For Michael Schofield, putting his daughter January first in his life was all he could think about, hence the title of his memoir, January First (Crown 2012).
January, or “Jani,” was born a genius; at three years old, she could read and calculate mathematics in her head. But if she didn’t receive constant mental stimulation, she could succumb to violent meltdowns.
Her first imaginary friends began appearing at this early age: a dog named Low and a cat named 400. Schofield did what any loving father would do. He supported her imagination and played along with her. But that would only go so far until a tantrum would ensue. He was mentally and physically exhausting himself, and he even had his own meltdown during one of the college classes he was teaching. And to make things worse, he was falsely accused of child abuse.
Then little brother Bodhi was born, and Jani insisted that she had to hurt him. Despite several hospitalizations, Jani would return home only to go after Bodhi again. She persisted that Wednesday, her imaginary rat, made her do it.
“She bites me in the head if I don’t do what she wants. That’s why I have to hit Bodhi. If I don’t, she will bite me.”
Jani was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of six. After trying many different combinations of drugs, they finally found a mixture that helped Jani function somewhat normally, enough to attend school for ten hours a week, one-on-one with a teacher.
January First is a heart wrenching, but hopeful story of a father’s quest to save his daughter from completely disappearing into her imaginary world. This well-written memoir, full of scenes that pull the reader into his family’s continuous struggle, shows how Schofield doesn’t give up, but rather fights even harder to keep his family together when they first must be apart. And although minor but noticeable, Schofield spells his daughter’s nickname first with two n’s (Janni) and then with one (Jani). He doesn’t offer an explanation to this until the latter part of the book, whereas, one may think it’s a typo from the beginning. Ultimately, there are many shocking stories within the book, but the message of survival and persistence in helping a child trumps the heartache.
Anyone who has compassion for not only a devastating illness inflicted upon a child, but for a family’s struggle to overcome the illness, should read this story. It is a memoir that will hopefully stir new attention to treating schizophrenia, especially in children as young as Jani.