High School Graduation

I grew this kid in my body. It took the better part of a year feeling like there was an alien taking me over and another year supplying his nourishment. What an incredible privilege. What an amazing human he is! When he was just a few weeks old, I walked past a neighbor’s house across from the elementary school where he would spend many days. This stranger warned that before I knew it, my little baby would be graduating from high school. 

That was yesterday. 

How did we get here so fast? 

When he was little, I heard “The days go slow and the years go fast”. And wow! They went fast. He’s everything he should be at 18, with good friends, a loosely formed plan for his education and career, a passion for justice and treating people with love and understanding. He’s full of joy, loves music, and he’s fun to hang out with. I like him so much and I’m so proud of him. 

I keep breaking down in tears because this milestone marks the end of a certain phase of parenting which I’ve found deeply fulfilling. I’ve loved raising this kid. And I’m so excited to see him spread his wings and fly.

Follow the Rules

“Why Can’t You be More Like Her?”

My friend’s parents said this to her, speaking of me and my sisters. If they only knew how many spanks it took to break my spirit and get me to comply before I even had words. That wickedness was beaten out of me—the defiance that James Dobson told my parents needed to be crushed. They believed I was born sinful, with a wicked heart. Anything but immediate obedience was punished, usually with a wooden spoon. This was followed by a hug which needed reciprocating, and a small speech about how it’s for my own good and she’s hurting me because she loves me. It turns out that breaking a child’s will at this stage is extremely damaging. I’m only just realizing the extent of this in my 40’s.

By the age of 4, I figured out the safest way to exist in my family was to comply. If I stepped out of line, I would be punished swiftly and harshly. It was not worth it. So for the next 30 years, I did my very best to follow the rules. All of the rules. I was told authority is put there by God. So all authority was to be obeyed, without question or hesitation, unless it was a direct contradiction to the Bible. Nevermind that the Bible contradicts itself. I didn’t question the fact that my parents’ love hurt so much, nor the idea that a loving, all-powerful God would send most of humanity to hell for an eternity of conscious torment. I was shut down inside, just trying to survive. Surviving with a smile, because any emotion other than joy, peace, and gratitude was really frowned upon.

How to destroy a child’s spirit

But it turns out that those years I was getting spanked multiple times a day, between the ages of 1 and 4, are when some really important childhood development is supposed to take place. When I should have been developing a sense of my own autonomy, personal power, self-will, I was instead getting punished for disobeying. When I should have been learning how to develop friendships, compassion, self-acceptance, I was simply trying to follow the rules and keep from getting hurt.

Like my parents, I read Dr. Dobson’s Strong Willed Child when I became a mom. I started out raising my babies the same way. I have such deep regret about this.

Between the Lines

So many conversations we could have had. So many I wanted to have, about so many lines from any Josh Ritter song. Or about when you told me you had a happy childhood and I thought until recently I had too.
But then the words got caught in the back of my throat when I started thinking about how differently I see that now, and how much damage all those spanks did, and how it stops me from speaking. Like when you told me about your first girlfriend, and I thought about telling you about how I was a virgin on my wedding night, after 10 years of dating a man who would later become so emotionally abusive I lost any sense of self worth. It all felt like too much to speak out loud.

I tell myself all the words he surely meant to sayI’ll talk until the conversation doesn’t stay onWait for me, I’m almost readyWhen he meant let go                   -Sara Bareilles

I listen to Between the Lines and grieve the loss of something that might have been so good. How I wished we could have loved each other forever. So perfect it seemed. But I’m only beginning to work through the damage of not being allowed to develop my own autonomy as a young child. My “no” never had any power. Compliance was my only safety.
I have agency. I know this in my head, but not in my bones. Instead, my muscles ache and knot up with chronic pain. My body absorbed all those years of disdain and hatred from the man who slept to my right for 11 years.

11 years later, I’m still trying to work it out.

The words got caught in the back of my throat, and you never really knew me. Never knew what thoughts were in my head. Didn’t know much beyond my dad recently dying. And not being close with my mom. I never told you about the damage they did with their high-control religious fundamentalism, or my abusive marriage, or how much I needed to heal, which could really only be done in a relationship like the one I wanted with you. You hugged me once, so tight and long, I thought I might heal with you. Still, I could not get a single word out.
Instead, we traded physical for emotional intimacy, which was nice but didn’t last. And I think it was an easier substitute for something that could have been so much richer. So now I am here, devastated at the loss of something that could have been, but never was. Like a seed that sprouted, only to get scorched by the sun for lack of water. There wasn’t enough time or intention. I wasn’t brave, strong, or whole enough. You weren’t available or safe enough. What a tragedy.
You filled baskets of rocks as I worked to put a good face on it. We made a good team, I thought. Then it was over.