I recently read an article out of Dallas, Texas. (I have to give a heads-up that these things don’t happen just in Texas. Lord, help us all, but they happen Everywhere. Everyday!)
DALLAS (AP) — A 22-year-old mother was facing child abuse charges Friday after police say she glued her toddler daughter’s hands to a wall, kicked her in the stomach and beat her over a potty training issue.
A potty training issue.
What do we do with situations like this? How do we make sense of them?
Yes, we’ve all been angry at our children. Furious, even. Ready to slam them up against a wall. I understand this. We all, as parents, understand this. I remember a moment when I shut myself in my bedroom because I was afraid of what I might do to my son. He had just hit his baby sister over the head with a wooden Fisher Price hammer, and she was in the process of wailing out of pain, fear, and perfectly understandable astonishment. But here is the thing…I shut myself in my bedroom. I knew how I felt. I knew what I was capable of doing in that moment. I knew what I must stop myself from feeling and from acting out. That is the difference, I think, between those who understand that emotions have to be controlled and those who have no control over their emotions.
But truly, am I the only one who has ever been so angry as to want to toss my child up against a wall? If I am, God forgive me, and everyone out there remain silent. But, if I’m not, please speak up and tell me I am not alone. My belief is that, everywhere out there, mothers have had those moments when they have teetered on the brink of…well, of that place inside that none of us really wants to face.
I have a memory that has haunted me all my life.
The year was 1959…
She came late to school every day, a dwarfish, misshapen figure in mismatched clothes. She spent a good portion of the day with her head cradled in the crook of her arms, atop her desk, crying. Her name was Elaine, and no one liked her. No one. Not the other kids at school, not the teachers. Not even, it seemed, her parents.
She was short for a third grader, with a head too large for that misshapen body. Frizzy red hair splayed out like Medusa from her scalp. Her lips were huge and rubbery and turned down at the corners most of the day. It was if she were an artist’s horrifying caricature of The Little Match Girl.
When she cried, the teachers demanded that she sit up and stop blubbering. When she spoke in painful whispers of boots and belts and loaves of bread incorrectly put away, her classmates snickered and mimicked. Any tales we repeated outside the classroom or at home were quickly and firmly suppressed.
One day, long before the school year ended, she stopped coming.
There were no more of those late, dramatically tearful entrances, no more heart-wrenching sobs and cryptic mumblings to punctuate and deliver us from our dreary, monotonous classwork. There were no more mysterious confessions to titilate and horrify us. We no longer had the shrunken girl with the monstrous head to entertain us.
We no longer had Elaine.
I think about her to this day. I have never forgotten her. What became of her? And yes, I was only eight years old, but somehow I know that I failed her.
I failed her.
I and my parents and my friends’ parents and everyone in my community. We failed her. We failed this child.
This has been with me so long. I cannot make light of this. I cannot sweep this under the rug. She has tracked me through the years. Hounded me. And I know she will continue to do so. I wish I could find absolution. I wish I could go back and change things, make amends, make it all better for her. I cannot, and that is what haunts me. That there is nothing I can do to change her life. To make it better for her. Asking for forgiveness somehow seems almost pointless and hollow. After all, I was eight years old. Powerless. And yet, even an eight year old knows when something is wrong, when someone is hurting, when life is cruel and when powerlessness defines the inventory of your arsenal.
So I ask myself: What do we do with situations like this? How do we make sense of them? How do we live with child abuse rampant all around us, and why do I feel, even today, so utterly powerless?
I already failed one child. How many more will slip through the cracks because I cannot stop that kind of abuse from happening?
I’m afraid that all I can do is remember. All I can say is that I remember you, Elaine. I promise you, I will never forget you.
Still, I wonder…
I wonder what became of the girl named Elaine.