This week I got covered to go to a parenting class at my kid's school. They started it a few months ago but I had only been to the first one; call and Conway hospital took me out of the game for the next few. It blew me away - this social worker trained in urban Atlanta and works with Centers for Youth and Families in Little Rock. Her words were so powerful they could be taken into many different contexts even though she was problem solving specifically with individual moms.
I got covered for radiology needles and raced to meet the 9:30 appointment in the school library. I noticed the crowd had pared down my more than half - but still only moms. I took a chair right next to the social worker - first removing my tea bag from the Earl Gray hot tea I had pre-prepared in the doctor's lounge to steep during my drive. My boyfriend taught me that steeping the tea too long makes it bitter. No wonder I was having trouble shifting from coffee to tea in late mornings and afternoons, even though I love the mellower buzz it brings to my caseload.
The group meeting - last of this school year - was as wonderful as I anticipated. I gained lots of pearls to bring into my own house. But I got confused during the middle - she was staring at parents and alluding to funerals and every other mom in the room seemed to know what was happening except for me. After the meeting was over, I turned to the mom sitting next to me and introduced myself.
"What was she talking about, funerals?"
Apparently there have been two suicides in the last month. One a teenager - another a college student. Neither currently attend my kid's school, but they are intimately associated in social circles. I listened with calm, but grew alarmed as the day wore on.
I picked up my kids after I finished a heavy caseload - around five thirty or so. Traffic was bad - I wondered if it had something to do with Obama touring the tornado site or it was just construction traffic. My kids were full of their day and spilling it out of their mouths and I was lapping it up despite the road frustrations. After we got to the house Jack retreated to his room to ipad games - he's addicted to Clash of the Clans (I probably got that wrong) - while I prepared dinner. Cecelia stayed with me - she was wanting to use my itunes password to buy an album and was buttering me up for it. I took the opportunity to probe.
"Have you heard about anything negative going on at your school?"
"Anything sad I mean, with kids?"
"Oh yeah, there were two suicides."
My heart dropped in my chest. I remember learning in college about a guy who attended our high school senior year that had killed himself with the carbon monoxide in the garage method. I've seen those bodies in the crime lab the skin is beautifully cherry red despite the devastating circumstances. I understand the chemistry behind it but the artistic effect is brutal. The bright color lies in stark contrast to the dire situation. Irony. I was devastated by the death - I didn't know him well but had hung out with him on occasion with my high school boyfriend and he was sweet and funny and easy to look at in an Owen Wilson way. He played mellow guitar. He told corny jokes. He was gone.
I asked Cecelia - "How did you know about it?"
One was her classmate's cousin and the other was an ex-boyfriend of one of her best friend's older sister. "They don't know why the cousin did it, but the college guy did it because he didn't get into a class."
Rescue time. Thank God I attended that parenting class and learned about this emotional firebomb in my child's world. We talked about triggers and how just like sometimes adults bring more sad and mad into a situation with kids that sometimes kids get overwhelmed with life and pressure and boyfriend/girlfriend situations and alcohol and drugs and they don't see a way out. And no matter what happens in your life, no matter how bad it seems, there are adults in your life that have seen it and been there and they can help you deal with it. Your family and community pick you up, during hard times.
"Remember how much you wanted to get into that community theater program at the Rep this year? And how great your audition went and you got wait listed? And you learned that the out of and in state girl competition is much heavier than the boys? And your teacher told you that the best actress at Episcopal right now never made it into that program? And how talking to your friends lifted you up? The adults in your life are always there to make things better."
She listened. She bought the album and retreated to her room. I cooked.
I called dad and stepmom last night to brief them - they've got a long weekend together at the lake and I want them to be ready if something comes up. Stepmom divulged that she told Cecelia something helpful that I didn't touch on when she didn't get into that summer program. "We learn much more from our failures in life than our successes."
I cannot believe at eleven my daughter is already grappling with concepts I wasn't introduced to until high school. But I'm glad to be connected enough - it's tough in my position but I try like hell to interject as best as I possibly can. Life sucks. Kids learn that pretty early. If they can't talk about it, we all lose out.