0500809 MUD PUDDLE. WET SHOES. BAD GIRL!
Getting down to specifics regarding the phrase ‘crossed the line’ I’ll tell you there’s a stray medium to large shaggy, mangy brown dog running the streets of this American-Mexican small border town of 700 people that I live in that needs to be shot. I just called the sheriff’s office and the dispatcher said she’d let somebody know.
For all the animal lovers around, and I would say I am almost one, you can come and get this dog if you want to, but I guarantee you’d be sorry. It has the loudest, most obnoxious bark I’ve ever heard. It roams the streets and yaps, howls and barks continually from the time the sun goes down until it comes back up.
I know the neighbors complained about it earlier in the week because I saw the animal control truck by their house. They did pick up a dog, but because the sun had been up for hours, they got the wrong one. They left feeling assured that they had taken care of the problem, but I can tell them, after being kept from sleep all night by this strangely behaving dog still out there, that they did not. They will never catch this dog during the daylight. It finds a spot in the desert to sleep once the sun rises and won’t come out again until pitch dark.
Why would any lone dog do nothing but stand around barking all night? As soon as I open the front door to shout out my frustration, it runs slinking down a street or the ally, barking and yapping all the way and returns to the corner nearest my house as soon as I am back inside.
Many years ago when I lived by Fargo, North Dakota a moose would occasionally be found wandering the city streets. When this happened, it was always found that the animal was sick with some kind of worms in its brain. There would be nothing anyone could do to help it but to put it out of its misery.
The dog shelters near my town are over crowded and the streets in my town can become overrun with stray dogs. They come, pitiful and starving in large packs from across the Mexican line. Nobody wants them. How could they? They end up like large canine vermin causing trouble wherever they appear. Nobody likes to see it, but when the sheriff’s office decides to clean the town yet again, they shoot them, pick them up and toss them in a truck and take them away, dead.
This dog outside my door, with its irritating and obnoxious continual barking, yapping and weird yowling reminds me of my mother. For the nearly ten years that I’ve lived down here in this area near the border, I’ve never seen or heard a dog do this. It is not part of a pack which is what usually happens. The neighbor dogs stopped barking back to it nights ago. Why has it focused its auditory malevolence in this one square block area? Why did it just appear here this week? What is its problem?
There’s no logical or reasonable answer. There’s something ‘not right’ about this dog. There was something ‘not right’ about my mother, either. Yet while there seems to be no other solution for this wild dog than to shoot it, nobody can shoot terrible, abusive, malevolent parents no matter how strange and harmful their behavior toward their offspring might be.
The more I think about human parenting behaviors, particularly mothering, the more I realize that parenting never evolved to be a solitary activity. I believe that within the groups of people who were banded together, the job of mothering was normally shared between women. I can imagine no condition that would have allowed single mothering to have occurred. That it happens in our ‘modern times’ seems to me to be an aberration of what nature ever intended.
There are people who should never have children, and my mother fit this category. If she had been parenting within a connected group of people, someone would have intervened. We might think today that removing children from harmful parental care is a drastic last ditch effort to be taken in the protection of children. I believe it is a completely normal action that any people would have taken without question in the days when we were adequately connected to each other within our species.
That there are problems within the child protection system, problems with foster care, problems with finding adoptive families for children who cannot be raised by their families of origin is, to me, a separate problem from the reality that there are parents who cannot take adequate care of their offspring. We could put our efforts into fixing these problems if we really wanted to. But fixing a parent like my mother would have been as impossible as it would be for someone to fix this wild dog that’s harassing my neighborhood.
In fact, that dog just went silent now. I watched it slink off toward the desert howling as it went. The sky brightens behind the mountains as the sun begins to rise. This dog will vanish from the neighborhood and find a place to sleep today, but it will be back tonight and the extremely annoying and irritating incessant obnoxious barking will begin again until somebody, somehow, stops it.
I’ve never owned a gun and I don’t know how to shoot one. But if I did I’d go after that dog. I’ve never been so tempted. I have to trust and hope that the authorities responsible for taking care of it will do their job. But they won’t do it now because they won’t find it.
I believe if we are honest with ourselves we know that we feel the same way about abusive parents as I do about this dog. I believe these are natural and normal reactions and not ones we have to question within ourselves. Humans never evolved by harming their offspring unless extremely hostile living conditions existed that threatened the survival of the group. Otherwise I do not believe our species would EVER have tolerated it. The offspring would have simply been removed from parental care. Who thinks we are smarter today?
I will share a memory I have of something that happened the spring of 1959, my second grade year when I was seven, and then you can tell me what you would have done with this woman who was my mother. Or with my father, for that matter.
Our family had moved off of the homestead into an apartment in Anchorage the previous fall because the road up the mountain was impassable. As soon as the glaciers had melted that formed over the road during the winter, and after the mud had dried enough that my father could repair all the deep ruts on the road, we moved back up to the homestead and commuted to and from school with my father as he traveled to work. We only had one vehicle, a Jeep Station Wagon like the one in this link, but not nearly so handsome.
Money was always tight for my family, and this year my mother was selling Tupperware. She occasionally orchestrated home parties in town in the evenings and left us with a babysitter at the apartment complex we had just moved out of. I don’t know where my father was during the times my mother had her parties. Maybe he stayed at the office and worked late.
But once my mother finished her party they both came back and got us so we could take the long, slow drive all the way back from town, back from Anchorage to Eagle River on the paved highway, through the Eagle River Valley on the graded dirt road, down the primitive jeep road and up our mountain VERY primitive homestead road. We would arrive home very, very late after mother had one of her parties and we were all very, very tired.
No heat would be on in the Jamesway (a portable, rigid-frame, insulated canvas tent similar to a small quonset hut) house we lived in when we got back home, and it was very cold still even though the snow had mostly melted. I remember how cold I was changing into my pajamas. We were not, for some reason, allowed to climb under our sheets with socks on our feet, and I remember holding my breath and straightening my legs in one movement, feeling like someone might feel falling through the ice into cold water.
I have never forgotten the one morning when we woke up to take the journey back down the mountain the water cans were empty and we had shredded wheat cereal for breakfast with undiluted evaporated milk poured on it. YUCK! But at least we were fed something because our days were very, very long.
Now back to the story of what happened on this particular evening that my mother had a Tupperware party and left me at the babysitter’s along with my brother who was 8, and my sisters ages 5 and 3. The apartment complex was made up of long two-story wood sided buildings arranged in groups of three, each group forming an “L” shape surrounding a large open area. When snow melted huge puddles formed that covered most of these open areas.
My siblings had stayed inside to play with the babysitter’s children. I had put my coat on, pulled my rubber boots with the fake fur ruff on their tops (that ruff always rubbed my legs raw) on over my new shoes, and gone outside alone. I was so small and that puddle was so big that it looked like a lake to me and I was pulled to its crusty iced edges like a magnet.
At first I just wandered around the muddy puddle keeping my feet on the damp brown grass. The circle I walked became a spiral as I moved closer and closer to the water, my feet crunching through the thin ice at its edges, until finally the bottoms of my boots became shiny from water that splashed up on them as I walked. It was only a matter of time before I was far enough into the water that it came very close to going over the top of my boots. But I watched carefully, at first, making sure that I only went out that far and no further. But then I made my fatal mistake. I lost myself to the joy of play.
I stopped walking. Boing! Boing! Boing! I discovered that if I put the weight of my foot straight down into the water and then relaxed my leg, the water pushed my foot back up again! I’d never felt anything like this. What a discovery! It felt for each split second of time this happened like I was almost able to fly. Both feet now, I was out in the water, stepping and boinging with both of my feet. Over and over and over again. I was having fun! At whatever point the water went to and then over the tops of my boots I did not notice.
I was still out there playing in the darkness when my mother walked from the parking lot and appeared around the corner of the apartment building. She immediately saw me and headed straight at me screaming, “What are you doing, Linda? Get out of that puddle right now! Look at you! You are all wet! Your feet are wet! What have you done to your new shoes? You’ve ruined them! I’ll make you sorry for this!”
By the time I had splashed my way out of the puddle she was already at its edge to meet me. She continued to yell at me, hitting and punching me as she knocked me to the ground with her blows and yanked my boots and shoes off.
“You don’t deserve to have these!” she screamed. “You horrible child! Your father worked hard to buy these new shoes for you and look what you’ve done to them! I hate you! Go to the car.”
My father was sitting at the steering wheel when I got to the Jeep and climbed into the back seat behind him while my mother went into the apartment to get the other children. When they all reached the car she put my youngest sister in the front seat beside my father and the other two climbed into the back. My mother didn’t get in right away. She came around to where I was sitting, yanked open the door, exploded and hit me some more.
“I can’t believe you are my child! No child of mine would ever do something like this. You are worse than a dog. Not even a dog would do something like this! You are no better than a dog. I don’t even want you in my car, but I have to, so you ride on the floor like a dog would.”
She forced me onto the floor behind my father’s seat and made me curl up there in the fetal position. I tried to make myself as small as I possibly could, but there was nothing I could do to escape her rage. All the way back to the homestead she screamed and yelled at me, turning around in her seat to hit me again and again and again.
My father drove. He just drove. He said nothing. He did not turn around. He did not speak to my mother and did nothing to intervene to stop her. I can’t imagine what my siblings were feeling during her insane attack on me. In my child’s mind I knew my mother was right. I HAD been a bad girl. I had gone out into that mud puddle so that the water had gone over my boots and gotten my new shoes soaking wet. Unlike so many beatings I received in my childhood, this time I understood what I had done wrong.
My mother continued to rage, pounding blow after blow down on my back while the Jeep bounced over rocks and ruts. I sobbed silently as my mother continued screaming at me as loud as she possibly could for that entire slow ride home.
The abuse over this incident continued for the rest of the week as she kept me home from school on the mountain with her because, she said, I didn’t deserve to wear any shoes (Even to go to the outhouse? I don’t remember.). She simply wrote a note to the school that told them I was home sick.
This selfish crime I committed was yet another one that was added to my mother’s abuse litany because it confirmed to her how stupid, selfish and ungrateful I was to play in a puddle that went over my boots and ruined my new shoes. Once it was added to her ongoing and growing litany, it was included in all the other beatings so that I was beaten again and again for this act (along with all the others included in her litany) over the following years of my childhood.
What are we to do with mothers like mine? Fathers like mine? How do we make them serve the 14,500 year minimum sentence they deserve for committing such acts of brutality and abuse for the duration of a child’s childhood?
No, we can’t shoot them. And, no, judging from a position of self righteous superiority changes nothing in regard to wild dogs or bad parents, either. So what are the available options? This is a topic for future posts. Right now I can just say I am grateful that my mother had nothing in that Jeep that night to hit me with other than her hands.
Although research shows that about 70% of people who were abused as children DO NOT grow up to abuse their own children, that leaves about 30% that do. I believe that the urge to take good care of offspring is so powerfully implanted in human genetic memory that it assists the non abusers to overcome their own childhood traumatic abuse experiences so that they can at least form an ‘earned secure’ attachment with their children.
However, circumstances (including genetic adaptations that lead to mental illness) leading to child abuse being committed by the 30% means that these parents operate at the negative end of human genetic history regarding parenting in the worst of all possible worlds. They are motivated to deprive and destroy rather than nurture and protect their offspring, and are extremely dangerous to children.
I believe that every one of these abusive parents could be assigned to at least one of what we term ‘mental illness’ categories, and that their mental illness was probably triggered by their genetic sensitivity in interaction with the abusive environments they grew up in. They have made the most drastic survival adaption and adjustment possible in a perceived world without adequate resources, as I mention in my previous writing. Because their mental illness prevents these parents from being able to form an ‘earned secure’ attachment with their children, they become the most at risk parents for abusing their children and for passing down their unresolved traumas. Theirs are the most at risk infants and children.
Experiences such I am describing here give a young child far more information than they are capable of constructively processing. My mother’s abuse litany has provided me with a ‘list’ of specific abuse incidents that I do remember because they were repeatedly remembered for me during my mother’s repeated beatings.
Because the area of our brain, the hippocampus, that processes specific facts about memories before they are placed in long term storage, can actually experience such a strong cortisol stress hormone reaction that the neurons (cells) trying to process the experience into memory are heated up and ‘fried’ before the memory can ever be stored, both victims and their perpetrators often don’t remember traumatic experiences because the facts about them were never processed for storage in the first place.
Discovering this fact was very powerful for me. I know that memories can also be repressed, and those memories might actually be recalled somehow later on. I had that happen to me before when my siblings tell me things they remember that I don’t, but the memory returns to me when they tell it to me.
Emotional memory, processed by a different part of the brain, the amygadala, allows the emotional parts of memory to always remain with us in our bodies even when we either never had the factual part of the memory stored in the first place, or when we simply don’t remember the facts. In the case of this memory of the mud puddle, I don’t know if I would have forgotten it if my mother hadn’t continued to beat me for it, thus making sure I never forgot. But because I DID retain the memory, I also remember the wonderful playful feelings I felt as I boinged my way around in that puddle until I was caught in the act and punished (battered).
It’s the same thing that happened for me with many of the stories I write from memories I still have of my childhood (refer to these and read them with care, they may trigger memories for those with traumatic histories) *HOW MY CHILDHOOD WAS – STORIES. Many of them involve times that I was happy and playing BEFORE my mother interrupted with her horrendous perspective and abuse.
My sister made a powerful observation to me a few years ago about the pairing that no doubt happened to me between good feelings and bad as a result of these childhood patterns. She explained to me that even good experiences in my present life can actually be tied directly to trauma. They are therefore contaminated and polluted, making it extremely difficult to be happy in the present without that terrible sense of foreboding and a sense of impending doom overshadowing even the positive events of my life.
In this way even many things that might otherwise bring me joy are in fact trauma triggers right along with things that I would obviously associate with trauma from my childhood (which is most everything around me due to the pervasive, chronic and long term extreme nature of the abuse). This might give you an idea about how complex abuse survival can actually be when not even the experience of pleasure cannot be easily disentangled from trauma and are, at least for me, equally able to trigger trauma feelings and reactions for me on an ongoing basis.
It also makes me wonder how many other of my childhood experiences that I will never remember fit this same pattern. That creates an additional tragedy of giving me no access to things that actually made me happy as a child — not to the events themselves or the happy feelings that might have been a part of the experiences before they would have been so interrupted and distorted by my mother’s abuse.
This becomes an important point for people to consider any time the issue comes up of “There must have been some good times in your childhood.” In cases such as mine it can be equally as dangerous and painful to remember the good things as it is to remember the obviously bad because they were so often paired together.
Living in a manic culture that tells us there’s something wrong with us and that we are ‘less than’ people, that somehow we should feel ashamed, wrong and somehow inadequate if we are not “happy, positive and optimistic” people, is not one bit helpful to those of us who suffered trauma in our childhoods. This is a self righteous superior attitude that the popular media loves to tell the public.
Salt is rubbed into our very deep wounds every time we are told that these same happy, positive and optimistic people live longer lives, suffer from less illness including cancer, have better relationships and a greater sense of well-being BECAUSE they are this way? Give me a break! Ever heard of “the cart before the horse” or thought about the debate about “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Or, have you ever thought about “Who is just plain stupid?”
My advice? Pay these ‘village idiots’ no heed. They are the same people that tell us to simply forget the bad things that happened to us in our childhoods, and tell us to just get on with living in the present. Never mind, they would say, that these experiences played havoc with our developing brain-minds, nervous system, immune system and body.
This isn’t a game of ‘catch up’ folks. The lives that we survivors have been forced to live are deadly serious ones and need to be taken equally as seriously by the culture we live in. That they are not taken seriously is reflected in the fact that few of us can access the quality of help we need to heal and in the fact that severe infant and child abuse still occurs at all.
Thank you for reading. Your comments are welcome and appreciated. Linda
Please visit this site for information about living with the brain changes severe early abuse causes and the attachment difficulties that result from it: