Of leather belts and broken cutting boards: Why I don’t believe in spanking

***trigger warning***

(This started out as a comment on a Facebook post that shared this article about the difference between black and white styles of parenting. But then I found myself seven or eight paragraphs into it without being anywhere near done, so I decided that this might as well be a blog post…)

I am glad that the article points out the difference in the “why” here. Sooo intrigued by the idea of permissive parenting as white privilege…profound and absolutely true. I get “those looks” when I am out with my black godson in public…it seems that I might be a leeeeeeeettttttttttttllllllllllleeeeeeeeeee tiny bit overly permissive…but I get that children of color, and particularly black children, need to be raised differently. I “get it” enough that I never try to tell them that the police are their “friend”. I know that they can’t afford for me to teach them that lesson.

(My godson was in his second year of Head Start – so maybe four years old?-and he was telling me about a policeman who had visited his class (in what was likely a “policemen are your friends!” and/or teachable moment about safety type of thing) and the first words out of his mouth were, “He didn’t do nothing to us, though”.

Four. years. old. This is the world a black boy’s parents have to raise them in. And Mona ([Cecil] Elijah’s momma) and I disagree sharply about spanking, but I have to admit that he is a really good little boy and I struggle sometimes with how much the threat of physical punishment has shaped that (in a positive way).

BUT I also subbed in a classroom yesterday where a five-year-old, two weeks into her kindergarten career, punched another child in the nose. Children are taught in school that hitting is not okay, that we shouldn’t put our hands on each other in hurtful ways–but then purportedly go home to quite the opposite message. A neighbor of a friend has a girl of maybe 14 watching her younger cousins, third and fourth grade. She was walking around the street yesterday, in broad daylight, with a man’s leather belt, threatening (half in jest, but there was a seriousness underneath it) to handle them if they didn’t get it together.

I was mortified the other day to hear that 75% of Americans think spanking is okay. (This study from 2013 shows the numbers to be even higher.) This was presented as sort of a side note on NPR, and I don’t know if there was any differentiation between “open hand on bottom” and the myriad of other ways that children are disciplined. But it’s not okay to me, and it never will be. I know of a child who was punched in the eye, but because he was pre-verbal, there was no way of proving it. I feel the same way about physical punishment of children that I do about any other form of violence (war, guns, football itself): Those who live by the sword” (or the switch, or the leather belt) “will die by the sword”.

And here’s the thing: I KNOW that this all comes from my own scars. I clearly remember two spankings (white folks’ verbiage?!) I received as a child. I suppose there were more, but maybe not…who knows. One was my mother in a rage, cursing (which I never heard her do) and hitting my bare bottom (it was summer, and I was running around the neighborhood in a bathing suit) with one of my father’s leather belts. This was followed by her telling me to leave the house and not return.

I can’t remember if I was 7 or 8 at the time, but I was either going into or just out of second grade.

The other spanking I remember is from my father, only because it was done reluctantly (my mother had delegated it, since whatever I had done she deemed to have needed a heavier hand). I remember that one because he did it reluctantly. It might have been the only time he ever spanked me. And he did it without being in the rage I saw him in whenever he beat my brother.

I believe that I am scarred emotionally by my own limited memories of being the recipient of that belt, but much worse was what I witnessed in terms of my father’s behavior towards my brother. (My brother who, like me, was adopted. I never saw my oldest brother, their biological child, get hit, but granted, I was six years younger. Maybe he experienced it when he was smaller. I’ve never asked him.)

What I remember of my father, in contrast to his reluctant and almost gentle spanking in my case, was his rage when he beat (and I use the word “beat” because to me, it was more than spanking) my brother. I remember my brother being on the roof of the garage and my father dragging him down (his own parents were there, and I have a vague sense of feeling like he was more angry that my brother was acting up in front of them). I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing a wooden cutting board, broken in half and bloody. My brother, who has a “tough guy” exterior and has been in all kinds of situations in his life, told me not too long ago that he was never in his life as terrified of anything as when there was a bad snowstorm and he had to call our father for help with his paper route. He was maybe 12 at the time. He is 48 years old and he still remembers this as clearly as if it were yesterday.

Part of the difference in our case is that we were not having these experiences in the context of any knowledge or certainty that we were loved. We knew that we were what people in our community called “lucky” to have been adopted. My parents “got” my brother when he was about a year old, after another failed placement. No idea what happened there; I just knew that his bronzed baby shoe was much bigger than mine and my oldest brother’s. What I have learned from my brother, and only in the last dozen years or so, was that when he was younger and misbehaved, my mother would sit him down in the back porch and tell him that they were going to send him back. My father would come home from work, and apparently would join her in shaming him. “We’re going to send you back wearing only a diaper, the way that you were given to us”.

It’s safe to say that both my brother and I came into this family with attachment issues, something that wasn’t talked about in those days. With that said, I am still bewildered by the fact that my parents passed whatever constituted a home study in those days, and wonder often if they ever would have been approved in this day and age. But I digress…

In my early twenties, I would watch young black mothers (on the ferry or the train going into the city) interact with their children. What I saw was something I couldn’t fathom. They would be so harsh and strict with their children, but at the same time, I could tell that they loved them. Five minutes after a scolding, they would smile or laugh at something the child did. I could not reconcile this in my mind. Would I feel differently if I had been spanked as a child by people whose love I was certain of, by parents who didn’t have the threat of “sending me back” to hold over my head? I don’t know.

And I read these words as well, and they resonated with me:

The pernicious, toxic and inescapable lifelong effect of being disciplined physically – either to the point of abuse, or to the point that the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable blurs in your mind – is that you almost have to say you turned out fine, just to redeem the fact of being who you are. That you “turned out fine” is the only way to make sense of having once felt total terror or uncontrollable shaking rage at the sight of one (or both) of the two people expected to care most for you in the world. The thought that you might have ended up relatively OK or perhaps even better without all that fear is almost unbearable: the suffering only doubles if you admit that it truly had no purpose.

The thing I always say is that I (almost) can understand physical punishment if it is separated from rage. But I don’t believe it ever is. I think it’s a rare thing for parents to lash out at their children in a calm manner. with perhaps the exception of Michelle Duggaroh wait. And again, maybe it’s different for children who have some level of confidence that they are loved by their parents-but the above quote seems to prove otherwise (although I don’t know for certain that the author is actually a biological child of his parents).

AND I cannot say this often enough: I get that I don’t know what it is to be raising a black child in this society. But this doesn’t mean that I think that a belt, or a switch, or anything else used against a child (I respect, to some extent, a parent’s right to use an open hand on a bottom, but that’s as far as I can take it), is okay, no matter what color you are. (<—-the recovering racist in me shudders at the use of this phrase, as I know it’s not that simple…but then, in some ways, it really is. I could take this further and talk about the generational PTSD that people of color are dealing with, but like the author of the original article that started this rant, I still don’t think it’s okay.)

A thing people sometimes say to me when they don’t agree with my views on something is “You are just seeing this through your own scars”. Yes I am. That’s because those scars (in my case, more emotional than physical) are still there. I was spanked. And it wasn’t okay.

Apparently 75% of Americans disagree with me. But I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean that I will ever stop speaking out against what I consider to be child abuse, pure and simple.

A football player’s actions have sparked a heated debate in this case…but lots of kids are living this on a daily basis, and that’s barely in the news. I am speaking out, not because I want this to be about me, but because I need to let it be known that some of us do NOT think it’s okay. Not for any parent, at any time, famous or not.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black in this society, but I certainly know what it’s like to carry the scars of childhood abuse. And I hope that this somehow gives me, white as I am, some credibility in speaking about the subject.

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The blog entry I wrote while avoiding schoolwork…

Hi.

(forgive the ridiculously long space…trying to see if I can psych out RSSGraffiti. Still here? Good, thanks!)

It’s been a crappy week. Unfortunately, it’s been a crappy week that immediately followed a very large paycheck, thanks to both overtime and my quarterly bonus. I have been shopping almost non-stop. Oh, and birthdays. Two birthdays this weekend…how to bank up the sleep ahead of time?

A shopping addiction is even more of a joke in our society than ADHD is…but I can assure you that it’s no laughing matter. I’m obsessed…it’s never enough. I truly fear that I am going to become one of those people who carries around one of those creepy life-life dolls, just so that I have a little girl to dress as I please.

One thing that sucks. I still want a baby. I want someone that belongs to me. My therapist tells me that this is an adoptee thing…maybe she’s right. But it doesn’t make the ache any less real.

I’m supposed to be doing schoolwork…did I mention that? Truth be told, although I am loath to admit it, I am feeling more than a little bit manic.

I should be cleaning the house.

I need to do something with my pictures. I need my walls to be covered with them, rather than just having them piled up in boxes. I need more of those magnetic photo holder ropes to put in different places. Oh wait, I could make my own.

I should go through the hand-me-downs and get stuff ready for the people I will see at party #2. They are all over the place.

The last seven days’ worth of shopping vomit is all over my floor, in different bags, unsorted. There is stuff for party #1 in there…I need to figure that out before tomorrow.

I need to bank some sleep because birthday parties, and human interaction in general, are exhausting.

I REALLY need to do laundry. I am out of underwear. And I have a LOT of underwear.

My sink is full of dirty dishes and the clean dishwasher needs to be emptied.

I don’t write enough. Not just blogging, but writing for myself, journaling, saying the things that don’t get said on Facebook or via my blog. If I don’t do this, I will not have the full story when I look back on these days. I almost bought (!) a new notebook at Target yesterday…it was a pretty raspberry color, and petite…and only $1.99 (but I can stop anytime I want, really!). But I didn’t buy it, because I already have notebooks, and I need to pick up the ones I have and utilize them. I need to, but I won’t.

I am also really bad at emailing my friends. Staying connected when people are so far away. I have friends who are hurting, and I am not tending to that hurt. I need to do that. And laundry. And presents.

So much to read online about how badly this country sucks.

So much war everywhere. So much destruction. Guns are stupid. War is stupid. Hating each other is stupid. Racism is exceedingly, monumentally stupid and yet so many people don’t understand how deep it goes and how very much work we still have to do.

And I am behind on my schoolwork. I am officially a full-time student as of July 1st. Ahead of schedule because I tested out of my first course, but stuck…behind…paralyzed. I can’t fail at this. But I might. And I need a paper calendar to get myself in order, but which kind? Not another store…but how else can I find one?

But I just started the laundry, before even finishing this. And my course is open in my other browser, so I just need to go there and start.

And what I must always remember: God is bigger than all of this bullshit. He will have the final say, will have us beating swords into plowshares, and there will come a time when people will not hate, when (mostly various shades of brown) children will not be bombed and shot and idiots on the Internet will not say that those children deserved to be killed.

That day seems a long way off…but I know it’s coming. And it’s something to hold on to, weary though we all may be.

And now, the homework. Thanks for reading, if you’ve gotten this far through today’s rant. I am thankful for you, as well! (Unless you are that annoying spam-bot leaving comments…not so thankful then.)

Choices to be made . . .

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
Sydney J. Harris

In the iconic television game show The Price is Right Let’s Make a Deal, one of the popular games requires the contestant to select from among three doors. If I am remembering this correctly, the prize behind Door #1 is revealed, and the contestant then needs to decide whether they are going to keep that prize, or risk asking to see what is behind Door #2 or Door #3. What’s behind those other doors could be much better than what is in front of the contestant, or it could be much worse.

I have been thinking about doors quite a bit lately as I have been reevaluating my life, because I have seen what’s behind Door #2 and Door #3 (or at least, I have seen a glimpse of each of them), and yet I stand here, hesitating, almost paralyzed by the crushing weight of inertia.

I am not happy with my life as it is. I am sure that this is no surprise to anybody who knows me. And for years, I have vacillated, unsure which direction to take. I am annoyingly fickle; it seems like I follow a given passion for a while before discarding it for the next whim or fad that comes along. A few things have remained constant, however, at least on the macro level. I have not outgrown my love for children, or my passion for fighting racism. The desire to have someone to mother is another longing that I have not been able to shake.

Over the last few years, desperate for something to change, I have felt a pull to two different doors, each related to these underlying passions. I have taken halting steps towards each of those doors; however, I have yet to make a choice, and I am hyper-aware of the fact that time is passing me by, and that every day of non-decision is a day that brings me closer to being stuck with the crappy-living-room-furniture set that is my current “Door #1”.

Behind Door #2 is the “mommy” prize. I have glimpsed into this door, even going so far as to take a few initial foster care licensing classes. My experiences with Elijah have convinced me that I would be able to do the hard work of fostering without any promise of permanency, and I am awestruck at the thought of what a gift and a privilege it would be to be in a hurting child’s life for a season. Am I certain that I could do it? Not at all. But I know that the need is huge, and I do not want to avoid doing something merely because it is difficult.

Door #3 holds the “teacher” prize. Having pursued (repeatedly, and unsuccessfully) a particular alternative teacher certification program has been a roller coaster. Certainty that it was going to happen, followed by crushing disappointment. Trying again . . . and again. Still not succeeding, and yet, unable to shake the almost visceral sense that this is what I am meant to do. That feeling ebbs and flows . . . working a temp job grading standardized tests recently, I felt the pull again, “seeing” these students and their need through their essay answers. Who is going to speak for those who have no one to advocate for them? Again, the need is huge, so why not me?

I have begun to identify steps that would bring me closer to being able to walk through one or the other of these doors, but I have a long way to go. I am paralyzed by indecision, however, and my greatest fear is that I will continue NOT to act, that I will indeed waste my life. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and my body reminds me daily that I am getting older. If I don’t do something now, I am certain that I will wake up one day an old lady, sitting on that outdated piece of furniture that will daily serve as a reminder of the way that I chose the default option, the “safe” choice that is no choice at all.

I believe I was created to live a life that matters. That I am not moving in that direction is a travesty of the worst sort. I need to fling open one of these doors; there is work to be done. I say that I want to live the way my heroes did, but those words ring hollow in the shadow of my inaction. I need to work around the pile of excuses that have held me back for so long. I need to move forward, because life will not wait for me. And the one thing I am certain of is that what is beyond those other doors will enrich my life in ways that I cannot yet fathom.

I just pray that I don’t miss it.

Sunday blogging against racism–Haiti, again.

This hits very close to home for me. As a white adoptee, I have found my voice in the voices of transracial/transcultural adoptees, even as I have had to acknowledge how much more difficult their journeys have been than my own.

This blog post captures so much of how I feel about international adoption, even though I have considered it myself. If I do ever pursue adoption, I pray that I will have the courage to ask myself the questions that this writer poses, and to look honestly at the answers. I KNOW that I would surround myself with people who could hold me accountable to respecting my child’s original culture.

You should read the whole post, but if you don’t, here’s an excerpt:

Let me try another analogy. Let’s say you live with your child in a house that burns down. You’re dazed, confused, and burned. Your neighbor says, “I think I should take care of your child”. You say, “Thanks for your offer. But my child really needs me now, and I think they wouldn’t sleep well in a strange house. If you could just give us a tent and some food and some bandages so we can camp out while I get better and look into rebuilding, we’ll be OK.” Your neighbor says, “that’s too logistically complicated and I’m concerned about the security situation. I just want your child.” You say, “Thanks again for your concern and I’m grateful for any help you can give me. If you’re so worried about my child, maybe you could let both of us stay in your guestroom for a while? That way my child could be safe and would sleep well too.” Your neighbor says, “No, we have an interdiction-at-sea policy and visa restrictions will not be relaxed. Just give me your child. Actually, nevermind. I don’t even need your permission anymore. I’ll just take them.”

Think about  it . . .

wanted?

I had the oddest experience the other day (well, actually, all of last week was odd, but I digress) . . . as we were reminiscing, my brother Michael kept talking about events that happened “before we got you”(which he gets a kick out of saying) and we would make “Babies R’ US” and “Baby Depot” jokes . . . even though at times I feel like that is basically what it was . . .

but one story he told me really touched me and made me re-think my usual assessment of my place in our family.  he said that he remembered the day that my family went into the city to “get” me . . . how excited he was. It was April 23, 1970 (the reason I know the date has to do with LMT; more on that later). Michael says that he remembers sitting on the floor, playing with the bows on my mother’s shoes. He was four years old.

The reason that this struck me was that I know a little something about kids . . . and I know that for a four-year old to have had this level of excitement, there had to have been some enthusiasm coming from the parental units that my brother(s) must have picked up on. So this little anecdote tells me something that doesn’t jive with the narrative I’ve held onto for so long. This story tells me that, at least at one point, I was truly wanted.

Now, I suppose it’s easier to want something (or someone) before you are fully conscious of what you will be “getting” . . . and, sentimental adoption rhetoric aside, I wasn’t really “chosen”–it’s not like there really IS a “baby depot” where you can go and pick a kid, any kid. The agency picks–they lie, too. I found out later that they told my birthmother that my adoptive mother was a teacher–but it was nice to hear this story, given the fact that when I was fifteen, my mother informed me that “I love you, Lorraine, but I wish I had never adopted you.” It’s nice to know that there was a time, however brief, when she didn’t wish that.

But that is the fear that those of us who are “chosen” must face every day. We were not “wanted” at least once, and we then lived in fear that those who had “chosen” us would eventually “unchoose”. My security as a member of a family is never absolute. I am not truly anybody’s blood . . . I do not really belong.

and it was bittersweet to hear my brother share this recollection because of another story that he has told me a few times . . . the story of how, becoming frustrated with him, my mother would sit him out on our back porch in just a diaper and his shoes (“just how we got you”) and tell him that she had made the call and that “they” (the adoption agency) were coming back to get him. They had “gotten” him, and they could send him back–such is the legacy of the “chosen”. and when my father got home from work, he would play along with the deception. I wonder sometimes how long they left him there, alone with the fear of being sent back.

maybe they forgot that kids tend to take this type of thing literally . . . maybe they didn’t realize the terror that their words would cause in the heart of my small and vulnerable brother. Or maybe they were just that that cruel. I’m not sure I will ever know.

So these are the two images in my head . . . the young family, eager to add a little girl, and that same family, wanting “out” already with her brother at a young age,  re-evaluating fifteen years later and wishing she hadn’t been a part of the narrative.

I live with this dialectic every day. It reminds me of who I am. But today, I have a new piece to add to the puzzle. Once upon a time, I was wanted.