My middle child started kindergarten and my oldest child started 2nd grade today. They excitedly bounded into my room this morning, showing me their new school clothes and asking if I liked their style. My husband lovingly packed their lunches into their bags and the host of school supplies their teachers asked for into the car. I took obligatory first day pictures of their biggest smiles and upon arriving at school, I walked each of them to their classrooms. I reminded them that they are the light of the world, and they are meant to shine bright, and they are also the salt of the earth, which means they are the life in the party, and everything gets better when they show up. I squeezed their hands, admonished them to shine bright and walked back to the car. I bantered with the aides on duty, and we laughed at the exhaustion that was setting in before 8 a.m., wishing each other a happy first day.
As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, tears filled my eyes and my composed disposition absolutely shattered. I was able to squeak out, “I’m sad” after my husband saw my face change increasingly brighter shades of red and grabbed my hand to remind me I’m not alone. It felt like we drove for a long time before I could take a breath deep enough to say more. “Dropping them off at school feels like dropping them off at a slaughterhouse.” I went on about being prepared to become a state exam statistic, while being caged up with those who have sharp mouths and claws, away from my sight, where I cannot protect them. I began to reflect on my own elementary school experience, which gave me a clinical depression diagnosis by the time I was 11, and just cried until I got to work.
“Back to School” may as well be “Back to Trauma” for me, and I’ve gone through this 3 years running at this point. I do what I can to remind myself that most people have a neutral to positive experience with school, and that anything involving other people will always have elements of struggle or clashing, but they generally don’t cross the line into into trauma, and my experience is the anomaly. I’ve also had heaps of the most well meaning, loving, intelligent people in my life attempt to comfort me by reminding me that I am the strong woman I am today because of the adversity I overcame as a young person.
I know they’re trying to encourage me, and instill faith in me that my boys are also strong and will make it through even the worst case scenario for the better. But I think back to that kid with cuts on her wrists and hollowness in her heart, making poor, reactive, trauma informed choices and I have to disagree. The person my experience created was not strong. She was afraid she would never be loved, and harmed herself trying desperately to change that narrative. She found power in anger and self-degradation and fantasized for years about suicide because she would rather die than continue to live in constant fear and pain.
The person who I am today is a result of the most amazing therapists, loving friends, teachers and colleagues who stuck with me even as I flopped around awkwardly in my pursuit of health, and Jesus, who found me at my last straw and asked, “what if things didn’t always have to be this way? What if things could be different?” Until today, I always took that question and applied it to me, and my life. That the promise offered to 16 year old Lisa was this painful stage of life would end, which it did, and I have since lived a new life marked by authenticity, goodness and beauty. Yet while I was expressing my anxiety to a friend who is a few years ahead of me in fatherhood, he said to me, “life is an experiment not yet replicated, because there are too many variables. Your sons while like you are not you, and they will have their own experiences.”
And suddenly the promise of things being different wrapped around my distressed heart like a hug. The Jesus that gave me hope of change is the same Jesus who I have dedicated raising my children in relationship with; the one who calls my boys salt and light. If I was able to stake my life on the promise of change with Him as my constant as a broken 16 year old child, I can take refuge today in the fact that the His promises to me extend to my children.
I’m going into this school year confident that things will be different. Not because I say so, but because there’s no other option. If you need the hope of change today, leave a comment so you can be encouraged.