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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Badly bruised children, Tales from the Crypt, Rattling the Human Chain.

"She's just mean, that's all, and like I didn't do anything wrong, and and even if I had, it would have been by accident , and like not my fault, and like she hurt me, my arm,  just yanked me, by my arm, and pulled me out of the room, and like... like stood over me shouting, and making me feel bad, and like how could I have known what she wanted, " the boss tells of this  treatment by one of her teachers with pained brow, her habitual expression when wounded physically or emotionally,  attempting to  grasp the logic of events.  "Mum, you should complain" her older sister says trenchantly.  I ask the  boss to explain to me again what happened, and if her arm is marked. She is firm in telling me that she does not want me to intervene  "because, like, there will be a big fuss, and I 'll be called in, and my arm's ok now, and I don't think she will do it again because, like she was nice to me later, and she's not usually,  and... and I think she knows she went too far, and and she's not MY teacher, I don't have to see her often. And besides, SHE'S.... SHE'S  JUST LIKE THAT.". She certainly seems to have fogotten about it by the time we get home,  though I am troubled.  Should I intervene, despite her injunction? I know what she means by a  "big fuss", and I 'm also aware that schools and adults  in general  are adept at  re inventing the dynamic of what has happened,  to implicate the child  in subtle and unsubtle ways,  if faced with the choice of tackling a teacher. And what harm has been done to the boss?  I am not sure. Would I , in fact, cause actual harm where none had been done, if I make "a big  fuss" as she fears.

Teachers   these days are not permitted to brutalise children, as they have done  with impunity in the  not so distant past. In fact there is a belief  now that matters have swung too  far in the opposite direction, the teacher's authority fatally eroded.  I am not convinced about that one. The imbalance of power between little one and adult doesn't change, and teachers  like the rest of us, are adept at subterannean, suble cruelties, in place of more frowned  on oppressions. As to harm done, I was primary schooled in an era where use of a  fair degree of brutality was considered appropriate in teaching children, with an indifference to, or ignorance about,  consequential damage. The casual attitude towards  those abuses  seems almost humourous now (blackly). When I was about ten years old , for instance, I presented a medical form to a teacher, filled out as a preliminary to some  school vaccination, who read it aloud to the class (it was a slow morning) and remarked, bitingly, that my mother seemed to be under the impression that I had normal intelligence.  The other children laughed loudly, and I would have joined in had the heavy dark featured teacher required it of  me. All that was required was for me to sit there  dumb and abject,  however. And I have a sneaking disbelief in my  own intelligence to this day. Again, I recall been asked for the answer to a homework question by the same malelovolent (to this ten year old, anyway) presence. So frightened was I, that the numbers blurred on the page when I looked down, and I gave her the answer to the adjacent sum. There followed a scene at the blackboard, to where she marched me, that I carry with me to this day. Being numb with fear, I couldn't  make any sense of the figures on the board, so that she caught me by  my hair, swung me back   and whacked  my head sharply against the board.   For what seemed like an eternity thereafter, I stumbled through  the the workings  of the sum. In the end, the answer was  seven. I know that because she spelled the  letters of the word out derisivly to me, and made me write them  down, although the letters made no recognisable word for me. "Se van" I told her.   Fear had made me illiterate as well as innumerate. When I resumed the (relative) safety of my desk, she asked me what answer had I  actually written down for  homework.   " Seven" I told her.  She   snatched  the copy from my hand, and after a brief silence,  delivered herself of  a diatribe against  imbeciles.

On  the    scale of  opppressions, I was not the the most badly treated. I remember  a small child,  pale yellow urine slowly running down her leg, as she stood isolated at the top of the classroom, being berated by the same teacher. We all  watched as she cried helplessly, the  situation only alleviated  for us by the fact that it was not one of us. The teacher stroked the stick she kept to discipline the children, (she named it Jimmy,) before contemptously ordering the child  home out of her sight "with her disgusting mess". So, I am not sure what damage was done to the boss now, but I will take no chances, I suspect my own gauge  may be broken on that one, and will pay a discreet visit to her  school.

And what of all the other parents confronted with this scenario then and  now,  my own included? I suspect that the level of harshness and abuse (what else was it ?) varied from parish to parish depending on how willing or able ordinary people were to counteract the priest and the teacher, to rein them in.  It was  then a rigidly  hierarchical society,  a potentially  dangerous imbalance of power reflected in the relationship between people, church and schools. Some of this abuse was so blatant, extreme, even  ( boys, in particular being badly beaten on  a regular basis in school or most cruelly and consistantly derided.) The derision was a given, ("sticks and stone may break your bones, but words will never hurt you", we said)  and  not confined to  academic matters either . I remember one boy being  mocked about his "buck" teeth over and over  by the headmaster, a male counterpart of our Cruella.  There was at best a helpess paralysis, a powerlessness on the part of parents,  at worse a cravenly  blind eye turned. My   own childhood  experiences of this could be  matched and topped by many people,  and I have heard the stories over the years  usually in a pub setting, the only setting where this stuff is pulled out in  to the light of day, still.  The wavering  angry light  shed by  many units of alcohol  catching the damaged  child ,  buried deep, and  hastily stuffed back into the crypt,  in  sobriety. There is a shocking resignation about it all, an unwillingness to be troubled by old wounds. Which, of course works  its poison  through, one way or another.    Taking into account the more extreme brutalities of that, not so long ago, time,  it is hard to see how it  can be excused,  disposed of,  in terms of a  more delicate  modern sensibility, and /or a matter of  making judgements on  a different era.  I wonder too whether this kind of craven  blind eyed not looking (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil) is a peculiarly   Irish trait. And  if   it is now  a part of   our  heritage, working its way out  through the  generations,  like any other  suppressed  damage. It is naive to think we have left it  all behind us , in the past, or that the harm done has been healed or dealt with at all. It may even be dangerous to think that  a toxic legacy is not transferred to children,  who all  unknowing  and in a more affluent and permissive  time, will act out old traumas, bleed out from old wounds. . With the aid of  chemical and other stimulants, of course.. After all, its common belief these days that trauma is stored on a cellular level, and how can we caculate what RNA catalysed process  was caused and passed on  from old horrors,  to taint, to hobble,  future generations.?


                                                         Behind Judas Escariot.

Was it you behind Judas Escariot, you
as he slides through the door,
his  head dipping lower, and
you  carry  his coat, while you both
left the floor to the beast.
All available space
he had
Tather Tom,
when he beat the child to the floor,
til child despoiled, flower mired, could'nt take  any more.
His child's flesh too weak, so to speak
pulverised to a pulp
til nothing will ever now move
save the sad silent flow of his blood.
Father oh father oh daddy please stand
between frail flesh and beasthand.
Was it you?

Was it you who went home to cower in bed,
while Judas Escariot tightened the rope
and never once lifted his head?
The murdered child cast out with the trash.
No questions asked.
Was it you?

Are you blind to the stain that has spread
that has leached all the joy from your store,
all the hope from your heart.
Your graces departed, your houses debased and defiled,
and you dream every night of the beast
that shadows your child,
of the beast unleashed, stalks the land.

Did you claw in the ground, on your knees to seek,
in the earth to unearth,
or sorrow to find,
the murdered child, the hidden boy.
To nail the lie,
to weep, to mourn
possibility quenched,
forever gone such chance for good,
would you go back again if you could?
Was it you.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Working dogs, Misplaced Babies and a Visit with the Undead.

"Don't be a fool! He'll love it",  "Oh... my... god,  How would you feel if we did that to you. How?".  "a DOG'S DIFFERENT YOU FOO.....". " Enough"! I bellow (I can bellow), and I  wonder how exactly we came to this, after all its only Monday,  far too early for this conversation,  there's never actually  a good time for this  particularly unseemly conversation. Oh it all started innocently enough, with my first born's (d'eldest) decision to move to Australia with his wife and three children, earlier in the year. After the sad departure, during which  there was much wailing with  d'eldest himself offered the family room,  (the crying room,) going through security,  to collect himself and his distraught children  ( apparently they have to have this now for distraught Irish  departees, emigrating with their families.)  Its one thing to leave in the short term,  single and /or on an adventure,  and quite another to leave with little ones and no return date. After they left we settled down to skyping, but now, christmas approaches, and  our equilibrium is again disturbed. D'eldest and his wife are energetic party givers and celebrants of christmas, and all such events. Christmas was a project for them, beginning in early November with a plan of campaign, and brought to a mighty conclusion on the 25th, carrying all of us in the crest of their exuberant wave.  I really dont know know how we are going to do it without them, or who they, being newcomers still , will find  to share  in   their  christmas joy de vivre , in Australia.  So we are back to the girls campaign to visit, started as soon as the plane left the ground.His parents in law are going over in April next, tickets purchased for some time.  They being  very present and  very good grandparents.  Both girls feel I am being a little faint hearted by comparison, and have  assumed a gentle nagging but as I have (patiently) explained to them, blackboards will become more blurred, (optician), dental cavites unfilled, school trips foregone, and the soles of shoes glued togeather, if we have our Australian trip now  ( after which we would have to  stay home, forswear all junk food, and racketing about, wear extra sweaters in the cold  sparingly heated house and read  library books for entertainment)  (does'nt really sound so bad in fact, depending on your point of view). Anyway, and  bringing  us back  to where we started, the boy mentioned that his  friend has small pedigree dogs, and he has squirrelled away a thousand euros earned in breeding them. I  absently reminded him that the  hound has an impressive  pedegree.  "Oh my god. thats it" the innocent elder daughter squealed." But what would it involve?". The boy told her what it would involve, in succinct and brutal fashion. "What! N0!, He's our dog. He's one of the family. ..like.. like a brother, we can't take money for that.."  And so on and so forth.  "Well anyway, I have a far better idea" the boss's tone is earnest, "like..like, its not just d'ldest's parents in law who want to see them, we all want to see them, like granny too, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles, like there must surely be like forty people or so, and like why can't we HAVE THEM OVER HERE?. and buy the flights between us, that wouldn't cost   too much. and .. and we could do it every year, and then WE would'nt have to have like..like  jet lag, or..or  take time off work for mum, and like..like they'd get to see everyone, and you could like text all the family this evening mum, and arrange it before christmas, WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM (the boy snorting derisively). its better than you're stupid dog idea". "ENOUGH!" I say roundly " we will neither import d'ldest and his family for Christmas, or put the hound out to work. Not that these are not fabulous ideas, but we will visit in the summer like every one else, and explore all  other suggestions  in due course. . Over time. ..And we'll see" (The great "We'll see", invaluable strategic procrastination  in parenting).

When d'ldest was newborn, I was obliged to leave him behind me when I left the hospital for a week or so, before bringing  him home. The shift from such   intense focus on this  beaming infant, the sense of mental rupture from  my obsessive preoccupation with feeding, bathing and just staring at this helpless indomitable creature, left me adrift in a fog of disorientated depression.  I visited every day of course, and was permitted by the attendant nuns to hold him briefly as they stood, blank  faced,  by. The infant handed to me  so reluctantly, wrapped in a  stiff and unfamilar  yellow blanket, began to seem more like their baby than mine  to me as the week went on, till I reclaimed him,  got him home. In our subsequent life, crowded with it incident as it was, I never revisited that week,  until driving down the motor way after the plane had departed for Australia, in another grey fog, pervasive  and entirely interior.  But equilibrium has been restored,  and I passionately believe that your children should go beyond you, so to speak,  physically,  geographically , emotionally and in any other way there is. I am pleased they have expanded their horizons in such a magnificent way, and we will be regular visitors.

The boss has agreed to go with me to see the latest Twilight movie. Well, I have been corrupted into a sneaking fondness for these movies.  I was obliged to take the girls (and a less than thrilled boy) to the first two, and somehow or other I was drawn in. And besides I have always been intrigued by vampire stories.  When younger I came across and devoured ( in vampire manner) Anne Rices's very entertaining books. I suppose its all that brooding  vampirish angst, all that dark regret and loss coupled with the irristable power of the undead. The allure of the vampire reminds me of the notion of wakem, in native american culture, or that which mysteriously is, a dark flowing energy, neither good or bad, uncontrollable  but necessary, vital,  in balance with washte (the ordinary.). Sexuality , poisons, dangerous creatures, pain, creative energy, darkness are wakem, and appeal  in particular to teenagers, and whatever inner wild child the rest of us channel. So, I asked if we were going to this one, with feigned reluctance.   I was  surplus to requirements  however, as both girls went with friends ( small gangs of blase looking tweens and teens, collectively gasping in the cinema  when the boys on the screen took of (no, flung off) their shirts.  Which  happened a lot, believe me.) Anyway, the first daughter says she can't face  this one again for a while   but the boss has agreed to take me. So,  if you see a solid, solemn faced twelve year old girl  leading a sheepish, popcorn clutching woman by the hand, in to see  New  Moon, that would probably  be us.