NOTE: This post may cause triggers of ASCI, PTSD and other forms of trauma.
Though this post strays from our recent recourse on living a clear and consistent life, it is equally necessary and timely. Therefore, I would like to share:
I am a Scary Mommy.
There I said it.
I don’t mean to be. In fact, it’s often the last thing I want. Ideally, I want to be perceived as the kindly, soft-spoken den mother that still gets things done. I want to be approachable and inviting. And if you know me, you know that I am just that…underneath my hard exterior. But most people can’t get past my exacting outer-shell.
I’m a lioness, an eagle, a mama bear. People tremble when they see me coming. Even those who love me tell me I’m intimidating and scary (not that they find me scary, but they have no problem understanding the perception). It’s not intentional. And, quite frankly, I hate it sometimes. But I have a filter problem.
My face and body will respond to things before my brain can process them. My subconscious will send forth a knee-jerk reaction so fast I can’t stop it. Honestly, in those moments, I only ever know what’s going on because of the face across from me.
As a result, I sometimes have to do extra work when trying to de-escalate circumstances. Or go the extra mile when even though I’m the one who was offended.
This proved true yesterday while attending a function at my friend’s church. I was called into the restroom because my son had had an accident. I always carry an extra pair of clothes though my son hasn’t had a bathroom accident in over a year. I arrived in the bathroom to find my son sitting with his naked bottom in a chair, his pants and underwear on the floor, and a paper towel across his lap.
Let me take a moment here to clarify exactly what happened inside me.
I am an adult survivor of childhood incest. Though the trauma I’ve endured will forever color my world – especially around child safety – it does not control my life. I know this about myself. I know that in my subconscious undercurrents there will always be suspicion around those who tend to and care for children. My knee jerk response to those who “love being around children”, namely the ones that aren’t theirs, is to question WHY?
The only respite comes when I remember that, well, I too love children. I appreciate their candor, their optimism. Something about seeing a kid embrace and explore their wonderment makes me feel like I can do the same. I’ve learned a lot from children about living, even before becoming a parent. Because that’s all it is for me, I have to consider that it might be the same for others.
However, my earliest childhood memory is one of being shoved in a closet at 2 1/2 and being sexually violated by a relative; someone within my inner circle who was supposed to love and care for me. Knowing that there are also people who yearn to be near that innocence in order to prey on it, stirs me to rage.
So when I walked into that bathroom, before I could process a thing, my neck cocked back like a 9mm glock chamber and my mouth hung open while my heart danced in my foot. I felt the shift in my neck after the fact. I heard the suck of my teeth a second too late. I didn’t feel them coming. I didn’t have time to stop them. They were there.
But I knew what that was. Standing there, I’d become a helpless, two-year old girl in a closet; not the fierce ass lady boss, legacy builder I am today.
Another younger version of me rose up to protect the girl-child within. The reckless, rambunctious me who vowed to “get them before they get me” was gnashing her teeth and clawing her way out, grateful for the prospect of wrecking shop. She didn’t trust me, the grown me – the woman who’d just become invisible – to find her voice and “handle” this. So I straightened up and I blinked until my mind was clear.
My son sat, legs just-a-swinging with a full on “cheese” smile planted on his face as he waited for me. My mommy gut said, He’s still the same kid. No damage done. He’s fine. Thank God! And YOU’RE fine, too. And an adult. This is not about you. Don’t make this about you.
I could tell from the youth on the girl’s face who was helping him (which, by the way, was not the woman I’d left him with) that she didn’t know any better. But (in my Kevin Hart voice) “They were all gon’ learn today.”
Now, I say that with all the love and mother henning I can muster. Not just for my child, but for this young lady too. I had no intentions of attacking or berating her once we spoke, but rather to impart some wisdom.
Granted, it was likely too late for her to believe that my intentions were anything amicable, but it didn’t matter because once I situated my son with his clothes and turned around to talk to her she was gone.
Throughout the night I attempted to find both the women – the one I’d originally left my son with and the one with whom I’d found him – and get them into one room. I wanted to know from their perspective exactly what had happened, and what prompted them to make the choices they did. Not knowing where to begin, I asked my friend to assist me (it was her church after all).
When asked to come and speak with me, they avoided me and looked at me sideways.
It was never said, but the impression I got having been on the other side of the coin a time or two (usually prompting me to leave a church) was: How dare this newcomer, enter our house of worship and say we did anything wrong?
Now, I won’t go into how they likely saw me as a tool of the devil coming in there. Or how the worst thing you could do is run from the devil in your own house (if that’s how they saw me). I won’t mention that I came to this place for more Jesus, but there was more of him in my living room than in that space. I won’t talk about the public servants’ responsibility to engage all people no matter how difficult, angry, divisive or scary you think them to be – because at the end of the day there’s still a job to be done.
No, I won’t talk about that. What I will say is that that whole thing was an epic failure of child safety. And I wasn’t having that – even if it meant Scary Mommy had to come out to play.
It took a couple hours, and several zigzags through the church, but I finally found everyone (except the friend that invited me) and got to the bottom of things. I expressed my heartfelt concern not only for my son, but for this process.
What if the next time it’s a little girl who – desperately needing to tell that someone has violated her but unable to tell who for fear what it will do to her family – points the finger at one of you? What if another boy, less verbal than my own, can’t tell his parents every play-by-play interaction, which compels them to unwittingly lead their child to an accusation with their line of questioning? And being alone with a naked child with your word against theirs. Why put yourself in a position like that?
I STILL DON’T GET IT.
This time it went differently, but only because of the child and the parent. Next time, they may not be so lucky. The very fact that someone would feel okay undressing another person’s child without the parent’s consent; a child and parent they do not know. There are all manner of implications about the mindset.
Again, I think the young woman in the bathroom legitimately thought she was helping. Nonetheless, she was old enough to know better, to think twice, to question whether or not doing things the way they always do with their members would be wise to replicate with an outsider unfamiliar with their ways. But that no one else saw fit to correct her, to include me, to apologize – it spoke volumes and confirmed that she was merely emulating what she’d seen and learned.
I was visiting, as was my son. I hadn’t been instructed to leave any change of clothes, nor had I been informed of their “community clothes” practice. I was never empowered with the information that would allow me to say, I don’t want that.
Forget the fact that I was called only because there weren’t any community clothes for boys in the ladies’ restroom. Let us suppose there were. Would I have been sought out; told anything?
It stands to reason that they would’ve changed my son and I’d have been none the wiser until I got the heap of wet clothes. Correction, if I got the heap of wet clothes. God forbid there were a catastrophe and I’m providing a description of my son and the last thing he was wearing…the last thing I thought he was wearing…the clothes I’d dressed him in. I’d be WRONG!
Every step of the way I was excluded from crucial decisions about my child’s care and well-being. And the thing about it that makes the whole thing so…scary, is that the moment his sacred body was exposed wasn’t even the epic fail, it was the manifestation of all the fails that came before.
- My child had been entrusted to the care of a church helper (at my friend’s recommendation). The fail on my part in hindsight?
- Said trustee then entrusted my child to someone else. Please note that if you’re entry into the circle has only been permitted because you have been vouched for, you do NOT get to vouch for anyone else. At least not until you prove yourself. Please note that a few hours, or even days, is not enough time.
- The new caregiver asks my child does he know how to sit on the toilet rather than do you know how to use the toilet. To a three-year old this means, “You want me to sit on the toilet.” My son, being the kid he is, said “Sure. I can do it all by myself.” And fell in.
- My son was DISROBED without my knowledge or consent.
- My son was DISROBED because caregiver #2 was LOOKING for community clothes.
- Caregiver #2 doesn’t know if I’d be okay with community clothes on my son…and doesn’t know my son to know if community clothes could be hazardous to him.
- Caregiver #2 didn’t find any boys’ apparel in the ladies’ room community clothes bin. So now I’m sought out.
- After fifteen minutes of praying quietly in the bathroom, I asked for help to navigate the organizational dynamics by the only person I knew there – the one who’d invited me. She offered to find the other two and bring them where my son and I now are.
- I’m left waiting for quite some time. A few folks came and chatted me up, but at this point, I have no idea what’s going on. When I look for my friend I learn something about this overwhelmed her and she’s skip out on the process. (Now whether this is because of her own internal stuff or something said to her I’m unsure. Though if it were the latter and I’d found out, it wouldn’t have been Scary Mommy that came to play. It would’ve been Serial Mom. Why? Because now I’m not only second-guessing the judgment, but also the character of someone left alone with my half-naked child! Hence, why I think I never got the answer. Because it wasn’t necessary for the process.)
- Folks are now talking about whatever was said, perceived or construed but I’m still not part of this conversation.
- Wait, people other than those directly involved are talking about this!
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.
Here I was a parent, fending off traumatic reverberation, praying my Mommy Gut is right, in a place I don’t know with people I don’t know trying to navigate a situation no parent ever wants to face. And I have to be the voice of reason. I have to be the peacekeeper. Here I am, in my moments of hurt – because there were so many right then – having to be the one to say “all is well.”
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. FAIL!
I felt violated – all over again. Here I am in a house of worship with other believers and not one person took the humble route. Not one elder, leader or person said, “Hey are you and your son alright?” No one said, “I’m so sorry you went through this. That could’ve gone very differently.” What if I hadn’t stopped myself in the bathroom? What if my tyrannical teenage vigilante had won the fight? What if my son had seen me physically assault another human being? At no point did anyone else emulate Christ, why would I? (That’s a rhetorical question).
If I were following their lead, there’s no telling where the night would’ve went. And believe me it was a struggle not to. But I wouldn’t allow myself to go there.
Though, for the sake of argument, let’s say I was being a hellion. Isn’t that even more reason for you to love the hell out of me? But I wasn’t being a hellion, I was being a mom. And not even a Scary Mom…okay, not intentionally. We established that.
Add to that I was abandoned in my moment of need. My friend, unable to help, never called in a proxy. At every turn everyone made it about them, but not one of them made it about the child.
My son knows about his sacred body and private places. He knows that no one is to touch him there. And he knows not to believe that someone will hurt his mommy or his dog or whatever because his mommy is a touch off. (We’ve discussed it but he’s never seen it. And I pray he won’t have to before his teen years).
It’s because of what we had in place before this momet that I believed my son in this moment. I believe he told me the truth because he knew he had nothing to fear in doing so. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his mommy would do everything earthly (and heavenly) possible to protect him…or avenge him.
But nonetheless, I still felt put in a victimized space. It was a double indemnity – someone does something inappropriate and when you say something you’re looked at as a troublemaker. And just to be clear, I’m referring specifically to my son’s partial nudity, not implying that something happened while he was half-nude. But nonetheless, the process is the same. Once something has been said, rather than look at the person, the process or the organizational dynamic in which this kind of thing could thrive, you’re instead told to keep quiet. Go along to get along and all will be well.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
I said something last night. And I’m saying something today. And I’ll continue to say something every day. Not always about this, or even about topics like this, but always for those who feel disenfranchised and lacking a voice. And always for those who can’t do it for themselves (for one reason or another). Always! Even if it means being a little (or even a lot) scary!
It’s likely I won’t be invited back to that church. And I don’t foresee volunteering to visit anytime soon. But I’m fine with that. If people there think I’m scary, intimidating and spawned from the devil it makes me no never mind, as the elders used to say, because I sowed a seed. Even if they decide to take all the same action in the future, they’ll think about that mom that came once. If it happens to bite them in the butt (pun not intended, but accurate) then they’ll really think about that boy that one time.
In the end, I think I did a pretty good of getting my point across. I even think I was pretty sweet considering the circumstances. Some might say I didn’t do enough.
The one thing I can say, I will always – every single time – choose Scary Mommy over the invisible little girl or the twisted teen. If it means the difference between my son’s safety/well-being and his potential pain then so be it.
If that makes me a Scary Mommy then… be afraid, be very afraid.
Until next time Legacy Leaders!
Your sister in the “Scary” struggle,
PS – I know we’re a little off-topic now, but I would still love to hear from you. I always want to know what’s on your minds. Have you, or your spouse/partner, ever found yourself in a situation similar the one described above? What’d you do? Had a different kind of moment where you had to balance your inner-“Scary”? How’d you do? Do you call it something else? Share your thoughts in the comments below.