The truth about trauma and the impact of terror, and how I learned resilience

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972 ______________________

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972
______________________

I was about seven years old when my mom first told me about the abuse she had suffered at the hand of her mom, my grandmother. I remember this vividly because I had just poured a can of grape soda over my three-year-old brother’s head in a “do you dare me, yes I dare you” game I was playing with my five-year-old sister. My brother, of course, started screaming as if he was being murdered, and my gorgeous, stay-at-home mom bolted out the front door of our early 1900s home as if she was going to kill someone.

The look on her face was enough to scare all of us. Even my brother, who seconds earlier was wailing at the top of his lungs, turned his hysterics into mini whimpers. My mom, however, was just getting started.

“Who did this?” she yelled.

My brother pointed at me, my sister pointed at me… and I pointed at my sister.

My mom said, “All of you had better make up your minds about this because the one thing I hate more than anything is being lied to.”

And so, knowing that I was in way over my head, I said to my younger brother, “You were looking the other way, you heard Ann, she was daring me to do it, and when I wouldn’t she did it.” My brother turned his arm and pointed at my sister.

My sister shrieked, “Why are you lying? Why are you blaming me? You always blame me.”

By now, several of our neighbors had stepped onto to their front steps to watch.  The old lady at the house to the right was just shaking her head in disgust. It was the summer of 1976. Most of the fathers in the neighborhood worked in blue-collar jobs. Most of the neighborhood moms were home with their kids, at least in the summers. The city streets had sidewalks, and the houses were separated by narrow driveways. My mom used to tell us not to air our dirty laundry for the neighbors to see, and this was exactly what we were doing.

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A trauma-informed school wasn’t part of my plan, but now it’s my life’s work

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 8.40.07 PMIn the summer of 2011, July 22nd to be exact, I took an interim position at Paladin Career and Technical High School as the executive director, while the school board started a search for a permanent director. At the time, I owned two companies and Paladin was one of my clients. I loved what the school did and helping to bridge the leadership gap during a search process was an easy decision to make. But I also loved working with the other schools, where I served as the chief financial officer through my consulting business. The decision to take on that interim role has irreversibly changed my life. And I can’t imagine doing anything else. I was hired as the executive director, no longer interim, at the end of the school year, and I closed my consulting company.

I came to Paladin with a business focus.  I wanted the school to be the best it could be. I wanted the data to reflect its success and I wanted the story of the school’s hard work to be indisputable. In the world of education, that meant telling the story of test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, and fiscal strength. It meant telling a story that was in alignment with all the pressure from news media and legislation, a story that focused on core standards and high stakes testing.

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In the middle of the night, finding resilience in a storm of ACEs

Astress2I had been asleep for a few hours when I answered the call.  At first, I did not realize it was my work cell phone.  The caller on the other end was sobbing uncontrollably and in the background I could hear someone yelling, “You’re a f#c%ing hoe.  Why do you think you are so much better than us? What makes you think you can live here for free, you f#c%ing b!t@#.”

“Take a deep breath,” I said to the caller. “Tell me where you are.”

“I’m at home. My mom and sister won’t leave me alone. They want me to f#c% men for money, like my sister does. They are mad that I am a going to school and not giving them any money. I just want to graduate.  I just want a chance to get out of here. They don’t understand and they won’t leave me alone.”

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