During the eighties I taught Kindergarten for emotionally disturbed children. These were five- and six-year-olds who could not function in normally sized classrooms for various reasons, but were not physically or mentally handicapped. I was in my second year of teaching when Bobby, a chubby, hyperactive, remarkably peculiar and frequently aggressive child, was in my self-contained class of eight boys and two girls. One afternoon, during a typically wild and wandering conversation I had with him, he mentioned his grandfather and what they did when they were together in the bathroom. The investigation that followed took too long, involved too many people, and at its conclusion left Bobby in the same situation: living with his depressed, silent mother (who had very probably been abused by the same loathsome man when she was young), his grandmother and his grandfather. At the final hearing I learned that the school psychologist had unwittingly derailed the legal procedure when she used anatomically correct dolls during her initial session with Bobby and that this was not within her purview. Nothing could be done; the proper steps had not been followed. When I heard the determination I interrupted the judge and said (or did I shout?) “But everyone at this table knows that Bobby’s grandfather is sexually abusing him! What are we doing?”
I haven’t thought about Bobby’s awful story for a long time, but it popped up again this morning. I felt angry again, too. The social workers, lawyers, and educators discussed evidence, interview reports, Bobby’s social and emotional problems, and then these (well-meaning, I’m sure) professionals somehow came to the conclusion that they could not help this child—one of “my” kids. I still have no patience with proper procedures when they serve us poorly, but then I’m not a lawyer, a journalist, a politician, or a judge. I’m a liberal type, a poet these days, who grew up in New Jersey. Even if I hadn’t grown up in Bergen County, I’m sure I would have watched, no, been riveted to, every episode of The Sopranos, including the ones with elegantly tailored politicians or their more rumpled lackeys having sly meetings with Tony. I don’t need to ignore the cobwebs lurking in the corners of my house; I can whack them any time I feel like it.
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