The day I became the thing I dreaded

6 Jan

“Just saw some guy yank. Girl out of a van, her hitting the ground and crying. I called 911, gave them plates and description. Cause hell no.”

I posted that in a private Facebook group of friends over a year ago as I sat in my car waiting for police to arrive. I was so shaken up by what I had just seen in front of me as I was putting my car in park that I couldn’t type straight. Right in front of me, in another vehicle, a man reached in, pulled a young lady out with enough force that she hit the ground. Her face contorted as she cried out.

I couldn’t not call. I couldn’t be the person who just stood by and did nothing. It’s not how I was raised, and it’s not how I’m raising my kids. So I dialed 911 as the man walked the young lady over to the sidewalk, where two older women were standing. The two women fussed over the younger one as she cried. The man paced.

The 911 operator asked if I could stay where I was, asked for my car’s description and license plate. The police arrived, and one officer came to talk to me for a moment, then went to talk to the family.

A few minutes later, the officer came back and said the words that made my heart sink.

“According to the father, the girl has…mental issues…and what you saw was her having behavioral issues.”

Over a year later those words still make me want to cry. Because in that moment, I had become the person I feared most when my own twelve year old special needs daughter is having a public meltdown. I was the interfering stranger calling the cops on a special needs family. My heart cringed at what I had done. Had I just made the lives of a family like mine worse?

But my gut was convinced that what I saw wasn’t just “behavioral issues”. My gut saw the girl’s face as she hit the ground and my gut screamed “Something’s not right here!” When the officer told me that the girl had “mental issues”, part of me thought “I knew she had something more!” Because after twelve years in the world of special needs, I’ve become really good at picking out one of our kind.

I did tell the officer that I had a daughter with special needs, that I did understand those kinds of situations, but what I saw still didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t see the teenaged girl acting out. I just saw the dad reaching into the van one moment, the girl hitting the ground the next, the dad hauling her up without any emotion as she cried. It wasn’t just the girl’s reactions that got my attention, it was the man’s cold reactions that didn’t sit right with me.

Maybe there were behaviors I didn’t see. Maybe I did catch a family on a bad day. But maybe I actually saw what I saw. As one friend said “If that’s how they act in public, how do they act at home?” Another friend stated that if anyone could rightly judge the situation, it would be me, because I did walk in their shoes. When I told my husband all that had happened, he said “If anyone saw me treating our daughter like that, they should call the cops on me, because I obviously need some help.” The officer thanked me for calling it in, and staying to give information. Everyone told me I did the right thing.

Yet I still feel guilty over it. I feel like I betrayed one of my own in a way. Special needs parents have such a hard time as it is, we don’t need strangers coming into our lives to make it harder. When my daughter starts tantruming in public, I become hyperaware of my reactions to her, because I am afraid one day, we’ll be the ones the cops are called to investigate. Actually, in my mind, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” someone calls the cops on us as my daughter throws a raging fit in public.

At the same time, I also know that the whole “God only gives special kids to special people” line isn’t always true. Sometimes, special kids get put into really crappy families. Sometimes, special kids are in horribly abusive situations.

If I had to do it all over again, would I call the police on that family? Yes. Yes I would. Because while it hurt my heart to do so, I trust my instincts and will follow them. I’d much rather apologize for being wrong than not do anything and it turns out there was abuse. If I had just encountered a bad moment in that family’s life and made it worse, I sincerely and whole-heartedly apologize. Because the roles could easily be reversed. We are that family too.

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8 Responses to “The day I became the thing I dreaded”

  1. Charlie Shotsky January 6, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    You did the right thing. And just because parents have a special needs child, who can absolutely test them to the last nerve, they do not have the right to abuse that child. Losing one’s temper or yelling at the child is understandable…jerking a child (person) out of the car and throwing them to the ground is not acceptable under any circumstances, no matter who is involved. I would have called. But I also do my best to help a parent who is dealing with a child having a meltdown. (Offer to watch her basket of goods, help her get thru the checkout, etc. and say something kind to the parent.) It is

  2. Cathy January 6, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    But you didn’t call the police on the special needs child — regardless if she was having a meltdown or not. You called on the *parent*, who was clearly acting inappropriately (pulling his daughter from a car and throwing her to the ground while she cried).

    As your husband rightly pointed out, if he acted that way he would expect that authorities would be informed.

    You did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing. Please don’t beat yourself up on this.

  3. Darcy Pennington Arnold January 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    Absolutely; I believe you did the right thing. There is a difference between jerking a kid out of the car, them face planting and dad (or whomever) doing nothing to calm here.

    I have a grandson, no disability of which we are aware, who screamed bloody hell from day of birth. For two years, my daughter’s family did not have a meal together in a restaurant (one of them always had to take him to the car). If someone had seen either my daughter or son-in-law smack him in the face (as I’ve seen other parents do), I would hope someone would call the police.

    I will always trust my gut and apologize if I need to. Do not second guess yourself; you absolutely would recognize someone trying to control a situation vs someone abusing in a situation.

    Well done!

  4. Vickie January 6, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    I don’t blame you. There is a difference between a “behavioral” issue and what you describe. “Mental Issues” does not give the parents a free pass for that kind of treatment. Unfortunately there are those that think it does.

  5. jnnfrsr67 January 6, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    When my son was little, around age 8, he had a major meltdown at the grocery store. (He has Asperger’s Disorder, ADHD, FASD, and a few others.) He started this in the back of the store, and since he is also blind and had a propensity for hitting himself and running around, I had a firm grip on his wrist. As we walked from the back to leave the store, he pulled back away from me the whole time, screaming at the top of his lungs, “Help me! She’s going to kill me!” My face was beet-red and I made no eye contact with anyone, just walked him out of the store, buckled him in his seat, and took his shoes off (when in a tantrum, he liked to kick the back of the seat). I was always relieved that no one called the police on me, but also very bothered that the police weren’t called and no one checked to make sure I wasn’t hurting him. Because what if the situation was different than what it was?

  6. Koshka January 7, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    Jnnfrsr67- I agree with you completely with the relief mixed with concern about not having the police show up. You know what is going on, that you will not hurt/kill your son. But most people around don’t. They only see a woman dragging a child who is very upset, and imploring bystanders to assist.
    Perhaps it was a case of the bystander effect (someone else will do it- prime example is the Kitty Genovese murder).
    A family I used to baby sit for had a son with very low functioning autism. Once day when the mom was out shopping (this was 10-12 years ago now), and her son started to tantrum in the middle of the street leaving the store, in a busy parking lot. Nobody confronted her, but after they got home, a cop showed up. He asked about it, and luckily for her he had a family member with autism, so he understood and after checking on her son & talking with her, he wished her well.

    Another story I have along those lines is when I used to work for a home for people with DD/ID/BI/Autism, we would usually drive them in the 8-12 person vans for trips. One group was out one day, sitting in traffic, and one of the girls (around 12-14 years old) stripped and jumped out of the van and took off down the road. Two staff (who both happened to be male) went after her, and were subsequently tackled by quite a few bystanders (and who wouldn’t feel impelled to intervene when a naked young teen jumps out of a sketch van (can’t really be helped with 8-12 person vans) and is chased by 2 men in their 20s and 30s)?
    Luckily the agency has a lot of group homes & facilities in that area, and the cops were familiar with the agency, so they were able to sort it out without too much trouble!

  7. The 21st Century SAHM January 8, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    Wow. Heartbreaking but I know that conflict — sometimes people interfere when they shouldn’t. Still think you did the right thing!

  8. The 21st Century SAHM January 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

    That’s a tough conflict. Some people do interfere when they shouldn’t, but I think you did the right thing.

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