Hands Are Not For Hitting

When Caleb was between 2 and 3, he started hitting my husband and me. At first, it was intermittent and not really bothersome. Then came the smacking, the punching, and the pulling on hair. We tried so many interventions: token economy, time out, books about hitting, talking about hitting. reminding him that hands are not for hitting when we think he is about to hit.

This is where my post is going to take a turn you probably didn’t expect.

My son hitting me made me realize that I was not over the physical and emotional abuse that I survived from the time I was born until I was 18. In retrospect, the emotional abuse remained a part of my life until just a few months ago when I told my family I don’t want them in my life.

I am a survivor of childhood emotional and physical abuse.

As a youth, I attended Al-Anon meetings and therapy, and there I learned about the probability of me turning out like my mother or father. My father was an alcoholic and drug abuser (everything from pot to methadone), so I had a high probability of becoming an substance abuser; but I was also likely to become a physical and emotional abuser as well. The idea of becoming my father is probably the greatest fear I have had my entire life.

When I was 21, I adopted a cat. I thought that the first step toward trusting myself as a parent was taking care of a pet. I adopted an adorable orange tabby named Murray. He was 4 at the time, and all I was told was that he was given up because his owners had a baby. But, that wasn’t the whole story. I would be holding Murray, petting his head, and we would be purring up a storm when suddenly he would scratch the heck out of my face, arms, and chest. He would freak out on me and, because I had tiny knives cutting me, I pushed him away from me. This happened again and again for a month. Finally, after recognizing that this wasn’t working, I came to the difficult conclusion that I would have to have Murray declawed. After his procedure, Murray would attack me, but I knew it wasn’t going to hurt; I was able to just soothe him and not react as he went ballistic. It was the right choice, because after a couple more months, Murray completely stopped having freak outs. He became my best friend for 16 years until he passed away on December 30th, 2017.

After I was comfortable being a mother to Murray, I adopted another cat. I knew that Murray was lonely, so I got Mina from the local rescue shelter. She was beautiful and tiny and didn’t know how to make a crying sound until she was 3. Murray and Mina loved each other, however I pretty much just put up with Mina. She was a bit evil; she would wake me up in the middle of the night by climbing onto my nightstand and turning off my cpap machine. However, I never hurt her either.

A month before my husband and I got married, we decided to get a dog. Because we knew we wanted to have children (and because that was the kind of dog my husband had growing up), we chose to get a Golden Retriever. We found this amazing breeder in Essexville – the dogs were gorgeous and the family had 4 children who would also handle the dogs. These dogs were all so well behaved and loving. That is where we chose the Light Pink Girl (the color of her collar), Penny.

Again, with Penny, there was no hitting. We would dominate her if she got too rowdy, but really, again, it all seemed so fine.

Fast forward to me, 36, with two dogs and two cats, and I was having to suppress this almost natural reaction to hit my child back. I was horrified with myself. When Caleb stop hitting, I thought I was okay. But I wasn’t.

It wasn’t until January of this year that I vowed to never lay my hands on anyone again. This was harder than I thought. I realized I still had issues. Okay, fine: I had more issues than a newsstand.

Caleb and I started going to therapy at the same time, but we each see different therapists. And I can tell you, Caleb and I are both in a really transformative part of our lives. Caleb is suddenly a brand new person who actually cares about pleasing others, especially his mom and dad. He is smart, driven, creative and happy. He has basically the entire basement and he calls it his “safe space.”

Caleb and I also grew really close this summer. That is when I started thinking about my childhood. I don’t understand why I love my child in a way that my mother and father didn’t love me.

My therapist has diagnosed my father as a sociopath. He was evil. But my mom knew what was happening at home. In a conversation with her over the summer, she posed me this question: Should I have broken up the family and left your dad? That implies that the family was not broken with me being abused.

After my father died, relative after relative came up to me and told me how sorry they were that my dad hurt me. They saw it happening and did nothing, and now that he was dead, they felt freer to talk about it? That is the thing – my abuse was not private. I was often hit in grocery stores. I was hit at family events. I was hit in plain sight of my mother and sister. I even told my school psychologist that I was afraid to go home; I was 7-years-old and nothing happened.  Nobody protected me.

I am learning how to let go of the past. It isn’t easy. Like I said, I’m still trying to make sense of a situation that will never make sense. There will never be any logic as to why I was hurt.

The last email I got from my mother was about her next vacation to New York and working on her sewing hobby. She and her husband are rich, and they don’t help us at all with any of Caleb’s medical bills. My son isn’t even allowed in their home because they don’t want him touching their stuff.

Seriously.

Caleb cannot go into my mother’s home.

I don’t want to go back down that rabbit hole with my mom where we all pretend that everything is okay. It is not okay. I finally have real unconditional love in my life, and it is amazing. I am so thankful for my husband, my son, and my husband’s family.

I’m now 39 and an orphan, which is strangely liberating. I am scared because I have hung on to my mother’s scraps of love for so long; letting go because I deserve better is the only option.

So I broke the pattern.

My mother, who doesn’t like emotions, was raised by my grandmother and grandfather who also didn’t like emotions. My grandpa used alcohol so avoid dealing with anger. Same with my dad’s dad. There was coldness and distance and alcohol abuse.

And I broke that pattern.

Every day I make sure that I tell my husband and son that I love them. And I love them unconditionally. I tell Caleb that he isn’t bad, he just made a mistake. I tell Caleb how excited I am to see him when I pick him up from school. I give him hugs and love on him, but also allow him some private time. I push him academically because I know that he is a smarty-mcSmarty-pants. I say “I,” but I should say “we.” My husband is right by my side, giving him love and stability; my husband is the rock, I am the fire. And together, we work. We make sense to each other and know how to treat each other. We give each other the benefit of the doubt and strive to meet goals together.

I am a better parent than my mom, dad, or sister. In fact, right now, I am kind of crushing it. (I know, have some humility.) We have a new puppy that bites, and I don’t get angry at all. Yes, I still go to therapy and I still need therapy. I am a flawed individual who has overcome a lot to be in the happy, stable place that I am today. I broke the pattern. And that means something.

I Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

A lot of people are curious how I manage to stay sane. To summarize my household, I have a husband who has migraines and ADHD, a son with autism, migraines, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, I have an older dog, Eli, who is awesome, a puppy who thinks he is a land shark, and me, the eternal migraine sufferer who tries to keep this house running.

When I think about it, it seems like a lot of stuff to handle, but honestly, somehow we make it all work. I think the biggest issue my husband and I worry about is Caleb’s health – intellectually, emotionally, and physically. It is all about prioritization.

For instance, our leather couch is missing leather from a part of the left side armrest from when Eli was a puppy and chewed everything. He chewed up our new bedstand (which is wooden), all my flowers and flower pots, toys, clothes, and about a million binkies which always showed up in his poop. *gag* At first I would get upset because I had never experienced another animal destroying my property like that. But the problem was, if I let the destruction upset me, I would be upset for the rest of the day. Pretty soon I was always upset. It got to be ridiculous. I couldn’t enjoy my day or my dog (Eli is mine. All mine.) because I was upset.

Finally, I decided to stop being upset. It was really that easy for me – a switch I turned off. I was no longer gonna sweat the small stuff. But, how do we figure out what is small and what isn’t? How do we track and give feedback to ourselves?

For me, the big stuff was a matter of whether or not this had a real impact upon the health and safety of my family. That was the big question, the deep core issue. If the answer was “no,” I would find a way to ignore it, redirect it, or fix it but not get emotional about it.

Some examples of the small stuff:
*getting peed or barfed on
*superficial destruction of furniture or household items
*Keeping a perfectly clean home
*Making the bed, ever.

Examples of big stuff:
*Hitting or any sort of violence
*Threats of violence
*Angry words
*Caleb going to bed before 9pm
*Caleb takes his anti-migraine medication
*Caleb stays buckled in his car seat until I tell him he can get out of his seat.

I don’t expect anyone else to do what our family chooses to do. My mother and her husband are very protective of their home so Caleb is not allowed over. I mean, yes, I find it hurtful, but I have to let it go and realize that maybe to them, the furniture is the big stuff. I have to respect that.

We all have our “big stuff.” For me, it is really important to have a loving home that is cozy, inviting, and not dirty. It is important that we never use our bodies or words for violence. In fact, I tell Caleb and my husband multiple times a day that I love them unconditionally. I stress to Caleb that there is nothing he can do to make me stop loving him. I mean, if he hits me, I give him a time out; the punishment isn’t because I am mad at him but rather because he needs to learn that violence is never okay. And the “no violence” rule goes for everyone in the house, including the dogs.

Another reason that violence is something we won’t tolerate as a family is because I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. I never knew what unconditional love was until I met my husband, and then later, my son. Every dollar, every favor, came with a price; my family tried desperately to control every aspect of my life. I don’t hate my parents or grandparents. In fact, I feel bad for them because I feel like I have learned so much from my husband and child about the person I want to be. I was a lot like my mother, to the point it was a running joke. But, I quickly learned that we were very different; my son comes first in my life, no matter what.

So, yes, I do not talk to my parents or extended family. Actually, the funny part is that the only person in my family that I do talk to is my dad, and he has been dead for 9 years!

My side of the family doesn’t share my values or my priorities. Family get togethers used to include different people yelling at Caleb, freaking out over everything he does. It became overwhelming for everyone involved, including us. My mom and sister and their families live in big, beautiful homes. We are talking crown molding, expensive appliances, more than one bathroom, jacuzzi tubs, etc. We live in a house that is about 1,000 sq ft. Why? Because it is more important for me to be a stay-at-home wife and mother and take care of Caleb than it is for me to work a job and make more money. We live cheaply, eating out maybe once or twice a month. My husband and I get our groceries from Costco and Aldi so that my son can have the gluten-free/casein-free food from Whole Foods.

I guess what I am getting at is that in our family, Caleb comes first. If we have additional kids down the road, they will also be our priority. So, no, I don’t have plates that match, most of our glasses are plastic, and 99% of the stuff we own we got as hand-me-downs. But we have membership to the Hands On Museum (which I really need to write about), we go to the zoo and aquarium, and we buy a ton of books. Yes, I buy used clothing for Caleb, but we also make sure he has a couple Pokemon shirts so that he is happy. (Hint, I have Caleb’s measurements written down. Wherever I go, I take a measuring tape with me, so I measure how long it is, etc. Different brands have different shapes, so this helps a lot when buying used clothing.)

My husband taught me about living on a budget, and now I cringe at the idea of buying name brand anything unless it is for Caleb. I am so thankful that I have people in my life who have helped me becoming a more easy-going person. I probably will never have fine china, but that is okay with me; chances are, I’ll be too busy having fun with my family to notice.