Two weeks ago I was in a hotel in Colorado for the weekend and a Mormon friend of mine had posted a link to a blog called “Single Dad Laughing.” I hate the title. Sorry, “Single Dad.” It just doesn’t work for me. Although, I guess “Mrs. Odie 2” shouldn’t throw stones in the glass house of uninteresting blog names. In any event, I was terribly moved by this entry called “You Just Broke Your Child. Congratulations.” http://www.danoah.com/2010/09/you-just-broke-your-child.html
I haven’t been a mother for very long, so I’m no expert. And I will admit to you that one time I was driving to a friend’s house for a play date and the street I usually take was closed because workmen were cutting the trees. So I got a little lost and it scared and frustrated me. Baby V was strapped in her car seat and she got bored of being in the car, so she started screaming. Not crying loudly, but screaming, like she was auditioning for Halloween. After many minutes and many wrong turns, I yelled, “BABY V, STOP CRYING!” and she went silent for about twenty seconds. Then, she burst out crying the most pitiful, wailing “YOU HURT MY FEELINGS!” cry, and I started crying from guilt.
Yeah, I’m kind of a mess.
But I never yelled at her again (she’s 18 months, and this was when she was 15 months, so it’s no huge accomplishment yet). I know what it feels like to have an out-of-control, raging mother (sorry, Mom, but you were, and you know it). When I get frustrated at her whining or screaming or crying, I remember that she’s just a baby. She doesn’t have the vocabulary or maturity to explain her emotions. And I’m the adult. It’s my job to keep my shit together. She’s a toddler. She gets to fall apart.
I was painfully reminded of the “You Just Broke Your Child” article twice in the past two days. I’ve been watching DVRed episodes of “Teen Mom” on MTV, and there are nothing but sick, sad relationships there. Of course there are. It’s “reality t.v.” Reality t.v. has no use for “happy and normal.” In one scene, a teenager who was smart, generous, and mature enough to give her baby up for adoption a year prior was shopping for a prom dress with her crackhead mom. The teen is Catelynn, and the mom I’ll just call Cracky. Cracky’s appearance is the stereotype of a crackhead. She’s emaciated. She looks dried up. She’s constantly sucking on a cigarette and as a result her laugh is a dry witch’s cough-cackle. This woman was so selfish, that when her daughter made the impossible choice to give up her infant for adoption so that she wouldn’t grow up in a household with a teen mom, a chain-smoking grandma, and a stepgrandpa who is in and out of jail constantly for cocaine (the parents of the adopted baby are step brother and sister) Cracky refused to consent to the adoption, so poor Catelynn had to carry her baby out of the hospital to a nearby parking lot and give her to the adoptive parents in the street. You see, the hospital can’t have a disputed adoption exchange take place on the premises. Try to imagine a seventeen year old girl, who has just given birth, and made the most unthinkably painful and selfless decision ever: to give her child to a couple who couldn’t conceive on their own, and give her daughter a better chance at life than she, the mother, ever had. Picture this poor girl, a day after giving birth, hauling her infant in a baby carrier across the street to hand her over to the parents while Cracky smokes a cigarette and scowls. It makes me so mad, I could spit nails.
Most parents dream of a better life for their children than what they themselves had. I’ve never understood the “What do you mean what I had isn’t good enough for you? What, you think you’re better than me?” attitude toward one’s children.
A year later, shopping for a prom dress, Cracky doesn’t like it that Catelynn disagrees with her taste. I know teenage girls and their moms can fight a lot, but I also know that those fights should not include a mother saying “Fuck you, bitch,” to her daughter. Ever. Never, ever, ever. But that’s what Cracky did. Repeatedly.
On the same show, there is a girl named Amber who physically abuses her corpulent on-again/off-again/on-again/off-again, etc. fiance and father of her strikingly beautiful daughter Leah. In the episode I watched yesterday, mommy Amber (who is around 17 or 18) put her daughter in the crib to cry because she was tired, yelled at her and called her a “brat” repeatedly, and after fighting with Gary, the boyfriend, and striking him several times while cussing him out and calling him a fat ass (in FRONT of the toddler), told baby Leah, “Daddy’s leaving you again,” while the baby sobbed.
And MTV just films it, and nobody intervenes. It makes me want to barf my face off (thank you Brittney from Big Brother 13 for that most excellent and descriptive metaphor).
But here’s the worst of it. Remember when I wrote the other day about my student who was crying? Today I asked her how she was, and the tears came afresh. Uh-oh, I thought, I really needed to go to the bathroom during this break. Cut me some slack. I’ve admitted that I struggle with empathy. I’m WORKING ON IT! She told me in her broken English (I teach ESL) that she was failing a class because she has trouble understanding the teacher. She’s very bright, and is doing well in my class. Her mother got her progress report and became very angry. The mother basically said to her daughter, “I wish you were not my daughter. I hope you are not in my next life.” And she broke her. She broke her little girl. Litigation, shmitigation, I threw my arms around this poor girl and told her that she was a delightful, smart child and that as a mother I would be PROUD to have her for a daughter. In any life.
I asked her if maybe her mom was going through some personal stuff, and didn’t really mean it. I assured her that we adults sometimes say things in anger that we don’t mean and that I’m sure this was the case here (I’m not sure). It made me think of Single Dad Laughing’s blog post, and I began to wonder, how many kids are out there, being abused like this every day? Way too many.
And shame on me for watching a reality show about it, and feeding the societal sickness that considers child abuse “entertainment.” My only hope is that it leads to awareness.
I, for one, am extremely careful what I say to my girl. Words have so much power to destroy. She is the most precious, innocent little being, and her psyche is in my husband’s and my hands. Thank God I’m 38 and not 18. I wish I could transfuse some of my wisdom into these knuckleheads. Cracky has no excuse. She needs to get to rehab, and quick.
Tonight, I cuddled my daughter close to me as she nursed, and she placed my hand on the side of her face, and held it there with her own. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes. Some day, she will be a teenager and want me far, far away. Tonight, she couldn’t sleep without my hand on her cheek. I know I have no idea what is ahead (although, I have a decade of experience with teenagers), but I can promise her this: I will not speak to her like she is not a person. I will not say things in anger I can never take back. I will not break my child with my words.