Terrible Two

Renee Polreis and her adopted son had a miserable life together--until someone put an end to it.

But Renee claimed David would pinch her arms until they were black and blue. Outsiders didn't see his temper tantrums, although Alice Risk said she did, according to Weld County social worker Natasha Smreker. The social worker told police she was present at a deposition taken last month where Renee's mother said that David had "fits" during which he would stiffen his arms and fall to the ground, striking either his face or the back of his head. Then he'd start screaming. The fits, Risk allegedly said, lasted anywhere from one minute to half an hour, and sometimes David would have as many as twelve fits in a day.

The fact that no one outside the immediate family saw David exhibit abnormal, unruly behavior is not inconsistent with attachment theory. Such children, experts say, are generally well-behaved around strangers.

But David did not act out in other ways that might be expected from an unattached child. Edick told police that she happened to be at the Polreis home one day when David's father returned from work. David called out, "Papa, Papa," and held out his arms to be picked up, Edick said. On another occasion, David appeared delighted to see his grandmother and ran to greet her at the door. "She'll want to pick him up," Renee allegedly told Edick. But Renee wouldn't allow it--purportedly because psychologist Byron Norton told her that hugging was not good for the boy unless the child himself initiated it.

Edick told police that it appeared to her that David was attached to his father and grandmother. He may not have bonded as closely with Renee, Edick said.

David's teachers noticed much the same things.
The first time Renee left David at Bright's daycare center, Bright tells Westword, David exhibited signs of severe separation anxiety. "When she went out the door, he threw a huge fit," she says. "When we tried to comfort him and hold him, he said, 'Nyet, nyet,'" reverting to his mother tongue.

Bright and Renee were extremely pleased by David's emotional and noisy display, taking it to mean he was bonding with his mother. "[Renee] had been warned not to get too anxious about his attachment to her and to not expect too much too soon," Bright says. "She'd been told that when she left, there was a real possibility he wouldn't miss her."

David also seemed upset by the fact that in daycare he was separated from Isaac, who was placed in a room with other four-year-olds, says Bright. But it wasn't long before David showed true delight at coming to daycare. According to his primary daycare worker, Pamela Smith, when David arrived, he would yell out her name and come running to give her a hug. David got along well with the other kids in his group, Smith told police, and though she'd occasionally seen David whack his brother Isaac, David never really hurt the older boy.

However, Smith told police that Renee told her David could be violent. Shortly before the boy died, Smith said, Renee showed her a restraining technique that she'd learned in therapy and that Smith was to use on David whenever he flew into a rage. But, Smith said, David had never gotten out of control at the center--she'd never even seen him angry. For that matter, Smith told police, she'd never seen Renee angry or out of control, either, and had never detected any sign that he was being abused.

Once when Renee came to pick David up from daycare, Smith told police, David fell and bumped his head. Renee knelt beside the boy, put her hand on his forehead and prayed. "I saw no signs of hostility or rage in Renee or [her husband]," says Bright. "They are the most calm, peaceful, Christian people that you'd ever want to meet."

Bright does recall seeing David exhibit some inappropriate behavior toward his father. "I'd seen David slap [his father] in the face," she says. "He didn't seem to know the difference between a slap and a kiss. He'd slap hard and then laugh. He thought he was being cute--he was only two and a half.

"He was so new to them, he didn't know better," Bright adds. "We were teaching him appropriate ways to show affection."

And Bright says she believes David felt true affection for the Polreises. "When his parents would come to pick him up," Bright says, "[David] would get all excited, and he and Isaac would run up and down the hall."

Whenever Renee lingered at the center to talk with Bright, Dave Polreis would keep his boys occupied with a boisterous round of hide-and-seek or some manner of chasing game. During those conversations with Renee, Bright says, her friend sometimes shared with her things she'd heard or come to believe about attachment disorder. "She'd talk about counseling and play therapy and support groups and about all the discouraging information," Bright says.

According to Bright, Renee told her that Norton had warned that David might never bond with the family and that he could eventually pose a danger to Renee, her husband and Isaac.

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