I went back to work when my first son, Joey, was six weeks old. He went to a charming little day care around the corner for my office, and we just loved it.
Except for one problem. When he moved into the toddler room, he was in class with a kid who bit.
Day after day, I would show up and the teacher would point out the spot where this boy had sunk his teeth into my child—his forearm, his chubby thigh, and one time, in the small of his back.
I was beside myself. I mean, honestly. What kind of horrible animal does this? What was going on at home? What was wrong with those parents that they could raise a kid who chomped down on other people’s children?
Fast-forward to about a year later, when my second son, Jack, was born.
When he was around eight weeks old, I went back to work, and Jack went to the same charming little daycare near my office. And when he was a year old, he started to bite. He bit other kids. A lot.
Hello, my name is Carrie, and my kid was the biter.
It was awful. Every afternoon I slunk in there with my head hung low, waiting to hear the day’s report. I died a little on the inside every time I had to sign the slip of paper acknowledging that there was an incident between Jack and another boy or girl.
I mean, what was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he be nice to all those little kids who were trying to be his friend?
We worked on it, all the time. We gave him teething rings that vibrated so he would get the sensory input he seemed to be craving. We tried to teach him sign language so he could tell us what he needed. We told him not to bite, because biting is mean and it hurts people.
At this point, Jack didn’t talk, and he didn’t sleep. He didn’t point with his pointer finger or look up when we said his name or recognize our faces when we walked through the door.
Eventually we learned that all this meant he had autism.
Fast-forward about a decade. Jack is thirteen. He is very tall—taller than me—and his sneakers are bigger than mine and he is finishing the seventh grade.
He talks now. He sleeps with the help of medicine, and he can point if he wants to but he never does, at least not with his pointer finger like you and I might. He points with his middle finger, so after a while, we told him to just stop pointing altogether because it made us cringe.
He still has autism, and unfortunately, he still gets frustrated.
He has thrown a chair across the room and kicked his desk and screamed big loud swear words at the class. One time, he bit his teacher hard enough to break the skin.
Hello, my name is Carrie, and my kid is still the biter. I am deeply ashamed of this.
Listen, we are good, church-going people. Well, mostly husband Joe goes to church but still, I am a pretty good person. I have never once in my life thrown a chair across the room. I don’t kick desks or scream out a string of profanities that would curl your hair if my pencil isn’t sharp enough.
Joe coaches baseball for the Little League team. We eat dinner together as a family. We have a chore chart that hangs in the kitchen and all five of our kids usually brush their teeth before they go to bed.
We are just like you, that’s what I am trying to say.
So, why? Why does our son lash out at others and become enraged and say bad words?
To fully understand, I would have to crawl into his brain and untangle all the wires of rigidity and anxiety and regulation that crisscross around the neurons and synapses and whatever else is in a brain. I would have to sort them all out and try to figure out why this boy of mine responds the way he does in situations where he feels afraid, and unsure.
To my knowledge, science hasn’t come up with a way for me to do this, so all I can do is ask him why.
Why? We ask him.
Because, he answers every time. That’s it. That is all I can get him to say.
Why did you bite your teacher?
Why did you throw the book?
Why did you call that nice boy a racist pig? That is a terrible thing to say!
And when I cannot get an answer from the silence, the only things I have are patience, and compassion, and small, quiet moments.
Jack, buddy. Sit with me. Tell me why you said such an awful thing today.
Well, those words are hurtful. They are mean.
He was racing. For the cookies. To eat all himself. For me this is. A racist pig.
Constantly, we work on his regulation and we offer him tools to use when he gets mad and
For me, this is twofold.
As his mother, I have learned that having the biter means I have to be willing to be as vulnerable as the bitten. I have to feel the sharp teeth against my own skin, and the sinking heart of an unkind word.
And at the same time, I know that underneath the kicking and the screaming is a child who is nursing an invisible, unseen wound.
A boy who longs to belong but doesn’t know how–who feels a flash of anger so deep, and so hot, and so fast that he cannot prepare his mind to move ahead of his body.
This is not an excuse. I promise you, I know this. No one should ever kick, or scream, or bite.
I am not offering his diagnosis or his language delay or his social awkwardness to you as our defense, but rather as glimpse into a complicated mind fraught with anxiety and insecurity and loneliness.
I have the biter. And as a mother, this juxtaposition of angry biter and the boy I know is heartbreaking and sad. I would not wish it anyone in the world.
The thing is, nothing is as unpredictable as raising a child. There are no guarantees. All of us are doing the best we can. I am doing the best I can. And still, he bites. He screams. He swears.
Maybe you’ll have the baseball star, or the champion of the spelling bee. A popular daughter, or the prom king.
Maybe you’ll have to deal with allergies, or a attention deficit disorder, or even autism.
Maybe, like me, you’ll have the biter.
And you’ll say to yourself, how? How did we get here? We are good people and we go to Little League games and we make chicken noodle soup on cold winter afternoons and we say our prayers in church. We are doing the best we can!
I am doing the best I can.
That’s the funny thing about kids. We never know the places they’ll take us.
Why, Jack? Why can’t you just be friends with him?
Because. He cannot for know me. He would not like me.