Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mental Illness -- It takes a village

I maneuvered impatiently to get past them to get on the train — the mother pushing a baby carriage while shouting at the boy trailing behind to hurry.  I wanted to get on the train myself.  I figured I would let her deal with whatever it was.

I got in the train and walked through the aisle through several cars to get closer to the front, to be suer to get a seat.

Curiously, despite her hurry to get her son on the train, she walked outside the train to the same car where I ended up.  Then she stood in the door yelling at him to get on the train.  I could hear the desperation in her voice as he refused and ran the other way.   She called for people to help her.  Her voice was hoarse.  She complained that she was sick and could not run after him.

I recognized that desperation.  Having raised 2 kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, I know what it is to have children who don’t obey, who have no sense when something is important, no sense that they are causing their mother pain, no sense that they are being completely inappropriate and outrageous.

The signals were ringing indicating that the doors were closing.  She was standing in the doorway holding the door open and he was running the other way.  I went to the next car and alerted the conductors.

Finally a burly black man, about 40, grabbed this boy, who was white, concerned that he wasn’t obeying his mom, and brought screaming for his mom onto the train. It was a bold thing for him to do, to grab a white child to help a white mom.  His move could easily have been misinterpreted.  I felt he was very brave.

Then, curiously, the mother did not get on the train, and the boy was there inside screaming for her.

I was puzzled.  A black woman, who claimed she did this every week, explained that the boy had a day pass to visit his mom and he normally lived in a group home. 

The black man was there with his own children and he got the boy calmed down.  He tried to encourage the boy by saying if he could clean up his behavior he could be with his mother all the time.   He introduced the boy to his own children.  He said he was stepfather of one.

The boy calmed down.  He was happy to find people to talk to.

The conductor came by and thanked me for alerting them to the problem.  The mother had explained the situation to me. Another conductor came by and told the boy that he would look for him next Sunday and that he was going to become the boy’s friend.

When they got off the train, the boy tried to say goodbye to the man, addressing him as stepfather, clearly hungry for that.  The man was looking at his cell phone, which broke my heart, but got off at the same stop. I hope he said goodbye nicely, because the boy had obviously become attached to him.

It was one of those examples of what Hillary Clinton meant when she said “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Normally in NYC we don’t want to get involved, but here people did. They intervened to help a mother who needed backup to gain control of a child.

I hoped that the man was right, that the boy would be able to get his act together and go back to his mom.  I doubted it, though.  I felt that once in a group home this boy’s chances were poor. 

It reminded me of when my younger son was evaluated in high school by a private neuropsychologist and she said we should send him to a residential treatment facility.  We didn’t do it.  I couldn’t bear the thought of sending him away.  He’s never really been able to get back on his feet and now lives as a parasitic computer addict.  I’ve wondered whether we did the wrong thing by not sending him away, but then I think it could have been much worse.  He might have hated being sent away and done worse than he has.  You can never know.  Fortunately, he’s at least a nice young man, despite being dysfunctional.

I wondered whether than man knew how good he is with kids, whether he knew he had a chance to make a difference in that boy’s life, that the boy really came to like him, that he hoped that he had made a new friend. 

I wondered if I would ever see that boy again.  Maybe if I take that same train some Sunday?  And could I help him, when I couldn’t really help my own sons?  Or did I do better than I think?  Are they doing better than they might have without me? 

So many questions.

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