Pain, Mrs. Minton, and Magic

by Carolyn Grabiel

Mrs. Minton (my mom called her “Earlene”) looked me in the eye and said, “You’d better figure out how to take care of it now because life certainly doesn’t get any easier.” The statement, from my 4th-grade teacher, held a novel concept. Life gets more challenging? I had been wrestling with debilitating stomach aches for some time. In spite of doctor visits and home remedies, no one had been able to figure out a medical reason for them. The conclusion? 

I was worrying. The treatment? A shrug of the shoulders. Nobody quite knew how to fix me. Yet Mrs. Minton, who knew EVERYTHING as far as I was concerned, was putting the responsibility for fixing me squarely back in my court. Another novel concept. What could I, a 9-year old child, do to fix the pain that came out of nowhere and left me curled in a ball on our early 1970’s shag carpet? Still, if Mrs. Minton believed that I had some way of making myself feel better, I believed it too. 

“What do you worry about?” Again, the matter-of-fact gaze that managed to hold within it enormous caring. The reassurance I found in her eyes helped me to relax. Sitting in a specially convened conference with my mom and Mrs. Minton to discuss my stomach aches was decidedly uncomfortable. I felt my gut clench.

“Um, I don’t know, getting my reports in on time, I guess.” 

I can still see her as she cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. “Carolyn, have you ever NOT gotten a report in on time?” I thought hard, combing memories all the way back to Mrs. Boudoin in first grade.

“I guess not.” 

“Well then, there’s no reason to worry about it.” With that, we moved on to other topics. 

I began to find ways to manage the pain. I learned that if I could find a quiet place, such as a hidden-away girls bathroom stall, slow my breathing, and say to myself over and over, “I’m okay, I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay” then the pain would begin to recede. As it’s clutch loosened from my stomach, I marveled at what seemed to be my own magic. I could affect my body with my thoughts. Though I, like all students in earlier eras, didn’t have a mindfulness program to teach me or scads of mind/body research to support my findings, Mrs. Minton had pointed the way.