Hildegarde

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What Happened to Greg

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This is going to be a long and convoluted story, so bear with me.

Or, you know, not.

When my younger son was in middle school, two things happened:  he began to be mercilessly bullied by a student we will call G, and the school’s health center was taken over by a new head nurse.

We’ll call the head nurse ME. 

This was a private school for grades K through 9, with about half the students in grades 5 through 9 boarding.

They bullying student–G–was a boarder, and a right little bastard.  His favorite hobby was to lie in wait for Greg when I dropped Greg off at school, and then to follow him around jeering at him: your father died and it’s all your fault; you’re so poor your father just died in the street.

Yeah, well.

Greg did complain about this a few times, but when he did he was told to deal with it himself, to fight back, and all that kind of thing.   Or to stay away from G.

In spite of what follows here, I don’t necessarily think that was bad advice. 

Except for the fact that the school had a zero-tolerance policy for fighting, so that Greg wasn’t allowed to do the one thing that might have helped:  fight back.

What Greg did instead was to do what he could to keep out of G’s sight.  Very often he went to a large tree that lay in the middle of the campus and sit there thinking about the things he was writing.

Yeah.  Greg writes. 

Anyway, the tree was directly across the center lawn from the health center, and sometimes, if there was no other way to escape G, he would go there and talk to the nurses.

After a while, Greg realized he could fake being sick and get sent home, thereby escaping G entirely.   He and I had a load of arguments about this.  These included my offer to take Greg out of the private school and send him to the local public school, which was a good one, and where he would be away from G.

Greg didn’t want to do that.  So we went on the way we were going, and one day, when he was sitting under that tree devising stories that would curl the hair of  H.P. Lovecraft, he got called over to the health center.

And he went over there and, asked what he was doing, he–told them his story.

The story was about a rock on campus and the way it changed into all kinds of things and the way music came out of it and he could hear the chanting of monks saying they were from the dead and I don’t know what else.

That’s the kind of story Greg reads, and that’s the kind he writes.

THIS particular story happened to be stolen outright from a then very popular video game.

The nurses promptly incarcerated him in the health center and called me. 

When I got down there, I was told that this was practically proof positive that Greg was mentally ill and that I had to get him a psych evaluation immediately and get him on psychotropic drugs.

Now, you have to understand something.

I wasn’t new to this kind of situation.  It had plagued my own childhood, and my mother had cheerfully thrown me to the wolves in the face of it.

Obviously, if you have an imagination that produces something other than treacly replays of the Bobbsey Twins, there must be something wrong with you.

One of the reasons Greg was in this school–and Matt before him–was that I was hoping to protect him from just such people as this.

I was hoping I could get him through childhood without feeling he had to hide who and what he was–that he had to hide what I considered to be the best part about him.

I went down there and listened to the spiel, and then I said, very politely, that this was imagination, that Greg did it all the time, and that I didn’t want to make him feel bad about having an imagination.

I then got–it’s hard to explain it if you’ve never seen it.

ME, the head nurse, was a viscious, destructive bully. She was used to getting her way by hammering and hectoring people until they lost the will to resist.

And she hammered and hectored at me for an hour–and didn’t get anywhere.

In the end, I didn’t lose the will to resist.  I just got fed up.

I told her in no uncertain terms that I would not brand my son psychotic that was not only perfectly normal but also pretty much the family business, that psychology was neither science nor medicine, that its affect on people was largely destructive and abusive, and that I wasn’t going to do that to him.

And then I left.

And the fun started.

ME started by talking to Greg’s teachers, telling them that he had “severe psychological problems” and that they should watch out for any “disturbed” behavior.

No, she wasn’t a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  She was just married to one. 

As a result of her little bulletin, an older teacher at the school reported that he had seen Greg pacing back and forth in the study hall talking to himself.

I was called in on that one, too.

ME had very carefully set up the situation that all my information had to come from her.

It took my four days to finally be allowed to know which teacher had made the report and also to talk to him.

And it turned out to be what I’d expected–at the time of the incident, Greg had been ALONE in the study hall and as soon as the teacher had come in, he’d stopped what he was doing.

Now, both Matt and I ALSO pace around talking to ourselves when we’re alone, normally because we’re writing in our heads, and of course Greg still does that.

But on that day, ALL he was doing was repeating French verbs to himself, because he had a test later in the day.

When it became obvious to ME that I wasn’t going to be bulldozed and I wasn’t going to allow her to control the situation, she tried other things.

For instance, she called Greg’s doctors and demanded information that under HIPPA she wasn’t actually allowed to have.

In the most spectacularly destructive of these forays into breaking federal law, she called Greg’s pediatrician, got a nurse, started in on the hectoring–and then just lied and told the woman that she had my permission to access Greg’s medical records.

By then, the pediatrician’s nurse was badly rattled, and what she ended up doing was giving ME MATT’S information–including the information that he hadn’t been seen in the pediatrician’s office in several years.

ME then lied to me by saying that the pediatrician’s office had called HER, and told the administration that I wasn’t taking Greg to the doctor.

I got this all straightened out, but not without cost. 

This wasn’t the first time ME had called yelling at people and the pediatrician’s office had had it.

Since I couldn’t guarantee that ME would not call again, they terminated Greg as a patient.

Now, a couple of things are important to notice here.

Greg has a congenital skin condition, a form of eczema that never really clears up and never will, entirely.

He sees a lot of doctors all the time, and since the condition embarrasses him, it makes an enormous difference to him when he has to see somebody new.

He’d had this pediatrician since we brought him to the States in 1994.

And because of ME’s tactics, he lost her overnight.

And I couldn’t blame her.  Greg wasn’t her only patient, and ME had just bullied her desk nurse into committing one of those felonies.

During all this time, while ME was going to the school administration and lecturing them on how Greg was psychotic and I was neglecting him by not taking him to a psychologist, Greg himself was stubbornly refusing to exhibit the characteristics of a psychotic child.

Remember G, the bully? He was bullying other people besides Greg, and he got expelled for it at the end of that year.

At which point Greg happily returned to loving school and acquiring an enormous group of friends who absolutely adored him and followed him everywhere.

He was, in other words, nothing like an “isolated” child. 

My trips in to talk to the administration became common, and every time I came in I pointed out the fact that Greg didn’t actually have ANY of the characteristics of what they were accusing him of, and off I’d go.

And at that point, ME started something else.

She started following him around–and she started calling him into the health center office to “check his rash.”

The “check his rash” thing was patently bizarre. 

She would call him into the office and demand that he take off his blazer and shirt so that he could see what the rash was like on his chest.

He would proclaim–he REALLY hated these sessions–that he wasn’t comfortable with that and he wanted to wait until I came so that I could be there with him while it was happening.

Then, when I got there, ME would say no, no, she didn’t need to see anything, that was fine.

This went on for months until I finally went to one of the administrators and told him that if it ever happened again, I’d take Greg down to the closest police station and have him report to them what he’d been reporting to me.

The sessions stopped.  I set up a psych eval in order to at least attempt to be accommodating. (In the end, we didn’t go through with it–but all that comes later.)

The other thing ME started to do at this time was–follow him around.

Greg and his best friend waited for me and bf’s parents at a picnic table in the lower parking lot, which was right behind the health center.  On the days when they were there, ME would come out of the health center and deliberately walk down to the picnic table to ask Greg how he was.

On the days when Greg was not there, she would take a different route to the lower school buildings.

The health center was in the same building as the cafeteria.  When Greg was at lunch, ME would come into the lunch room and look around until she found him, and then stand there staring at him for minute after minute until he started staring back.

When Greg complained about these things to the administration, I would be hauled in yet again and lectured about how his paranoia showed just how skewed his thinking was.

When I pointed out that not only I, but several of Greg’s friends, had noted this same behavior, the interview would be terminated and everything would go on as it had been until it all happened again.

And then the summer came, and everything seemed to have calmed down, and so did I.

I shouldn’t have.

When Greg returned to school in the fall, everything went back to being screamingly abnormal, complete with the stalking behavior.

Now, though, I kept getting notes and messages from Greg’s teachers and from the headmaster that Greg was “unusually anxious.”

And, of course, he was.  People who are being stalked tend to get a bit freaked out.  And when this year started, the stalking had gone right up to the roof and off the other side.

And at this point, we SHOULD have been at least partially protected by what is supposed to be a bedrock principle of these kinds of things: listen to the children.

If a child tells you something, take him seriously, assume he’s telling the truth.

It turns out that the bedrock principle is “listen to the children, AS LONG AS they’re telling you what you want to hear.”

If the kid’s version of events ISN’T what you want to hear–“explain” it so that it’s really evidence of what you wanted him to say all along.

We made it through Christmas.

Not too long after that, there was a knock on my door, and there was DCF.

I want to say, right here, that we had the best experience with DCF we possibly could have.

The woman who came to my door was a seasoned veteran.  She knew what she was looking at as soon as she saw it, which was more than I did. 

It really  hadn’t occured to me that people would make these accusations out of spite or that they would go to elaborate lengths to pay people back for not showing proper deference to themselves and their own importance.

That’s TS Eliot, I think–all the evil in the world is done by people trying to be important.

H, as we called her, walked into my house–I had no right to refuse her entrance; social workers don’t need a warrant–checked Greg’s fingernails, and then sat down and talked to me.

The fingernails thing is an interesting point.

One of the accusations was that Greg was not taking baths or showers, that he “smelled” so badly that other students couldn’t study when he was in the room.

It is in fact the case that the skin condition Greg has will sometimes produce an odor when it’s in full flare–BUT this was an odor his doctor hadn’t noticed (at all), none of his friends had noticed, none of the other people he saw had noticed.  

And on one of the days when ME got Greg sent home for “smelling,” he was picked up by a family friend who is a) a meticulous Brit and b) has a very small compact car.

And HE didn’t notice any smell in spite of being cooped up in the tiny space.

The complaints about smelling, though, were what occassioned H looking at Greg’s fingernails–if he really wasn’t bathing, there would be dirt under those fingernails, and there wasn’t any.

And that’s when we won the war, I think, although I didn’t know it at the time. That’s when a couple of other things that had made her suspicious of the complaint before she ever showed up got confirmed in her head.

So, let’s talk about the complaint.

The first thing you have to know is that half of it was not about Greg, or about my behavior with and toward Greg, but literally about me.

“The mother communicates only by cell phone.”

This wouldn’t be proof of abuse, neglect of anything else anyway, but it provided a truly humourous moment, because as H read this item off, my land line rang right next to the chair she was sitting it.

“The mother always wears the same dress when she picks up the child at school.”

Actually no.  I DO have three of the same dress which works really well for me, and I rotate them. 

But that’s not evidence of abuse or neglect, either.

Anyway, there was a pile of that kind of thing, objecting to me personally.

Then there were the exaggerations and outright fabrications.

“Last year, there were squirrels living in the house.”

What had happened “last year” was that a single squirrel had gotten into our cellar–and it’s a cellar, not a basement; at that point, Greg had never been in it–

Anyway, it had gotten in and we’d taken three weeks to get it out because I didn’t want to kill the poor thing and it was so afraid of me (and the cats) that I had a hard time maneuvering it to the side door.

We’ll have to blame Greg’s imagination and his love of doing stand up for that one, too, because he told that story all around school for months.

Everybody except ME got it.  Or maybe she got it, but found it useful to twist it to use as ammunition anyway.

H went through the rest of the charges–the complaint was five or six pages long–and every once and a while she’d stop and go, “oh, that’s nothing.  They put that kind of thing in there because they know we won’t remove a child with what they’ve really got.”

What?

Apparently, spite claims are frequent enough (and they’re shockingly frequent) that investigators know the signs.

Then H talked to Greg, and Greg gave her an earful.

And then she tried to talk to me, and I didn’t listen.

I didn’t listen because I worshipped this school.  I really did. 

I’d had children there for 14 solid years. I knew most of the faculty and the administration.   I liked them and I assumed they liked me.

And I went on feeling that way until I made an appointment with the headmaster and listened to him lie to my face about what had happened.

I knew from H that nobody from that school was allowed to make such a complaint without permission from the headmaster.

The headmaster told me flat out that he didn’t know any such complaint had been issued–and yet his knowledge of it was in the complaint itself.

And that was it.  H came for a follow up visit and we talked about cats.   The school year was almost over.

Greg was in 9th grade, and only a few weeks from graduation, which is a formal thing with lots of parties that he’d been looking forward to forever.

As soon as we got the message from DCF that the case had been closed as unsubstantiated, Greg sat down and flat out refused to go back to school.

He was convinced–and probably with reason–that if he stayed in that school even another few weeks, ME would find another excuse to make another complaint.

And he had talked it out with H.  He knew that whether he lost his family or not  depended on the subjective judgment of the social worker, and the next social worker might not be H.

He understood that neither he nor I had rights in this process, that our fate was at the whim of the people running to system, that they could do anything they wanted to him and what he wanted or what was true didn’t matter a damn.

And that was the last time but one he left my house for TWO YEARS.

He would not go to school.  He would not go to the movies.  He wouldn’t leave the building.

Anybody could phone in a complaint anytime.  They didn’t need any evidence.  They didn’t need to give their names.

There was no place he could be safe.

And, of course, there was the rash.  The rash is always with him.  It will never go away.  And it can look REALLY bad.

So even some nice people might see that and misinterpret it–as they had, often, over the years.

He didn’t start going out regularly until he was 19.  Even now, he’s holding up finishing his education until he’s 21, and it’s not like I don’t know why.

Some of you out there are going to say well, hey–didn’t it all work out for the best?  He didn’t get removed from your home, and it’s just a matter of better be safe than sorry.

I’ll tell you right now I’m not buying it.

This system ENCOURAGES false complaints, and it enables them.

And the result of one of these investigations is NOT benign.

In the years since this happened to us, I’ve made many people put into the same situation, I’ve heard about innocent children dying in the system from the system, I’ve heard about families destroyed because of the investigations.

And I’ve heard some of that from social workers IN the system.

This is, quite simply, unacceptable on any level.

The powers of DCF have to be curbed.  We need to end the practice of using anonymous complaints as if they’re actually evidence of something.  We need to end the anonymity of complainants.  We need to make sure families have full due process rights.

My son is not an acceptable sacrifice to the do-gooder self-satisfaction of people who think they’re being noble by being “against child abuse.”

Everybody is against child abuse.

And what Greg was put through WAS child abuse–child abuse by the DCF system itself.

Oh, and there’s yet another kicker.

When Greg first left school, he talked to his friends–and he had a lot of them–very frequently on the phone.

By the time the school year was over, their parents were no longer allowing them to have contact with Greg.

Like to bet ME had a few words about how Greg had “severe psychological problems?”

 

 

Written by janeh

September 30th, 2014 at 11:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'What Happened to Greg'

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  1. When H concluded that the complaint was spiteful, did she investigate (or cause to be investigated) the source which was, presumably, ME? Did you seek your paediatrician’s help in nailing ME’s hide to the barn when there was ample evidence of her bullying the secretary into breaking the law?

    What a vicious bunch of bastards.

    Mique

    30 Sep 14 at 1:02 pm

  2. What a horrific experience. The spiteful and malicious are always with us, and it’s terrible that they can have such power.

    Cheryl

    30 Sep 14 at 6:16 pm

  3. robert_piepenbrink

    1 Oct 14 at 5:02 pm

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