Monday, August 21, 2006

Children are made of tough gristle.

One day, when I was in grade school, I was traumatized at school. I don't mean upset, or picked on, or worried, or busy, or bullied. . . . . I mean traumatized.

The principal did it, but not because she was a mean woman who liked to frighten little children. My elementary principal was extremely strict but she was a fair and kind woman, who loved kids and expected good things (and excellent behavior) from all of them. She was actually an old family friend; she lived across the street from my grandmother, and Dad and all his siblings had grown up knowing her quite well. I was never afraid of her, as many kids were, because I knew that whatever she did, she did for the good of her children. Even a little child knows.

That's why what she did to my sister and me that day frightened me so.

It began at morning recess. Yes, back then, kids had two big recesses: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I think that's one reason kids back then were better behaved; we had a chance to stretch and run and shout and get it all out of our systems, twice a day, and it better enabled us to then sit still and comprehend lessons. But I digress.

It was recess, and I was playing. Something made me look over toward the school, and we all saw the principal walking towards us. She seldom came out on the playground, and she looked incongruous in her pale blue suit amidst all the laughing little kids.

She came straight to me.

She held out her hand and I took it, and she said, 'Come with me, dear.'

I went with her.

She took me to her office, and told me to sit down in a comfy chair. Then she walked away, shut the door carefully, and left me there for several hours with no explanation whatsoever. Occasionally she looked in and smiled and asked me how I was, and I told her I was fine, because I was, but I was confused and very puzzled and beginning to be frightened out of my mind because of, well, I didn't know why. I only knew that on ordinary days, principals didn't walk across the playground, take a little child by the hand, walk with her to the Office, seat her in a chair in a little room, and leave.

It was the not knowing that scared me so badly. I wasn't afraid of the principal; I liked her. But I was becoming terribly afraid of Something. Something bad. Something BIG and bad. What had I done?

When it was time for lunch, she told me to go and get my lunchbox from my classroom, but not to talk to anyone. I couldn't understand what I had done, but it must have been something so bad that other children couldn't talk to me any more.

When I got back to my little room in the Office, my sister was there, too, with her lunchbox in hand. She didn't know what we'd done, either, but she was crying out of fear and I was having a hard time not crying.

After lunch, the Principal walked us to the restroom and walked us back.

Around 2:30, the next-door-neighbor lady walked into our little 'prison' and told us she would take us home. There was a lot of whispering between the Principal and the Neighbor Lady, but still nobody told Sis or me what was happening, why we had been removed and cut off and left alone for hours and hours.

The Neighbor Lady wouldn't tell us on the ride home, either. We huddled together in the back seat of her car and worried about things no child should ever worry about.

When we got home, we walked into the house and sat on the couch, and waited. We waited for a long time.

When my parents finally walked through the door, my mother was crying and my father was comforting her. I remember hearing him say, "It's a damn shame." My parents didn't talk that way ordinarily so I knew something horrible had happened, and Sis and I still thought it was somehow us who had so upset the family.

Aunts and Uncles began coming by. People were whispering. Sis and I sat on, frightened beyond even having to go to the bathroom.

My toddler brother played with his toys as usual, and my newborn Tumorless Sister cried, and slept, and pooped in her diapers as usual.

Other Sis and I sat on.

Finally, just before dark, we were told what had happened.

My grandfather, Mom's father, was the street commissioner for the county. He had been inspecting an old house that was being demolished, and while he was standing just inside the front door of it, the whole thing came crashing down on him. He was crushed instantly. He was 59 years old.

He had been somewhat of a local celebrity, and this news was all over the radio and scuttlebutt. The Principal had been afraid that Sis and I would hear the news out on the playground, or from a child who had come to school late, and be traumatized by it. That's why she secluded us. Her intentions were good, but her procedure was horrific. Out of the goodness of her heart, she kept us from hearing about Papaw in a way that might have been terrible, but out of sheer ignorance, she frightened us even worse.

Mom and Dad never knew what she had done until years later, and they were absolutely horrified.

I learned later that the Neighbor Lady's husband had heard about the accident at work and had phoned his wife to tell her to go to our house and keep an eye on Mom because Mom didn't know yet.

The Neighbor Lady didn't tell Mom, either. She knew that the phone call would come soon and she meant to be there with Mom when it did. She also knew that Mom had a toddler and a new baby and would need someone to help her.

When the phone finally rang, the Neighbor Lady said: "Let me hold the baby while you answer the phone." She was afraid that Mom might, in her shock at hearing about her father, drop the baby. Mom handed Baby Tumorless to the Neighbor Lady and answered the phone.

A few minutes later, Dad came home from work, and he and Mom left the house to see about things. Neighbor Lady took Baby Tumorless and Toddler Bro home with her and left them with an older daughter, and came to get Sis and me at school.

I don't tell the blogosphere about this to cast aspersions upon the Principal. She handled it terribly, of course, but she followed her instinct to protect us at any cost. She truly believed she was doing the right thing.

However, it would have been far better for us to be told about the accident, although perhaps not the death, so we wouldn't have had those many hours of sitting alone in a little closed-off room in the Principal's office, wondering what we'd done wrong.

Children are a lot tougher than some people suppose. We could have 'taken' the truth, but we were very nearly destroyed by the silence.

I think about this incident fairly frequently, especially when I hear adults say that children should be shielded from hard things. And I maintain that children can 'take it' if it's presented properly. To shield a child too much is disrespectful to the child, and a huge disservice to the child. We want to keep our children safe, but we musn't do so at the risk of frightening the child with supposition and too much silence. Even weeping is healthier than pretending nothing is wrong.

I've thought about this incident even more frequently since September 11, 2001. The traumas of that day were withheld from the students in my school, and the 'not knowing' was far worse than the 'knowing' could ever be. I have posted about that on 9/11 more than once, and I will do so again when that date come around again.

As it very soon will.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 10:12 PM | |


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