Today I had to reply to a message from V’s second grade teacher to explain that shutting down and going nonverbal is a common trauma response and not defiance.
Then I started reminiscing about how when I was eight months pregnant, I would rub my belly and daydream about all the coping skills my child would have and all the trauma she would get to enjoy by the time she was six.
Oh. Right. That didn’t happen.
No pregnant woman (or person waiting for their adopted child to arrive) sits around and dreams of their child having trauma responses in elementary school. We don’t sit around thinking so glad I procreated with this abusive human so my child can have ALL the traumas, so many more traumas than the average kid.
My eyes welled up after I hit send on that message. It had hit me in a new way that what I hoped and dreamed for my child was not at all what her reality became.
When my body housed her, I didn’t even start to imagine that parenting was going to involve studying up on trauma in children and how to best parent them to help them not be defined by their pain. On how to stop the cycle of trauma so she doesn’t live it her whole life and carry it into her own parenting if she decides to have children.
After the incident yesterday, the one the teacher messaged me about today, the Vice Principal took V off the playground and into the office and called me – audibly irritated and frustrated – because she wouldn’t even talk. Can you just try to talk to her?!
I talked to her on the phone and she was able to answer me – her voice small and a little squeakier than normal. She didn’t say much – just some yeses and some I don’t knows to my questions.
Are you having a hard time right now? yes
Are you having a hard time saying you’re sorry right now? yes
Do you think you can apologize to her a little later today? i don’t know
There was one so small me, too after I told her that I love her.
I found out last night, after I had picked V up from school, that he had raised his voice to her – before and after calling me. A loud, stern, I just don’t understand why you can’t just say you’re sorry!
In case anyone wonders, I am going to meet with him and the principal and discuss ways to approach her (and other trauma affected children, which I imagine is a large number of the students). I (probably) will not say that it is clear his frustration was running the show or that it’s clear he sees children as either compliant or willfully defiant, ignoring completely the science out there about developmentally appropriate ways to react to outside stressors even when trauma isn’t involved. Or I will. We’ll see.
And nevermind, that in a perfect world, I wouldn’t need to tell administrators in a large school in a populated bay area city about trauma responses or ways to help kids get out of their fight or flight and back to being able to think clearly.
Mostly because in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have traumatized children.
So, I guess, what I mean is that in our imperfect world, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that a grown man not tower over a small, silent girl and exert his power to make her feel even smaller without having to be told why he shouldn’t do that.
My eyes filled with tears, again, while I was driving home tonight because as I spent hours on one end of my couch those first few months of her life, exhausted and nursing and wondering how her life would be when she was old enough to walk, old enough to talk, I didn’t at all see what we were careening right into.
Because I never, ever dreamed this for her.
Because another kid threw scissors at V’s head yesterday and this kid has a history of acting out and I keep thinking of him, but not in the ways that people might expect. Second only to my need to make sure he doesn’t have a chance to hurt or scare V anymore is my sadness for him.
We dealt with him last year, also, and I know that the odds are that he’s in some kind of traumatic situation and when I heard he got suspended yesterday I wondered if that was going to put him in a whole new level of hellfire at home. I wondered if he has anyone in his life to help him through what’s happening inside his heart and mind and body when he does things like throw scissors or put girls in choke holds.
Because a fifteen year old girl was taken from her home in Santa Cruz last night by way of court order in the name of Reunification and is most likely already en route to a Reunification Camp as I write this.
Because we only know about her and her brother and their heart wrenching fear because she was brave enough to post videos on social media last night begging for people to come witness it so they could maybe help find her.
Because there are so many others like her whose voices we’ve never heard and so we don’t know when or where they were taken until they age out and can tell their stories, if they aren’t so broken that they can’t bear to tell any of it at all.
Because alongside the trauma of these children is the pain and trauma of the safe parents who are powerless to stop that train once it starts rolling.
Those of us with children traumatized by abusers who were then further traumatized by family court feel alone and abandoned by almost everyone.
We know that other people don’t really get it and we also know that lots of folks think we should’t have any grounds to complain because we’re the ones who had children with the abusers.
We know because people say it. Out loud. To us or just about us.
It’s like they see us as someone who walked into Babies R Us and scanned the emotional abuse and physical abuse and sexual abuse bar codes. Who gleefully entered quantities and colors for each one.
Oh I really hope he gaslights her and gives her those super cute rage fits I’ve heard all about in those mom books.
As if we met the other parent of our child and they were abusive right out of the gate and we thought Oh yes! This one will really ensure our kid is traumatized and I get cPTSD.
We were conned. It was a long, long grift for many of us.
Not that that should matter.
Our children should be protected because they deserve that no matter what anyone thinks of me or any other parent.
If my child stops, stares and can’t talk, you should care to handle her gently and not see a rotten child who won’t do the ‘right thing’.
If a child is terrified to go with a parent, we should stop and listen and find what’s at the core. Not strong-arm our own misguided notions or, worse yet, feed that child into the PAS and Reunification money machines.
You can think I have no right to gripe and complain all you want and still see my child for the tiny little human in need of help and care that she is.
V didn’t sign up for this. That little scissor-throwing boy didn’t ask for whatever has him taking it out on other kids at school. That fifteen year old girl didn’t take her first breath thinking I sure hope the courts help my mom abduct me at some point to try to brainwash me into loving abuse.
My child is one of the lucky ones. She hasn’t had any new trauma in more than a year due to a judge’s careful consideration for her future and her father’s unwillingness to do even the most basic things that were set out for him to regain visitation.
We are one of the positive family court stories and yet I still took hours to consider how I was going to word my email to the principal. I paused again, later, before hitting send on my message back to V’s teacher.
There was more than just sadness and pain in those pauses.
If there’s anything the last three years have given me, it’s the tools to confidently advocate for my child and her needs.
But fuck the world that I have to keep doing this in – I’m sick of a world where any of us have to keep asking/begging/demanding that adults treat our children’s health and well-being with respect and care.
That their basic safety is up for grabs because their parent is not seen as deserving of help.
Today I have been completely unable to see our system for helping children (and protective parents) as anything good.
Today, I have let myself set aside hope and determination and just sit with how the children must feel in these awful, painful moments.
I hit send on that message to my daughter’s teacher also thinking of the father in Santa Cruz – & the many mamas I know who have been denied contact with their children in the name of PAS – and how lost and terrified and mad and devastated they all must be right now.
How soul crushing this all is when it’s your child who keeps getting failed by the system.
We need to stop talking over children and forcing them into trauma after trauma.
We need to stop talking, period, and change the system, change the laws.
We did not hope or dream or ask for this. And neither did our kids.