When I was a child I was never just a child
I was also labelled 'maladjusted'.
At the time I could never work out what the term meant.
Whoever I thought to ask, asking seemed invasive,
it invite being rebuffed and the subject of the question
changed in front of me to save who I asked embarrassment.
Going into adulthood I remained privately confused.
The nearest I could get to the term 'maladjusted'
was to write of my youth that I had 'mixed feelings'
whilst everyone avoided what those feelings were.
A second problem was having no idea
how the label had attached itself to me,
and not knowing what my mother
-the person I felt cared for me most-
thought of how the label stuck?
I dare not ask. I knew that if I did
and time was set aside for me to be
paid due attention, the conversation
would be so 'confidential' and laden
with twisted similes that neither she nor I
would understand what we had said
before the four walls swallowed whole
the conversation we had to deny we'd had
after it was over and I was none-the-wiser.
I guessed that my father had dismissed the phrase
before he ever heard it; he dismissed most ideas
and all mental health labels out of hand.
He would suggest nearly no ideas himself
but consistently damn others given the chance.
Did Mother reluctantly agree with the label?
And in whose stars was it more the fault? Hers or mine?
And why were adults never 'maladjusted'? Why only children?
In the 1960's mental health provision/definition was scant in adults.
In children 'maladjusted' was the most common term to describe
the character of a child who displayed any number of behaviours
that openly disrupted the limited adult attention span
or tested the tight adult social order where such behaviour
was not criminal, just difficult for adults to understand.
I drew the conclusion that it was a term about children
designed by child psychologists for social workers
to use on the parents of the children who were disturbed
by bullying in school and beyond, where the psychologist
had ideas about what was 'normal' that parents did not.
But the alarmed parents had to be given a label
that justified putting their children 'in a boarding school'
Some bullying children were also labelled 'maladjusted'.
But mostly it was bullied children who attracted the label,
and got the dud schooling/lack of understanding
that went with it in the England of my childhood.