This is a tough post for me to write for a couple of reasons. The subject matter is sensitive and the situation in question has been really, really difficult for me.
It’s every parent’s nightmare…that your kid tells you that someone did something to them. You know the kind of ‘something’ I mean. In my case, it wasn’t so bad. My kid told me that another kid had introduced him to, ahem, age-inappropriate information and activity. My kid, in a very preschool manner, told me initially by acting out with me, suggesting I do to him what he was asked to do to another child. My twenty-plus years of dealing with these kinds of disclosures (had to do my first suspected child abuse report over 20 years ago while a volunteer in college), knowledge of child development, and experience helping children who have been through sexual abuse served me well. I think I’ve done okay and my kid will be okay.
But this situation has me thinking about how damn hard it is for adults to deal with these kinds of situations on behalf of kids. This has been the worst part of the whole thing for me. In the ONE situation in my WHOLE LIFE where I should be able to just be the mom – just look after my child, just fall apart when he’s asleep and a friend is near – I have had to be an advocate, an educator, and a scapegoat.
His awesome preschool that I have loved for many reasons has flat out refused to take responsibility. Their response to my clearly articulated concerns has been to state 1) what happened was ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ (trust me, it was) and 2) that it didn’t happen.
The fact is, it did happen. My kid spontaneously described at least four interactions with two different children in three specific locations. What happened wasn’t ‘ordinary’ behavior for 4 and 5 year olds. The things that were done and said are things that a kid does and says when an adult has done and said them to the kid, or when another child who has been abused acts out with that kid. Do I know where it started? No. Do I know that it started somewhere? Yes.
Somewhere is patient zero, the child who was abused.
And this school that is otherwise so loving, so protective, so encouraging to little minds, would prefer to put their collective heads in the sand than deal with that reality. It has been made clear to me that I am the problem and that they don’t want other parents at the school to know that anything really happened.
Adult fear is understandable but can not be a reason for ignoring a problem. Kids who have been acted out with, like my son, are primed for future abuse and for acting out with other kids, perpetuating and expanding the circle of vulnerability. I can’t participate in that.
So, my son is going elsewhere and we are getting professional help to try to ensure that this stops here. There may be other ramifications for the school’s choice but I can’t control that.
Which brings me to my thought number two – what I can do. Which is why I am writing about this, my experience. Like I said, my kid is going to be okay. I have handled things remarkably well, if I do say so myself.
And I am a wreck. My eyes are constantly red and irritated from fatigue but I haven’t slept before midnight without Benadryl (hard core drug for me) in over three weeks. I get heartburn (heartburn? didn’t realize what it was for a few days…never have it) whenever I think/talk/write about it (excuse me while I get a Pepto). Mostly, I am sad. Sad, and scared. Even though I know I have done things right, that what happened was relatively minor (I have plenty of perspective on that), I worry that this will be somehow significant in his schema. I am grieving my inability to keep him protected from the seediness of the world for a little longer.
And I am mad. Mad at whatever adult started this string of acting out with some kid out there. Mad at the school for responding so poorly. Mad at our twisted up culture that links sex and shame so tidily and deeply and keeps parents and kids silent about their experiences.
It makes me appreciate how hard this is for other parents who don’t have the benefit of years of training and experience, of seeing the effects of unattended abuse and the benefits of appropriate action. Other parents who had their own weird experiences and don’t want to mess up their kids with their own ‘issues’ and so believe a school administrator when they finally get up the nerve to say something and hear “Oh, that’s normal.” Parents who are so scared to see/hear what their kid is trying to show/tell them that they hope it will just go away, that their kid will forget.
And so I am committed: to making our communities safer for kids, to expanding the circle of support for parents.
But first I am going to go about making sure my kid is all right, that he gets to learn about his body and sexuality in safe and enjoyable ways, at the times that are right for him.