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My son is twenty-seven years old.  He is confident and kind, passionate and principled, intelligent and thoughtful.   Both his physical presence and his personality can be intimidating.  

Before he lost the wobble in his toddler walk, Keith was speaking in complete sentences. His pre-K vocabulary surpassed the fifth grade vocabulary test.  My husband's family nicknamed him, "The Professor".  Even if he hadn't been mine, I would have noticed him.  He shined.  

I remember the first time the school counselor requested a conference with me.
She was vague.  She told me that Keith was having some social problems at school, and we needed a plan of action to help him learn, and use, the skills of conflict resolution.  

Conflict?  I was pretty sure that conflict resolution was an education system euphemism- but for what?  I was nauseous from the memories of the mal-adjusted children from my elementary school years.  My mother was a teacher, and I had been privy to the conversations after school, in the teacher's lounge regarding troubled students.   But Keith wasn't like that, was he?  

I intentionally arrived at the school in the middle of Keith's class recess, and early for my meeting with the counselor.   From my car, I watched the silent movie of second graders; and mentally added subtitles to the playground drama.   I wanted to observe Keith's body language, facial expressions, and the rhythm his hands kept with his mouth as he spoke to the other children and to the teacher.   I had studied this child since the day he entered this world.  I knew him, completely.  Twenty minutes of undetected observation would tell me everything I needed to know about my son's social dynamic and his conflict resolution skills.  

I scanned the grid of the playground with my mother's eagle eye, back and forth, horizontally, vertically, searching; Keith was nowhere in sight.   I began to wonder if he had been detained, if perhaps he was not at recess because of some unresolved conflict and so I left my observation point and walked on to the playground.  

I walked as I counted the children playing kick ball, and the children sitting in the grass changing Barbie's clothes and combing her hair.   I held my breath, and watched the tiniest little girl close her eyes, open her fists and drop from the monkey bars into the sand below.  And then I saw him as I rounded the corner of the building. He was lying in the sand under the swing set.  Alone.  

Alone. That's the word that most accurately describes the next 7 school years for Keith. I still can't tell you why.  Neither can he.   Maybe it was his vocabulary.  Maybe he was more comfortable in the persona of "The Professor" than he was free to be a child on the playground.   Whatever it was, it got worse.  

When he was in the fourth grade, we enrolled Keith in a private school. It was a school that offered smaller teacher to student ratios, an enriched curriculum, blah, blah, blah.  His teacher was young and inexperienced; it was her first year in the classroom but I wasn't worried; Keith had always tested above grade level. I was praying for this school to provide one thing, "Please, just let him make one good friend."  

April showers may bring May flowers, but according to the men in my family the value of spring lies, not with the Tulips but with the beginning of the fishing season.
Any fisherman, worth his minnow bucket, will tell you that the use of insect repellant is counter productive to catching fish, and mosquito bites are just part of the deal.    

So, after spring break, when he returned to his fourth grade classroom, Keith's arms were dotted with the scabs from a week's worth of mosquito bites.  After treating the bites with antibiotic ointment for several days, the healing itch was more than he could resist and he scratched.  It's what boys do.  

  

Keith's teacher thought that the scabs from Keith's mosquito bites resembled the scabs that occur as a result of holding a lit cigarette to a child's arm.  Based on how many mosquito bites Keith received that year she believed he had been intentionally and repeatedly burned.  And she believed that she was acting in his best interest when she informed the authorities that she suspected child abuse.  

It was a Saturday afternoon when we learned that we were suspected of abusing our child, and that we were being investigated by the state.  With the rest of Saturday's mail, the carrier delivered an envelope that contained a form letter from the Social and Rehabilitation Services Department requesting that we contact their office as soon as possible, and the state employee who was assigned to our case signed it.  

As soon as possible could not come soon enough.  I called the office number in hopes that when they mail out these notices they understand the sheer terror that now resides in the hearts and minds of the recipients'. There was no answer.  I searched the phone book for the social worker's name and home phone number.  Unlisted.  

There are 41 hours between any given Saturdays at three o'clock in the afternoon and when the SRS office opens on Monday morning but it seemed to me there were thousands and thousands of hours until I would be able to make sense of this.  

On Monday morning, we arrived at the SRS office with both of our children, my parents, and a notebook filled with character references.   The social worker explained that all reports of abuse would be investigated, that the investigative process could take several days or several months, and the best thing we could do was just let the system pursue it's investigative course, unimpeded.  

It was at that moment I was gripped by a fear so powerful that it literally forced my mouth to slam shut.  No.  It wasn't the fear that was so powerful it was the bone chilling, mouth closing fear of power.  When I opened my mouth again I spoke quietly, and with a new tone.  I enunciated my carefully chosen words.  

"Ms. Social Worker," I said, "I understand that you are obligated to investigate each and every suspicion of child abuse that is received by your office. I am sure that you receive more reports than the state's personnel budget allows you the staff to handle.   Please tell me what information you need to help facilitate the investigation of our case and I will provide it immediately but I must ask you for one thing."  

The social worker looked at me suspiciously, "I'll try."

I leveled my eyes with hers.  " I want you to investigate me and my family.  Really investigate.  Come to our house.  Show up unannounced.  Leave no stone unturned. Even if you're under-staffed and over budget, don't cut corners on our case.  Take as long as you need, but when you write your report of your findings, and close our case, let your report leave no room for doubt.  Will you promise me that?"  

"I will." She said.   And she did.    

For a few years, I bragged sardonically that I was the only mom in our group of friends who had a letter from the Governor declaring that she was a good mother.   I think the cynical mocking of the system helped me get over the embarrassment but I'll never forget the stone cold fear of the power of the state.

Laurie Zieber is the founder of She Speaks To Inspire and The Real Life Radio Network.
When she emerged from a time in her life that Laurie refers to as her “Search and Destroy Mission,” she found that she and the desires of her heart had been completely and irrevocably changed.
Laurie became passionate about encouraging women to embrace the power of authenticity and transparency, and recognize the valuable impact they can have in the lives of others.
Since then, she’s been creating platforms where women connect with and learn from each other as they share the stories of their lives.
As Laurie transparently tells the stories of her own life, through  writing, internet radio, and public speaking, she inspires (and sometimes dares!) the women she meets to begin their own “Search and Destroy Missions,” and watch their lives be transformed.

You can learn more about the inspired initiatives of She Speaks To Inspire at www.lauriezieber.com  and www.realliferadionetwork.com

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