When Aaron was two, he was taken from his mother and placed in foster care. This was because of her heroin addiction.
Losing her child motivated her to get off the drug. In the process, she met and fell in love with another recovering addict, and they married. Once the authorities were satisfied that she could give her son a stable home, he was returned to her, but the social worker said, “When he is old enough to understand, he is likely to become very angry and resentful that he’d been fostered.”
She was right. An agency called me in to deal with his disruptive behaviour when he was 10.
He and I worked out this story within the third and fourth sessions:
Once upon a time, in a forest, there lived a tiny baby bear. His name was Aaron. He was so small he looked like a little ball of brown fur. His Mum and Dad were big, strong, fierce bears who loved him very much. They brought him good food, played with him, and kept him warm, clean and safe.
There was also a nasty man called Big Texas who lived near the forest. He knew that he could get a lot of money if he captured some bears and sold them to the circus. And, he knew just how to catch bears. One day, he put some honey into a dish he nailed to a log. Mum and Dad bear were hunting around there, and they found the honey. They couldn’t take it home to their baby, so they ate it all themselves. They came back the next day, and sure enough, the man had put some more honey in the dish. They ate this too.
The third day there was honey again, but the man put some nasty stuff in it. This stuff makes a bear feel very happy, on top of the world, but only for a short time. When it wears off, the poor bear feels sore all over, sad, dizzy, and sick in the stomach. Mum and Dad bear ate the honey with the stuff in it. Straight away they felt really great. They danced with each other, and ran off happily into the forest. But they started feeling sad and sore long before they reached home.
They went back the next day and again the stuff in the honey made them feel great — for a while. So they started spending more and more time near Big Texas’s house. They needed more and more stuff to make them feel good. What worked for them at first was now too little.
They still loved their little baby bear Aaron as much as before, but now all they could think of was getting more stuff. This was because they felt so miserable without it, and so good after they had some. So, without meaning to, they were neglecting their baby. He was hungry and alone all the time. He became thin. His fur was looking ragged. He was often dirty.
Now Big Texas hooked up a big trailer to his car. There was a strong cage on the trailer. He put honey with the stuff in it in a dish inside the trailer. In the old days Mum and Dad bear would never have gone into a cage, but now all they could think of was the stuff. In they went – and the man slammed the gate shut. He drove off to the town where the circus was. He watched the bears in his rear vision mirror. He stopped to give them more stuff whenever they started to get restless. At the circus, he sold them for a lot of money and went home again.
Meanwhile, Aaron got very lonely and hungry. At last he left his cave. This was lucky, because another bear family was hunting nearby. They were called Murray and Chris Bear. They already had two boy bears whose names were Johnny and James, so Murray said, “What’s one more mouth to feed? Let’s take the poor little fellow in!” And they did. They looked after him as well as if he had been born into their family, and he got to love them very much. But he never forgot his real Mum and Dad, and often cried when he wondered what had happened to them.
At the circus, the bears were given the nasty stuff if they did as they were told. If they disobeyed, they got none. So, to get the stuff, they did silly tricks to amuse people, and behaved themselves as if they weren’t large, fierce animals.
Maggie, a wise old elephant, lived at the circus. She said to the bears, “Did you know, the stuff they are feeding you is poison, and will kill you soon?”
Dad bear answered “I feel I’m going to die anyway if I don’t get it.”
Mum bear said “If only we could do without it, we could go home to our lovely little baby. I so worry about what’s happened to him!”
Maggie said, “You won’t die if you stop taking the stuff You’ll feel awful, but only for a while, if you can stop taking it for two weeks, you’ll be all right.”
Now, two weeks of the misery of being without the stuff, and missing its happiness-giving effects, sounded like forever to the bears. It seemed worse than dying. But they remembered their little Aaron, and more than anything, wanted to get back to him. Without their memory of their baby, they would have ignored the elephant, and gone on taking the poison.
But they did remember their little son. So, from that moment, they refused to eat anything the men gave them, just threw it in the rubbish through the bars of their cage when nobody was looking. At night, when everyone else was asleep, Maggie used her long trunk to pass them some of her own food.
At first, the bears felt TERRIBLE. But they kept on with their plan, and after a while the pain and misery got less and less, and after two weeks they were back to normal. That night, they used their great strength to bend the bars of their cage, and escaped. They hid in the daytime and ran all night, until they reached the forest. When they got to their old cave, there was their little son, with the bear family who had cared for him. Everybody was so happy!
For the rest of his life, the little bear loved the family who had looked after him while his parents were in trouble. But he loved his own Mum and Dad best.
The boy’s reaction exceeded my expectations. Although intellectually he knew that the story had been tailored to influence him, he nevertheless saw his mother and her partner as victims who had done their best, instead of as villains who had neglected and abused him. One year later, he was still a ‘good kid’ and an excellent big brother to his two half-siblings. He was doing well at school, and had taken to writing stories and poems.