Monday, April 23, 2007

the unbirthday post (to be followed by the birthday post)

Ive been struggling all weekend with a post about virginia tech. Some great and profound ones like the fabulous miss trix and the hard-hitting xavier onassis and even my sweet sister in dorkhood Pippajo are out there and I felt like I needed to put the mental health perspective out there too. But then, today is Norm's fifth birthday and I want to celebrate. And I was on the computer going through pictures to post a norman retrospective, and I kept remembering one thing about the first time I held him. He was all plugged into babyhelping machines, the news was on in my hospital room at the time, and the local anchorman was speaking. He was a figure known about town, as an old bloated drunken bitter man.(he has since passed on) And I remember looking into norm's face and being completely overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for him. It was nothing less than surreal, that sense of immeasurable love. I think I said out loud to my friends in the room that it amazed me that someone probably actually held and loved that anchorman and felt the same sense of fear and hope and overwhelming commitment to doing everything she could to make his life perfect. I know that babies are born everywhere who do not have that sense of love surrounding them. But a lot of babies do have it.

What scares the hell out of me as a mother and as a mental health worker is that a lot of times even if a mom feels that love, its not enough to make a kid's life perfect, or even bearable sometimes. When people ask Norm what I do at my job, he will tell them that I teach other kids how to play nice with other kids. (My aunt told him that when he was very small). What Norm doesn't know is that 3/4 of my case load could, with no big stretch, fit the profile of the virginia tech shooter. And what people may not know is that sometimes mental health workers are not overburdened and negligent, nor are we completely lacking insight. But sometimes, something happens to a kid you are working with, and you look back over and over and try to figure out what it was. What you could have done differently. And you look at the parents and you try so hard to make them hear. But they cant hear even though deep down they know. They know. But to admit that something is wrong with your kid is hard enough. To admit something like that is wrong? It keeps a mom up night after night. Talking herself in and out of the possibilities. And sometimes she makes the leap and lets her kid get hospitalized for treatment. But then the kid comes out. And you struggle like hell to reinforce what the kid learned in there. How to cope, how to express feelings, how to stay safe. And you do every damn possible thing you can think of and then some to keep everyone safe. And sadly, sometimes, there are other people in the system that say "oh thats just cho. Thats just how he is." And you literally do not have the power, whether you break laws or not (and trust me, a lot of us will break laws to save lives without blinking an eye.) to make people understand that this is a time bomb situation. And the kid knows how to say what he or she needs to say to stay out of trouble now. He knows what to say to convince others he is not a risk anymore. But you know. You see the actions. And they dont match the words. But again "thats just cho, what do you want us to do? lock him up for being weird?" So you spend a lot of time being sick to your stomach and unable to sleep. You think about everything from do you know enough restraint training to disarm a kid with a gun if you are there to who will raise your children, to all of the moms who might not end up having kids to raise if this time bomb goes off. And you cry. And you have nightmares. And you talk a lot to peers and supervisors. Who confirm what you know. That you cannot lock someone up permanently just because they are "weird" and "mean spirited". So you go on every single day. Doing everything you can to stop it from happening. And you spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been different. Wondering how the thing in his brain that made him understand and care broke. Because you work with the parents and you know he is loved... and you know a long time ago someone looked into his face with every single hope and fear you have for your very own children. And thats about the time you realize its not a fault thing but sometimes life really fucking bites.


Ash said...

Life really does bite, babe. Sometimes you can't fix what's broken, most of the time you can't understand why it broke in the first place.
Keep your head up, what you are doing is important and amazing.

ZigZagMan said... a parent...I worry every day, but my best hope is I can do for them what was done for me.....give them a toolbox filled enough to get on in life, and the knowledge of how to aquire more tools as they need. It's an odd metaphore...but to us, it's our best hope..:)

Jenny Ryan said...

Thank you for this.

Jay said...

I've seen a few people from VaTech say that they couldn't "force" Cho into counseling. My question is WHY NOT? Why couldn't they put counseling as a requirement for allowing him to stay in school? Especially after he was declared by court to be a threat.

I'm not blaming school admins or counselors or instructors. They are limited by what the law allows them to do when it comes to students. Not to mention each students right to privacy.

The same thing happens at companies all across the country. Just about every place has an employee that is a threat or a danger. And the managers just pray that when he goes off it won't be at work.

winterskibunny said...

My heart breaks for what Cho's family must be going through. I have often thought, what if my niece said "my daddy is molesting me?"

I mean, I know I would assume she is telling the truth, or at least look out for her best interests. Even if she wasn't, she either would need major help one way or another.

My point is, that I have often thought that I love those family members. What a shock that would be!! Would my mind really be able to accept that might be the truth?

I understand exactly about the parents not being able to accept that their child might be a danger. Or perhaps, they just didn't know.

I was shocked to hear that the university couldn't inform them that something was up. I understand that he's an adult, but they are able to share his report card, right? Why not something as serious as this?

Who knows if that would have just speeded up what happened though, instead of preventing it all together? One thing that I have learned about life is, there are some things that can not be controlled.

Now handling security at the University after the first attack, that is a whole different issue.....

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Everyone can play the blame game. The sad part was a kid that seemed to be crying out for love but wasn't getting it..and felt like he was the poor and downtrodden of the world...which is the truth...and he was stuck in a very posh school...and he was already a time bomb...from the beginning...this was something horrible waiting to happen. But you can't force anyone into's like forcing a drinker or druggie into rehab..unless they truly want's not going to work..


ZigZagMan said...

I'll drink to that Mistress of the Dark!! :)

crse said...

Hey! You guys rock! Answering each other's observations so i come back and dont have much work to do! A couple of things though

Ash-you rock. I keep thinking about our talk about "good enough" parenting. I have a lot of faith that you are going to give lei and the wombatess a huge toolbox to work with. Which leads me to
Zig- I love that metaphor. I think I told you before. I love it.
Jenny Ryan- Thank YOU for the affirmation. I was kind of scared to write this post.
Jay- I totally see what you are saying. But the problem is that you can force a kid to attend sessions? But you cant force him to learn from them. Because when i read that, I too thought, well...yeah you can force them. I worked in a university counseling center and we saw kids all the time that were "forced". Or offered counseling as an alternative to being thrown out. Im guessing thats what happened here. But the bottom line is, as MOTD says, unless they want to take the help, you are just burning daylight. I guess the difference between the managers and my field is, its going to suck just as bad no matter where they go off.
WSB- No they actually cannot share report cards. Even if you are paying for the child's education. ANY personal information is completely off limits, report cards included. Either way, from what I understood, the parents KNEW something was up. Or the mom did, she just didnt know what to do about it. I see what you are saying about the molestation comparison, but the truth is, this kid offered no direct threats. I should have mentioned before that Ive happily been wrong about the ticking time bombs before. Its pretty easy as a teacher, peer or parent to tell yourself that its probably not a big deal and its probably due to weirdness. As far as campus security goes, I can kind of understand that. A system that big is not easily shut down. Plus they thought the first incident was a murder/suicide so why complicate the investigation by creating hysteria on campus when the threat clearly appeared to be over.
MOTD- yeah....sigh.

Pippajo said...

Thank you so much for this. I love it. It is so obviously from both the gut and the heart and it's just so right. I agree wholeheartedly. One of the first things I thought of when we were learning about the shooter was his mother. He was once her little boy, playing with cars, digging in dirt, trying to catch frogs and fireflies. Did she count the freckles on his nose while she watched him sleep after a hard day of playing outside? Did she sigh each time she emptied his pockets of crayons, pennies, bottle caps and candy wrappers when she did his laundry? Did she watch him walk the path to his first day of Kindergarten with her heart in her mouth? Did she cry when he left for college? Did she wonder what secrets he was keeping from her? Did she wonder what kind of woman he would marry, what kind of father he would be? And now, how does she deal with the loss of her son compounded with the knowledge of how she lost him and how the world now sees her baby boy? I think we just need to remember to have compassion for everyone involved and not get caught up in trying to find someone to blame for it. The only person to blame here is already dead. There is nowhere else to pass the buck.

NOW will you believe you are worthy of that Thinking Blogger Award?

Again, thank you.