I’m not sure how I managed to block this memory but once someone directly asked me if I had ever attempted suicide it all came flooding back.
The tears as I swallowed each one.
The shame I felt when I admitted what I had done to my stepdad.
The disappointment in his face.
The thickness of the charcoal I drank.
The sharpness of the catheter.
But most of all, the sadness.
The overwhelming loneliness I felt, as a child.
They always cornered me in the stairway- called me “mosquito bites” for my underdeveloped breasts, wrote LD (for learning disabled) on my shoes, and taunted me with the word “virgin” when I had no clue what it meant.
When you are in a class with a total of 14 children, nine of which are boys, there are few places to hide.
I was easy prey.
Knowing what I know now, as a mother and a teacher, I no longer feel shame for that little girl.
I feel so sorry for her.
I wish someone had helped her before she felt like dying was better than living.
And if by sharing my story, I prompt anyone reading to look someone in the eye and ask, “Are you ok?”, then the courage to put this into words was worth it, after all.
It amazes me how much we take for granted on a daily basis. It isn’t until we injure our toe that we recognize how much we failed to appreciate it fully-functioning. The same could be said for a heater in winter or a dependable car. But perhaps the thing we take for granted most is our voice.
Recently, my girls and I visited a children’s play place. I typically only frequent these madhouses during “off” times- anyone interested in a 3 PM dinner? See you at Chick-Fil-A. My strategy is part small-talk avoidance combined with reduced noise level and chaos for my 2, 4 and 6 year-old girls to navigate. Nonetheless, there’s no way to totally avoid socialization unless we stay home and since I’m not trying to raise my daughters in a bubble, I embrace these encounters for what they are: learning opportunities.
So when an 18 month-old recently took particular interest in my social-anxiety-ridden 4-year-old, I prepared my lesson. To any outsider, it was adorable. A little blue-eyed, towheaded boy recognized himself in our Harper’s similar features and grabbed a hold of her hand. To her credit, Harper attempted to roll with it until he refused to let go and followed her no matter how far she ran. With pleading eyes, she looked to me for help.
A few weeks later, in a different establishment, I was alarmed to hear my two-year old crying for the third time in twenty minutes. Since the play place was three stories tall with covered tube slides too small for my 9 month-pregnant butt to crawl into, I couldn’t figure out what had happened during the first two instances, but at the third outburst, the sibling of a child explained her sister had pinched my little Emma, for no apparent reason. Later, in the car, after discussing it with my older two girls, it was revealed that this same child had hit my four and six year old on the head at the bottom of the slide.
I asked what they did in response and they said they ignored her and kept on playing.
Although I’m proud my girls aren’t tattle-tales who cry over the smallest infraction, I immediately thought of the #metoo movement and recognized how imperative it was for me to ensure my girls knew that it is OK and IMPORTANT for them to use their voice.
I could see it in Harper’s face- she didn’t want to hurt the little boy’s feelings by asking him to stop holding her hand. And I knew my eldest didn’t want to disrupt the balance of play by complaining about the head-hitting but isn’t this what the #metoo movement is all about? Women afraid to speak up because of the potential repercussions?
I recognized right then and there that being encouraged to use their voice was something that had to be explicitlytaught at a very young age. I was struck at the realization that I had assumed my girls would know what to do in those situations and cringed at the thought of ever telling them to “ignore” or “get over it” and keep playing.
I looked at my girls square in the face and explained, “Your body is YOUR body. It belongs to you. If someone ever hits you or touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you must use your VOICE to tell that person to stop.”
I continued with an example.
“When that little girl hit you, you had every right to say, ‘That hurt me. Do not do that again. If you do, I will not play with you.'”
Simple. And yet why does it feel so hard to stand up for ourselves? I explained that if the girl or hand-holding little boy continued, then my girls should find an adult to help, just as a woman in a workplace should seek the assistance of her boss.
These things we take for granted must not be overlooked any longer. I feel so fortunate that my daughters are growing up in the midst of the #metoo movement, when women are empowered to come forward after years of silence. The fact of the matter is, though, many of these women did go to their bosses and were punished as a result, taught to remain silent.
No more. No longer. We will teach our children to use their voice so that silent acquiescence becomes the thing of generations past.
“Another thing,” I told them. “We are a family and we stick together. If you ever see your sister in trouble, you stand by her and help. You are not alone.” With this, my 6 year-old’s precious lips turned upward into a knowing smile. Empowered.