“Ugh, I know, I know.” My mother sighs, on her recent trip here for the New Year. “I was a horrible mother, and I didn’t protect you. I think I’m ready for some tequila now.”
She was, kind of, being dramatic.
And also kind of not.
It is true that she didn’t protect me from my stepfather. He came into my life when I was seven years old. I was willful, strong, confident, and sure of what I wanted. My mother was young and lost in love, stars in her eyes over the high school sweetheart that had returned to her.
He was macho, all bluster and ball swinging.
“You want me to take care of it?” He turned to my mother and asked one night. I was fighting bedtime again, as I always did. He had just moved in with us. I was eight.
And she let him.
He got up, picked me up off the floor where I was crying, and put me in bed. And then he spanked me.
“I’ll give you something to cry about.” One of his favorite expressions.
Now, before you go feeling sorry for me and sending me sympathy cards, I was not traumatized by this experience. It is a familiar one to many, many kids.
And my stepfather was no more a monster than all the other dads on the block just like him; there were a lot.
I was certainly shaped by those experiences though. I hated my stepfather for years and years. And I never understood why I had to go to sleep when I wasn’t tired. I never understood why I couldn’t talk on the phone past a certain time. I never understood why I couldn’t play with boys in the front yard anymore.
There were so many arbitrary rules laid down in my house.
“Yea, you’d have your mother locked away in a cabinet if I wasn’t around. You’d run circles around her.” He’d say.
“But we’d feed her.” I’d respond.
And he’s probably right. My mother was never a strong disciplinarian. She didn’t understand the point of arbitrary rules anymore than my siblings and I did.
So now I’m a mother of two, with strong, willful, independent girls of my own, and it is my time to give to my kids what I spent my whole life fighting for: freedom.
I don’t enforce bedtimes.
That doesn’t mean my kid is up until all hours of the night. I’m a working mom, so I need a break. I certainly go through the routine, bath time, books, brushing teeth, etc. a the same time every night. But I don’t insist she go to sleep. She has a book light, a walkman, and her stuffed animals. She can stay awake until she falls asleep on her own, reading or playing quietly in the dark.
She dresses herself. I buy the clothes. She puts them on herself, every single day. Some days are wonderful combinations of color and style. Other days… not so much.
She can eat as much or as little of her meals as she likes. There is always an array of veggies, fruits, grains, and protein on her plate, and she gets to pick what she eats from her plate. But she can’t ask me for treats if she didn’t eat her fruits and veggies.
I homeschool also for freedom’s sake. We “unschool.” So Celaya gets to decide what she learns, what she reads, what she plays with each day. I guide, I provide the resources, and I answer lots of questions, but she is driving her own learning train.
I spent my entire childhood being told, essentially, to sit down, shut up, obey, do as I’m told, with little explanation as to why and no concern for my feelings whatsoever.
I then spent more than an entire decade resisting, rejecting, rebelling as an adult, finding my own way to a freedom that was good and pure as opposed to vicious and violent.
Now, at the other end of the tunnel, in the light, I get to break the cycle.
I get to give my child freedom.
Imagine what she will be able to do with that.