The Longest Day

It’s the longest day of the year, I remember suddenly, and boy, does it feel like it.

I am driving home from class; Stevie Nicks is wailing away on the stereo.  I am bawling, though I am not quite sure why.

For some aggravatingly unknown reason, I work much better under pressure than without it.  Thus the lazy shopping trip this morning, the e-mail exchange with my faraway sister, the heartwarming chat with the school principal when I dropped by with an early dinner for the staff… and then the frenzied consumption of 67 pages of textbook reading in hurried snatches between lessons for the remainder of the afternoon.  Sigh.

I’d read the chapter on ADHD (the shortest of the three, and it took me the longest – just reading about distractibility is enough to distract me!) and so launched into the one about emotional and behavioral disorders.  These are some of the most challenging students to teach, and they have some of the lowest rates of success in school, work and life.  They tend to run into trouble with law enforcement, teen pregnancy and substance abuse.  Absorb.  Absorb.  Highlight. Memorize.  Prepare for the quiz.

It wasn’t too hard, and afterward the instructor presented a [well-organized, thorough and informative] PowerPoint lecture about the chapter we’d just read. Then she started telling stories.  Like:

  • A child tattles on his friend: “So-and-so just pimp-slapped me!” The teacher responds: “That’s not appropriate; we don’t say ‘pimp’ at school.” Child is puzzled. “Pimp’s not a bad man; pimp’s a rich man!”
  • Teacher gives an assignment: write a letter to your parents. In it, try to persuade them to do something: anything you want. The child asks his family to please clean the house.
  • Child is showing signs of emotional disturbance; in a conference, teacher finds out parents have been taking child to a strip bar.
  • Staff remove a child who is throwing a tantrum from the classroom and place him in the “quiet room,” where he can calm down without hurting himself. He proceeds to run around the room yelling “gangbang!” and then demonstrate precisely what he means by that term.
  • When physically restrained by her teacher, a child does what she has learned to do to escape such situations: urinate on both of them.

Somehow, I remained clinically detached from these harrowing stories. I asked questions, took notes, commented when appropriate.

I didn’t even feel sad, really, until my friend Rebecca exploded with: “Can’t we just start a boarding school somewhere and take these children there and give them what their parents can’t?  Feed them, clothe them, discipline them, show them affection, help them succeed?  They can have their kids back on the weekends.  I think it’s important for them to be with their parents.  But… someone has to do something!”

“Do it.  I’ll work for you,” I said.  I meant it more than anything I’d said in at least a month.

And then, after watching this extremely disturbing promo for a documentary on eating disorders (an internalized form of emotional disability,) another friend mused: “It seems so sad, so extreme, and yet we are so much closer to those girls than we realize.  Life is hard, and people have to deal with it somehow; we all have different coping mechanisms.  Mine might not be as unhealthy as starving myself to death, but just a little change in the way my brain was wired, and –” she couldn’t finish her sentence.

We finish our wrap-up activity, walk to the parking lot, smelling the rain and chattering about the next day.  I start the car, turn on the radio for some reason. Then Stevie.  Then the tears.  I think, over and over: it’s not fair.

None of it is fair.  Nor has it ever been.