If you are a Facebook friend, you watched the saga unfold in real time last night as I ran outside to find out why my son was screaming “It hurts! It hurts!” And I ran across the courtyard to where he’d been playing in front of a neighborhood kid’s house. I saw one boy running away across the parking lot and told him to stop and come back, and the other had disappeared inside his house.
The boy I’d stopped, L, kept saying, “I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do it!” And TJ was screaming. I got the story. The boy who ran into his house, J, had taken the crossbar from his lamppost and smacked TJ across the buttocks with it. When I asked L, who was still loudly proclaiming his innocence, he said that things happened the way TJ had said. Before I escorted TJ home to check out his injury, J appeared at his door. I asked him, “What do you say when you hurt someone?” In a scoffing voice like an obnoxious teenager, the six year old replied, “I already said I was sorry. And I don’t think I really hurt him. I think he’s faking.” I replied that it didn’t sound like his apology meant anything at all, and I walked TJ back to our house.
My poor boy pulled down the back of his pants to reveal a horizontal welt. A welt. I took a picture with my phone to use as evidence if such evidence was needed. I was shaking with fury.
I got a fuller explanation of the events leading up to the assault. And it was an assault. A neighbor had given the three boys each a sticky eyeball to play with. (You know, one of those gross Halloween toys.) J had decided to place his eyeball on top of the post that sticks out of the ground so the electric company can come and read your meter. He had also decided to take the crossbar out of his lamppost and use it to smack the eyeball with the crossbar. Until he decided to take it and use it to smack my son with it.
Using relative heights, angles, trajectory, and all that, I determined that there was no possible way that J could have hit TJ accidentally while trying to hit the eyeball. The eyeball was sitting much higher off the ground than TJ’s butt would have been, and the welt was perfectly horizontal. Before stating this out loud, I asked TJ if he thought it had been an accident, and he said no, he thought J did it on purpose.
This would not be out of character. This is not the first violent episode we’ve had with this boy. I didn’t blog about it at the time, but I did post about the first incident on Facebook. On November 23, 2014, TJ’s coat had been slashed with a knife. J had grabbed a pumpkin carver off the table in his house. (The boy is six now, so he was five then. The knife had been within his reach, and he’d been able to run outside without an adult seeing him take the knife with him.) J gave the knife to L, who is a year younger than him. (He was four then, five now.) L slashed at TJ with the knife. It was TJ’s first time wearing his new puffy winter coat. Had he not been wearing the coat, the knife would have sliced his skin. I was too shaken up to confront the parents in person, but I wrote a note. Both J’s parents and L’s parents were horrified, said the children would be disciplined, that the kids would never been unsupervised outside again, and they wrote us a check to replace the coat.
Had J’s mom responded with similar concern yesterday, I never would have called the cops.
Instead, Tom came home with the groceries he’d been out to buy. (Everyone had yesterday off for Columbus Day.) I briefed him on the situation, showed him the picture, and asked for backup as I marched over to J’s house. I rang the doorbell, and J’s mom appeared, apparently completely clueless about why we were there.
I told her that J had hit TJ with the metal bar hard enough to leave a welt. I showed her the picture. She stared blankly at me, and the vibe I got was, “Yeah, so?” As I continued, my voice still shaking, I said that this wasn’t the first time her son had been involved in a violent incident with my son. She blinked at me. Had I gotten an “Oh my God” or an “I’m so sorry,” the next words out of my mouth would have been very different. Instead, I started to lose my grip on my emotions. I said something to the effect of “The next time your son hurts my son, and I haven’t completely ruled it out for today, I am going to call the cops.”
How did she respond? “I think you need to calm down.”
I need to calm down? Lady, your six year old has been involved in an assault with a weapon twice in one year. Yes, I am physically shaking. Yes, there are tears in my eyes. And yes, my voice has increased in volume in direct relation with the lack of concern on your face.
I don’t know if I’d sputtered anything else out before she said, “Actually, I think you need to leave,” and slammed the door in my face.
I totally screamed that I was going to call 911.
And I did. I started dialing before we even got back to the house.
I confirmed my name and address, and J’s mom’s address, and that TJ did not need an ambulance. I just wanted to file a report with the police about this violent incident with the six year old.
While waiting for the cops to arrive, a man rang our doorbell. I believe him to be J’s mom’s boyfriend, who had apparently been called home from work sometime after I screamed that I was calling the cops. The first thing he asked was if TJ was okay. I replied that he was fine now, but that that wasn’t the point. The second thing he did was apologize. I thanked him. Had he been home at the time, or had J’s mom responded the same way, I would not have escalated the situation.
By the time the sheriff arrived, I’d had some time to calm down, but I was still crying. (I have depression and anxiety disorders. It’s a wonder I could speak in full sentences.) I related the story to him. He wrote nothing down.
I am completely disappointed in my interaction with the sheriff.
My conversation with the cop took place in two parts. He talked to me first, went over to talk to J’s mom, then came back to talk to me again. The upshot of the conversation? Due to the ages of the kids, criminal charges cannot be pressed. That’s fine. I didn’t want to press charges. I wanted this on record in case this kid does something worse at any point in the future.
But when the cop mentioned that he was required to report the incident to Child Protective Services (CPS), he said in tone that totally set my teeth on edge, “You know, when I file the report with CPS, they have to investigate both families.” The way he said it, the implication was clear. Not only did he feel that I was wasting his time, but it felt like a threat. For daring to report that another child assaulted my kid with a weapon, my family was going to be subjected to the same scrutiny as J’s. Another way the system likes to blame and intimidate victims.
The words “boys will be boys” literally came out of the cop’s mouth. I responded that I don’t believe “boys will be boys” is a valid excuse for violence. He defended his position, trying to say that even if we moved or they moved, my son could end up being the bully in another group of neighborhood kids. My boy doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. TJ has been assaulted twice, and in neither case did he try to retaliate. He has Asperger’s, which has left him vulnerable to being bullied by kids just about half his age. But there’s literally no one else for him to play with at home. The cop implied that a CPS investigation could fault me for letting my 10 year old play outside by himself. Um, hello? My son is 10. We live in a townhouse development where our block is a courtyard. The development has a speed limit of 10 mph. I can see him out the window wherever he goes, because I don’t allow him to go into other people’s houses or to go in anyone’s backyard without first informing me. And he’s 10, so limited independence is something that needs to be encouraged, not stifled. The teachers don’t walk the fifth graders between rooms at school for this very reason. In any case, it’s never okay to threaten the victim of an assault with retribution by CPS in an effort to discourage reporting incidents in the first place! Apparently J said he was playing Star Wars when he hit TJ, and the cop mansplained this to me as “the kids were playing together, and then one kid decided he was playing a different game than the other two.” Except that when the kids play Star Wars, they use their swords to hit the other swords – not the other kids. (TJ was banned from bringing his lightsaber out to play after J & L broke it.)
The cop seemed doubtful that CPS would bother getting involved. He said that there were times he was absolutely sure they would do something about a report he filed, but they didn’t. And he didn’t think this was a big deal at all, even when I pointed out the knife incident.
“Sounds to me like you shouldn’t let your son be playing with him.”
“What am I supposed to do? We live in the same courtyard. Is there any way to make sure J stays over by his house and doesn’t come over here?”
“No. Don’t you have a backyard? Can’t you just take him to a park or something?
Again, victim blaming. I informed the cop that I’m chronically ill and physically can’t take TJ to the park most days. Why should I, as the parent of the NONVIOLENT child, have to keep my son inside and give the violent kid free rein of the courtyard? It’s just wrong. A six year old has already been involved in two violent incidents, and it gets shrugged off.
TJ was fine physically after the cop left, but he was an emotional wreck. Having the cop here scared him, and he told me he was “paranoid about CPS coming here.” This is partially my fault, because I kind of freaked out about that in front of him. The house is a mess, and has been a mess for a long time, because I’m not physically capable of cleaning for more than 5 minutes at a time, often only once a day. CPS might have a problem with this. We’re going to try to clean up, just in case, but like I don’t have enough guilt about my physical limitations! I tried to calm TJ’s fears by explaining that the police and CPS are here to help us, that he had done nothing wrong, and that if they do get back in touch with us, it will be to determine exactly what happened and that he wasn’t also being violent. (And then I felt guilty because I have so many friends of color who can’t even reassure their kids that the police are on their side.)
I emailed TJ’s teacher and the school psychologist, in case TJ had a hard time at school today. His teacher replied after school:
He seemed to have a good day. This news makes me sick to my stomach.
As painful as I’m sure it is, I thank you for sharing such news.
I really appreciated that.
I know it must be hard for a mother to hear that her child hurt another child. But if it happens to you, show at least some concern for the other child and make it clear that you will talk to your child and explain that hurting other people is not okay. Don’t just stare dumbly at the legitimately angry mother on your doorstep and slam the door in her face. You’d be freaking out if someone had hit your child with a weapon, too. If you show concern and compassion, the other mom probably won’t call the cops.