By Cathy Paige
One afternoon a few years ago when my son was in second grade I answered a telephone call that took me quite by surprise. “This is inspector Bradley from the juvenile division of the police department,” the caller said. “The mother of one of your son’s classmates has filed a complaint against you for frightening her daughter.”
Frighten who? How? What the…?
Inspector Bradley was a peach and a pro. In very diplomatic language he let me know that he understood there was something murky going on. “You have nothing to worry about,” he said. “It’s just a requirement that I inform you of this charge.” He said that the woman had actually said that I had "threatened" her daughter but since she could not explain exactly how I had made a threat she could only make the official complaint of me "frightening" her daughter.
What had happened was this. The day before I had gotten a call from my son’s principal telling me that my son Peter and his classmate Katie had been caught engaging in “inappropriate behavior.” They had snuck into the teacher’s storage area and looked inside each other’s pants. The principal who was a seasoned professional was not exactly alarmed by this and just wanted me to talk to my son about not engaging in this kind of activity at school. That night I had the proper talk with Peter.
The next morning I went to school with him and after the school assembly I walked with the class to their classroom. On the way, while holding Peter’s hand I went to Katie to have a chat with both of them about respecting each other’s privacy and staying away from “inappropriate” stuff. As I approached Katie she burst into tears and ran away from me to her mother who was also there. I went up to them in the hallway and, not really being terribly concerned about what the kids had done, kept repeating with a big smile on my face: “It’s OK, it’s OK. Don’t worry about it.”
Once the kids were inside their classroom I ran into a couple of fellow PTA members in the hallway. We hung around for quite a while, talking about PTA business. Peripherally I could see that Katie’s mother, holding her daughter’s hand, was going in and out of the classroom, the school office, and the principal’s office, talking excitedly to people. The last thing I thought was that any of this had to do with me or Peter.
By second grade I had volunteered a great deal at school and knew most of my son’s classmates and their families. And I was not the only one who knew that Katie came from a very problematic family. Her single mother was in and out of relationships and Katie was exposed to very questionable things at home. In fact, a few months before this incident with my son, while I was helping in the classroom at Halloween, Katie used the carving knife to show me how her mother’s boyfriend had made cuts on his arm the night before. I was shocked to hear that and I let the teacher and the school psychologist know about what Katie told me.
When inspector Bradley called me I was so taken by surprise that I was speechless. Experienced as he was he sensed that I was shocked and, again, very diplomatically let me know that he knew what was going on with Katie and her mother. He put it this way: “In cases like this often one of the children is exposed to situations at home that they act out at school. Your son has been drawn into such a situation.” He reassured me that neither my son nor I had anything to worry about.
I certainly appreciated the reassurance but once I hung up the phone confusion and worry hit me. Why would Katie’s mother accuse me of threatening her daughter? How could she possibly expect to be believed when during the whole time I was in full view of the entire school and innocently talking about PTA stuff while she was running around telling people that I was threatening or frightening her daughter? What really worried me was that if she filed a police complaint against me while I had tens of witnesses as to where I was and what I was doing, how could I be sure that she wouldn't come up with other outlandish accusations against me or my son? I mean, there were lots of times when the school hallway was not bustling with activity like first thing in the morning. What if she said that I or my son did something to her daughter during those times? Who would be our witness then?
I freaked out a little. While at first I was shocked to hear from the police I became actually glad that they were involved. I felt that experienced as they were they would be better judges of what kind of woman was capable of doing what. Still, I was worried about my son. I kept him at home the following week while trying to figure out what to do.