Philadelphia Metropolis


About a Boy

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By Amanda Marie

He was a child in the Philadelphia foster care system, and almost 4 years old when I first met him. He was given an unfair start in life, to say the least. His mother was addicted to heroin, so he was born addicted to as well. Her physical and verbal abuse of  him (and his siblings) as an infant -- until he was taken away from her at age two -- had stripped him of all innocence.

When I met him, he was in blinding fit of rage -- a frequent occurrence, I would come to find out --knocking over books, toys whatever he could get his hands on. The other children in the class knew to get as far away as possible, otherwise they would get hurt from a thrown chair or an overturned desk. To see a scrawny little boy of below average height slam around wooden furniture was both alarming and an impressive display of strength.

I was assigned to work with him from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at the preschool he attended. There were about 20 children with two teachers in the room, but this boy needed someone to help him out one on one. He needed to learn how to gain control of his emotions, and he needed not to be abandoned.

liv-temper-tantrums.gifI was there to do a job. It paid enough for me to work less than full time, so I could head to school and finish writing up my thesis research on African reptiles at nights. Two fields so unrelated that perhaps one could be a good escape from the other.

The boy did not receive me well when I first began spending the school days with him. After spending an extended amount of time with anyone, he would be sure to spit on you, slap you in face, scream at his highest pitch possible, and scratch whatever bare skin he could find. He could become out of control at the drop of a dime and needed to be taken out of the classroom and restrained often.

I came close to quitting several times in the year and a half I shadowed this young boy, but mostly in the beginning. I kept thinking to myself, I couldn't let a four year old get the best of me. I also couldn't help but ache for this little guy, knowing that none of the behaviors he was exhibiting were any fault of his own. Holding him in a passive restraint, rocking him back forth while he cried and clawed, I knew this young boy needed to be given a chance. So we worked together, and together I think we accomplished good things.

The greatest virtue he helped me acquire was patience because at his core he was just a kid. That exposure to his "kid side" was the best gift I ever received from him. I always tried to remember that glimpse of innocence he would sometimes show when I was dealing with him during a fit. Towards the end of our time together, the real moments outweighed the bad ones and I could see the real little boy inside the defensive shell he created.

I want to pay this sort of silent tribute to the boy, who is now eight, and I hope attending second grade and loving it somewhere. I grew up in Manayunk with parents that loved me more than anything and taught me culpability and how to be self-motivated. Before meeting the boy, I was unable to relate to certain behaviors and I would blame such outbursts and dramatic displays on an individual's inability to control his or her emotions. The boy was an extreme case, but he taught me an important lesson about the environmental effects of a child's upbringing. And I think about his struggles and endurance often.   

When I finished school and was ready to move on, I think the boy was too. I started telling him I was leaving to move to Nevada about three weeks before my last day. He took it without issue. A year previous, after telling him I was heading on a two-week vacation, he responded by promptly biting me on my leg and slapping me repeatedly. He actually calmed down rather quickly and we were back to normal five-year-old dialogue in no time that morning. This is strangely one of my best memories with him.

I am afraid to find out whether or not he is happy and succeeding in life, because I would just rather believe that he is rather than risk knowing that he is not. To those of you that work with troubled kids on a daily basis, I thank you for your work.


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