There's this incredible five year old, "Joey" at the battered women's shelter where I volunteer. He's beautiful, just started kindergarten this month but has learned the alphabet and can read and write.
I've known him for six weeks now. He loves to sit with me at dinner and talk non-stop. He knows whatever I know, says he can cook whatever I cook, do whatever I do. It's pure entertainment to listen to his incredible daily "experiences" that most kids wouldn't dare try to pass off as the truth.
And everyone loves him anyway. He's sweet, funny, seems happy and has a killer smile. We just say, "Oh, really?" when he finishes one of his tales. We smile or laugh and he laughs with us. He's too much fun to challenge so nobody does.
This past Tuesday night, a new boy, "Simon", age 11, tall, quiet, and serious, was sitting in the lounge with "Joey", one babysitter and a couple other kids. I was straightening up my space nearby, door open. Most kids had already sat down in the big play room for snack.
I rushed out my room when the wailing started. "Joey" was face down on the carpet, sobbing, hands over face, body rigid. "Simon" was on the couch, a blank look on his face.
Most of the older kids at the shelter immediately respond to the cries of smaller kids,but this was Simon's first day so I wasn't surprised at his reticence to help. I told the other kids to go get snack and asked Simon what happened. He said he threw a pillow and it hit "Joey" in the face. "It was an accident," he said.
"Joey" yelled louder. I sat down next to him but he wouldn't talk, just cried and hid his head. I rubbed his back and waited. Finally he said "Simon" threw the pillow at him. He was still quite hysterical and seemed afraid to talk. I picked him up, looked at his face (no marks), then held him firmly in my lap face out, until he calmed down.
I don't know the truth. Older boys sometimes are sneakily aggressive when they first come to the shelter. It's possible he hit "Joey" on purpose.
On the other hand, "Joey's" usual behavior was too happy, too perfect, too everything and this outburst was a huge over-reaction, whether the thrown pillow was an accident or true aggression.
Sometimes it takes weeks for a child to show the results of the trauma he's witnessed and experienced at home. Maybe this was "Joey's" time.
"Want snack?" I asked when he was calm. "You can sit wherever you want."
He nodded, walked into the other room, and looked around. Three of the four tables had empty chairs. "Joey" strode right over and sat next to "Simon."
These kids have come from a world where abusive men do horrible things over and over again, interspersed with periods when they seem more tranquil, concerned, and caring. Everyone breathes a little easier, though waiting for the next shoe to drop.
I'm not sure what memories "Simon's" action triggered in our darling little "Superboy" or why he chose to approach someone whose actions had just terrified him.
On the other hand, that's probably what happened at home.
It will be interesting to see if they're "friends" next week.