Posted by: eileenandrory | November 10, 2010

The Tale of Two Boys

Last night I was teaching a Parenting With Purpose class, and we spent a lot of time talking about empathy.  About how boundaries and indeed discipline, and perhaps so much of life, can be understood through empathy.  This isn’t actually in the course, not in that kind of detail, but at the moment I am reading both of Bruce Perry’s books (see http://www.childtrauma.org/ for more info on his two books, “Born for Love” and “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”) and my view of empathy has changed radically.  I am now firmly of the opinion that empathy is perhaps the most important human emotion/feeling there is.  Anyway, more on that later.

After spending a whole night talking to women about empathy and parenting I came home late and Rory was still awake which was unusual.  He told me that he hadn’t got much sleep so far, he goes to bed early, because Castor had been getting up a lot and had not gone to sleep till late.  He made an offhand comment that Castor had said he had been having bad dreams, but that he, Rory, did not think that likely because Castor had said that only an hour or so after going to bed, so it can’t have been a bad dream.  Rory was not very happy about Castor getting out of bed repeatedly.

When Castor woke the next morning I asked him if he had a good night’s sleep and gave him a big hug.  He replied no.  This was unusual, normally he says yes.  He replied that he had had bad dreams and I was reminded of my conversation with Rory the night before.  I asked him what the dreams were about and he said he couldn’t remember, so we just sat there and hugged for a bit.  We went on with the morning routine, and then suddenly Castor piped up and told me that his dreams were about Rangitoto erupting and that he could not get back to sleep because he was scared of the dream.  He also told me that he thought that Daddy had not listened to him.  I asked him what he thought he should do about that.  He replied that he was going to tell his Daddy that he should listen to him when he has bad dreams.  He then went and (in typical Castor fashion) added it to his list of things to remember to do or bring home today.  His list went something like this:

  • Diwali books
  • Brain food container
  • Water bottle
  • Tell Rory to listen to me when I have bad dreams

I find it fascinating that he chose to write “Rory” rather than “Daddy” but I’m not going to read too much into that!   Anyway, I remember thinking that I was quite proud that Rory and I had raised a child who thought it was ok to question Mummy and Daddy’s behaviour when they truly thought that something was wrong and that they had not been listened too.  This was not a rude form a “backchat”, rather he had not felt listened to so he was going to do something about it.  A very adult thing to do, in fact we would have no problem with an adult doing this and yet some people would question a child doing it.  I further thought to myself that yes, I have moved away from some ingrained behaviour, because there is no way I would have had the confidence to do what my 5 year old son was planning to do.  Yet, Rory and I had somehow managed to parent Castor in a way where he felt safe enough to approach us, he did not fear any consequences to such a challenge to parental authority.

An hour later I was on the school run and dropping Castor off at school.  I got out of the car and heard some yelling, shouting and what I could loosely describe as “human barking”.  I looked around, disconcerted and could not locate the source of the noise so I continued to pile Castor and Carys out of the car.  As I walked across the carpark towards the pedestrian crossing the noise got louder and more disturbing.  My body was beginning to tense and I knew that that noise was not good.   I kept looking for the noise and my eyes settled on a car poised to exit the carpark with a man driving and a young boy sitting in the front passenger seat.  The driver window was open and I could see and hear that that man was pouring the most extreme amount of verbal abuse I have ever heard onto the young boy.

I didn’t even hear individual words.  But that noise stormed down like punches around that poor boy.  I didn’t need to hear words, the words were irrevelant, the noise WAS an assault, my body was tensing and the abuse was not even directed at me.  In fact the man had his back turned to me and I was at least 10 metres away.  Not once did the boy say anything back.  Not once.  Suddenly he went silent.  He looked around at me, realised I was watching and he closed his window, turned back to the boy and continued to yell at him.  It didn’t matter that the window was closed I could still hear.  No one has ever EVER spoken to me like that, and I use the term “spoken” very loosely here.  I struggle to describe the way that man was yelling because it was such a  visceral thing and this is a written medium, but that man could not have hurt him more had he hit him in the face with a closed fist.  I crossed the road with my two children, one holding each hand and felt bewildered.  I didn’t feel safe going over and confronting him with my two kids in tow and no-one else around (this was an early drop off).  Once I got across the road I looked back and saw that he had let the boy out of his car and taken off.  The poor boy was standing at the crossing about to cross the road.  I hemmed and hawed about intervening and then he crossed the road towards me.  I made a split second decision that yes I would do something.  He took off, and it was only by asking my two children to stand and wait for me while I ran after this young boy that I managed to catch up with him.  I think he knew I had seen and he didn’t want to talk to me.

Once I managed to stop him I put my hand on his shoulder.  I wanted to do so much more.  I wanted to hold him in my arms and hug him and give him a kiss and try to make it all go away.  Most of all I wanted to bundle him up and take him with me and tell him that that sort of thing would never ever happen again.  But, I knew that that would be inappropriate and even a hug would be a step too far, who knows what other trauma this kid has had to endure.  So I said to him, and looked him in the eye,  “No adult should ever talk to any child like that, in fact no one should ever talk to anyone like that.”  He looked at me, blank, you would not have known that ten minutes ago something as horrific as that had happened.  I then said, “You need to talk to your teacher about it”.  I was clutching at straws.  He then replied that yes he would.  At least I had got through, at least he had acknowledged what had happened.  I reiterated that no one should speak to anyone like that and there was a faint agreement in his eyes and inclination of his head.  I asked him if that was his Dad in the car and he said no, a friend.  I asked him for his name, and the name of his teacher, I didn’t feel like I could end it there, and then I let him go off to class.

I was still shaking, I walked back to my own children, who fortunately were standing exactly where I had left them and I started to process.  After making sure Castor was in his class and letting his teacher know about volcano nightmares I located the Assistant Principal and told her what had happened.  As soon as I mentioned the boys name she said ahhh.  This was a well known case, a case that CYPFs are dealing with.  A case where this boy’s mother is a solo Mum and he has four adult males coming in and out of his life, his Dad, his Step Dad, Mum’s boyfriend and Mum’s friend.  The AP suspected she knew exactly which of these men it was and knew that there was going to be a trespass order issued soon against him.  She thanked me and told me she was going to go straight to him and make sure he was ok and, I suspect was going to contact the relevant people involved in his case to let them know what had happened.  I was heartbroken.  On the one hand I knew I had done the right thing, but on the other hand I now knew that this was not an isolated instance, that this poor boy probably dealt with this on a regular basis.

This boy was about 8 years old.  Did he feel safe questioning what an adult did to him?  I doubt it.  My son, aged 5 was perfectly comfortable questioning his father and letting his father know he didn’t feel listened to.  This boy had no chance of having that sort of conversation, I doubt that the thought had even crossed his mind.  I ached for him, I still do.  Part of me wants to call the AP and say that if that boy needs a home he can come to my home, but part of me stays removed from it.  I can’t rescue every stray and I don’t know if I have the skills to help heal his hurt.

In his response to me, his blank stare, I was reminded of the words of Bruce Perry in his book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”:

“Dissociation is a very primitive reaction: the earliest life forms (and the youngest members of higher species) can rarely escape dire situations under their own steam.  Their only possible response to being attacked or hurt, then, is to essentially curl up, to make themselves as small as possible, to cry for help and hope for a miracle.”

I got the feeling his mind had curled up, he had forgotten even how to call for help and he was indeed hoping for a miracle.

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