Gracious but I was a pill sometimes.
I watch my son’s squirrely-ness in the outfield in the context of how I played right field as a child. One time I got so bored, I just walked home.
Living kitty-cornered to the school came in handy. I’ve recently verified with grade school friends that yes, at least once, when I raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom, I went home to use that bathroom. And watch a little TV.
“No one could find you,” my lifelong friend Cindy said. “Finally someone called your house.”
“And I answered the phone?” Apparently I did, and then casually went back to school.
I don’t recall getting in trouble for that, and here’s probably why. When I was in the sixth grade, I had spinal surgery, fusion for severe scoliosis. I wore a neck-to-hips cast for three months, then a slightly smaller cast for another three months, then what was called a Milwaukee brace for six months.
Overall, I was a very well-behaved child, and remember my glory moments of audacious youth fondly because they were few and far between. And because when I got caught, I didn’t get in trouble much.
Allowances were made.
Paul Tough’s terrific book, How Children Succeed, discusses a study and method of measuring childhood stress and trauma called ACE, for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The more adversity, the more likely a child is to struggle in school. One major factor that helps such a child thrive in spite of adversity (whether it’s violence or poverty, or, I would guess, major surgery), is good, solid, attachment parenting. Which I got.
Thus my son’s traumatic trips to the emergency room because of severe food allergy reactions—we can buffer those experiences so he’s not doomed.
And when I’m volunteering at his school, and one of his classmates is just being a total pill, I have to acknowledge that I don’t know their home situation. I don’t know what they had to maneuver as they made it to bed the night before, or whether someone was there to feed them in the morning, or, even if they have all the material goods they could ever wish for, someone is consistently mean to them.
Viewing people with compassion—that really is what it’s all about.
I don’t do it perfectly, but it’s something I tend to do well as a professor.
I tell my students that our time together as members of the class is such a small fraction of our lives. If it’s all we know about each other, it’s really not much.
I picture them as icebergs, not because I’m a ship and they’re dangerous obstacles, but because I’m seeing just the tip of who they are and what they’re capable of.
I do try, year after year, to maintain appropriately high standards, but ultimately I’m more interested in clarity of instruction and high levels of support.
In other words, I make allowances.
(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)
The trouble with children today is you never know what fate awaits them at home. Some are latch key kids left to fend for themselves and still others have no clue who their biological parents are. One of my teachers in a lower grade told my grandmother that I was clinically depressed and should be on medication. Think I was about 10 or 11 at the time. My grandmother told her that there was nothing wrong with me that I was just being lazy…
I had watched my grandfather die from throat cancer slowly from the time I was three until I was almost 9. I had also seen my other grandmother die from a heart attack in her sleep the next year at 60, so I had a better idea than most kids about how fleeting life really can be. There were plenty of nights I went to sleep wondering if I would wake up the next morning.
I had also survived being repeatedly raped and physically abused by several older male relatives my mother used to drop me off and allow them to “babysit” me while she was out doing God only knows what with her then mysterious “boyfriend.” I finally flatly refused to go anywhere near them when I was about 5 or 6 and I still have nothing to do with them to this day. I kept telling her what was going on, but she never believed me. I was always lying and trying to get attention because “they would never do that sort of thing.”
Plus between the ages of four to six I had an almost non stop stream of hospital admissions for conditions I don’t think I had now. I had a tonsillectomy at four and at 5 my hip was broken for a bone marrow sample. My mother was convinced I was dying from leukemia. Turns out I had a severe kidney infection and almost died. I have often believed it was caused by the sexual abuse I suffered. During this time nobody was paying my mother any attention and this was her way of getting it at my expense. The first time I read or heard of the Munchausen by Proxy psychological disorder I cried because my mother was a classic case.
Think I have said this way more times than one. If I had ever gone into therapy the therapist would be the one on the couch sobbing his or her eyes out, not me! Have often said I was the poster child for psychotherapy…
Sorry about the novel! It is not always obvious who is hurting or has psychological scars no one else can detect.
I meant to reply to this a long time ago but obviously I didn’t–sorry about that.
It’s so much, what you’ve gone through. I know I can’t do much, but I do send you good thoughts, and for what it’s worth, I find therapy very, very, very helpful.