#AtoZChallenge – Gracious

The only word that could describe her aunt was gracious. The other family on that hill, her second set of parents, were her mother’s sister and her husband. They were childless. Even as an adult, she ran between the two houses and didn’t really differentiate between her parents and her aunt and uncle. She loved them equally. Her aunt, like her grandmother, was a take-charge woman. Liberated, strong, but loving and above all, gracious. In so many ways, she saved her.

Her aunt was a teacher and she made a nice test student. She tested her for reading, math, all skills, from the time she was three or four years old. She insisted she be well-rounded and bought her a piano. She started lessons at seven years old. She had all the reading material that a girl could want. Between her mother and her aunt, they bought her beautiful school clothes in the nearest big city. She often felt like a princess. But, she was shy and most people didn’t know any of this.

Her aunt tried to teach her how to be a lady, but she was a tomboy. They lived in the country and all of her playmates, except two, were boys. She learned to play baseball and was the pitcher. Her aunt just shook her head. Her first love, for all of her life, were her dogs. Her uncle would find dogs by the road and bring them home to her. She would nurse them back to health. Her aunt would smile in spite of herself and shake her head again. She always found time to study and four hours each day to practice piano.

She had great respect for her aunt. She listened to her lessons about life. She listened to her lessons about their family. She particularly listened to her lessons about her parents. Her aunt desperately wanted her to go on into higher education and become self-sufficient. She didn’t really know what that meant then, but later she did and she appreciated her aunt’s push in that direction. She depended on her for so many things.

Later in life, when she was a very young woman, her aunt became ill. Her Daddy was ill. Her mother was ill. Her aunt and her Daddy died within three months of each other. She was forlorn. She still had her mother and uncle. She still had a large extended family. But, she felt the very fabric of her life being ripped out from under her. She was losing the families on the hill and she didn’t know how to cope.

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Emotional Child Abuse: Mother and Little Girl

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In a previous post, I told you a story about a little girl I once knew. Although most of this ongoing story is about the little girl, I want to introduce you to Mother. Maybe a small part of Mother’s story can help explain how the little girl found herself in such a terrible predicament within her family. I’ll have to warn you. I’m not terribly sympathetic to Mother though I am trying to develop a little understanding.

When I came to know Mother, the little girl was five years old and Mother was 35. An older mother to a child that young back in those days, to be sure. Mother had tried for a long time to have a baby. She was almost 30 when she succeeded. Mother’s pregnancy was difficult. The little girl found out later that she bore the scars of that difficult pregnancy. So, probably, did Mother.

Mother visited the town’s only doctor a lot. He was an excellent doctor but only had the knowledge of those times. But, he was wise beyond those years. Mother had a number of physical ailments that she was diagnosed with when she was between 35-40. Those, however, did not start plaguing her until a few years later.

Mother’s problems during her late 30s were less of a physical nature and more of an emotional nature. Mother had a problem with Daddy. At that time, I didn’t know what  that problem was as I was only a friend. I do know that, as a few years passed, the problem seemed to grow more severe.

The problem with Daddy was not the only source of emotional distress for Mother. Mother had come from a background that was emotionally difficult. Her mother, Grandmother, was a high-strung, temperamental woman who was cold and not particularly loving. Grandmother, to be honest, was mean. Though Mother would never have said so, Mother grew up in a family where the parents were not demonstrative with any sort of loving behavior. Grandfather was a kind, generous man but probably not outwardly emotional. Mother may never have learned how to love. That is what the little girl told me when she became a grown-up woman. She also said that Mother, as she grew up, was much like Grandmother – mean, temperamental, and cold.

Here was Mother – problems with Daddy and a little girl who needed her. A raft of physical problems and an even bigger load of emotional ones that she probably did not understand. No one to help but an old family doctor who tried his best and a sister next door who also tried her best. No one seemed to know what to do. So they did what so many families do. They hid and denied the problem, except among themselves.

Mother only looked outward for help. She looked to Daddy, the doctor, her sister, and even little girl. She failed to look inward and she did not try to help herself. Perhaps she couldn’t. Perhaps her problems were too severe. There is no way to know. The grown-up woman little girl became told me that, before Mother died, her emotional problems had only gotten worse, not better.

But, back to the story. Little girl wasn’t very old when Mother realized something. She realized that little girl was a great deal like Daddy as her personality developed. Mother and Daddy had never resolved their problems and, in Mother’s eyes, the worst thing that could happen was for little girl to grow up and be anything like her Daddy. She was supposed to grow up and be like Mother and her family. Fate has a way of playing tricks on us and that was not happening.

Since Mother could only punish Daddy to a point, wasn’t little girl a good substitute? Wasn’t she just like her Daddy? Wasn’t she like his family and not like Mother’s? That’s what Mother told me. Not that little girl was a substitute, but how much she was disgusted by the way she was just like Daddy. It was years later, when little girl was a grown-up, that she told me this one day.

Not only was Mother a cold, temperamental and unemotional woman, but she had a child much like a man she had grown to hate. On top of this, she had emotional, even perhaps mental, problems and no real help available. When I look back, I realize this was a recipe for disaster for that family.

So began the problems for little girl. Emotional child abuse. A form of child abuse just as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. It just doesn’t leave bruises or any physical scars, though Mother engaged in physical abuse more than once. Emotional abuse involves degrading the child, making the child feel that he or she is not good enough, expecting the impossible of the child, not being affectionate toward the child, and much more. It is not usually obvious to people outside the immediate family. Often, they think the child is acting out when they react to the abuse. But, children who are victims of emotional abuse are not acting out. They are reacting to what amounts to betrayal by their parent.

Child abuse of any type is the ultimate betrayal between a child and the parent. Little girl suffered that betrayal at the hands of Mother even though there were reasons that Mother acted the way she did. There is no reason for child abuse.

Follow this blog for the continuing story of little girl. Continue reading

A Child’s Salvation — the Horse

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It’s the week of the Preakness and perhaps that’s why I’m thinking about horses. The Preakness is important here in Kentucky. It’s the second jewel in the Triple Crown and this girl hopes Nyquist will wear it. Not only am I thinking about horses but I’m also thinking about horses and their people…..and the relationship between people and horses and how important that can be to both.

Long ago, so long I can hardly remember, I knew this little girl. She had two ponies during her childhood and, later in life, a horse. Meet her second pony, Mr. Ed, named after a rather famous TV show that aired back in the day. Her first pony didn’t work out for her as he was a stallion and her Daddy was terrified the stallion would kill her as he was pretty temperamental. Only she and the stallion knew the secret that it was really fine. The stallion went off to live at a farm and her Daddy brought Mr. Ed into her life.

The little girl didn’t take riding lessons until much later in her life. She seemed just to know how to ride. Mr. Ed was a Shetland pony but a rather large one. He was kind and gentle but fun for the little girl to ride. Sometimes, when he didn’t want to be ridden, he would just lie down on his side. The little girl would just laugh and jump off his back, barely in time, to avoid being crushed. The little girl’s Daddy watched in helpless wonder. She wasn’t even 10 years old.

Riding Mr. Ed wasn’t the most important thing to the little girl. You see, the little girl had some problems. She would not have described it like this, but in adult words, she and her mother did not have a very good relationship. Her mother was a sad and depressed woman. Probably clinically depressed though, then, that diagnosis didn’t even exist. She seemed to take her sadness and depression out on the little girl.

The little girl’s mother made the little girl feel unloved, like she wasn’t good enough, like she had to do better and better, be smarter, be prettier, than anyone else and maybe then her mother would love her. She was too young to understand that nothing she did was ever going to make her good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, to please her mother. Nothing was going to make her mother love her. She didn’t understand that the problem was with her mother, not with her. That understanding took years.

Mr. Ed was the little girl’s salvation. She would run to his red barn, in the moments she could get away from her mother, and she would sit in the straw, hiding in the corner of the barn. She would cry and talk to Mr. Ed. He would stand there, eating his oats and hay, and listen. Sometimes, he would even lie down with his head close to the little girl and sleep while she talked. She hid there as long as she could, away from her mother.

When the little girl grew into a teen-age girl, Mr. Ed watched for her to come home every day from school. She would go for a ride after school and stay with him as long as possible, even in the winter. He was still her best confidante. His barn was still her hiding place, away from the hurtful comments and the hateful face of her mother. She grew into quite a loner, preferring the company of animals to people. She had a hard time relating to most people. Her Daddy worked away from home most of the time and he was not there for support. She had a wonderful aunt and uncle close by, but the influence of her mother was too much and that of her aunt and uncle was not enough.

The teen-age girl started college and graduated early. She wanted to get a job and leave home as soon as possible. She, with her Daddy’s help, made arrangements for Mr. Ed before she left. He was old by the time she was 20 and ready to leave home. He had developed some laminitis in his hooves. He went to a farm owned by a large animal veterinarian in a nearby town, though he didn’t live long. The hoof problem was too severe.

The grown woman the little girl became will never forget Mr. Ed. She loved horses from then on. Mr. Ed had helped save her life and made intolerable emotional abuse almost tolerable.

If you are a mother who feels depressed or overwhelmed, go to your doctor and get help. If you are an adult child who suffered emotional abuse, contact the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.