leave while you were most afraid. 
Please do not tell me my child is just going through a phase. Please do not tell me that all we can do is wait. Please do not imply that their failing to reach their potential as human beings is just OK, somehow inevitable. They may be one of many to you, and you may be tired. You may have seen so many, so many that you could not help and for whom the future was lost. Their faces may pass by you in a collage of hazy images. I understand. But let my child never become an item on your calendar, a name on a  list.

I don't need you to have the answers. I need you to look me in the eye and tell me you are willing to fight with me, for the life of my child. It is all I have ever wanted from you, for all these years, when I stood here talking about my child's ADHD, my child's language processing problem, my child's depression. Fight with me. You may have weapons I do not know how to use. Together, we can give my child what he needs.

Remember: These boys are the most beautiful things ever wrought. They are born to inspire. They are born to be inspired. I brought them forth out of pure possibility, knowing nothing of how to parent and without a cent to my name, with nothing but the power of my unspoken promise that they would never go without a single needed thing that I could fight for them to have. They never have. And I will crawl again on my stomach, my fingers bloodied anew, for as long as it takes, to see any of them safe and empowered while there is yet breath in my body. 

I woke this morning and heard this song (below) on my playlist. Judy Collins' son killed himself in 1992 after years of alcoholism and depression. I don't know his story. She wrote this song long before his death. You can hear her trying to hope for his future in the lyrics. I can't stop listening to it. I need to do more than hope. 

Compassion and persistence are my promise to my children. Can you help me?


a mother


  1. One of the worst things we can be as parents (and anyone involved in the development of children) is apathetic. This is a beautiful post, thank you for sharing so much of yourself,

  2. There is a place outside of praying, hoping and pretending things are OK, outside of bitching and wringing one's hands, outside of either forcing an outcome or standing passively aside and waiting. That place is called Taking a Stand. I want to meet a therapist who can go there. And thanks, Kelly. :)

  3. Tara,
    Well said. I am a teacher, and while I try to help every child, I know that I am not perfect in my attempts. I have over 200 students. That is not an excuse. I try my best though. I love my job, and I love those students who are authentic. I love that word. Thanks for your heartfelt post. As a mother and a teacher, I relate.

  4. Thanks, Sunshine and Shadows. I don't think I made it clear in my post, but I work with kids, not as a teacher, but as a reading coach in the schools (totally without all the answers either), and honestly I can say what I love about the teachers I have worked with is their willing to get in the ring for the kids they teach and get them what they need. Teachers rock!So, I have seen that side for four and a half years.

    Just, as a mom, there is this other side. And sometimes I have had to be the one fighting alone. I have mostly been blessed, as now, with awesome teachers for my children. My letter is more a general deep sigh and heave of my shoulders expressing the frustration of having to summon up the strength to go AGAIN to bat for a kid while the professional I am dealing with doesn't seem to view the situation as particularly urgent. This time that professional is not a teacher. I mainly included teacher in my letter because sometimes, rarely, it has been teacher, and because teachers have so much power in the lives of kids.

  5. Thank you.

    Thank you for being an advocate for your children—for ALL children. My husband taught in a poor, urban school district for 32 years, and often came home defeated because the people who should have been fighting alongside him for the well-being of "his" kids (their parents, other teachers, school counselors) were so exhausted from years working two or three jobs that they had no energy left for the children.

    Thank you.

  6. Wonderful post! I'm going to share this with a friend. I know she would be so touched to read such love and compassion.

  7. I work in the developmental sector, and while we are plagued with staffing and funding shortages which result in long wait times, I have never lost sight of the fact that each piece of paper that crosses my desk is a child who deserves my careful consideration. This is a wonderful post. Thank you.


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