Buts, Unlimited

Back in February, an 8 year old Colorado boy named Aiden was having a violent temper tantrum when he was pepper sprayed by police, who were called to his classroom by teachers who were frightened of him. Aiden’s mom, Mandy, thinks it should have been handled differently.

About a hundred (or ten) years ago, I knew a woman who I wouldn’t describe as a friend, so much as an acquaintance of convenience. We worked in the same giant call center and were assigned to the same lunch break. Though we had almost nothing in common, we ate lunch together, Monday through Friday, and made small talk. I mean really small. She always seemed either medicated or depressed or medicated for depression in a way that you suspected that if she weren’t she might be dead by now.

She sometimes talked about her three kids, and we related on the very basic level of two women who had children. One day, over Lean Cuisines, she sighed and said, “Well, we have to find a new school for (let’s call him Jack, the name of my second son that I didn’t end up having but it’s never too late. actually, sometimes it’s too late — just ask my womb.) Jack. All my husband and I do any more is fight about the situation.”

I had obviously been paying too much attention to Days of Our Lives, which played quietly on the lunch room’s television during our assigned eating time and not enough to my coworker, because, aside from some backsass, I didn’t remember her mentioning a Jack (who was sevenish, at the time) situation.

“I’m sorry. What’s going on with Jack, again?”

“I think I told you that I woke up in bed the other night and he was standing over me with a kitchen knife, right? Well, now he got expelled from school for telling his teacher he was going to murder her. They have a zero tolerance policy on violence and that is considered violent. I mean, even the threat of violence is violence, these days, I guess.”

Wow, I really had to start listening to this lady!

I nodded, thoughtfully, looking down at my watery orange chicken with rice, wishing I had a salt lick and a stick of butter to improve the flavor. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, so much half-assed advice I was dying to give, but she seemed lost in her own head, so we chewed in silence until it was time to go back to our cubicles, put on uncomfortable headsets, and ask people how we could help them with their auto insurance policies.

Back in February, an 8 year old Colorado boy named Aiden was having a violent temper tantrum when he was pepper sprayed by police, who were called to his classroom by teachers who were frightened of him. The police report tells the story of a child who was not in control of himself. The local NBC affiliate says:

According to the report, Aidan “was climbing the cart and spitting at teachers, he also broke wood trim off the walls and was trying to stab teachers with it.”

“I wanted to make something sharp if they came out because I was so mad at them,” Aidan said. “I was going to try to whack them with it.”

The report goes on to say Aidan “was holding what looked like a sharpened one foot stick and he screamed ‘get away from me you f—ers.’”

Lakewood Police officers ordered the 8-year-old to “drop the stick.” When he refused, they sprayed him with pepper spray twice until he dropped the piece of wood and was handcuffed.

Aiden’s mom, Mandy, thinks it should have been handled differently:

“I’m sure what he was doing wasn’t right, but he’s 8 years old,” Mandy said. “They walked in, asked him to drop the stick, and then sprayed him with the spray…I think it’s excessive.”

So, you’re sure what he was doing wasn’t right, “but”? Did I mention that this was the THIRD TIME that police had been called to the school to handle Aiden? I find it hard to justify a “but” in that situation, however, moms will always find “buts” about their children. It’s like a magical gift you get in return for growing a person in, then getting that person out of, your body.

Aiden, who has now been transferred to a school for children with behavioral issues, is more contrite than his mother:

“I kinda deserved it,” Aidan said during an interview Monday.

Aidan seems really self-aware for an 8 year old, but in a way that feels sad to me. Like he’s accepted his fate of a lifetime of anger and violence:

“Just kind of like whenever anybody upsets me,” he said. “Like I just kind of want to tear them apart…I think it’s not ever going to go away…It’s just who I am.”

The story did go on to say that Aiden is seeing a doctor now. Speaking from experience, therapy, meds, or just the act of maturing enough to see that your actions have consequences can sometimes help. Maybe his mom will hold on to her “but”, in a way that isn’t detrimental to his growth as a person and doesn’t lay blame for his behavior on those whose job it is to protect him, staff, and other students.

I was done with that call center (or, more accurately, it was done with me and my inability to solve customer’s problems in the 2.5 minute recommended call time — my average call was 4.5 minutes and I was frequently told that I was the nicest person that customers had ever spoken to. Yes, nice takes two minutes, apparently.) just two weeks after that conversation, but kept in touch with another coworker for about a year. The last thing I heard was that Jack had been sent to live in a facility after his mom caught him trying to pour bleach into his new baby sister’s bottle. She said that Jack’s father visited him regularly, but our coworker didn’t seem interested in seeing him after the first six months or so. She said that she could never forget that he thought about killing her.

As for Aiden, “I kinda deserved it” feels like a grown up step in the right direction, in a way that I wish 8 year olds didn’t have to be grown up, but sometimes do.

I often wonder how things turned out for Jack. At the very least, I hope he got the help he needed. At the very most, I hope his mom had a change of heart and found her “but.” It’s hard to parent without it.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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