I can tell the school principal is struggling to say the word “p*ssy,” to me. It appears as though my husband and I will be heading to the school for a meeting with the principal. I clutch the phone a little closer to my ear in case I have mis-heard what she is trying to explain to me about Carl.
“He sad what?!”
“He shouted at the other girl that, “at least I don’t have blood coming out of my p*ssy,” the principal blurts out. She is in the middle of tactfully explaining to me the thorough investigation she has just completed at school. Children have been complaining to her that Carl is making them feel uncomfortable with the “sixth grade health class” talk he’s been having. And that isn’t all.
When she asks the other children if they have asked Carl to stop they all say that they are too afraid of him. They are afraid of what will say to them or say about them. He has two other boys he is close with that participate in treating a group of girls a certain way. Apparently they call make fun of the girls by calling them “gay” and “lesbians.” They target girls in the class at recess, lunch, and other unstructured times.
To me the worst part of the whole thing is that Carl and his friends have been ensuring that the girls won’t “tell.” They have intimidated the other classmates not to talk about the harassment. It’s been happening for weeks. They know it’s wrong and yet they are using this newfound power and prestige to make themselves feel bigger and more entitled than the others.
As you can imagine, my husband and I are horrified. It isn’t OK to treat women this way. It’s not OK to bully other kids. It’s not OK to derive pleasure out of someone else’s pain. And yet, I don’t need all of the principal’s detailed accounts of the thorough and ironclad investigation to believe that our son is capable of this.
I am long familiar with the dichotomy of Carl. This 11-year-old boy, on the cusp of adolescence, is a study of contrast. He is stuck somewhere between his present-day life and the past that still haunts him. This is the same boy who delicately disentangles a bird stuck in netting, snuggles his kitten at night, and painstakingly prepares a cup of coffee for his me when my back is hurting. His love and loyalty are some of his best qualities. I like to think that this is part of what we have taught him during the almost 3 years he has been home with us now.
But there is another Carl. The one who came to us from foster care in an angry desperation that he should ever have a family at all. This Carl has a past littered with domestic violence that shadows his current life. This Carl forgets that women are not a “lesser” species to be ordered and used as a commodity. After all, that is what he saw in his birth home. The shadow of his past darkens his view of me when he shouts at me and tells me what I must do. His words can become the domineering words of an abusive husband/boyfriend/stranger/pimp that leers out at me from his past life.
There are always consequences to actions. There will be consequences at school. There will be consequences at home. My husband and I prepare to go to the school with the resignation that we are in for a long battle. It isn’t us against the school. It isn’t us against Carl. It’s all of us against the horrible past the reappears, zombie-like, just as we are making progress.
I have hope. My hope is that he will learn better ways. There is still time for us to teach him what a man should be. There is still time to teach him how a man should behave. There is still time to chase away the shadows of his past. Isn’t there? Or should I comfort myself that, at least, this behavior is presidential?
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.