September 13, 2011

News is a Four-Letter Word for The Boy

WARNING: This is NOT a happy blog post. Consider yourself warned.

On September 11, The Boy and I were talking about what he remembered about what happened on 9/11, 2001. This tragedy has forever changed the way we think about TV news. 


The Boy was in first grade, but was absent from school due to illness. I was home with him. Before the first plane crashed, he had been in my bedroom, lying in my bed watching cartoons.

I told him to stay there...but it's not like I could keep the news from him all day long. He eventually saw the TV in the living room, and was upset. We talked about how bad people had crashed the planes, and that he was safe with me. 

That seemed to satisfy him until the plane crashed in Shanksville. He heard Pennsylvania and really got worried (we moved to Pittsburgh two months prior). 

Before our move, we lived about a half an hour from the crash site. The Boy's former babysitter saw the plane that day when she was walking to the post office with the kids she watched, and wondered why it was flying so low.

Needless to say, my anxiety-ridden son was pretty freaked out at that point. In the days and weeks that followed, he watched for terrorists wherever we went.

He hoped Superman would come to save us. 

He was beginning to display the symptoms of bipolar disorder (but wasn't officially diagnosed until Feb. of 2002).

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, his anxiety intensifies. 


The Boy had just started middle school in New York state, and was having great difficulty coping with the crowds and the noise and changing classes. I was in daily contact with the school district in an attempt to avert further outbursts. I had to pick him up from school the 11th and 12th because of his escape attempts.

He would run from the building, and be caught and brought back.

On Sept. 13, the news was filled with a new video of Osama bin Laden, promising more attacks.

Coupled with his anxiety about school, the news about future attacks was just too much.

When he went to school that day, he bolted and was brought back into the building by the assistant principal and another staff member. They had to run to catch him.

As they brought him through the office, he saw a large bread knife sticking out of a cake box.

He picked it up and put it to his throat, wanting everyone to get away from him. A brand new school counselor was holding him from behind, and asked him to put the knife down. He complied, and she took The Boy into her office and locked the door.

That same woman filed an affadavit saying that she feared for her life. If you were fearing for your life, would you lock yourself in an office with the person you are afraid of?

The Boy was arrested for Unlawful Possession of Weapons. He was also suspended from school, and asked not to return.

I arrived at the school after I got the phone call. The Boy looked sad, and scared. He kept apologizing through his tears. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

He said that he grabbed the knife because he wanted to kill himself - he just wanted everyone to get away from him. He never intended to hurt anyone else.

The deputy put him in his patrol car and drove him to our local hospital for evaluation.

The local hospital had an adolescent psych unit, where he stayed for about a week (until a bed was available in another facility). He had to meet with the hospital lawyers (I wasn't present) so he could sign a paper saying that we was voluntarily going to another facility.

I talked to him about it before the meeting, and he agreed to go (or else a judge could decide to put him in a hospital for an undetermined amount of time). 

A bed was located in a state mental facility about an hour away. He was transported by ambulance, and I followed in my car.

The place's appearance was reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

He was involuntarily committed, and stayed for about three months. I drove back and forth each evening for visitation. 

I was laid off from my job the month after the arrest. My frequent need to go to the school to deal with his issues that September was the nail in my employment coffin.

He came home right before Christmas.

In the months that followed, we learned a lot about the juvenile justice system and how the mentally ill are treated as criminals.

We don't watch TV anymore. Now if I could just keep him from watching or reading news online, maybe we can avert the next crisis.

His behavior of late has not been good at home or at school. This past Friday (9/9), he got written up at school.

I have no idea if any of it has to do with his reaction to 9/11. 

I just hope he can get his act together soon.


  1. That counselor was afraid for her life, so she closes the door and holds him hostage?!

    I hope things settle down for him and you very soon. I'm sure life is no easier for him than you.

  2. Wow... It sounds like some one needed to re-think their career choice. Sorry you both have to go through all this.

  3. that is truly sad. and I do agree. they don't treat mentally ill people very good.

    You are an awesome mom having to deal with this constantly.

  4. How exhausting. I'm a counsellor at a middle school and I can't imagine we would ever have the same response to a similar situation. It is truly sad to read about the treatment and response your son received. I hope you have good supports for you and your son. You have my admiration.

  5. What can I say other than hugs to you and The Boy.


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