You see me and run your fingers through your hair, trying to look nonchalant. I can see that you’re uncomfortable, possibly intimidated: I’m a good 20 years older than you, and my body is rigid, my mouth set. You know that I’ve complained about you and that I want my child out of your class. But, they can’t move her: it doesn’t fit with the timetable. Unfortunately. So, we’re stuck with each other for the year.
You start to tell me, All I did was… and you act out how you ‘gently’ took her head between your hands and ‘gently’ twisted it back around towards the front and pointed it down at her work.
You hurt her, I say.
I don’t see how I could have, you say, and you demonstrate again, using my head this time, how you ‘gently’ twisted my daughter’s.
How dare you? I want to yell at you. How dare you take my child’s head and twist it, and sit there telling me you did it gently. It. Hurt. Her. You. Hurt. Her.
Besides, she shouldn’t have been looking sideways in the classroom, you say.
Let me clear my throat and look at my hands before I speak. Do you know my daughter? I say.
Yes, you say, she is a very good student.
She is not just a good student, I say. She is a good girl. When she’s sick, she worries about the lessons she’s missing. If she was lost in a forest, she’d strip bark off a tree and use a rock to write so she could do her homework. If I raise my voice at her, her eyes fill because she’s mortified that she might have done something wrong. You don’t need to discipline her like that. She is a good girl.
I think you’re over-reacting, you say. She needs to learn resilience.
My heart races. I’m sick of hearing that fucking word. Resilience. I stare at you, my lips together. I don’t move because I’m afraid I’ll stand and lift the desk off the floor and throw it at you.
Let me tell you a thing or two about resilience, I want to say. Resilience is getting out of bed in the morning when you’ve lain awake half the night listening to your parents yelling. Resilience is dousing your swollen, red face in water to cool it, before jumping in the car and heading to school. Resilience is sitting in the car, being yelled at and yelling back, then climbing out at the other end, pasting a smile on your face and walking through the classroom door. Resilience is hiding the bruises and the scratches your mother gave you the night before. Resilience is hitch-hiking to a friend’s place to stay because you’ve been kicked out of home and wearing that friend’s uniform to school the next day even though it’s two sizes too small. Resilience is tuning out all of this, sitting at your desk and trying to cram your lessons into your brain. Resilience is your mother screaming at you and you screaming back until she’s hitting you and you’re lying in a foetal position on the floor begging her to stop and asking her to remember you have an exam the next day. Resilience is picking yourself up off the floor and walking into that exam and somehow not just passing, but doing well. Resilience is your sister being killed in the middle of your University exams, and returning after a week and finishing them. And passing. Resilience is spending the following year drunk, and failing, then taking time off during which you decide that you do want to make something of your life after all. Resilience is returning to Uni and repeating the year you failed when everyone in your original year is doing their Finals. Resilience is sucking up your pride and putting your head down and not just passing, but excelling. That’s resilience, Miss.
Sorry, I got a bit carried away, and this is about my daughter, not me. There are a few things you don’t know, Miss, and that I can’t tell you, but I carry them with me everywhere I go. You see, Miss, I vowed that I would never hit or hurt my children, so they would never have to go through what I did. And you’ve done to my child something I would never do.
But, I tell you none of this, and all you see is an overprotective mother with anger eking from every pore.
Eventually I say, ‘You see, Miss, I’ve never smacked or hit or physically hurt any of my children. And now, I’m really mad that you have. I’m sorry my daughter isn’t as resilient as you’d like her to be, so she can cope when you hurt her.’
I stand and you stand, we shake hands, and I walk out.
Fantastic writing Louise. Courageous. The narrator must be one of those women that run with the wolves. Pretty damn resilient!
The narrator has come out the other side, Iris, but it left scars. They are fading but they still flare every now and then. Thanks for your comment.
This is beautiful, as is all your writing, Louise. That mix of emotions, anger, restraint, tigress warding off predators where children are concerned – you nail it xx
Thanks, Rashida, for your encouraging comment. I’m glad I shared it.
I am glad that you did. Not only is it written from the heart, but has such depth and such history to give context to your rage and pain that the truth sings in every word. Thank you, once again, for sharing with us.
Thank you so much, T. I worry people are going to think lesser of me when I write these snippets, but they never seem to. It’s quite empowering to write it — I feel like I finally have a voice.
I was going to quietly skulk, read, enjoy and not comment Louise, but can’t do it. This is stimulating, brave writing. I’ve been thinking about the square peg post too, and wondering if it is actually more acceptable or even god forbid easier for our kids to be “non-mainstream” than was for most of us, or just different, or am I deluded…
Hello Helen! I’m so glad you’ve commented! Overjoyed, in fact. Thanks so much. You may be right that it is easier for our kids to be non-mainstream than it was for us — you’re not deluded! It’s probably easier for a host of reasons. I suspect it’s partly to do with society being a lot less liberal when we were growing up and the type of families we grew up in were more conservative. I think kids were expected to fit in, unless you were lucky enough to have parents that celebrated your differences. I think it also depends on the child — some desperately want to be popular and others don’t give a fig — that’s the type I’m trying to breed!
Maybe someone else has more to offer on this topic…
Louise, This is the kind of writing I aspire to — writing from the heart. I could feel the anger of the mother, feel how she struggled to become who she is today — a woman of wisdom, honor, and courage. I admired her as a child, as a young adult, and as an adult. She’s a flesh and blood character. If this is autobiographical then bravo! If it’s a figament of your imagination then bravo again!
I think writers are by nature square pegs, otherwise we wouldn’t be driven to write. We’d be too busy going to card games with the girls or guys, smoozing with the neighbors, too self important to dig down and write deep like you did.
When I grew up the ideal was to be a Stepford female. As a little girl you were to wear crinolines under dresses mary jane shoes, hair always had to have ribbons in it. Well at the end of school, I pulled on my long pants, stuffed my dress inside of my pants, yanked out the hair ribbons and played cowboys and indians with the boys in my neighborhood. By the time I was in my teens, I was in a Catholic girls school wearing uniforms, the 60’s hit and it was do your own thing. Times have changed certainly, but you only need to turn to Facebook see how some people have 100+ friends to know that it hasn’t changed all that much after all.
I didn’t have any children, I married too late, but I could feel for your kids. I was a special education teacher so I saw the hurt looks on kid’s faces before they left for home. The kids going home from school so upset because they weren’t popular. (What a nasty ideal popular is.) I remember wondering why I wasn’t popular like my brother was. So I followed the advice found in Seventeen magazine on how to be popular, read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” etc., joined a sorority in college but became inactive after a year. It was pretty boring. Now? I’ve finally reached the age where I don’t give a rat’s a*** if I’m popular or not. I’m happy with who I am, and I think that is the greatest gift we can pass on to the next generation.
Hear, hear, Penny! I loved reading your reply: your passage through the frigid fifties and the swinging sixties! Loved you stuffing your dress in your pants and playing cowboys and indians with the boys! And now, the confidence that comes with age — how I wish our youthful selves could have had that! And, yes, I’d forgotten about teen magazines perpetuating the popularity myth with their articles. We have a similar magazine here, called ‘Dolly’, and I remember similar articles, and teenage girls poring over them thinking it would give them the answer. I read one article that said, ‘Don’t talk about yourself. Ask the other person about them, and be a good listener,’ or words to that effect. And then I sat with a group of girls and listened to the popular girls going on and on about themselves and thought, Hey, that doesn’t work!