A slightly different version of this essay appears in the just released Trigger Points Anthology: Childhood abuse survivors experiences of parenting.
“I love you,” I say to my daughter.
“Of course you do. I’m awesome” is her response.
The mother in me smiles.
The girl I was shakes her head and wonders how would it have been to feel both loved and lovable while a child?
I do not know. I will never know.
It does not matter how wonderful my present. It does not matter who I will become. I can’t change the past.
The past is a country I never want my daughter to travel near or in. I am an exile from where I am from.
My family. Myself. My past.
There are no photo albums I want to share with my daughter. At least not yet.
My cultural pride is shame.
My native tongue is a memory I try to scrape clean so mud doesn’t cake out of my mouth.
My greatest gift of maternal love is to insist she get no heirloom.
My gift is to break the cycle.
And what I give her is something I didn’t own as a child.
I am not a child-girl-victim. I’m a mother-woman-adult. O.k., I am and will always be both.
I know my parents, her grandparents did the best they could. It was lacking. It was not enough. And because of that I am raising my actual daughter as well as my emotional self.
I carry my past in my skin like a birth mark, in my teeth like a cavity filled and as a ghost I can’t make real or go away who hovers, tethers and feels or refuses to feel. She is an invisible and palpable presence riding shot gun in my psyche at all times.
Sometimes I wish she wasn’t.
She is the foundation of the life I now live in. She is not where I live now. She’s not my living room or my kitchen or even my bedroom.
She’s the basement bottom and the foundation all else is built upon though. I can’t pretend she isn’t in the way I settle in doors, windows and choices.
Childhood was raged upon by the ocean during an astronomical high tide. Angry waves rocked the base and flowed through the bottom layers of my being.
Water marks and mold weakened wood which couldn’t dry without swelling even when the sea receded.
I weathered storms without coast guards or police to warn me, evacuate or take me to safety.
I endured extreme conditions repeatedly.
I passed for normal and pretended not to have been through tsunami trials. I went to school wet, hungry, shivering on the inside without homework or lunch bags or confidence.
My 11-year-old self was a bet-wetting girl who had her her period. She didn’t have access to sanitary supplies or clean sheets or bubbly showers. She went to school sitting on her hands, hoping blood wouldn’t mark school chairs.
Shame was a mold that grew in her cells. She held her breath, hoping it would keep others from smelling her. She didn’t know the words abuse or neglect. She just thought she was dirty, stinky and life was hard.
The little girl I was had less confidence than my own child does now. Sometimes I watch, stare and marvel.
Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts.
How can I keep my distorted old beliefs from seeping through my floor boards where my daughter’s bare feet cross?
I know I was a scrappy and innocent child warrior doing the best I could, but that is not what I grew up believing. I “knew” I was damaged and that something in me caused people to act bad. I can’t go back and give accuracy or truth to the me I was during development.
I inhabited faulty beliefs, a less empowered view of reality and marinated in fear.
I’m resilient but I bear the scars, the tree marks on the trunk of my being. This me grew out of pain. This me doesn’t want to raise my daughter in the place where I am from.
I know the world offers beauty, love and health. I’m eager, giddy and sometimes surprised. I bite into joy and inhale happiness. But not every moment. Not all the time.
Can I teach my daughter not to binge? Can I teach her to pace herself instead. Can I let her know she need not hoard or grab or hide her needs – she does not have to sneak for fear of going without?
Can I teach her to trust that there is always enough?
How can I model for her what I’m only starting to believe and she seems to already knows?
In some ways she is wiser than I – stronger. And that’s a result of my good enough mothering but it also means the childhoods we each inhabited can never be shared. Not really. Which is a blessing, of course, and also strange.
Will I tell her someday what and why I write? I’ve done so only outlining my story. Will I speak of the sentence of childhood?
How will I ever tell my daughter how sorry I am I was not whole from the beginning of her precious life? It’s not my fault but it’s even less hers.
I am her mother even as I was a wounded child.
Will I apologize for not being more present for conversations, picnics or swinging in the hammock?
Will I tell her why I sometimes need to go down to the basement of my soul to open up windows and let sunlight into the darkest, deepest and oldest crevices?
Zora Neale Hurston wrote: “There are years that asks questions and years that answer.”
My questioning is not yet done.
I’m learning to navigate my survivor identity and being a mother.
I am raising two girls still. My own and the child I was.
Will good enough truly be good enough?
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.