What to Do about Eddie?

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    “Oh, Mommy,” my six-year-old daughter said, “there’s a new, mean boy at school, and he sits right next to me!”

    Our family had just moved to a community in northern Alberta, Canada, during the summer. My daughters, Tara, Britt, and Erica—ages nine, seven, and six, respectively—were feeling uncertain about attending a new school. Whether they would make friends and whether their teachers would like them had been major topics of conversation for weeks.

    I sent them off to school that first morning with a heart as nervous as theirs. Would they fit in? The day passed slowly, and I awaited their return with growing trepidation, fearing I might have to wipe tears and bolster their feelings of worth.

    How relieved I was when my three girls bounded through the front door eager to share the news of a successful first day. All my maternal worry sifted away as I heard how friendly the teachers were and how other children had invited my daughters to play games during recess. After I tucked them into bed that night, I thanked Heavenly Father for taking care of them.

    The second day of school, a boy named Eddie showed up in Erica’s combined first and second grade class. Shrugging off his absence the day before, he told the teacher that he lived miles away and his father’s old pickup truck had failed to start. Eddie’s furious glare at his fellow students hushed any potential whispers about his dirty sneakers and unkempt hair.

    The teacher welcomed Eddie with a nervous smile and led him to a vacant seat near Erica, who also offered a smile of acceptance. As the day went on, however, Eddie only glowered, gazing out the window and occasionally kicking a neighbor’s desk or interrupting loudly when another student was answering a question. For some reason, Erica became the older boy’s favorite target. By the time school let out, all the cheer she had felt the day before was gone.

    That afternoon, I welcomed only two happy, bouncing daughters at the front door. Erica lagged behind, her head down and her feet shuffling in the gravel driveway. As I placed my arm around her shoulders, her eyes shimmered with tears. “Oh, Mommy,” she said. “There’s a new, mean boy at school, and he sits right next to me! He keeps kicking my desk and laughing at me. I don’t want to go to school anymore!”

    My heart fell to see this dark cloud looming over Erica’s first year of school. We talked about Eddie in more detail and how mean he had been. “He’s so angry, Mommy,” Erica said. “How could anyone be that mad on just the second day of school?”

    We wondered together why Eddie was so angry and mean. Perhaps things hadn’t gone well at his home that morning. Or maybe he was more upset about missing the first day than he let on. Maybe a previous school year had been unsuccessful. Whatever the reason, by the end of our talk Erica had resolved to become Eddie’s friend. Maybe that’s what Eddie really needed, she said, because no one in the class had said a word to him all day. Maybe his anger was only covering up hurt feelings.

    Later that evening I talked with Britt and Tara about Eddie. It turned out that Tara had made friends with Eddie’s older sister, Sarah. Tara had noticed a thin, quiet, shy girl standing by a corner of the school building at recess, apparently lacking the confidence to join the other children at play. Tara introduced herself, and the two girls spent recess quietly chatting. At one point Sarah pointed out her little brother, who was glowering at the other children in the school yard. In response to Tara’s observation that Eddie didn’t seem happy, Sarah responded only with a quiet “I know.”

    Eddie continued his mean behavior toward Erica through the entire first week of school. Safe among us each evening, Erica would bolster her courage and renew her commitment to become Eddie’s friend. Each afternoon, however, she returned from school sad and upset by Eddie’s scorn.

    Late in the week I spoke to my friend, who happened to be the school principal’s wife. She told me a sad story about Eddie’s family. Both parents were alcoholics, and Sarah and Eddie’s older sister had recently run away. Many people in the community suspected child abuse. My heart began to ache for Eddie, a child trapped in a possibly brutal life beyond his control.

    Then circumstances came to a head. One day, barely had the school bell released them when all three of my daughters came through the front door panting and red-faced with outrage. I noticed that Erica’s cheeks were tear-stained. Tara pulled back Erica’s shirt collar and revealed red welts and small bruises on her neck. I gasped. Shock, anger, and terrible suspicions about Eddie immediately raced across my mind.

    Trying to calm the girls, I sat beside them on the couch as they related how, for no apparent reason, Eddie had attacked Erica in the school yard. Sobbing, Erica told how Eddie had at first yelled at her and then pushed and shoved her. As she stood by in bewilderment, Eddie’s rage had exploded and he grabbed her by the neck, squeezing her throat while trying to throw her to the ground.

    Tara and Sarah rushed to Erica’s aid, prying Eddie’s soiled fingers from around her throat. Sarah began to cry, scolding her brother in one breath and trying to apologize and comfort Erica in the next breath. Just as a teacher arrived to intervene, Sarah pulled her sullen brother away, her thin shoulders still shaking with sobs.

    My daughters all expressed their sorrow for Sarah, who seemed to be crying about more than just her brother’s behavior—but they seethed with rage at Eddie. “I’ll beat him up tomorrow,” proclaimed strong, athletic Tara. “Then he’ll leave Erica alone!” Britt, who possessed a tender heart, wasn’t so sure. She abhorred violence, but she was clearly shaken by Eddie’s behavior and felt very protective of her little sister. As for Erica, her heart was just broken. “I was always nice to him,” she cried, “even when he was so mean!”

    Dinner was solemn as we mulled over the day’s events. How would we deal with Eddie? Later that evening my girls were snuggled together on the couch watching a movie when suddenly I heard angry yelling. Then I heard the front door open and Tara yell at someone to go away.

    I ran to the living room in time to hear a rock strike the window without breaking it. Howling with rage, Tara started out the door after the vandal. As I caught her arm, I saw Eddie beyond her in the yard, poised to throw another rock. When he saw me, he ran toward the nearby school yard, where I saw him slump into a swing and stare at the ground.

    “Let me beat him up!” cried Tara. Crowding behind us in the doorway, Britt and Erica voiced their support. As I gathered my children back into the house, I wondered what Eddie was doing here all alone. Had he missed his ride home? Did he need help but was afraid to ask? I felt that the thrown stones were a bid for attention from a little boy who knew no other way.

    We regrouped on the sofa, and I silently prayed for wisdom to deal with this situation. Then I began to tell my girls the details of Eddie’s situation at home, which matched with hints Tara had picked up in conversations with Sarah. My daughters’ anger began to ease as they realized the harshness of Eddie’s life.

    As we talked I felt the Spirit prompt my mind. “I know what we can do,” I said. “We won’t beat Eddie up, because that would only make a sad little boy even sadder. What we’ll do is invite him in for ice cream while we watch the movie.”

    Tara’s mouth dropped open. She had been ready to fight fire with fire. The other two looked equally surprised at my proposal.

    I calmly explained to them Eddie’s need to have friends and feel love. I spoke of our need to offer forgiveness and to respond to Eddie’s obstinacy with kindness. We would fight fire with love!

    The two younger girls became excited by my plan, but Tara was not so sure. I selected her to go into the school yard and invite Eddie for ice cream. “He won’t come, Mom!” she responded. “He hates everyone, especially us.”

    I knew the odds were that Eddie probably wouldn’t accept, but I felt sure it was necessary for my strong-minded daughter to extend the invitation. After more encouragement, she finally agreed.

    We watched from the living room window as Tara approached Eddie. We could see her mouth moving as she stood to the side of his swing, but we saw no response from Eddie. After waiting a minute or so, Tara returned to the house to report that she’d asked him but that he’d never even answered her.

    Expressing my confidence that we had done the right thing, I told the girls we would wait and see what happened. I started dishing up ice cream, and the girls settled back into the sofa to finish their movie. I had just replaced the ice cream in the freezer when I heard a small knock at the door. The girls jumped up from the sofa, gazing at the door as if they expected something bad to happen. Signalling them back into their places and cautioning them not to stare, I opened the door to reveal Eddie with his head hanging and his feet scuffing back and forth on the step.

    “Eddie, you’re just in time!” I said. “Won’t you come in?”

    Avoiding my eyes, Eddie quietly took off his shoes and placed them beside the door. Slipping past me, he sat on the far end of the couch. Erica offered a tentative “Hello, Eddie.” He responded with a small nod of his uncombed head. Erica smiled, and before long all four children were busy with bowls of ice cream and the movie.

    When the movie finished, Eddie stood up and shyly thanked me for the ice cream. “I need to get back,” he murmured. “My mom and dad are probably ready to go.”

    I wanted to ask him where his parents were, but I held my tongue as he tied his shoelaces and disappeared into the night.

    After he left, my daughters erupted into a storm of conversation: “Can you believe it?” “He actually came!” “Did you see how he took his dirty shoes off at the door?” “He even said thank you for the ice cream!”

    As I tucked my girls into bed, we prayed about Eddie, asking that he be cared for and find love and friendship. My heart filled with joy as I watched my children pray for their onetime enemy. In my own prayers I thanked Heavenly Father for not only reaching the heart of a small boy but for teaching us a wonderful lesson about Christlike love.

    Eddie was very quiet at school the next day. Out on the playground, when an aggressive boy pushed Erica out of line at the slide, Eddie was at her side in a flash. “Don’t push my friend!” he shouted in the face of the bully, his shoulders drawn up and his dirty face held high.

    After school my girls brought Eddie and Sarah home to say hello to me. Tara later told me what Sarah had explained about Eddie’s presence in town the night before. The entire family had gone to visit friends, but soon the adults had ushered all the children outside so liquor could be freely poured. Sarah had another friend nearby with whom she spent the evening, but Eddie had no one, so he had wandered into the school yard.

    As the school year progressed, we witnessed the rough edges of Eddie’s anger smooth away. Our hearts rejoiced when we first saw him smile, and I will never forget the sound of his first laughter. By the end of the year, he had made other friends—but he always proclaimed us his best friends. He and his sister often enjoyed a snack at our house almost every day after school.

    We will never forget Eddie. From time to time my grown daughters and I reminisce about the little boy who changed from our enemy to our friend with help from a Heavenly Father who knew Eddie needed us. We’ll be forever grateful for the lesson we learned about how a little love can even out the odds.

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson

    Kathy L. Gingell is a member of the Tooele 16th Ward, Tooele Utah Stake.