Tuesday, July 27, 2010

violence redux

Oh, Christ, people. I've put this post up without a disclaimer, and then removed it. I've put it up now with an enormous disclaimer, and then removed it. I guess I only need one disclaimer, and it's this:

I don't hit my children.

Don't anybody let me change my mind again on this post. Jesus.

P.S. What Ingrid wrote was beautiful, and I'll put most of it in the comments section.


I don't want to write this post. I mean, I guess I want to. I'm here, the engine's running. But I think I had to hijack/kidnap myself to get myself here to do this. I'm pulling myself out of the trunk at gunpoint. Write it, bitch.

Ok, ok.


Can I do a little more preamble?

No, fuck you. Get to it.


I don't even know how to let myself start talking about this. I've had that ball in my stomach that's made me want to come here and write, but every time I've felt it, I thought, "No. I can't talk about that. I'm not even taking that to my journal. Find something else to do with yourself, ball. Go assimilate yourself into my organs. Cancer's treatable."


It's about parenting. It's about violence. It's about avoiding child abuse. Narrowly.


(This is so halting! And I can't make it be any other way. Sorry for my halting prose.) (Like I'm going to come here and be fluid about this. That would be terrifying.)

Finn. He, himself, is not my bête noire, but he fucking summons it. He's the dangerous little angel that leads my bête noire in on a leash, dancing around me and laughing. Wait, who's doing the dancing and laughing? Both of them. Both of them fucking are! and it's too much to take! Many times a day it's too much to take.

Obviously, our children test us. But the older Finn gets, the deeper the testing is getting and it's accessing something ferocious in me, something uncontrolled. Something that matches Finn's uncontrolled energy. Or maybe it's not his energy at all. Maybe it's mine. Maybe Finn goes wild and tears the day apart because I can't or won't or don't know how to do it. Maybe this energy is leaking out of me like some kind of toxic factory runoff and polluting my child, and he's just trying to get it off of him. That could be what he's doing. He's not fighting us. He's fighting IT.

When he's in the throes of this energy, whatever it is, he's not angry. It's not anger. It's just muchness. It's like he's plugged into some frighteningly outsized power source, and he doesn't know how to let it run through his body. Trust me, this is not simple childhood, uh, vivaciousness. When this energy starts running, I start to tremble a little. I have to plant myself a little more firmly wherever I'm standing, dig in, grab hold of something internal. I know it's coming. The energy starts running and vibrating off of him and he gets so wild, and he becomes this creature that you can't reach or reason with. The energy won't back off until it peaks.

Is this true? No. Fuck, no, no, it isn't true. That's how I LET it happen.

(This might make no sense to any of you, yet. Please forgive me. I'm working this out in public, in real time, here. If I take this public, then I can't pretend it isn't happening. Accountability. Possibly safety in numbers. Take it to the fire where all the other cavemen are gathered. Look, look, others. This.)

So there's a moment that comes when the energy is running. The moment is subtle, small and decisive, and if I gloss over it, I will lose. Either the bête noire is going to take over or I'm going to use my core strength to calm down and stop and breathe and allow love to permeate the situation. It's not like I can't do it. I just can't or don't or won't do it nearly as much as I should...which I guess should be EVERY FUCKING TIME. Because this is my child I'm dealing with. This is a small, fragile, tender being who's counting on me, my beloved little creature, my son.

Oh, breakdown. Breakdown.

(Finn, I'll come back to you. I will come back to you, baby. Wait here.)

BEAST! It's you I'm coming for now. You THING, you CLOUD. What are you?! Where did you come from and why are you inside of me and who put you there and what do you want? You're this dark genie, this black smoke. Anger, flailing. Coldness, too, an utter lack of concern for whomever and whatever is around you. You will do your own thing. You're supreme. Once you get going, you like it. You flex your muscles. You knock things over. It's satisfying to you, this display. You like to frighten people, it makes you glow. It makes you feel large. Makes you feel godlike. It's nothing to you. A flick of the hand and something dies and let that be a lesson to everyone.

For a split-second it's like that. A blazing dot of satisfaction and joy, like an atomic pinprick.

For me, I mean. It's like that for me when I let the beast win - and fuck love! who ever heard of love? who has time for it? - and I use my relative size and force to try and intimidate Finn (who, by the way and to his credit, gets less and less easy to intimidate) (although this results in a spiraling situation wherein I'm faced with the dilemma of pulling out bigger and bigger weapons). HA! FUCK YOU! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! I'M ENORMOUS!

A negative re-creation of the big bang, an orgasmically destructive conflagration. I think this is why people imagine hell to be hot.

I yell, of course. Right. No shock. Kudos to the flower-like Thich-Nhat-Hanh of a parent who doesn't do this. He or she may be out there. But my yelling, for the moment, is what keeps my child physically safe.

Because the moment fucking comes. The impulse and decision. Fuck you. My body against yours. Mine will win. You'll go out the window or against the wall.

There it is. There's the horror and shame. The discovery of an anger and violence in me so profound that it could turn against my own child. I pray that this is universally true and I pray that it is unequivocally not universally true, but I suspect that it is.

When it kicks in, I feel unrecognizable to myself. I don't know what this thing is that's running me. I'm being run by something. I've allowed something that isn't me to come in. Is it me? It's not any me I know. Is it truly a part of me? Because something is in you, does it make it of you? I'm not trying to escape responsibility. I'm not. I'm ultimately - I hope - in charge of whether this energy moves my body and uses my voice and to what degree. I'm just trying to look at it. I'm not trying to run.

I will say that this degree of violent impulse only happens when Finn is doing something aggressive to me physically and won't stop no matter how often or loudly I tell him to. That's when I feel like a caged animal and the situation becomes potentially unsafe. Because that is violent, even if it's violence delivered by a four-year-old. There's a shock in being disregarded like that, a hot sense of violation. If he's hitting or kicking or pushing or squeezing or hanging on me or touching me in some relentless way, licking or poking or flicking or tapping like Chinese water torture, and he won't stop despite my hectoring or pleas, then I'm transported to the primal middle of whatever cumulative anger I've buried in this life. Dropped right inside it. And I will make it stop by nearly any means necessary.

Nearly. Nearly. Nearly.

Once, I had Fred in my arms, who was crying and needed tending to. Finn threw himself at my legs, and then threw his arms around my waist and began pulling. I told him to stop, and then yelled for him to stop, it wasn't safe, I have Fred, we could fall, I have to take care of Fred, let go, let go of me, and he wouldn't and I pushed him over. I threw him off of me and he fell on to the floor. In my defense, there was an element of the dramatic soccer player going on for Finn. He milked the fall, spun it a little, helped it along. Seemed almost glad it happened, as well as frightened and sad. Like he had his own strange pinprick of joy. But there he was on the floor, and I had put him there.

This isn't the worst thing that ever happened. Neither, though, is it small. It still lives on in Finn, who brought it up tonight when I was putting him to bed. My bête noire was activated after a jagged evening, and my patience was gone. My voice was loud and flat and I was ordering him this way and that. We had gotten into his bed to read stories, and I was doing battle with myself. I was trying to do the good thing. I was trying to breathe and be still. I summoned a softish voice, if one with a flat affect, and asked him to please pretend to be a rock for a minute (long enough for me to allow love to get a foothold, which I didn't say). I could feel the energy wanting to run in Finn still, and I could feel my own tears fighting their way up. (They won.) Finn draped a leg over me and began kicking me sideways with it. My voice got louder, a warning, and I told him that I would eventually do whatever it took to make that stop.

He said, "Would you hit me?!"

I said, "No, I would never hit you. I would never hit you. No."

He said, "Would you push me over?"

I knew he remembered. I considered pretending that I didn't know what he was talking about.

I said, "Would I push you off of me? Would I push you over?" and paused.

I answered, "Yes. Yes, I would. If you're doing something to me like this, if you're kicking me or pulling me or doing something to my body that I don't want you to do, then yes. I would. I would do it. I would push you over."

We sat there in the strange peace of this knowledge.


Tina Rowley said...

Here's the bulk of what Ingrid wrote, only removing the parts where she very kindly attempted to make me sound like Mozart/the baby Jesus:

You are about to read a post by our beloved Tina, titled, Violence. It was posted yesterday and then removed. Taken off the wall and put back on the easel for further observation.

This post is important because it is 100% about the biology of the human species. On one hand, it is a Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom snapshot of the interaction between mother and cub. On the other, it is a sliver of cells mounted on glass and held mercilessly to the light, a careful cross-section of where we are as a nation of parents and people.

Notice, though, cross-section. Not the whole picture. Just a slice. Not the long days of laughing in the backyard or watching sweet eyelashes pressed in sleep or a deep inhale at the yawning mouth to get a whiff of the sweetest breath on earth.

Just a slice. Just one scene.

And this is where I blather about cultural loneliness and how our model of “nuclear family” makes us miserable and crazy. But you wouldn’t put up for that shit. I wouldn’t. Also? I’m just the opener here. Don’t think I don’t realize I’ve already maxed out my metaphor credit card back there at Mutual of Omaha. See? Now I’m off to collections with metaphor credit card. Fuck it.

Here’s what I mean anyway: It’s good and brave to talk about the dark stuff that happens to us.

Here’s another way to say it: “If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst.” –Thomas Hardy, bitches

That’s what Tina and I talked about over lunch today.

Anonymous said...

You, doll, are so brave for posting this. For facing demons oh-too-familiar. On my bb now so I'll have to come back later -- but I had to leave you some love and say thank you.


la Ketch said...

same as caoilinn. i love the ending too. how the two of you are defining these boundaries and understanding them together. i think that ultimately you are teaching him a valuable thing. I also love the description of you putting him to bed and trying to find a kind tone in your voice, trying to eek it out, asking him to pretend to be a rock. so familiar. much love to you! and to FINN!! For asking the questions and figuring it out. my god. he is a smart little boy. it's kind of scary how smart he is. but not surprising considering his parents.

Anonymous said...


I'm not a mom, but I have spent some serious time with children. I spent time with a colicky baby who screamed at me for 6 hours. I had to remove myself from the room at one point before I lost it. When I drove home that day, I sat in my car for 20 minutes to be encased in silence. As I listened to the silence, I also saw the fantasy that I had dreamed during that day replay itself in my head. I wanted to toss that baby out the second story window. I didn't, I knew it was wrong, I knew I needed to step out and just get a breath... AND I ONLY HAD TO PUT UP WITH IT FOR SIX HOURS. Not all day, all month, all year, all life. Six hours. I got to walk away. She was not my child, not a child who made my milk let down when she cried. She was a child I cared for, loved, and who I also wanted to destroy in that moment.

More and more of my mother friends talk about these desires. It's human. You are not horrible. You are human. You are dealing with a creature who has not yet developed full capability for reasoning. That comes at around age 6 or 7.

Keep talking. Keep airing it out. There are plenty of us who can look you square in the eye and know that desire, that animal instinct.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take on this... no, not 'child abuse' or anything that simple. I am in a similar situation. A young one- 6 months and wild 3 year old. I too am at the end of the rope, daily. I too find myself intimidating her to control her. I too am searching for a way to not resent the hell out of her! I get so angry. I have to give you my empathy- you are not alone. But your interaction also seems to me like a quote from "Where the Wild Things Are" (a book with not many words, so you get that the quote is metaphorical). A boy and his wildness, anger, energy, intensity, smarts, manipulation, needs etc etc. So remember that mothers have always kept their young in check and mostly intact. I have no answers, just empathy. Maybe your help will be my help... maybe I'll spring for therapy and work some of my darkness out. The guilt is suffocating some evenings. And know this, I don't hit my child either. And perhaps this is universal.

Lisa said...

This post is truth. Plain truth. There is nothing in this post I do not recognize. There is nothing here I have not heard from another mother. This is what it is – put beautifully, eloquently, powerfully.

Motherhood brutalizes a mother’s sense of self. Contemporary mothers are expected to be quite childlike themselves: happy to play simple games for hours on end, eager to trade solitude and privacy for the ideal of constant, perfect union with our children, willing to practice denial of darker thoughts and desires, of complex feelings, because those thoughts, desires, feelings are just too damn grown-up. They serve no obvious purpose within the confines of the mother/child relationship, and they remind us, they remind everyone around us, that we are women. That we are adults. That we are people.

So, yes, this post is truth. What’s also truth: how much you love your boys, Tina. That love blazes from every sentence. And it blazes from your thriving, wild boy.

Tina Rowley said...

Thanks, folks. I'm too fried to respond properly right at the moment, but please know that all of your thoughtful comments are so appreciated. It's a relief not to just yell into the wind.

Yes, many thanks.

Tina Rowley said...

I will respond, however, as soon as I can.

DL said...

Tina, when I sent you that comment about the shadow I hadn't even read Ingrid's beautiful disclaimer. So... yeah... we mean the same thing.
I also hope you will write these things out when he is a teenager. I think we need to hear about it and I know that teenagers are incredibly trying in the same kind of dark way where boundaries are getting crossed and blurry and the parent has to be this balance between unconditional love and limits.
You are brave and these things are only being talked in therapy rooms these days. The therapy room is great but I wish it weren't so necessary because that would mean we have become a tribe again. And that would make me happy.

Anonymous said...

Ingrid had it right with her Mutual of Omaha comparison (may the metaphoric collection agents never darken her doorway):

Motherhood *is* visceral. Wonderfully so. It is a bloody, placental, howling love that I, as a man, can simply fathom (only externalizing; by nature's law never internalizing).

Truth: A human's hearing, (especially a human mother) is not equal at all frequencies. From about 1 to 3 kilohertz, the human ear is especially sensitive. Why? Because this is the frequency range in which an infant's cry resides.

You should be no more ashamed over this than you should at being annoyed by someone scraping their fingernails on a blackboard.
Both reactions are protection mechanisms given to you by nature and a far better insurance policy for your children that Mutual of Omaha can ever hope to offer. 

It has been said that writing is an act of bravery. It has also been posited that writing is an act of love. 

Thank you for your words and your bravery, and although we've never met, thank you for helping this reader feel unalone.

tjay said...

This is universal. The reality of it is. Finally, in this generation of women and mothers, we are able to speak about it. Finally.

Next — death to suburban, even urban prisons we call home. To expect the fully-formed psyche of an adult woman to exist alone for hours, days, weeks, eternities with an illiterate human force full of uncensored demand is a cruel abuse. Most of us recognize the danger. Somehow, most of us don't give in. Unfortunately, we are left with useless guilt about it. Once our children finally speak, they do tell us about it. Like the old master and house slave arrangement, nobody knows us better. This arrangement is just plain wrong. We have to change it. But first, we'll have to change another widely practiced institution. The one we call work.