I feel like I left the readers in a lurch at the end of my little anecdote last week. Reliving the moment when Kevin (who is now the godfather of my children) rebuked me back into existence rendered me incapable of blathering further.
So let's see...I barely got through college. Tim actually helped me in my last semester, being my project partner when no one in my actual class would pair up with me (that is a whole separate can of worms). But Cs get degrees, and I finally received mine the June of 2002.
Nowadays, I am good. I purposefully opted out of the ambitious rat race the Stanford Computer Science department trains you for, but I still have a toe dipped into the pool of technology. Just a toe, though, so I don't get too overwhelmed again. I still get to show by example that whether you're a man or a woman, you contribute your talents and make your own living. I get to work with colleagues I respect and adore, in an industry that fascinates me, earning a decent wage, while I get to be home for my children. It's unorthodox and probably doesn't make sense to my old academic advisor or to anyone really, but this life has its own unique balance and harmony, much like me.
Every time I hear that another observant, empathic, sensitive, beautiful kid gave up after too many battles with the cruelty of others, a part of me also dies. I have felt that viscous sludge of helplessness and loneliness that comes with knowing I didn't fit in anywhere. And I know first-hand that those kinds of kids are experts at concealing their suffering. In the past, I have tried to distract myself from my misery by being the busiest, most helpful, most outwardly happy person in the room. I have at certain times worn the ache like a fur stole, a status symbol of dysfunction, rolling my eyes at those unfamiliar with the DSM-IV and the rest of the mental health world. How ignorant they seemed in their little bubbles of shallow happiness! Other times, I was punk rock confrontational, daring the normal people of the world to label me a freak, then scaring them to pieces with my I-have-nothing-left-to-lose antics. Other times, I would only have the energy to poke at the ache like a downed power line and relish the jolt of fresh pain, occasionally remembering to eat or call my mother and regale her with more stories of how well I'm doing.
I am better than most at recognizing the children who hurt, but am still at a loss at what to do to help them other than offering my story and my shoulder to lean on.
I wonder if all our children would benefit from an emotional intelligence curriculum, taught alongside reading, writing, and mathematics. There is a certain literacy to understanding human behavior...to recognize what you are feeling and how to safely express the feeling, and how to interact with others and their myriad of feelings. Some of it is instinctual, but more and more I see that very important parts have to be learned. For example, it may be instinctual for most children to see a crying face and recognize that the person is sad, but it is not instinctual for kids like Isaac to remember to regularly scan his friends' faces for that feedback. In the past, he would heckle and tease to his heart's content without realizing his playmate's feelings were getting hurt. The friend would then walk away in a huff, and Isaac was left thinking to himself, "Geez, what's his problem?" It took a lot of training to get him to REALLY look at people's faces, to observe, to ask permission, to cooperate, to seek the opinions of others, and he still doesn't do it all the time. It would be amazing if he and his classmates got the same message from his teacher as well. In the meantime, we forge ahead, hoping that he and Emi will be happy and depression-free, but will know who to turn to if they are not.