For countless reasons, May has been and still is my favorite month of the year. It’s filled with dance recitals, school plays, field trips, field days, lilacs, graduations, May day walks and Maypoles. With longer, warmer days we also enjoy baseball games, ice cream trucks, bikes, pogo sticks, swingsets, hopscotch and marching in or watching memorial day parades. They are all great things that speak of May to me.
School is coming to an end and then there are the “firsts” of the year. First communions, first trips to the beach, first swim, picnic and cookout. They all happen in May and remind me of new beginnings, happiness, pleasures and the hope that there is so much more to come.
My May memories are filled with commencements, summer jobs, weddings, vacations and my youngest daughter’s birthday on May 12. Often it would fall on the same day as Mother’s Day. This youngest of my three girls, from her first recognized day, celebrated in a very BIG way. There was her third birthday when everyone gave her the LARGE bag of Lays potato chips because it was the only thing she asked for, and made her the “happiest girl in the world.” Then there was the third grade birthday party where, despite the fact that we wrote out invitations for her entire class, she extended verbal invitations to the entire school (kindergarten to fifth grade) and many of these invitees showed up as well. I also remember her sweet sixteen pool party where all the boys brought her roses. There were so many that the last boys to arrive gave them to me! My May baby added to my list of all the reasons I love this month.
As the years went on, our family also celebrated Children’s Mental Health Month in many different ways. We did NAMI Walks together, attended legislative breakfasts, went on advocacy trips to the State House.
My May baby, along with her two sisters, sometimes suffered from mental health demons. However, she always had a special empathy for others with struggles like her own. As I worked as a family supporter, even before her diagnosis, she would often ask me to speak to a schoolmate’s parent because, as she said, “They don’t know how to do it.” The “it” usually meant to advocate at the school level.
This May we will celebrate our daughter’s 21st birthday. It seems impossible but she will not be here to celebrate with us. My baby, the child of so many talents and strengths, with physical and spiritual beauty and emotional challenges that sometimes tore at my heart (and other times frustrated me more than I imagined any child could) took her life four years ago. It was just months before her 17th birthday.
I wanted to write this blog for several reasons. The first and most primary is to honor Yolanda. As her parents, we think about her, laugh at fond remembrances and painfully miss her every day. I don’t think that will ever change. But we have faced the unimaginable and learned much. I know my daughter would want me to speak to others in her name.
In many ways, we have come so far in the past 20 years in children’s mental health. Early diagnosis, treatment, appropriate interventions and a growing recognition by schools of mental health challenges have all improved. Yet, not all children and families benefit from these improvements and many children are still “pushed through” from grade to grade. While some people are leading the charge in their part of the system, there are still children and families who do not get what they need and are not treated with understanding and respect. Through the CBHI initiative, the state has put in place pioneering efforts to try to rectify some of these problems. In many cases, some things are improved and children and families are doing better. But, despite all these efforts, other kids are “still stuck.”
We have come so far, yet there is still so much more to do! I ask you today, for all of us and our children, to continue to challenge the barriers and work to take them down. In whatever way you can, be aware of how much impact your voice and presence make. A little righteous indignation can go a long way and can bring about improvement and change. It may well be the most exhausting work you will do or have ever done. It is not often applauded. We don’t get the big bucks, accolades or the recognition of a job well done.
We are fueled by passion and hope that tomorrow can be better for our own children and the others that follow. With HOPE that they can attend school in an environment where they feel safe and happy. With HOPE that they can have friends, enjoy play and be respected. With HOPE that they can do the best they are able to do and get the help they need to do it. And with HOPE that not one more child has a week, a day or a minute where they cannot imagine living another moment.
I HOPE for many merry, merry months of May for us all.
Mary Ann Tufts is our guest blogger. She is a fierce advocate, a wonderful mother and a strong voice for children’s mental health. The Children’s Mental Health Law was named after her daughter Yolanda.