Sunday, September 16, 2007

Test Run

I hadn't heard from her in awhile. We had met several years ago when I was doing a parent training seminar on abuse prevention in Barrie. She sat down with me during one of the breaks and chatted about her son who was then 6 years old. Her greatest fear, she told me, was that her son would be victimized. I could see the strain on her face but I could also see the determination in her eyes. She would do what she could. When she left the seminar she handed me a note. I was touched so I've kept it all these years.

"Thank you so much for teaching us how to better parent our children. I always thought that it was my job to protect Jeff, but now I see that it is my job to teach him how to protect himself. In that message alone, you have given me such insight. Thank you for what you do."

Reading that part of the note in the car later, I thought, "That's why I do this."

About six months later when I was doing a consultation day for the Sexuality Clinic in Barrie, I meet her again, this time with her son Jeff. He was a strapping, handsome boy with Down Syndrome. By the time he'd got to me he'd hugged the secretary, the director, the maintenance guy, the othe people in the waiting room. Mom was frustrated and as much as she tried to stop him, people would say, "Oh, it's OK" and instantly she was defeated.

We talked she, he and I. At one point I suggested that Jeff go to the kitchen and get a pop from the fridge and called in the secretary to take help him find the way. Then I gave Mom some ideas for how to deal with this situation. We practiced the strategies. She was teary-eyed when she left, "I want him to be safe but I don't want him to lose his joy, his trust."

Over the next several years, Mom would call me maybe once, maybe twice, to ask for advice. She was always full of apologies for calling, I always assured her, truthfully, that I always enjoyed her contact. Then, we met for lunch. She was making progress with Jeff, she didn't know for sure if he was developing boundaries to please her or if he was really understanding the purpose of distance and permission. Either way, progress was being made. I told her to call me when she thought that he'd got it and we'd test him out and see how he does.

She called yesterday. It was the perfect day. We had planned to go to the city, but those plans fell through. We always go to a movie on the weekend but nothing new openned of interest to us and we'd seen everything else. So we had time on our hands. We chatted for a second first and she said that she thought he'd be ready. So, I cupped the phone and asked Joe, if he felt up to playing a pedophile stalker today. "Do I have to wear a costume," was his answer. He's used to doing odd things for my job.

When she asked me when we should do this, I said, "How's about now."

We agreed to meet at one of the smaller malls here in Barrie. She and her sister would bring Jeff to the mall. Then the three of us would meet while Jeff shopped with his aunt. We found each other in the mall and then scouted the mall for the perfect spot. We found a bench in the mall that was perfect. We could view what was happening in reflection while we were out of sight.

The set up ...

Mom and Sis and Jeff take a seat on the bench. Then Mom says, "We're going off to the bathroom. We'll be back in a minute. What are the rules?" He looked exasperated, like he'd said them a thousand times, "Don't talk to anyone, don't leave this spot." She gave him a quick kiss and they were gone, he was alone.

The follow through ...

As soon as they were around the corner, Joe walked up to the bench and sat down, a little too close. Jeff, really noticed that Joe was in his space and squeezed hard up against the arm of the bench and looked away. Joe started chatting with him. At first Jeff said nothing, but then started answering basic questions. Joe learned that Jeff was in the mall shopping with his mother and his aunt. That they were coming right back. He didn't learn Jeff's name, his address or where he went to school. Jeff kept saying that the questions were private. Then came the big moment. Joe said, "Why don't we go and get a hot chocolate, it's just round the corner, your mom with find you."

The resolution ...

Jeff looked at him and said, loudly, "You are a stranger, why do you want to buy a little boy a treat!?!" At this point several people in the mall looked over at Joe and Joe went bright red. Mom came from around the corner, I stayed in place. I knew if he saw me, he'd know what was going on. It was better that he have the feeling of pride for standing up for himself.

Joe quickly retreated when mom came on the scene.

"I'm never going to do that again," Joe said, laughing in the car on the way home. We agreed that Jeff had done really well. He showed discrimination, he recognized that Joe had sat closer than he should have, he answered only questions that were impersonal and kept private all identifying information. And best of all, he asserted himself in a way that alerted others on the scene. It was perfect.

We talked later on the phone and she was over the moon with excitement. "This doesn't mean that I'm going to leave an 11 year old on his own a lot, but I know now that I can trust his skills."

"What's Jeff up to?" I asked.

"He's here telling his dad about what he did, about how a bad man wanted to buy him a hot chocolate and how he told the bad mad to leave him alone."

"That's awesome."

"For the first time I think he really gets it."

"He's proud of himself then?"

"Not as," here the phone became muffled for a second as she started to cry, "much as I am."


Anonymous said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

It is the mother in me, but I too am proud of Jeff... and we just met.

Casdok said...

Well done!
As a mum with a very vunerable son it is a very real issue.

Susan said...

Hey Dave, does it get any better than this?

Congratulations to Jeff, Mom, and you. But Joe deserves the most, poor guy - at least an Academy Award!

Anonymous said...

hi dave,
my name is tara. someone sent me a link to your blog and i have enjoyed reading it so much the last few weeks. a lot of things hit close to home. i love your voice-candid, moving, funny.

my 11 yo daughter is mentally retarded, no diagnosis.

thank you.