copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert
The day was delightful. The water was superb. The sun was full and bright. A few billowy, puffy clouds floated through the sky. They were white, cumulus, fluffy fellows, the type that excite many a child as they gaze into the heavens. In parks, on lawns, little ones were likely looking up and pointing. “Look,” they might say, “It is a horse, a donkey, or perchance a unicorn.” It was a day for whimsy. The children, playful in the pool, barely noticed the graceful shapes as they danced above their heads. Instead, they were focused on what they decided were June bugs.
Three young sweet girls stood in the warm water near their Daddy. All were calm, content, and serene. The sisters chatted easily. Father smiled. The youngest lass expressed her curiosity. As her sibling searched for bugs on the plastic rope line, the “baby” in the family asked of the insects. “Are they icky to touch,” the cautious curly haired youngster inquired. The more confident elder sister said, “No! They are cute,” she said. See.” The “older” child showed the girl of fewer years.
A stranger, in the adjacent lane was preparing to swim. Becky was her name. She was much older than the children, and perhaps no wiser; nonetheless, she share her assessment of the beetle. Becky said of the six-legged lovelies, “They are life; all creatures are beautiful.” With that thought, the father beamed, and the older lady plunged head first into the water filled cement reservoir.
Lap after lap and look after look the woman and children enjoyed the quiet of the day. The words the swimmer shared seemed to hang in the air. People came and went, throughout the afternoon, and splendor was all anyone saw.
Then, everything changed. The evolution from tranquil to trauma was slow; nonetheless, unexpected. Those in the recreation park were struck, as if by a bolt of lightening. However, unlike when a storm threatens, swimmers were not forced to leave the pool. The jolt evoked more silence. No one screamed, but the sole boy, victim to the method his Mom’s adopted for instruction.
The young mother, a woman, perhaps, in her early thirties, was extremely pleasant in appearance, and it seemed her personality was equally delightful. She, Madison, entered the deck area with her small son in her arms. Skin, beautifully tanned, this well-dress lady strode to the lifeguard tower. The little guy, let us call him, Michael, was not as bronze in color, and was visibly agitated. Michael whimpered, even as his Mom held him close.
Becky, the swimmer who enjoyed the company of the little lasses and their Dad before she began her exercise had just finished the more strenuous part of her routine when the mother and child came into view. Becky, a teacher, enjoyed children, in or outside the classroom. She marveled at the openness of a mind not yet crushed by the weight of worry. The sincerity of a small one was a source of fascination for Becky. Children, early in life, were candid and joyous, at least most were, or appeared to be.
Little Michael, a lad, maybe three, or four, was not a cheerful child. He wore no glee on his face, although his features were cute as could be from what Becky was able to see. When the swimmer first noticed Madison and Michael, they were yards away. They approached the guard tower at the opposite end of the pool and spoke with Brianna, the young adult hired to protect the public in an emergency. Becky thought nothing of the interaction. She was relieved to have only her stretches left to complete. Becky moved the shallow end and commenced with another ritual.
Behind her, a metal chair scraped along the concrete. The sound startled her and she looked up at the area where people sat enjoying the sun. Had Becky waited just a moment she would have known Michael and Madison had moved closer to her. The cries filled the air. The sweet little boy shrieked, “I wanna go see Daddy.” Michael howled; “No Mom!!!! No!” His face scrunched tightly, this little lovable fellow yelled, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Please Mom! No!” Michael repeated the words, “I wanna go see Daddy!”
His mother chided him, gently. “We have to do this.” Madison did not seem to believe she could quiet her son’s fears. An expectation that the little guy might enjoy was void from her voice. The Mom simply worked feverishly, to accomplish the dreaded task. She prepared Michael for his dip in the water, and said, “Let’s just get this over with.”
Becky continued with her work out and wondered of the circumstances. Perchance, the mother and father were divorced or newly separated. Michael may have expressed the deep distress he felt for a family no longer united. Becky, the daughter of parents who parted understood how stressful such a situation might be. She was eight when . . . her reverie was interrupted.
Madison had abruptly carried Michael to the step at the shallow end of the pool. The Mom now wore a white shirt over her own bathing suit. Sweetly, she smiled and leaned forward. Madison said to Becky, “I do not wish to disturb you. I want to warn you; I am teaching my son to swim and he screams, loudly.” As an experienced educator, Becky imagined it would be a mild and momentary shout. As one who swims daily and had for well over a decade, the teacher witnessed many a young child learn to paddle and breathe in water.
Indeed, at this very facility she has observed perhaps hundreds of child learn to master their strokes. The excellent swim teachers, parents and paid professionals, helped calm many a neophyte nerve. Often Becky watched with admiration as patient Moms, Dads, and lifeguards helped little ones wade through the water. It was as she shared with the girls earlier in the day, “They, people and insects, are life. All creatures are beautiful.”
What Becky witnessed next was not beautiful; it was brutal! Madison held Michaels arms tightly. She forced him into the water. The Mom insisted the boy’s head remain face down immersed until she pulled him up. Apparently, they had practiced this cycle before. Becky now understood why Michael cringed and cried out long before he was ever near the expansive liquid sea.
Initially, the trained instructor was paralyzed. Becky could not imagine that a mother might torment her child. The volume of Michaels screams increased. His little arms flailed. “Mom, No! Pleassssssssse!” The emotional agony he felt was palpable. Mom did not stop as he pleaded. The pain on his face did not move Madison to succumb. His words, his anguish, nothing stopped this mother on her quest. For Becky, what must have been a minute or less seemed like hours, years, decades. She thought of sweet obedient Michael. While he shed many a tear and shrieked when he could gasp for air, the little love did as he was told or required to do. He dropped his head into the pool on demand.
Off into the distance, in the parking lot, just outside the fence, Becky noticed a late model shiny black vehicle. The man at the wheel peered in. His car was not situated in a space meant for stopping. This fellow seemed interested in the antics of Madison and Michael. Becky mused; possibly the sound of suffering haunted him as it did her. She could not stand by a moment longer.
With an earnest concern, Becky expressed her empathy for the child. She inquired; “Is he frightened..” The mother responded, “He can swim.” Becky queried aloud, had the mother sought other means for instruction. Perchance, if Michael were given the opportunity to slowly adjust to the water. If he were allowed to breathe easily as he slowly learned to stoke . . . Becky’s words were cut off. Still somewhat genteel and reserved, Madison explained, “This is what his teacher taught me to do.” “She is excellent. Everyone goes to her. They call her the swim Nazi.”
The practiced swimmer, and professional educator, shared her own expertise. Becky told of a time when she worked with another teacher who was extremely punitive. This castigatory colleague was an award winner. Some children loved her, parents too. Students taught Becky what she had not known; if you are raised in a family where cruelty is common, you learn to believe that rough treatment is love. Violence is fondness when a family is familiar with vicious behavior.
Becky spoke of a man she loves. He was introduced to swimming in much the way Michael was guided. This man loathes his parents. As an adult, he says of himself, he is really messed up. For the man Becky cares for, trust is not an option. The lesson he learned at the hands of his mother, who taught him how to swim, just as Madison now advised Michael, is that people will hurt you.
In this very short and quick conversation Becky, recalled her own memories, and how she has vivid recollections of events in that occurred in her life when she was younger than Michael. Becky looked over at Michael’s face. The torment was already etched into his skin. The screeches scarred him.
Madison listened, maybe. She was polite. The Mom never let go of her cherished son, Michael. The activity did not stop. Nor did the blood curdling screams. The echoes of pain continued to pierce the air, and break delicate decorum.
People within the recreation center while startled, they stood still or pretended to ignore what escaped no one. Only Becky articulated her concern. Madison expressed her interest; more so once she realized Becky is an educator. However, without a moment of hesitation, or a break from or for Michael, she offered a retort. “I will speak with the teacher.” Becky again offered, the teacher does what she thinks is best. Perhaps, she, just as the pupils Becky spoke of, had parents who were as aggressive as she was.
Those who admire the techniques the Nazi swim teacher endorses may also be intimately acquainted with instruction through intimidation. “In my family no one yells,” Becky said. Madison responded; the same was true in her life. She and her husband do not scream.
Michael continues to squeal. “Mom, Please, No!” He thrashes. He grabs for her mother. Michael reaches for Madison’s shirt and slaps her body and face. The Mom had mentioned she wore the blouse just for this purpose. Michael grabbed at the swim instructor, just as prescribed, and when with her, Michael clawed for Madison’s clothing.
His moves do not seem to suggest an intention to hurt the mother Michael loves. From appearances, the boy only hopes to find a source of solace. He wants to hold on to someone, anyone. His words seem to express a desire that his Mom will save him from her. The child cries out again and again. He flaps; he flounders. Little lovable Michael thrashes and struggles. Madison was not discouraged.
Still alert and attentive to her purpose, Madison proclaims, “The swim teacher has them trained within a week.” Once more, she says, “Everyone goes to her.” She may have sensed or seen Becky’s alarm. Apprehensive, the mother said, “I will speak to my husband. He is in the car.”
Becky realized the man who she had observed earlier might have studied the pair with an interest that could not be described. Possibly, what the father felt was beyond words. Becky knew that emotionally, this event tugged at her heartstrings. She wondered; did the Dad wait for he too could not endure the misery inflicted on his son. How could a mother be so cruel? How could anyone treat a child with such contempt? Why were words of compassion and caution not enough to stop the abuse? Was Becky alone in her anguish?
She exited the pool area, entered the locker room. Then she scrubbed herself in the shower. All the while Becky heard the howls and the hollers. This small sorrowful soul did not rant or rage against his Mom. He only called out for help. Each shout sliced the air and sent chills up Becky’s spine. She could hardly contain her own tears.
Becky left the building and again approached Madison, whose energy and purpose had not waned. The worried woman spoke, “If I could I would like to inquire; would it not be better if Michael loved his lessons (and the person who teaches him)?” Did she share the latter thought? She was so troubled, she did not know what she said. Had she asked if it was necessary to master the skill in a week? Madison ignored Becky. She was done with this exchange. She said to Michael, “Just a few more minutes.”
Defeated, Becky left the deck. She walked to the office where the guards stood in alert. The group discussed what left each of them distraught. A resigned Brianna verbalized her belief, “There is nothing we can do or say.” Shocked to discover Becky spoke to the woman, Brianna began to ask of what was said. Then she realized Madison, with a drained and strained Michael in her arms, was near. She let out a sound that signaled the need for silence.
The mother and her madness quickly fled the premises. After a short discussion with the guards, Becky thanked them for listening to her fears and followed the path from the pool to the parking lot. Apparently, the couple and their child were settling into the coupe. The father glanced over as he saw Becky near the vehicle. Nothing was said. For Becky, there were no words.
She pondered. Was Becky the person now considered a predator? Had Madison grumbled to her husband as she shared details of the encounter? Exhausted and uncertain of the empathy she had supposed all beings had for others, Becky went to her car. She could not drive away, although she saw the family did. The lover of living beings, of children, could not fully understand what existed only for moments in her own life. She was haunted by the hurt she saw in Michael’s face and heard in his calls.
Stunned and shaken Becky sat trembling for a very long time. She wailed; she wept. Had she just let a sweet child fend for himself in a world too awful to survive?
Hours passed and Becky imagines, in her life, Michael, and the impression he made on her would never move on. Sadly, she fears, what for her was but minutes, for Michael, will be life.
Becky had mentioned to Madison, or hoped she had, the effect of trauma. To this day, the older educator recounts the stresses that transformed her being. The lessons, what her Mom, Dad, and mentors did supposedly for her benefit, if not facilitated fondly, harmed her deeply. Cognizant that children absorb all they encounter and are affected by every exchange, Becky contemplates the drama Michael endured.
In a desire to calm her self, Becky, an educator who loves to learn, sought answers. She had so many questions, so many concerns. As a teacher, never labeled a dictatorial tyrant, she had much trepidation. What had Madison taught Michael? Was he expected to sink or swim? As she read, her angst increased. What would become of Michael?
How Do You Recognize a Patient (or Person) with Trauma if it is Not Always Obvious?
Different people respond differently to traumatic events. Some people will carry it around in ways that everybody can see that they’ve been impacted. But most people actually will go through a traumatic experience and won’t have any easily visible or obvious manifestation of that. The problems may emerge many months or sometimes even years after the original event. So it’s very important for people who are trying to understand trauma to become aware of the various ways in which traumatic symptoms can manifest, the various ways in which trauma can be carried forward by children and adults, and the pervasive impact that trauma has independent of the way someone is observed to perform.
How Do Relationships Affect the Way the Brain Develops?
Human beings are at our core, relational creatures. We are designed to live, work, play, and grow in groups. The very nature of humanity arises from relationships. You learn language, you learn social language, you learn appropriate emotional regulation, and essentially everything that’s important about life as a human being you learn in context of relationships. And the very substance of a successful individual is bathed in a whole host of relationships with people in that person’s life . . .
Can You Continue with the Relationships and How it Affects the Brain
When you look at someone, when you hear someone, when you have a conversation, when you make a joke with somebody, when you touch someone, every single one of those physical interactions are translated into patterned neuronal activity that go into the brain of both people in that interaction and result in positive changes. These physical changes influence our immune system and they influence the autonomic nervous system that controls your heart and your lungs and your gut. Literally, when people have a wealth of relationships, where relationships are present in high quantities and they’re of good quality, these individuals are actually physically healthier, they’re emotionally healthier, they’re more cognitively enriched, and they actually reach their potential to be humane in ways that are impossible without relationships.
It’s a very interesting thing that people don’t really appreciate this very much, but that there’s no better biological interaction that you can have than a relationship.
Yes, all beings are but a beautiful bundle of love. Yet, rarely do humans honor that veracity. So few people understand the depth of each interaction. Too frequently, individuals do what was done to them, or what they think they can. Societal standards, customs, traditions, the lessons taught by authoritarian teachers shape them. People learn. Yet, they may not have studied the ultimate lesson. We are each a lovely and fragile beings. We grow well when hearts, minds, bodies, and souls are tenderly touched.
“Michael, I am soooooooo sorry,” Becky mused. What of the relationship she had with Michael, or for that matter, with all beings. What affect did her actions or inactions have. Becky though of how all that occurred developed, and how Michael might grow. “If only I had done more, been more, were a better teacher to your Mom, or had offered to help you learn to swim.” Becky, heart heavy with regret promised herself, if she were to meet this family again, she would . . . in truth, she did not know what she could or would do. She only hoped that someone would tell her. How does one swim in a world where too many forget, all beings are but a bundle of love.
Sources and Suffering . . .
- Trauma, Brain and Relationship: Helping Children Heal, By Bruce Perry, Ph.D. From Neurons to Neighborhoods. New Ways to Prevent and Heal Emotional Trauma in Children and Adults. May 2003