Reading Michael Schofield’s “January First” is enough to make you bang your head against the wall. The condition of his schizophrenic daughter of course is enough to make the father and the mother bang their collective heads against the wall too. But the way the parents navigate the problem with their child drives one to distraction. That said, you cannot put this book down once you start it.
The Schofield’s daughter, Jani, at the tender young age of 4 was not diagnosed with severe mental illness because her noncommital psychiatrist refused to put a label on her. Jani wants to pummel the family pet. She says she wants to throw herself from the window. She is unable to interact with any other children instead playing with a list of imaginary friends which she calls Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. She flies into a rage when anyone calls her by her own name, Jani.
The father is the only one who can handle the child, but only barely. The school cannot deal with Jani. The girl bounces off the walls, literally forcing the school to go into lock down, with all the teachers running to gather up the girl into a locked room. The hospital cannot handle the child and only seems eager to discharge her. The parents come to pick her up, drive around the block, then return to the hospital again as the tormented little girl flies into a frightful rage, threatening herself and everyone else.
What is maddening for the reader, as was maddening for the father, is that while the father had one idea on how to care for his daughter the wife had another. So their efforts were at odds with each other.
The father is no writer but still it is annoying to hear him repeat the same phrase time and again–”I was floored by what he said….it took the breath out of me”, each time a different psychiatrist tells him what is obvious to the rest of us. The reader knows this severely disturbed child is schizophrenic as does the mother, who wants the girl in a psychiatric hospital. The father wants to keep the child at home . You just want to tear out your hair and tell the man that his daughter needs to be shuttled off to a hospital instead of tearing items off the shelf at Dunkin Donuts and frightening the patrons.
The wife is not much help when she is confrontational with anyone in authority who could help the child. The parents tested their child which revealed that she had a genious level IQ. ”What is wrong with you? She shouts to the school administrators and psychologist. ”She is a genius. She just needs to be stimulated.”
Finally, when Jani punches and threatens her baby brother, the father relents to the idea of sending the child to a psychiatric hospital where she is given heavy doses of thorazine, seroquel, ritalin, anything that will calm her raging delusions.
Of course one pities the parents but at the same time wonders why the parents make things worse by their own actions. Why, for example, they go out and buy a dog who bites people; why does the mother take the child to birthday parties where she frightens other children? The child is probably best left alone with the father and her imaginary friends.
Of course the parents are out of their minds with grief as the worst hospital takes in their child in while the better hospital will not. And since this is America the parents are further tormented because the insurance company does not want to pay.
The publisher reveals in their promotional material that the parents find some measure of peace after fix or seven years so it does not ruin the story to say that. The girl learns to live with her delusions once the proper cocktail of medicines is found and her living arrangements made more practical.
Schizophrenia is definitely a hereditary disease so people who have this problem in their family should read this book before they decide to have children and question themselves whether their own sanity and their marriage could weather such a storm.