I watched a young boy approach a precipice.
I watched him take a long, measured pause.
I watched him take a step.
In September I told a true story about an experience my daughter had in kindergarten.
She was the youngest in her class – only 4 years old when the school year began – and she was small. A sweet little peanut who hardly weighed anything, with a sensitive heart.
One of her classmates was six when the school year began. She was big – tall and strong – and a bit of a bully. Some days she made my sweet-hearted little girl cry.
So we started mentioning her name in our bedtime prayers. We asked God to soften her heart.
“By the end of that school year,” I told the group of 8-and-9-year-olds who were sitting in a circle on the floor, “the two girls were good friends.”
The child who was not seated in the circle, the one I was sort of told had ADHD, stopped whatever it was he was doing in the corner of the room and looked up.
“Did that really happen?,” he asked with great interest.
“Yes it did,” I replied.
In the following weeks he sat in the circle for the Bible lesson. He interrupted, he disrupted but he was interested and engaged. He mentioned something about his dad. I reminded him that God can soften harsh hearts.
Meanwhile, his kindhearted grandma was teaching him about Jesus. He often came to class enthusiastically sharing the things she told him.
Most weeks he was disruptive and disobedient. He wanted to draw during the Bible lesson. I told him he could draw as long as he was drawing something related to what he was hearing. He drew Pokemon characters instead.
He had good weeks and bad weeks.
In January he paused in front of a large picture of Jesus as we were walking down the hallway, headed to our classroom.
I watched as he stood on that precipice, wheels turning in his head. I knew what he was contemplating.
A week or so later I asked him to step into the hallway during the Bible lesson. My co-leader was teaching and he was disrupting.
“Do you know why we are out here?” I asked. It was our familiar routine. Most weeks he did know and we came up with a plan to curb his behavior.
But that week he said, “I almost did it.”
I knew what he meant.
“I almost bowed down to Him. I almost bowed down to Him but now you’ve made me come out in the hall.”
Oh no you don’t, I thought, you aren’t going to pin your decision on me.
He started drawing pictures of Satan during the Bible lesson.
“You are not allowed to draw Satan while I’m teaching about Jesus,” I told him, week after week to no avail.
In March my co-leader had each student write a question they wanted to ask God.
He wrote that he wanted an angel to come and tell him whether he would be married some day, whether he would have a son.
And I understood the precipice. I understood the edge upon which he was teetering.
Align himself/his life with the kindhearted, God-loving grandma who brought him to Bible study or align himself with his harsh father.
He apparently chose the one he falsely perceived as having the power.
There is a lot more actual power in being his grandmother than there is in being his dad.
He came to class with a mysterious gouge on his nose. He didn’t know what happened.
Once or twice he came with gouges all over his face.
Was he harming himself?
At times he paired his disobedience with a maniacal laugh.
By now every week was a bad week.
Many times throughout the year I wanted to excuse him from the program to protect the learning of the other students but my concerns were always overruled.
In May I shuddered.
It was one of our last evenings together before the program adjourned for the summer. We were seated around the table. He was successfully charming one of the volunteers and as he did so, he shot me a smirking glance.
The look in his eye, the calculated charm, the glimpse into what next year would hold.
I shuddered. His glance reminded me of a 4-year-old I met years ago when I was a social worker. I was at his foster home visiting the 9-year-old on my case load.
The foster mom and I were sitting on her porch discussing the progress of the 9-year-old. The 4-year-old was on the porch with us. The foster mom went to get us some iced tea. As soon as the 4-year-old and I were alone on the porch, he started to ogle me in a way that still gives me the creeps. Then he propositioned me. It was disturbing on a level I can’t begin to describe.
When the foster mom returned with tea I asked to speak with her privately. I told her what happened and then she told me that the boy was back in foster care after a broken adoption. The adoption failed because the boy had been propositioning his adoptive mother. The adoptive parents had not been told enough about his history, they had not been told that it included sexual abuse.
The shudder I felt at the Bible study table was almost as chilling as the shudder on that porch.
I made a final plea on behalf of next year’s teachers and students.
To no avail. I won’t be back next year, but he will.
Children aren’t diagnosed with personality disorders because as children their personalities aren’t fully formed. Behaviors that would be deemed narcissistic in an adult are typical of some developmental stages.
But one day this child might be diagnosed with a personality disorder, because ADHD does not begin to cover what I observed.
Watching him being coddled by those who overruled me, I wondered whether narcissistic personality disorder is groomed by well-meaning adults.
I believe in offering support to children who have learning and behavioral difficulties, and I also believe that if we don’t expect them to exercise self-control, they will never have the muscle to stand on their own. If the treatment we give them is too special, will they narcissistically grow to believe that they deserve special treatment, that it’s all about them, all the time?
On the one hand, no one wants to exclude a child from learning about Jesus, on the other hand, not every venue is appropriate for every child.
My daughter told me about a program called Brain Balance. Maybe that would help him succeed in structured venues.
At the end of the last night of class his grandma thanked me for putting up with him. She said she knew what a difficult year it had been for me.
Then why did you continue to bring him week after week? Why did you let me keep paying the price?, I thought, as I smiled and said nothing.
I’m not saying that she brought him in order to give her daughter a few hours of free weekly respite, because I don’t know that for sure.
But it seemed that way.
I don’t know all that went into the boy’s choice, but I pray Jesus, his grandma’s love and some skilled mental health intervention will one day pull him out of the abyss.
One on one sharing of Jesus, grandma to grandson.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.