An announcement appears in the weekly email from school: A suicide prevention workshop for parents of teenagers. I do not plan to attend; I am busy with strings of appointments and phone calls from psychiatrists and social workers, and don’t see that there’s much I can learn in a classroom workshop that I haven’t already learned from my ever-enlarging team of private tutors. A second notice arrives, and I ignore it, too.
Then The Child tells me, firmly, that she wants me to go, so I agree that I will.
Since she came home, I have not left her alone in our house. It is a minefield of lethal temptations, and though I’ve tried to remove and lock away every potentially dangerous item I can find, I know there are more, hidden away in drawers of scarves and boxes of Cuisinart parts. If I go, she will have to come, too. She agrees she will do homework in a nearby empty classroom while I sit and, hopefully, learn.
We arrive early, taking seats in different classrooms. The one in which I sit has a few other people in it; she sits alone in hers. I share a table with the single mom of one of The Child’s friends; she does most of the talking, as is her habit. Usually, it grates on me, but tonight it comes as a relief. The room fills slowly around us, mostly with mothers, most of whom I don’t know or know only vaguely. The billionaire’s wife arrives and sits near the exit. A wealthy mom I know from The Child’s elementary school sits with me, and I am relieved to see her. She remarks, as always, on how similar our daughters are, and we trade notes on our efforts to create the ideal environments for our beloved, sensitive girls. I do not think she knows about The Child’s recent struggles, but then again, maybe she does: I have known, but never spoken about, how her daughter used to cut herself to relieve her pain. She has never brought up the subject, and doesn’t tonight. Instead, she complains about the influence of a certain friend, and difficulty dealing with the parent of the friend, and then the conversation ends abruptly when that parent appears and cheerfully takes the remaining empty seat at our table.
The School Counselor takes the microphone, telling us what we hope to accomplish this evening, and how. The workshop – which she notes was planned months ago – will be highly interactive, giving everyone a chance to speak, and to try to see things from the perspective of both parents and child.
We start with a video of interviews – parents who wish they had stayed home one evening instead of going out, or had knocked on a closed door and checked in just a few minutes earlier than they did. There is supposed to be a second video, but a moment or two after it starts, The Counselor stops it and moves on to data, giving out statistics about teenage suicide rates, reviewing current research about effective prevention. Handouts and questionnaires appear on the table.
We are told, Communication is key: It does not increase the risk, only aids in prevention.
How do you get your teens to communicate with you?
Everyone has something to say, each time the question is asked, phrased slightly differently. The billionaire’s wife suggests using the kids’ language: even when you can’t stand the way they talk or what they complain about, you can empathize in their words. A voice behind me recommends talking to them in the car, when no eye contact is needed and it’s less threatening. Notice their moods. Do things together.
I have done all of these things, I want to say, but don’t.
Around me, parents nod and take notes and offer personal insights.
We move on. What types of things are dangerous to keep around the potentially suicidal? A list containing the obvious is offered: alcohol, prescription drugs, straight razors. People nod in assent as guns are mentioned, with a politically correct footnote: This isn’t a value judgment about gun control, it’s just about safety, and just about children considered to be at risk.
The room moves on, having completed its tidy list, but I dwell on my own, which is much longer. Everything in your home is lethal to a determined teen, I want to tell them. Your roof. Your car. A drinking glass smashed into shards. A blade removed from a disposable razor.
I cannot speak, cannot listen any more. I try to escape unobtrusively, and just for a moment, wish I could trade places with the billionaire’s wife, who took the seat nearest the door.
I walk to the ladies room, along the way checking on The Child, who is hunched over her laptop in the still-empty room. On the return walk, I stop in, and discover she’s only pretending to do her homework; she appears studious because she is working hard on something much more interesting, researching ancestors for a friend, using my Ancestry account.
She eagerly, proudly shows me what she has found, and seems to appreciate the tips I offer, and she is safe, and we are together, so I linger on, just a little longer.