Summer vacation is supposed to be filled with fun times with family, swimming, cookouts, and nights of catching fireflies and making s’mores over a campfire.  For millions of children and their families, summer is exactly that; but for many children – summer vacation is a time where they are trapped with their abuser for three months with no break.

I dreaded summer vacations as a child because I knew it meant that I wouldn’t get that six to eight hour break per day away from Mom.  I knew that for three long months, I wouldn’t have a safe place to go to during the day and Mom had free will to do what she wanted to me without fear of me going to school the next day with fresh scratches all over my neck or bruises on my body.  I knew that for three months, I would be beaten and berated and that there would be no way of escape until school started again in August.

Around this time every year, I send a reminder out to all of my teacher, school counselor, and DCFS contacts about abused children returning to the classroom after such a long stretch with their abuser.  I think that many teachers and counselors are unaware of the torture that some of the children in their classes face day after day during the summer and how awkward that first question of “So, what did you do on your summer vacation?” is for them.

I know that when I re-entered school after a long summer vacation, it took me a minimum of a month to get back into a “normal” frame of mind.  I had just spent three months scared to wake up, scared to make a wrong move, scared of doing the wrong thing, and walking on eggshells to avoid my mother’s wrath.  The physical evidence of the abuse wasn’t there for the teachers or counselors to see; Mom would make sure not to leave marks once the calendar flipped to August and she knew that I would be around adults and “mandated reporters” again. But the mental abuse that I endured over those three months affected me greatly as I tried to acclimate myself back into “normal” school life.

I was always extremely nervous about school starting and never knew how to act when I would return after a summer vacation with Mom.  I had it drilled into my head for three months without a break about what a piece of garbage I was, how awful I was, how I should have never been born, and how everyone hated me and I should be grateful that she let me live another day.  So, after hearing that day after day after day with no break, I would believe it and believe that everyone at school looked at me the same way.  My self-esteem was always at its lowest point during that first month of school and it made it very hard for me to connect with my peers, my teachers, or any of the staff.

I had also forgotten that school was my safe place; it was the one place I could go where I knew I wasn’t going to get hit or called garbage for at least six hours a day.  I remember spending the first week of each school year walking on eggshells, expecting Mom to pop out from behind a locker or from behind a door at any moment, waiting to grab me by the hair and beat the hell out of me.  I kept my locker meticulous, afraid that Mom might show up at any moment and find something wrong with it and beat me up in the middle of the hallway.  And it frustrated me, it frustrated me that I couldn’t be happy and carefree like the rest of my peers and I would spend many lunch hours alone in the bathroom, sobbing my eyes out, and wishing with all of my heart that I could get over my fears and be “normal” like everyone else.

The isolation is the worst part; the isolation I felt and kids like me feel when they re-enter school.  They can’t sit around the lunch table and talk about their summers like the other kids, they can’t brag about the awesome places they went (because even if there was a vacation, there was still abuse), and they can’t share stories of sleepovers or happy times because honestly, there weren’t any.  It’s very lonely being around so many people your own age that you can’t be honest with and can’t relate to.

If you are a teacher, counselor, or a staff worker at a school, please watch out for kids like us when the school year starts.  Remember that not all kids had a great summer vacation, for some of them it was absolute hell and although they are grateful to be back in their “safe” place for a majority of the day; getting used to being safe again comes gradually and takes some more time than others.  If you see a child sitting by himself/herself during lunch, crying in the bathroom, or acting nervous when you approach him/her, just be kind and patient.  They will come around, they will remember that school is safe, but they need your help to feel comfortable again.