Last weekend my son experienced an episode of what he refers to as ’Red Brain’ and called his father a c**t. He called him a w****r as well, but it was c**t which propelled us to the apex of offensive language and which left Rob feeling, well, rather mentally beaten about. Once Red Brain had died down, Jamie was mortified that he had directed this language at his dad. But the words had been said: the toothpaste was out of the tube.
During Jamie’s next therapy session a few days later, the esteemed Mr R, Social Worker and specialist in all things child trauma-related, enquired about how the previous week had been.
‘Jamie’s Red Brain came out shouting and screaming and he called his dad some bad things.’
‘Is that right Jamie? What did you call your dad?’
The hood went up and all he could manage was ‘dunno’.
‘So Sally, could you tell me what Jamie called his dad?’
I am no prude and am fond of a good swear now and again but to use the ‘c’ and the ‘w’ words in polite company is well out of my league.
‘Go on, say them,’ said Mr R.
‘Well, he called Rob a w****r and a c**t.’
I folded my arms and blushed. Jamie looked at me from beneath his hood. It was a look of disbelief.
‘Oh I see, so Jamie, you called your dad a c**t and a w****r? That’s big stuff. It doesn’t get much worse than that does it?’
‘My guess is it’s difficult to hear those words and they make you giggle a bit don’t they? Shall we hear then again? C**t. W****r.’
More laughter. My spirit momentarily left my body, as it does when life becomes too bizarre and it suspects the involvement of mind-altering drugs. It floated around just under the ceiling and spoke to me. Yes, there really is a social worker in your sitting room saying ‘c**t’ and ‘w****r’ over and over. Your son is laughing as though it’s all a big joke. Your life has jumped off the tracks.
We then moved on to the crux of the matter.
‘So how much further do you need to go before mum and dad give up on you?’
I winced at the directness. Jamie rolled himself into a ball.
‘Sally, I’ll ask you. How much further will Jamie have to go before you give up and put him into care?’
‘I’m not going to give up. It’s bad news for Red Brain, but Rob and I are very determined people and Jamie part of our family for good.’
‘Did you hear that Jamie? Mum says she’s not going to give up on you?’
‘We’ve got to deal with Red Brain haven’t we and it’s a team effort. We have to help you learn to deal with your anger, because you’re going to grow up and have relationships and maybe have children and you don’t want Red Brain to be around for that. I’ve worked with lots and lots of children like you. You’re not on your own. And I can tell you that things will get easier. You’re a clever boy. You’ll be able to work out this difficult stuff, with help from your mum and dad and me.’
After the session Jamie and I went to collect Rose his sister, from school. He talked all the way, about children he knows who are living for one reason and another without their parents. He talked about how sorry he was that he called his dad such terrible things. He said over and over how much he loves us all.
The past few days have been the calmest the Donovan household has experienced for months. As advised by Mr R I have checked in with Jamie regularly, so he gets the message that calm behaviour doesn’t mean he is out of mind. During a quiet hour I decided to take some time for myself. I brewed a pot of tea, sank into the sofa, put my feet up, opened the Saturday newspaper and there, in all its fully spelled glory was ‘c**t’. I marvelled at the offensive verbal synchronicity going on. I hvae experienced times when the same word crops up in lots of different situations, over several days, as though the great up above is trying to tell me something. I remember ‘toothbrush’ one time and ’sandwich’. But ‘c**t’?
The coverage of the John Terry trial showed the nation that it is apparently quite the most usual thing for footballers to call each other this in the heat of the moment on a Saturday afternoon. Where Terry came unstuck was in allegedly calling Anton Ferdinand a ‘black c**t’, thus bringing about a charge of racial abuse. Terry’s defence that he was merely repeating back and questioning words first uttered by Ferdinand was a clever one and yet to my mind had the whiff of a school boy excuse about it. It introduced just enough doubt and the judge found Terry not guilty. It is not clear where the verdict leaves football and it’s efforts to clean up the game and tackle racism.
Right and wrong are a little less muddied in our house. Jamie is learning that his past may be a reason for his red brain behaviour, but it is not an excuse. There are consequences for using that word which don’t include being put back into care. At least he didn’t try and excuse himself with ‘but John Terry …..’.