Posted by: Marie | October 22, 2012

(732) Vicarious nightmare

Post #732
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, December 3, 2011]

It’s my bedtime, but I’m sitting here in the quiet and safety of my studio with tears running down my face. I’m still struggling to pull myself together after an emotional evening . . .

Three months ago, I signed on three new students from one family – an eight-year-old girl (Bailey), her six-year-old brother (Jacob), and their mother (Jane). There are two younger siblings in the family, but they are not yet old enough to take lessons.

I have stopped offering to go to people’s home for lessons. I did that when I first started – before I had a studio – because it reduced the number of lessons I had to have at the house. Fewer lessons at the house meant less angst between my housemates and me.

But, I now have too many students to offer to go to their homes – I can’t fit them all into my schedule if I have to spend time traveling between lessons. I only do it for those who have been with me since the time I was willing to travel.

When I interviewed this family, I could see that the children were rather . . . um . . . high energy. I knew that all four kids would probably come along to the lessons . . . there is no way my studio would hold up to those four young kids for one or two hours each week. I wasn’t even sure my studio was going to survive the interview. So, I offered to go to their house if they would pay me a reasonable travel fee. They agreed.

I didn’t have any “primetime” weekday spots open in which we could fit all three lessons. So, we agreed we would do the lessons on Saturday evenings until a spot did open up. Jane said they have church events sometimes on Saturday evenings, so they may need to move the lesson to Friday evening or Sunday once in a while. I assured her that would be okay since my weekends are pretty open.

The Mountain View by Martin Chen

Well, this family – more specifically, Jane – has been a challenge. Jane cancels at the last minute, forgets about lessons, keeps changing who is actively taking lessons . . . none of them practice between lessons . . . Jane expects me to hold whole weekend afternoons open for her until she decides she is ready for a lesson, then she expects me to drop everything and come running as soon as she calls.

Whenever I say something to her about any of those things, she gets verbally aggressive and blames it on her husband, or life, or me . . . she never takes responsibility for anything. I’m seeing behavioral traits that cause me to wonder if she is bipolar – at a minimum, she is very immature.

I have been seriously considering dropping them as clients. But, after tonight, I’m not sure I can do that right now.

Today, I went to their house at four o’clock for lessons. As usual, I didn’t know who was going to be having a lesson until I got there. I was planning on a 30-minute lesson with each of the three. But, when I arrived, I learned that Jane had a guest and therefore couldn’t do a lesson – there would only be two lessons, one with each child.

Bailey went first. In the last few minutes of her lesson, she and I talked about the need for an improvement in her practice habits. As a remediation tool, we worked together to make a practice chart. She asked me if she would “get in big trouble” if she didn’t practice. I said, “Well, I’m not going to yell at you or spank you, or anything like that, but we will need to talk about it.”

Then, I realized that I probably shouldn’t have said anything about spanking. So, I tried to “backpedal” by saying, “You guys probably don’t get spanked, do you?” She answered:

No, but my dad sometimes throws me against the wall and it hurts a lot and I get really scared. Jacob and [their three-year-old sister] get really scared, too.

What do you mean? What happens?

He grabs me on my arm and pushes me hard against the wall and yells at me. My arms hurts a lot where he holds me.

After he lets go, can you see where he was holding you?


What does it look like?

There is a red mark and it lasts for a few minutes but it keeps hurting even after it stops being red.

It is not okay for an adult to hurt a child – even if the adult is her parent. You did the right thing to tell me this. You can always tell me when stuff like that happens because I can make sure you are not being hurt by other people. I can help you.

How can you help me? What would happen if you help me?

There are people whose job it is to make sure that children are safe and not being hurt. I can let them know that you need help and they can help you.

But, if you do that, then I will be in a lot of trouble and my dad will yell at me even more. (Crying hysterically with a look of terror on her face and in her body language) Please don’t tell them. I don’t want you to tell them!

It is not okay for me to know someone is being hurt and not do anything to help him or her. That is not okay. It is very important that you are not being hurt.

I don’t want my dad to know that I told you. Please don’t tell anyone! I’m going to be in a lot of trouble!

I have to tell someone – but, I promise you that, if the people who help you have to talk to your dad, I’ll make sure someone is with you to protect you from being in a lot of trouble. You did the right thing to tell me – I am proud of you – it was a brave thing to do! When I was a kid, my dad did the same thing – and no one came to help me. But, I will help you.

(With a quivering voice) Okay.

I told her we were finished with her lesson and she took off, crying. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle things, so I continued with Jacob’s lesson and then had a conversation with Jane as if everything was normal. I never gave any indication to her nor Jacob that Bailey had just disclosed abuse to me – I didn’t feel I could say something and then walk out, leaving Bailey to deal with the aftermath on her own.

As I was driving back to the studio, I debated about how to best handle this situation. I thought about calling James, the cop . . . and I thought about calling Jeff, the psychiatrist . . . I wanted one of them to tell me what I should do. But, then, deep down inside, I realized I didn’t need to ask them . . . I already knew what I had to do . . .

Upon returning to my studio, I called our local emergency dispatch and requested that an officer call me. Within about ten minutes, Officer Lopez called me.

I gave him a synopsis of what had happened. He asked me if I felt the kids were in imminent danger and if I felt the police should go there and remove them from the home yet this evening. I assured him that I didn’t think that was necessary . . . the kids are well-cared-for, the home is clean, it seems they have plenty of nice toys, they have plenty of friends to play with . . .

In fact, I told him, I was very surprised that Bailey said what she said . . . I have never noticed any indicators of abuse in the house. I told him that there might be some turmoil because of the mom’s personality, but I didn’t see anything that would indicate outright abuse. And, I know that Bailey has a tendency to exaggerate – maybe to even make up stories as a way to control her environment. I told him that I wasn’t sure if she was telling the truth or not.

Nevertheless, I told him, I don’t have the tools to make that determine and therefore, I had to make a report and allow the authorities to investigate and make that determination. He assured me that I did the right thing to contact the police.

He asked me for their names and other personal information. I told him that, before I gave him that information, I first needed to know how the case was going to be handled . . . I needed to know that Bailey would be protected as I had promised her she would be when the police spoke to her dad.

By this point, I was getting emotional . . . my voice was quivering a bit . . . I had a few tears in my eyes . . .

Officer Lopez handled the situation well . . . he assured me that they would first speak to the children at school without the parents’ knowledge. Then, they would speak to the parents. If there was any indication that Bailey or the other children are at risk of retaliation, they would take steps to protect them, even going as far as to remove them from the home.

I finally felt like I could trust him to handle the case in a way that would protect the kids and I gave him all the information he needed. He then promised me he would keep me posted. We ended the call.

And then I sat at my desk and bawled.


  1. Wow, what a tough situation. I think you handled it really well. Good for you.

    • Thank you, Ellen . . .

  2. Well done. That is a really difficult situation.

    • Thank you, Evan . . .

  3. Glad you made that call, and so, so, so impressed with the way you handled it.

    There’s probably lots you are leaving out in your description of the mom, but nothing you’ve written suggests bipolar… I am bipolar. It’s not about being disorganized, blaming the husband or you for her poor scheduling, or even being immature. But you probably know this already… I mention it only because I am super sensitive to the diagnosis being made as a kind of written or verbal “shorthand” to describe a “type” of person… it’s really only a diagnosis a doctor should be making. That’s just my opinion, and I hope I haven’t offended you as I respect you a great deal, C

    • Hey, OBD –

      I’m so glad you said what you said . . . you are right . . . more info needs to be added to this conversation.

      You are correct . . . there is a lot of Jane’s behavior I didn’t outline in my post . . . the biggest behavior issue is that she quickly shifted from being almost too exhausted to even have me in the house to teach her kids, to throwing a huge BBQ for the neighbors within a couple of hours . . .

      She would be too busy to take lessons herself one day, then be all jazzed up about it the next, she would buy the books, play the piano for hours, then wouldn’t touch the piano for weeks.

      She would be hyper one day, then barely functional the next . . . I never knew which “Jane” I would be dealing with. So that is the type of behavior that looked consistent with bipolar to my layperson eyes . . .

      My journal entry really captured more of how her behavior impacted my business . . . because her mood swings didn’t really affect me except in that it cost me time and revenue.

      Does that help . . . or is there more that needs to be clarified (maybe you can shed some more light)??

      Thanks for jumping in there!

      – Marie

    • Marie, I hope you don’t mind me using this forum to talk to one of your readers. OBD — I just wanted to say that I completely understand your frustration with people throwing around diagnosis terms. I witness people using the term ‘bipolar’ for moody people one all the time. And for me personally, it’s OCD. So often, I hear people say someone is ‘so OCD’ and I think they have no idea what that really means.

      Marie, it sounds like you don’t use these terms lightly and I appreciate that. I’m so sorry you had to go through this type of situation with your students and I hope it worked out for the best. It sounds like you handled it so well.

      • Thank you for jumping into the mix, Jo! More information is always a good thing!

  4. Wow, Marie … what a situation! I am very anxious to learn what happened next.

    • Thanks for your interest, David . . .

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