1. I am a mental health therapist, and have worked extensively with children who have been sexually abused,
2. My son is extremely ADHD and lacks awareness of socially appropriate behaviors
3. I was home sick the day this happened, which caused my paranoia to be heightened and my defenses to be lowered.
There. Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you about the time that my son drew penis pictures while he was in the principal's office after flashing his penis at his Kindergarten teacher and the rest of his class during circle time.
As I recall it, I was home sick when my son's father suddenly arrived at my house with my son and a sheaf of papers. I was surprised, since school didn't let out until 3:30pm, and it was only 1:00 in the afternoon.
Zach's dad: "Your son got in trouble today for showing his penis to Mrs. Antenucci and the rest of the class. Oh, and while he was sitting was in the principal's office for doing that, he drew these."
With that, my son's father tossed the papers onto my bed. And left. No, wait. First he said, "Uh, since you deal with this stuff every day, I think you're the best one to address this." Then he left.
Zach waited expectantly by the side of my bed, so I glanced down at the first picture. Here is what he drew:
In evaluating kids who may have been sexually abused, we administered something called The Event Drawing Series. We had the kids draw 7 pictures, such as "draw yourself as you are now, doing something", or "draw a picture of a house and a tree". We would then ask them specific questions about the pictures, designed to elicit information they normally wouldn't share/discuss out of embarrassment, inability or memory blocking.
There are also what are called "red flags" in these drawings. Indications that the child may have been sexually abused, but not definitive. Red flags include encapsulation (drawing a circle around the object to separate it), sharp teeth/fingernails (aggression), transparent clothing (vulnerability), very long arms (self-protection), "vacant/unseeing" eyes, genitalia and excessive use of the color red (red is an "alarm" color).
So here's what I saw:
I was looking at 6 of the warning signs. Drawn by my sweet, adorable, loving and socially inappropriate son, who was just dying to talk about the really cool picture he'd drawn in the principal's office today.
I took a deep breath. In. Out. In. Out. I will personally search out, gut and kill whoever has touched my baby, I swore to myself. Then I smiled and went into therapist mode.
Me: "Wow! What a neat-o drawing! Tell me about it!"
Zach: "Yay!" (Climbing onto the bed). " I drew a WHOLE PERSON! For the first time EVER!"
Me: "I see that! Tell me about your whole person!"
Zach (pointing): "Well...that's the hair, and the eyes, and the mouth, and the nipples, and and the bellybutton, and the penis with the two hangy things, and the feet, and the hands, and the ears!"
Me: What was that middle part?"
Zach (confused): "The bellybutton?"
Me: "Never mind. What's this person's name?" (With any luck, I would get the name of the kid who'd touched my child. Less work for me when it came time to search, gut and kill.)
Me: "Um...I thought only girls had both ears pierced?"
Now, this was a ploy, I knew that boys often have both ears pierced. I figured this way I'd find out the name of the punk at school who had both ears pierced, and who'd touched my little angel. Besides, Sarah had a penis.
Zach: "This IS a girl!"
Me: "Girls don't have penises honey."
Zach (indignant): "Yes they do! Everybody has a penis!"
Me: "Honey, I'm telling you, girls don't have penises!"
Zach: "YES THEY DO!!!"
Me: "Never mind. Do you know a girl with a penis?"
At this point I was seriously considering the possibility that my son had been sexually abused by a girl named Sarah, who had a penis.
Zach (thinking): "Umm....no?"
Me: "Hmm. Ok, well, tell me about this circle. The one around your, I mean, Sarah's penis."
Zach (looking carefully at his drawing): "Oh. That's underwear. Wait...maybe that is my penis. It looks like my penis."
Ok, there went my "penis protector" theory.
Me: "Got it. Wow, those are some pretty sharp teeth. Tell me about those."
Zach: "Well, we need to have sharp teeth to bite our food you know."
Me: "Uh-huh. Do we ever need to bite or scratch anyone to keep our bodies safe?"
Zach (looking at me like I'm crazy): "Um....no? Why, can I?"
Me (getting excited at maybe finding out who my child needs to protect himself from): "Who would you need to bite or scratch?"
Zach: "Julia. She's a real butt ( giggling because he said 'butt'). She kicked me at breakfast today, I forgot to tell you. So can I bite her?"
Me (sighing): No Zach. You cannot bite your sister."
Zach: "Oh. Well I think I should at least get to kick her when she gets home from school. Otherwise, it's not fair."
I realized this conversation was getting waaaayyy off track. Time to focus.
Me: "Tell me about the rest of your drawing."
Zach (pointing): "Well, that's spiky hair 'cause Sarah put gel in her hair to look cool, and those are nipples 'cause everybody has nipples (he paused for a moment). Do you have nipples mommy?"
Me (sighing again): "Yes. Tell me, why is Sarah just staring like that?"
Zach: "I don't know how to draw eyelids yet."
Ok, this was going nowhere. Time to cut to the chase.
Me: "Zach, has anybody ever touched your private parts?"
FINALLY! I grabbed a pen and notebook, ready to write down the offender's name.
Me: "Really? Who?"
Zach (looking at me strangely): "You, mommy."
Me (choking): "Me??"
Zach (thumping me helpfully on the back): "Uh-huh. When you give me a bath you wash my privates with the soap and washcloth. Doesn't that count?"
Me (again with the sighing): "No Zach, not really. So nobody else has ever touched your privates, or asked you to touch theirs?"
Zach: "Ewwww, GROSS!"
By this point, I felt comfortable with the information I'd garnered, and decided that while my son may not have been sexually abused, he still needed a quick lesson in socially appropriate behaviors.
Me: "Zach, you can't draw pictures of people with penises at school anymore, it's inappropriate."
Zach (indignant): "That's not fair! People have penises, and if I don't draw it, it's a wrong drawing!!!"
My son is extremely literal.
Me: "Ok, well how can we solve this problem? Because your principal didn't like finding your picture of Sarah-with-a-penis in the office. It made her uncomfortable."
Zach (thinking hard): "I know! I can draw the penis, then color over it so the underwear's not see through!"
This solution worked for both of us. I would not get any more penis pictures sent home from the principal, and my son's artistic integrity would not be compromised.
That evening, as I was getting ready to tuck the kids into bed, their father said, "Hey, would you have that penis talk with Zach one more time? Just so we know it sunk in."
Sure, I'd love to. When it came to discussing penis pictures with 5 year olds, I was in my element. Who wouldn't be?
So as I was tucking Zach into bed, I said, "Now remember, no putting a penis on your drawings at school anymore, ok?"
Zach looked at me in horror, as if I'd just taken a crap on his favorite stuffed animal. "Ewwww! I would never do that!"
Wait, what??? What the hell was wrong with my son???
Me: "Um...Zach? Remember today? Your drawing of, um, Sarah, and..."
Zach gave me a look of utter bewilderment. Then, like the sun breaking through the clouds, comprehension dawned on his face.
Zach: "Ohhh! You mean don't draw a penis on my pictures!"
Me (confused): "That's what I just said, Zach!"
Zach: "No, it's not. You said don't put a penis on my pictures. I would never put my penis on my pictures, that's gross! Plus, I would get into trouble."
He and I stared at each other for at least 30 seconds, while I digested this last statement.
My son believed I had just told him that he was not allowed to draw a picture, then whip out his penis and slap it on his work of art, sort of like an autograph. Only with his penis.
He had drawn a picture of a girl with a penis in the principal's office that day, yet he thought I was sick. I could see it in his eyes. They were troubled.
I told you he's literal, right?