Friday, September 07, 2012


It’s been a week and a half—almost two weeks—but the memory still haunts me as if it just happened yesterday. Being married to a therapist, I know there is catharsis in writing about trauma. Somehow, by getting the words out on paper, a weight is supposedly lifted. I am going to test that theory today. As a victim of trauma, I am reclaiming my power today. I am throwing off the shackles of torment and venturing out into the sun again. Here is my story.

It was a beautiful Monday morning, ripe with promise. The sun was lighting up the eastern sky. The birds were chirping. Ruanita was snoring. The dog was curled up next to me in bed farting. All was well in the world. It was the day parents the world over rejoice in—the first day of school. I should have realized that all was a little too well. I’ve seen my fair share of Hollywood psychological thrillers. I know that evil descends upon us on the brightest of days. I should have seen it coming, but I was blissfully unaware of the horror bubbling right below the surface.

My children practically jumped out of bed with glee that morning. It was like some sort of cheesy 1960s-era 20th Century Fox musical. They were chattering happily. Dancing around. Singing nonsensical songs. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Shiny new backpacks and bus assignments on strings. These were a few of their favorite things.

The kids inhaled their balanced breakfast of cherry Pop Tarts and apple juice and proceeded to get dressed for school. Without being asked. Without wondering around aimlessly wearing nothing but underwear and one sock. Without attempting to put their school clothes on over their pajamas because they were standing in front of the television glassy-eyed with their mouths hanging open watching Curious George. They dressed themselves without mommy dramatically shutting off the television in a fit of time-crunch-induced rage. It was refreshing, to say the very least.

Once all three kids were dressed and ready to go, we took pictures in front of the house. Pictures of just the three kids. Pictures with Ruanita. Pictures with me. Lucas was a pro at first-day-of-school pictures. He posed happily with his arms around his siblings as if he actually liked them. He flashed me the peace sign. He did a happy dance for the camera. He hammed it up like the fourth grader he is. Sophie and Nicholas were still newbies, as they were just entering first grade. They smiled awkwardly and shuffled under the weight of their new backpacks. In hindsight, I realize it may have been wise to play it more low-key. To maybe not make such a huge deal about the first day of school. To perhaps treat it as any other day. But hindsight is 20/20. We were caught up in the exhilaration of it all.

We drove the 1.92 miles to Hale Community School, listening all the way to the cacophony of excited prepubescent voices. We parked half a block away to allow for bus traffic and walked toward the school building. We paused for more pictures in front of the Hale School sign. After the photos were snapped, three children ran at full speed toward the front door, as Ruanita and I sauntered up the rear.

We made our way up the stairs to the second floor amidst a crowd of giddy children and their giddier parents. Lucas requested that we drop him off in the hallway several doors down from his classroom. “I got this, mom,” he declared. He did not need his moms to escort him to class. He did not need us to help him find his seat or his backpack hook. He did not need us to venture anywhere near the general vicinity of his classroom. Apparently, he’s too cool to have parents. He obviously wants people to think that he is the second coming of Christ. Born of light and holiness and peace and doves—not sperm and egg as mere mortals are born. A parentless wonder. We conceded and gave him a quick (totally inconspicuous) hug in the hallway and watched him strut toward room 211 and his final year at Hale Community School.

Sophie and Nicholas were not quite so independently minded. Our plan was to drop Nicholas off next, followed by Sophie last. Our plan, however, took a detour when we entered the hallway of the 1st grade quad. The four 1st grade classrooms at Hale are arranged in a quad pattern around a single narrow hallway off of the main second floor hallway. Nicholas’ classroom was on one side of the hallway, Sophie’s on the other. The narrow hallway itself was crammed to maximum capacity with confused children, exasperated parents, and vaguely terrified preschool and toddler siblings. Ruanita and I found ourselves separated in the crowd. Ruanita held Nicholas’ hand and I clung to Sophie for dear life. I caught a glimpse of Ruanita shuffling Nicholas toward his classroom, but had already been forced in the other direction by the movement of traffic. I decided to just go with the flow and take Sophie to her classroom. We found her backpack hook (with her first name spelled wrong). We deposited her lunchbox in the appropriate receptacle and made our way inside the classroom. Her teacher greeted her with a cheerful hello, to which Sophie responded by inserting her head between my thighs. I disengaged her from my nether regions and shook her teacher’s hand. Mrs. Nicholson announced that she had three Sophies in her class this year (so much for our originality in naming our children) and asked Sophie if she could read the welcome message on the daily message board. She could not—a sensitive topic with Sophie since her twin brother reads like a middle schooler—so I read it to her. We then made our way to the table with her name on it (her last name was spelled wrong this time).

At this point, I began to sense that times they were a changin’. Sophie’s mood quickly de-escalated from excited to anxious and then to down-right terrified. I could see the transformation in her eyes. She refused to sit in her chair or make eye contact with her tablemates who were quietly looking at the bin of storybooks on their table.

At about this time, Ruanita showed up in Sophie’s classroom. I left her in Ruanita’s capable care to go say goodbye to Nicholas. Across the hall, Nicholas was sitting in his desk chatting up the little girl next to him. I walked over to him and asked him if he was okay. He happily responded that he was. He showed me the book he was reading. He waived to his best bud, Oliver, who was in the adjoining classroom. He did not need me. He was content and ready to begin his first day of first grade. I kissed him on his head, told him I could not wait to hear about his first day when he got home that afternoon, and kissed him once more for good measure. I reluctantly left my tiny little runt of a baby boy in the care of his first grade teacher.

I returned to Sophie’s classroom to find her still refusing to sit in her seat. Ruanita thought it would be best if only one of us dealt with her at a time, so she left to linger in the doorway. I did everything I could think of to persuade Sophie to sit in her chair. I begged. I bribed. I pleaded. Sophie refused. She clutched my leg with near Hulk-like strength. I decided perhaps being “tough” would be a better tactic, so I told her mommy was leaving and she would be fine. I got up to leave the room, at which time Sophie began to wail. She screamed, “No, mommy. I’m scared, mommy. You can’t leave.” Of course, being human and not a monster without a conscious, I couldn’t very well leave my daughter wailing. And besides, I could not pry her from my body if I tried.

We gravitated back toward Sophie’s seat. I eventually coaxed her into sitting down. The children at her table looked at her—crying and covered with red splotches—as if she were contagious. They scooted away, but were somehow unable to avert their eyes. They stared at Sophie in wide-eyed wonder. She was putting on a show for her classmates. A horror show, perhaps, but a show.

I waited a few minutes and attempted to leave the room again. Sophie jumped to her feet and locked her arms around my body in a movement so swift that it would have put Flash to shame. That girl was quick. And loud. She continued to wail. No amount of coaxing would calm her. She began to hyperventilate, so I sat her down and tried to calm her enough to fill her lungs with oxygen. She flung her arms around my neck and gasped for air. It was at this point that I came to the realization that I was a failure.

I flashed Ruanita a look that clearly said, “I am done.” Ruanita came over to our little personal wrestling arena and tagged me out. I tried to hang back and help. I continued to talk to Sophie. I held her hand. Ruanita instructed me to leave. “Just leave. Leave the classroom. Leave the hallway. You are not helping.” I was unceremoniously dismissed.

I made my way out of the classroom. Down the hall. Down the stairs. My walk of shame. I contemplated heading to the car, but I could feel the heat beginning to creep into the day and did not relish the thought of waiting in a hot car for who knew how long. I was sweating already from my 20-minute wrestling match with my daughter. I made my way to the school office and plopped myself down on the bench that sits outside the office. I felt rejected. Dejected. Embarrassed. And sitting outside the office, I felt as though I were somehow in trouble and awaiting my sentence.

I sat there for forty-five minutes as school staff streamed in and out of the office to make copies, chat with the secretary, and generally go about their normal daily business. No one noticed me. No one spoke to me. It was as if there was a consensus within the building…DO NOT talk to the mommy failure of classroom 108. And that is what I felt like. A complete and total failure. I could not calm my daughter. I could not assuage her fears. I could not convince her that first grade is a happy place. A fun place. I failed her.

I fought the urge to return to the classroom, but I knew Ruanita was right. One mommy in the classroom was enough. Two mommies would have been overbearing. And would have made it all that much harder for Sophie to stay. So I sat there utterly helpless. Tormented by my own uselessness. Embarrassed that I was embarrassed.

Eventually Ruanita did find me in the front of the school office. She had calmed Sophie to the point of allowing her to leave. She apologized for dismissing me so harshly, but said that it had to be done. She was right, of course. I had to be kicked out of that classroom. I was not leaving of my own accord. Part of it was that I love my daughter dearly. But a bigger portion of it may very well have been that I hate defeat. And she defeated me that sunny Monday morning.

Ruanita and I left school and headed to breakfast. We needed sustenance. We needed toast and eggs and hash browns to replenish our spent reserves. We needed energy to wage war the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.

First grade defeated me, but I will not stay down long. I was beaten, but not broken. I am ready to face the next onslaught. To battle the next foe to stand against me. To defeat the next demon around the bend. And I’ve already looked upon the face of that demon. A fearsome creature who will certainly try its best to destroy me.

Fourth grade homework.



Anonymous said...

I love this and you are a great Mom. So one bad day does not a bad mother make. Love you lots Shannon. Glad you exposed your failure. We have all lived through them and survived.

Jessica said...

Please tell me her other days have been better! Poor thing. That would be for both of you. ;)

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