Tag Archives: violence against children

You will never be him; please don’t be them

Dear Boychick,

Last week was your fifth birthday. We made carrot cake and sang you happy birthday just the once like you wanted and opened so many presents from family who love you fiercely despite being so far away. We bought you a bike and a raincoat and I cooked breakfast and lunch and dinner (and did I mention the cake?) just like you asked for and I marvelled at how very fast you are growing up.

There’s someone I’d like you to meet. I don’t know if you’d like him, or vice versa. He was born twelve years before you, which is too much of an age gap to be peers, but maybe he was the type to like kids. I don’t know, and we will never find out. I would like you to meet him, but you won’t, because eighteen days before your birthday, he was shot and killed by a man who looked at a black kid in a sweat shirt and saw a threat. He was killed by a man who is walking free still, nearly a month later — after your presents are losing their luster, after your bike is no longer quite so new — because of racist gun laws and racist police departments. He was killed by a man who mistook vigilantism for protection, violence for justice, and a kid walking with candy in his pocket for a no-good criminal.

Millions of parents across our country are holding their sons closer now, with this one thought echoing in their heads: that could have been my son.

You’ll forgive me I hope if I hold you tighter tonight, if I snuggle you just a little longer, kiss your hair just that bit stronger. But the thought in my head is: that will never be you.

You will never be seen as suspicious because of your skin color. You will never be coded as a violent criminal because of your race and your gender. You may one day know persecution, may one day be subject to epithets and violence simply walking down the street — you may be a fag or a tranny or a crip — but this, this will never be your fate.

But I am aware, I am so very, painfully aware that you might be on the other side of this. You might be the one wielding the gun1. You might be the one looking at the dead kid and seeing a corpse, a criminal, a cause for gunfire and “self-defense”. You might be the one letting the killer go without testing him for drugs or alcohol. You might be the one lobbying to pass laws that are disproportionately harmful to black and brown communities. You might be the one opining that it’s all so tragic but the kid did look like a thug after all and he shouldn’t have been out walking where he didn’t look like belonged.

When I hold you tight, I am thinking, praying, begging: don’t be them. Don’t be them, please, child, my beautiful boy: don’t be them. Don’t be the one that black mothers are afraid of tonight more than usual. Don’t be the one that lets this happen without trying to make it better. Don’t be the one that cracks a joke, that thinks of it as their problem, that doesn’t bother to care. Don’t. Be. Them.

You are, no matter how much I wish it otherwise or how much I work to prevent it, going to be infected by racism. It will — is, has already — pervert you, damage your ability to see others’ wholeness and humanity and (says your theist parent) holiness. You live in this society, in kyriarchy; it cannot not touch you and make you rougher.

But you don’t have to let it make you them. You don’t have to let it turn you into Trayvon’s murderer and his family’s misery. You have to not. You have to resist. You have to find a new way.

I’ll help you child, as much as I am able — how can I do else when there is a family without a son and without justice for their loss? — but as much as I want, I cannot shape you as I will, cannot fill your tabula with my anti-racist scripts (nor would I know the right things to write there, even if I could). I can only whisper in your hair, pray to whatever gods are there, write to a you I hope will be ready to listen: don’t be them. Don’t inflict this pain. Remember a boy you will never meet, and for him, for his family, for every family knowing it could be them: please, be better.

For Trayvon Martin. For so many others. Please.

Yours always,
Arwyn

  1. George Zimmerman — per Mother Jones — is Latino, but the point stands: white men might kill a black boy, but they will never be killed for being black.

Guest post: Uninvited

I’m honored to host this guest post from Zoie of TouchstoneZ, which, though our details are different, expresses so much of my own experience of parenting with mental illness and a self covered with brittle sharp places.

Trigger warning for descriptions of medical abuse and flashbacks.

Uninvited

I’m lying in the bottom bunk next to my 3 year old son who’s sick with a painful ear infection. The top bunk feels like it’s falling down on me and I silently chant, “Go to sleep. Go to sleep” so that I can get up before the inevitable comes.

But, he’s taking a long time. He’s in so much pain and needs my comfort. By the time he drifts off, I’m covered in sweat and shaking from trying to hold this back.

He snores and I no longer have the strength to stop it. I’m gone.

Bright light shines in my eyes. I can hear the breathing as it quickens in anticipation. The glasses are slightly greasy as they magnify the light. Fingers pry my jaws apart. The pulling and pushing begins. The needle jabs between my teeth. Our breathing comes in gasps for the ohsotiny cuts with the metal tool. Finally, the tongue depressor pushing back to make me gag. I notice my heels are kicking the vinyl footrest of the chair from the pain.

Then it’s gone. I feel release.

I’m back with my son and he’s still snoring as I let the tears flow silently. My love for him is so intense as I watch his sleeping face that I doubt whether I should be caring for him.

My children deserve a complete mother that isn’t plagued by flashbacks of abuse. The depression is bad enough some days that I feel unable to care for them. There are days when my anger at myself is turned on them and I yell. I yell simply to hurt them and drive them away from my inner pain.

Yet, I continue. I continue to parent, even while flawed. I continue to parent my children with love and apologies. Those apologies for tripping myself up to avoid triggers for my flashbacks.

I continue because I believe that, while I am flawed, no one can love them like I do. I believe that positive parenting and gentle discipline will break the cycle for all of us.

I know that witnessing suffering triggers the flashbacks. So, I overreact when one of them hits the other or when one of them is sick, such as the ear ache above. I want to remove the pain from my children. I want to run. I want to fight the flashbacks. I want to beat the memories down with a sledgehammer.

But, I know that being able to stay with these children and holding them through their pain the way I truly want to be will come not from resisting but from getting to know the fears well.

I stay because I want to, but I can’t do it alone. I’ve got support I need while I do the work. Because it is work to heal. It is work to not curl up in a ball and stay there. I have actively cultivated a network of support. I have been brutally honest that would be times I would beg or demand to be left alone, but I should not be abandoned by them. They know that I will return to a state in which I can reaffirm that I want to stay the course. I have two trusted sitters, a few close friends, a coparenting partner, a therapist, an online community, and several holistic health care providers. They provide a net of support every time I fall.

It’s up to me to trust that it’s okay to fall. There’s no shame in this process. I can get back up on my own.

I have openly talked with my children about times I am sad, angry or simply unavailable. We speak about how love stays no matter where the person is. They’ve volunteered that love is like a “gas” or like “peanut butter.” Both of which I think are pretty apt analogies. They know that they have a large group of people who love them. I’m not their sole pillar of support.

I take scheduled nights out by myself, even when I don’t want to. It allows me to miss them. I’m able to be more patient when I return. I’m better able to calm myself and just allow the flashbacks to happen without reacting to them as strongly. I still have the physiological reactions and feel shaken after, but I can root in reality more quickly.

It’s hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever done. I question whether I would have had children if I had known I would be bringing them through this path with me. But, then again I question whether I would be alive to even walk this path. The love they have shown me has given me the ability to surrender without any assurance that I will get better or that it will become easier. It is the first time I can surrender without submitting to another’s power. I retain my own power because of their love.

I will walk, fall, and walk again every day. I will never be the mother I want to be. I will never be the person I want to be. I am okay with that. I’m okay with trying, never succeeding and trying again. Without guarantees or safety.

This daily practice is what it means to be a gentle parent struggling with mental illness. It’s not wrapped in a shiny bow of hope. It is ugly. It is real and true. I often wish it were not. But it is mine.

Naked Pictures of Faceless People: Taking the long way home

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous writers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

Trigger Warning: There is a trigger warning on this post for explicit descriptions of sexual and emotional abuse of a minor.

Taking the long way home

Therapy is a deep well from which to dip replenishment. But, sometimes there are things unseen beneath the deepest waters. I began having nightmares after a session where I was trying to figure out why when things are at their most difficult, I turn away from what heals me and run headlong into the suffering. The nightmares were about a bright light shining in my eyes while dozens of large black spiders with long segmented legs pried my jaws apart. Then I started having the dreams flash on me while I was awake. Then memories began flashing.

Being the only child of a single, narcissistic parent, I’m pretty good at keying in to other people. I’ve been told that when I focus on someone in a conversation, they feel like they’re the center of the universe and that I really care about what they’re saying. And it’s true. I do find people and their passions fascinating. As a child, it was a coping mechanism in dealing with the only adult I had to rely on however inconsistently that love was returned. It was a constant shift between intensity and abject neglect both physically and emotionally. I was a latchkey kid from the time I was six years old. My afternoons were mine to do with as I pleased. There was usually an empty fridge at home, but we had plenty of neighbors. Any mention to my mother about feeling hungry were ignored or brushed aside. Actually any feelings that were not of interest to her vision of reality were pushed away or belittled.

I remember my mother telling me when I was ten that my grandfather died. Papa, as I called him, was the father figure in my life. I began crying and my mom moved over to hug me, as she began sobbing over how horrible it was for her that her father was dead. She needed comfort from me and I gave all I could until she was done, at which point she decided it was time to buck up and put on a brave face.

Shortly after this, my mother decided this brave face was going to need braces. My fairly straight teeth needed to be straighter, I suppose. Up until this therapy appointment I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve had zero memory of having braces or anything about going to the orthodontist. I knew I had braces because there were photos, but I have no connection to that girl in those pictures. I chalked it up as more of the hazy blur that most of my life is to me. But, for some reason the memory came up that she chose an orthodontist who was a few miles away so I would be able to ride my bike to appointments.

Those dreams were haunting my waking hours and memories were coming back in disjointed sensory snapshots. Bright light. Heavy breathing. Painful fingers pulling and pushing at my lips and jaws. Then it was back, like a key slipping into the right lock. My orthodontist enjoyed causing me pain. He told me how much he liked pulling on my lips and pushing against my gums. I understood that I should give an adult what they needed. I think I was 11 the first time he put his flaccid penis in my mouth. I told my mother but she didn’t believe me. It didn’t fit in with her image of who a daughter of hers should be. So, I never talked about it again.

I think I was twelve when he began putting his hands and dental tools inside my vagina. He liked to make me sore. He liked to crush my labia between his fingers. He like knowing he could push on my vulva and I would feel sore the next day. He liked to make my braces extra tight, so that my mouth would be sore longer.

I looked forward to my regular adjustments. I began equating suffering with being real. The rest of my life I wasn’t real. I was an adjunct to someone else’s whim.

I would to take the long way home over the gravel road on my bike from these appointments to keep the soreness that little bit longer.

When I was fourteen, I took an entire bottle of aspirin and went to bed. But, I couldn’t sleep because I was worried it wasn’t enough to kill me. So, I told my mother. I remember the drive to the hospital where she told me how furious she was at me for scaring her so badly and that I was a spoiled brat who would do anything for attention. I remember her disgust with me when I was induced to vomit at the hospital. I remember telling the hospital therapist, “I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was looking for attention,” as my mother looked on.

I was sixteen when we moved and my mother took me to a new orthodontist. He was angry with how crooked my teeth had become due to the poor work on my braces. He recommended having them removed entirely and starting over again. I passively agreed. He removed them and I never returned to get them replaced.

I have not told anyone who knows me about this yet. Sharing this with my partner will be another burden he’ll willingly bear. That is the type of person he is. He is carrying so many of his family’s burdens right now that I’m not ready to add another of mine to his load. Sharing this with my therapist will change things and I’m not ready for that yet. I’d like to keep this in my well just a little while longer. Knowing that others will read it will help me feel real. It will give me time to heal some of the soreness.

My teeth are still crooked and I’m embarrassed by them. But, I know that their crookedness doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. And now I know why I turn away from the things that heal me when times are at their most difficult. It’s because I still take the long way home over the gravel road.

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Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the blogger will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

Taking the long way home

NPFP Guest Post: Surviving Abuse with Disabilities

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone, whether blogger or reader only, is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

Trigger Warning: There is a trigger warning on this post for references to child abuse and violence against people with disabilities.

Surviving Abuse with Disabilities

I am an abuse survivor, although I don’t like to use the word “abuse”. I was physically and emotionally hurt by my parents. I am also disabled. Autistic, among other things. These two things may not seem like they have anything to do with each other, but they do.

First of all, people with disabilities are more commonly victimized to abuse than the general population. This may be for several reasons that I do not understand, but it is true. Secondly, disabled people may be less likely to report abuse, for example because they do not have the skills to communicate what happened to them. These are both points that warrant attention, but this is not what I’m going to write about now.

What I’ll write about is when abuse is excused by a person’s disability. My parents beat me on quite a regular basis, and more often said that I was worthless and that they were only parenting me because no foster home would want me. These actions would’ve been considered abusive if they happened to a person without disabilities, but in my case, almost everyone — even my therapist — contends that my autism is the root cause of it all.

You see, I had behavior problems as a child and young adult. I had frequent meltdowns in which I would scream and yell and sometimes, as a child, act physically aggressively towards my parents. Even though no one says that this excuses the actions my parents committed, people often do say that it is my autism that is the main problem, and that, if my parents had sought help for my autism — which they didn’t, since they were in denial –, nothing would have happened.

Even in abuse survivor communities I sometimes hear talk as if my disability is at fault instead of my parents having to take responsibility for their actions. Once, I wrote to a support group about being triggered by an article that revealed that children with behavioral conditions are more likely to be victimized to abuse, and I was informed repeatedly by a fellow member that people needed to protect themselves and others from the hurt done by children with behavior problems. This gave me the idea that my disability was truly at fault for the abuse. When someone stuck up for me and said the other member’s words were inappropriate and that abuse by parents is never the child’s fault, this person was reprimanded by the group owner.

I have internalized a lot of the logic that says that disability makes abuse understandable. Survivor guilt is the result, but a more complicated kind of survivor guilt than that experienced by most survivors of trauma and abuse. “It was not your fault,” simply doesn’t make sense when people go on to blame an integral part of who I am.

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Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the blogger will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

A really bad day

I wrote this three weeks ago, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it at the time. Then, the day after I wrote it, things got better. Not great, but better, and all that changed was me. Sometimes, asking for help is enough to receive it, even when we ask an empty room.

I have never deliberately hit my child.

I start with this, hold it out as an emotional talisman, to ward off the evil I from what I say below.

I have never purposefully hit my child, but I have hurt him, caused him physical pain through deliberate action as surely as though I had raised my hand to him.

My hand — this hand, gripping his as he struggles to pull away, as he screams “Stop! You’re hurting me! Let go of me!” I feel his ischemic skin under me still, can recall the grating of his bones as they attempt to twist away under mine. There were extenuating circumstances, to be sure, but aren’t there always? They feel like excuses, the same as any other abuser: I had to, he made me, it was for his own good. Did I grip tighter than necessary, in anger, squeeze more cruelly in my rage? I cannot say no and not know it a lie.

I feel still his flesh under mine, and the urge to hurt my hand in restitution (not revenge; its agony is too well earned) is a physical force, like gravity, pulling me to hit, to cut, to bruise and bloody and break until the feel of him pulling from me fades, until the blood pounding in ears is drained, until I cannot hear him pleading me to stop hurting him, mama, stop hurting me, let go!

***

This body of mine doesn’t deserve to feel good, to be pain-free, when it contains the tactile memory of harming my child, when it contains the potential to do so again. A part of me knows the uselessness of this limited thinking — pain begets more pain, healing begets healing — but I cannot convince the core of me it does not deserve to suffer for what it has done.

***

He won’t get in his car seat. So often, it comes down to that ridiculously mundane thing. I want to loathe the contraption, to curse the laws of state and physics that demand its use, but rationally I know it is little more than a symbol for both of us. If it were not the seat, likely it would be something else, some other point that would act as fulcrum and wedge between us, would be come the trophy in our struggle: his control, my freedom; his freedom, my confinement.

So often we don’t go out, not because he wouldn’t go — he’s happy to strap in when the bookstore or preschool is on the other end — but because the return is so agonizing. I have a choice, always, between the sedentary depression of staying home, or the awful antagonism of trying to return.

My impulse, so often, is to go out — when I am manic, to go and run and do, when I am depressed, to go and get away and be anywhere but here, when I am relatively well, to go and get things done. To be confined, trapped, at home or in a place not my choosing, unable to leave at all at my will, is not mere inconvenience: it is sickening. It is, perhaps, not unbearable per se, but sometimes it is more than I can bear, and often more than I am able to bear if I am to also, ever, have the ability to do anything but survive it.

At some point, the human body breaks down under stress.

I think I can be stable on my own, have learned through trial and so many errors how to manage my moods to minimize instabilities, when my time is my own. But when it’s not — when my every movement must account for the dictates of a capricious creature, not deliberately but casually cruel, uncaring of my needs and the demands of my moods — and it always is so — I don’t know how to not lose it, except through a grip so tight it twists arms and damages tissue. It hurts.

***

When I can, I wait for him. I give him time and space to choose. I give him control over as many parts of the experience as I can: arms under, pull out the bottom buckle (for it inevitably ends up underneath him), clip the top, guide the clasp to the buckle, your hand on mine as I click it in place. Before then, even: how many more times would you like to go down the slide? Yes, you may open the door yourself, climb in yourself, close the door in my face and make me knock and open it again from the inside yourself, fine. Whatever. Rituals are developmentally appropriate, if damned annoying, so knock yourself out making me knock, kid. Just get in the damned car seat.

Sometimes this works. Other times it does not. Today was an other time. Today was an abundant heads-ups, lots-of-options, still-didn’t-want-to-leave, carried-him-out-kicking-and-screaming day. Today was half an hour playing in the car and finally an agreement to leave and we’re scraping the bottom of my well of patience, dragging up brackish tones that are as close as I can get to the calming voice I know would help, but it has to be enough, and it will be enough because he’s getting in his seat — except wait, now he wants to get out and have me knock on the other doors, and maybe that would have been the magic step but after so many prior misdirections, I cannot try, there is not one last chance left and I lose it and I force him in the seat, and the straps are scraping his skin and his tears are falling on my sleeve and his body crumples under my “superior” strength, as I prove to him, viscerally teach, that might makes right, and I am glad we got rid of the car with the clutch because I can drive away left-handed, my right reaching back and stopping his from undoing his upper buckle — his arms twist in my hand — as he screams and curses and cries and some stranger in a truck stopped at the light next to us stares through the window and wonders if he should call the cops and I swear to god I’m not sure he shouldn’t.

That was today.

***

Some of you are thinking I give too many choices to a child, would chide me that it’s my own fault, I need to put my foot down. To you I say, fuck off. Not only are you wrong because it is wrong to treat another so, I’ve already tried that anyway: all upping the pressure does is quicken the explosion, and we are both that much more miserable that sooner.

Some of you are thinking I am asking too much, not giving enough, not patient enough, not creative enough in my solutions, too insistent that we ever leave the house or the park or the preschool, and to you too I say fuck off, because sometimes there is no more to give, no more daylight to stay out, no more blood sugar to wait another half hour, no more options when the appointment is across town, no creativity left to be had when it’s taking my all to just not hurt myself or him. If you want to move me to the mythical land of everything I could want in walking distance and a dozen alloparents when I need to tag out, then we’ll talk. Until then, take your shoulds and shove ‘em.

Some of you, too, are thinking it’s all normal, and this too shall pass, and I’ll laugh at this some day and to you too I say, no matter how well meaning your platitudes — and I know they mostly are — fuck off. This is not a way anyone should have to live, this is not ok, this is not merely the moanings of a bad-day mother. Everyone has bad days; not everyone is trapped at home in terror of a tiny tyrant and their own responses to such. Not everyone has to chose between going crazy at home and going crazy out, when crazy is not an overused hyperbole but a terrifying, dangerous reality.

(Some of you are thinking this is nothing, and you are carrying secrets far worse, and wondering if I feel this bad about this, how should you feel? And to you I say: I’m sorry. I offer you all the compassion and love and forgiveness I cannot draw forth for myself. I hope for you the solace and strength and healing, for yourself and your children, that I despair of finding for myself.)

I do not claim to be unique. I would not presume to declare myself worse off than everyone, or anyone, else. But before you shove me into the slot you lined up for me — monster, martyr, mundane mother –, before you wag your finger or pat my head or dial CPS, hear me.

Do not judge me and so dismiss me, whether as over-permissive, overbearing, or ordinary: see me, know me. Help me.