I am four, maybe five. I am standing in the backyard of my babysitter’s house. Her daughter, a whole head taller, has pantsed me. I don’t know what is happening, this is not all in good fun, this is aggressive and the most embarrassing thing I have experienced in my five years.
The babysitter peers out the window and yells, through the pane of clear glass, KINNDRUHH, PULL YER PANTS UP!
I do. Not simply out of shame but out of confusion. Why she is yelling at me–does she think I just like to moon the backyard?
This happens often with the babysitter’s daughter. She is a terror, a bully. She wets the bed every night; sometimes she hipchecks me so I fall into the urine-soaked sheets. She locks me in the bathroom; the toilet filled with her feces. The babysitter comes in and scolds me for not flushing.
I have no advocate. The babysitter has several of her own children, in addition to the 4-8 other children in her care each day.
One day the daughter locks me in her bedroom. She is naked and attempts to urinate on me. She takes a pair of scissors to my blanket, my only line of security at the babysitter’s house.
We are not allowed to watch television at the babysitter’s, although she catches up on Phil Donahue as we play with a sad set of beheaded dolls. Sometimes our morning activity is picking lint out of the carpet. There is a True-Value hardware yardstick that my sister and I both remember; the enforcement of the babysitter’s law.
I still hear the echoes of the babysitter’s daughter and me in the basement. I am always being forced into something over which I have no choice by the babysitter’s daughter.
When I turn 6, we go to a new babysitter. She is lazy but she is not unkind. She takes us to a suburban swim club every afternoon. I am afraid of having to get changed at this new babysitter’s; I am afraid of being attacked again. So I stay in my play clothes. I never go swimming. I stay dry, on land, where I feel safe.
I stayed there by the proverbial poolside for a long time, afraid to plunge into those memories. They rattled around in me; disordered eating an unsurprising residue of the abuse. And that’s what it was: abuse. But all those years, I couldn’t name it. I thought abuse entailed requisite bruises at the hands of a surly drunkard, as portrayed by afterschool specials.
I have heard child abuse defined as anything that is not nurturing to a child. Are you a child abuser if you occasionally flip your lid? I don’t know. What I do know is that a pattern of behavior that was not in a spirit of nurturing but in a spirit of negligence and dominance messed. me. UP. Many children endure far worse. Are enduring far worse. My wounds are barely visible, but they run deep.
My parents are more or less aware of what went down in those years. I do not blame them. They are good parents.
Still, I struggle in my private pain to navigate a world where the abuse affects everything, from childbirth to contending with close talkers. My history reaches out to touch everything I do, but I don’t want everything I do to reach back into my history.
I am hyper-vigilant with my own children. I will do just about anything in my power to keep them from harm. In our family, we have a policy. We try to avoid the word “secret.” Something might be special to us, or we might be holding on to a present as a surprise, but nothing needs to be kept secret.
This was the impetus for this tell-all. My daughter’s teacher knows our policy on “secret” and sent home a note as she observed our daughter using the word secret relative to a picture she had drawn–this incredible teacher knows and cares and I am so thankful for her. There is nothing lighting up red on my radar screen concerning Baby Girl. I pray there never will be, but in the meantime, this alliance within our family and with a teacher and perhaps with you, dear readers, feels like progress. Progress, toward a more peaceful world where children are safe and free to feel whole while hanging out in the backyard.