This evening, my book club (a group of several wonderful women who gather monthly (most of the time) to discuss a book for a few minutes, and life for the remainder of the gathering) met to discuss Untouchable, by Scott O'Connor. Scott is the husband of a colleague, and agreed to join us for our evening. It was such fun to have the author there. We all loved the book, and the conversation about it lasted far longer than usual. He even recommended our next read. We, of course, jumped on that!
One of the two main characters of Untouchable is a selective mute, who takes a vow of silence following the death of his mother.
During our discussion this evening, I found myself thinking of L, a six year old in my first class at SMBCCS in 1992. I took the class six weeks into the year. I was hired out of student teaching. I so wanted to be a part of the SMB staff, I accepted a job with a K-1-2, even though I knew I wanted older kids. The second day on the job, L, a first grader, showed up. Many of my students knew her, and from their enthusiastic greeting, liked her very much. She'd been a part of the class the previous year, entering in January. I learned immediately that L was a selective mute. She apparently spoke all the time at home, but had uttered just one word since beginning kindergarten, "good-bye." Her father had forced it out of her when she moved from another school in the middle of kindergarten the year before.
Ironically, I'd read Ghost Girl by Tory Hayden over the summer, learning a great deal about selective mutism and how to handle the situation. Don't push the child, the author warned. Ask questions that allow for a feeling of safety, that can be answered with a nod or a pointing finger.
For several months, L demonstrated excellent listening skills, an obvious ability to read and write, strong mathematical understanding, and sweet, sweet, sweetness. I adored her, and she seemed to be bonding with me.
One day, just before Thanksgiving, I walked out to lunch with my students. L held my right hand, her best friend, M, held my left. The kids lined up on colored dots in order to switch for non-core subjects in the afternoon. I wondered aloud, "Where is everyone lining up?" I heard a voice on my right. "I think they're over there, Ms. Stern." I nearly jumped out of my skin. I tingled, got teary, wanted to squeeze this little girl in a great bear hug. Instead, I calmly said, with little reaction, "Okay, let's head over." I walked the girls over, told them to have a good lunch, and began to walk away. "You, too, Ms. Stern," L yelled. "See you after lunch!"
I RAN into the staff lounge, looking for Rachel, our staff psychologist who was seeing L. "L talked! She talked" L said words," I yelled. Rachel was equally delighted, and after sharing the story with many teachers, they were delighted as well. My roommate at the time commented that I'd never be able to say "Stop Talking" as she might stop forever. Ah, the humor, the humor. :o)
It became less important to me that I share the story with others and more important that I fully engage with L. And I did. The inevitable happened, though. In April, her father took her from her bedroom without her mother knowing. He took L and her older sister to New York, and kept their mother from her daughters. Devastating!!!
I never heard from L. I'd like to think that had she stayed in the LA area, she'd have come for a visit and a play! I also have to say that, indeed, she never stopped talking, and I never said "Stop Talking."
L, if you are out there, I think about you all the time, and hope you are well.