Yo’ Mama: Bad guy with a sick brain

Written by on August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized - 10 Comments


While taking aim at his family with a pool noodle, the sweet, innocent five-year-old shouted those words at his family in the grocery store and pretended to shoot them.

Mortified, his mother went to him, got down on her knees so she’d be level with his round blue eyes and whispered something like “Baby, please don’t pretend like that. Those people that bad man shot got hurt and some of them died. It wasn’t a TV show. It was real.”

The little boy’s eyes filled with fear, and he told his mommy that he was sorry. That he didn’t want that bad man to shoot him or those other people.

His mother hugged him and told him it was okay, and thought about how to further explain something so horrible to her baby.

They’d already had a conversation about the bad man shooting the people in the theater when he saw his mommy’s tears from watching the news a few mornings prior. She struggled with whether to tell him what happened when he asked.

When she decided that she would tell him in the simplest terms she could, his question was the same as everyone else’s. “Why did he do that?”

“He is a very bad man and his brain is very sick,” was the only answer she had.

The boy hadn’t wanted to go to camp that morning. He was afraid someone would shoot him there if he did. His mommy told him he would be safe there. She wondered if that were really true after she said it.

Because surely all of the people who were excited to see the midnight showing of a much anticipated movie, something that was supposed to be fun and intrinsically safe, assumed they would be secure from the horrors of a madman’s scheme there.

Other conversations abruptly arose in the following weeks about the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain such that the little boy’s mommy knew that he was still thinking about it. A little boy who hasn’t even been to kindergarten yet, but with a finely honed sense of good and evil archetypes, trying to understand something with which professionals struggle.

“How can you tell if someone has a sick brain?”

“Are those people the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain killed going to come back to life and be zombies?”

“Is the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain’s mommy really sad he hurt those people?”

The answer to the first question was obviously the hardest. Without going into unnecessary details on signs of mental health deterioration that she knew her little boy wouldn’t understand, she told him that you can’t usually just by looking at them. There are, of course, the thousand yard stare and the certain “crazy” look people with imbalanced biochemistries have that his mommy recognizes from personal and professional experience. She knew it would be impossible to explain that to a little boy though.

But when her little boy asked if she would come and get him if someone shot a gun at him, the panic that had been struggling to break free of the cage in her chest threw itself against the bars.

Would it be better to tell him to hide or to run if something like this happened around him?

She told him that if he can’t run as fast as he can away from the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain that he should hide until the Bad Guy goes away.

And then she wrote this story with quivery lips and burning eyes and wondered how to make the Bad Guys With The Sick Brains stop making their mommies so sad.

This piece was originally published in the August 29, 2012 edition of the Fort Mill Times. 

10 Comments on "Yo’ Mama: Bad guy with a sick brain"

  1. Jenn August 31, 2012 at 11:06 am · Reply

    Bottom line: being a parent is so HARD! Can’t I just keep them in my bubble forever?!

    • Tricia August 31, 2012 at 11:20 am · Reply

      If only, Jenn. If only.

  2. Nichole August 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm · Reply

    Oof. This made my palms sweaty, Tricia. So well written. I have some anxiety issues (don’t we all?), and I had a panic attack the first time we went to the movies after that happened. I’m going to go breathe into a paper bag now.

    • Tricia August 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Nichole. I get teary every time I read it. So scary.

  3. Andrea August 31, 2012 at 5:02 pm · Reply

    omg, my love. That is breath-holding. First I thought you SAW this happen and my heart hurt for you watching that mother, AND for that mother. And child. Then I went along my merry way and my heart hurt, my throat swelled and my mind exploded. I am so sorry. I wish we had answers. Perhaps I hold stuff away from my wee one too much, but I don’t know if I could have handled that conversation. Many mad props to you for making it through. xox

    • Tricia August 31, 2012 at 5:16 pm · Reply

      It was a little bit easier to write it in third person because it was such a tough situation. Thank you so much for your kind words, Andrea. xoxo

  4. Angie Kinghorn September 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm · Reply

    Now I feel like such a coward for taking the easy way out and muting the news whenever that story was on, or changing the channel. Because I didn’t want the kids to hear. And they’re older than yours. I didn’t know how to talk to them about it, and the real truth is, I don’t want to.

    But you’ve made me realize the sad truth: in this world, we probably need to talk about it whether we want to or not. We can do our best to make it non-scary for the children, but it will never be less terrifying to us as parents. It would be nice if they could stay in that innocent bubble forever, but God forbid, if they ever find themselves in such a situation, we as parents would kick ourselves if we hadn’t had a conversation and told them what to do.

    So well written, Tricia. Thank you.

    • Tricia September 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Angie.

      I think at this point the best thing to do is be honest on a level that they can understand. It’s hard to do, though, when it is so hard for us to understand.

  5. Anne (@notasupermom) September 18, 2012 at 11:58 am · Reply

    We had similar conversations after 9/11 and during the Beltway Sniper events. This is one of the hardest parts of being a mom–seeing them lose that feeling that the world loves them and is a safe place.

    • Tricia September 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm · Reply

      I know. It sucks. But they have know enough to protect themselves. Sigh.

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