For awhile I noticed Callie wasn’t doing much communication at all. He was 5. Very few words. Pointing & sign language was our conversation, and that was slowly fading. I thought he was tired and still trying to get adjusted to his new routine but an inner feeling whispered “something is wrong.” Kindergarten was a whole new world for him and one that did not thrill him. ..and I found out why one particular Friday. I brought him home from school & took off his jacket. . . .and there it was….on his arm….a bruise. It was around the upper part of his arm. It was obvious that someone had squeezed his arm too tight. I saw it and could not breathe. Every image of what possibly happened flooded my head and I could not breathe. I visualize my son crying, not being able to put into words “Help!” or “Hurt!” or “Ouch!” Since one word sentences was all he had at the time, I saw him struggling to express himself. I saw him wrestling to get away from a person that had no face, because I could not fathom a human being, positioned & trained in a school setting, abusing my child. I started hyperventilating. I walked away. I closed my eyes, hoping to gain my composure……hoping the bruise would vanish. Maybe, just maybe, it was a figure of my imagination, but no. My son sat in the recliner, watching TV with the bruise staring back at me. I walked away again, trying to gather my thoughts but I had no thoughts to gather. I just felt sick as if the walls around me were closing in. I walked sucking in as much air as I could, screaming in between each breath. . . . and crying uncontrollably. My head felt like volcano on the verge of exploding & my stomach was in knots, shooting off warnings that my body could collapse in any minute. I sat down, trying to pray but nothing transpired. I believed God heard me anyway and for a brief minute or two God allowed me to think straight. I grabbed my camera and took a picture of Callie’s arm, but right after, I threw my camera and fell to the floor. I had lost it again. After some time had gone by, I decided to call my husband. Dialing his number was terrifying. My hands were shaking. I wasn’t sure how bad his reaction would be. “Baby.” At first, that’s all I could get out. I was sobbing. He kept saying, “What’s wrong?” I finally said, “I need you to look at Callie’s arm. I think I’m seeing things.” “What’s wrong with Callie’s arm?” Slowly I say, “I don’t know. Looks like a bruise.” Silence and then “I’m on my way.”
It was indeed a bruise. But how is that possible? Bruise & school in the same breath seemed unheard of. It shouldn’t even be in the same sentence. ..but it was. Friday afternoon left. Thank God. The initial shock is something I did not want to ever relive again, but the days ahead weren’t pretty either. Come Monday, the bruise was still there. . .a little darker and we were fuming. We met with the school’s principal who seemed nonchalant about the whole thing, but this was nothing new. We had faced incidents earlier in the year with one of the paraprofessionals and the principal’s response was the same. Her brain only could conceive the child being the problem, not her staff. I sat in front of her bewildered as my husband did everything in his power to not say what he really thought of her. I couldn’t speak. Tears rolled down my face at the fact that this woman did not care. I had a picture of my son with a bruise. Doctors confirmed and she did not care. She’s a principal of a school and she does not care. For some reason, that did not add up. I kept wondering if this woman was real. Was she human at all? And for the first time I believed in aliens, because one sat right in front of me. She finally said she would file a report with the District and Social Services. That was the best thing she had said all year. . .or maybe not.
The whole experience felt like a nightmare. No one seemed genuinely concerned, not even the lady from Social Services. Callie had become a case number and his bruise translated into a parent’s complaint. The focus shifted from the one who bruised him to “How is Callie at home?” Our parenting skills were now being questioned. This stopped being about my son. This was about how quickly they could close this case and move on. The District did not want a dark cloud hanging over their heads, but it didn’t matter if the child and parents did. This was absolutely amazing. My husband was livid. Me – angry but hurt, disappointed, dismayed. . . . . and numb.
The principal had the paraprofessional who hurt Callie removed from the classroom but continued to work in another classroom right next door. For this, I am still at a lost for words. But we complained and other parents who got a whiff of what happened to our son also complained, and finally the District had her removed from the school a month before summer break. However, she was placed in another elementary school as a paraprofessional. No disciplinary action taken. No back to school training on how to handle special needs children. Just a glance of disapproval and a paycheck of comfort. She was not fired, at least not during the 2 years we were in that school district. I’m not convinced anything was put in her file. It was and continues to be disheartening. I came to the realization that if students are at the forefront of a school and your heart is to make sure every child is in a safe & learning environment, then Callie’s bruise would not have been something you wanted to brush under the rug. Every effort possible would be done to prevent incidents like this one from happening again. More training. More observations. More accountability. And if they had any warm bones in their body, someone….anyone would have cared to make sure Callie was ok and we, as his parents, were ok. But this was not the case. Instead every time we stepped foot at the school, we were looked upon as if we had brought a reproach against the school and the District. I am yet in awe that my son’s first year in public school was a complete horror. I am beyond nauseous that night fell before day even begun, and the sun never fully rose. Just a faint light that never stayed. We did what we could with the knowledge we had, but it wasn’t enough. We were fighting against the wind and never landing a punch.
We spent a year on a roller coaster that appeared to have malfunction after malfunction. It was a round the clock headache and heartache and I just wanted it to cease. At some point, I would have welcomed a minute of exhaling. A second would have allowed hope to surface but instead this unwanted moment caused wrong to become right and the needs of the innocence to wax cold. Compassion had lost heart and apologies were thrown out so quickly in order to quiet our pain and satisfy our frustrations…..not registering that sometimes. . .just sometimes, saying “sorry” is not sufficient. It doesn’t solve the problem and for some situations, it doesn’t make things better.
However, this unwanted and unspeakable moment became unforgettable and eye-opening. . . .and unfortunately for our counterparts, it also became a teachable moment. This experience drove shock waves and red flags through my mind, heart and soul. And suddenly Wonder Woman showed up to collect and store the rights of my child. Determination grabbed hold of these policies and procedures and embraced my being, keeping me on my toes, and making certain that these school officials weren’t the only ones speaking law. I eventually figured out and understood that experience, knowledge & passion are a must, and if you add the three, they all equal a not always easy & a not always hard travel on an unfamiliar road to a greater horizon….no matter what that horizon may be. But what helps the journey move & not be stagnant is knowing you have understanding, support and a fight lodged inside, to help you see the sun in its fullness, as well as, equip you with an armor for the night after the day is gone.
Thanks for listening,