Trigger warning: child abuse
My daughter, Immy, is a very active little girl. She also lacks spatial awareness and is very clumsy. As you can imagine, she is forever falling over. Most of the time she gets up and carries on as if nothing has happened. She is a very busy toddler after all and urgently needs to play with her toys or run around the room at full speed. But sometimes she genuinely hurts herself and needs comfort.
Today she fell off the sofa. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t catch her in time. She bumped her head and she started to cry. Tears began streaming down her face and she was babbling in a panicked tone. She can’t say many words yet, but I knew she was trying to tell me the fall frightened her. I instinctively scooped her up into my arms and gave her a cuddle.
I let her have a cry and babble incoherently about how she was feeling. Then I sang “You Are My Sunshine” as she looked into my eyes and started to smile. I wiped away her tears as I sang and we spent some time watching Teletubbies as she cuddled me. When she felt more settled and had regulated her emotions, she jumped off my lap to go play with her toys.
It was a beautiful moment. But in giving Immy what I never had as a child, I am reminded of just that. Memories come flooding back of similar incidents in my childhood. Like Immy, I was a clumsy child and often fell over. I was also emotionally expressive so often said “ouch” or cried when I hurt myself. However, I was not met with the nurturing response I needed.
“Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“You didn’t hurt yourself.”
Most of the time, I was called a weed if I cried. This is a slang term commonly used where I grew up and in some other parts of the U.K. It means “someone who is thin and physically weak or who is weak in character.” I can’t remember ever being hugged or reassured in any way when I hurt myself. I would try not to cry but sometimes it hurt too much. I would be met with insults or disbelief that it hurt that much.
One day, my sister fell off a swing. My dad rushed over to her and scooped her up in his arms. He always comforted her when she fell over and never called her a weed. I was five years old at the time and couldn’t understand why she was treated differently. I started to cry as I came to the conclusion that my dad didn’t love me.
I asked my dad why he hadn’t called her a weed. He looked at me and clearly didn’t know how to answer. I asked why he didn’t love me and he snapped at me not to be stupid. I ran off crying and asked my mom whether my dad loved me as I explained what had just happened. I also explained how this was a pattern. He always comforted my sister. He never called her names. He always believed her when she hurt herself.
My mom laughed as if the whole thing was silly. She made me feel stupid and like I was overreacting. She told my dad “just tell her you love her so she stops crying.” I don’t remember whether my dad told me he loved me, but I remember I had to apologize for offending him.
This memory was so intrusive. It completely spoiled the beautiful moment I had shared with Immy. Then other memories forced their way into my mind. Once, I sprained my wrist when I was seven. I couldn’t move my wrist, it was extremely painful, and I didn’t know what sprains were so I thought it was broken. I was mocked by my mother for thinking it was broken. She didn’t seek medical attention. She cut the toes out of an old sock, made me wear it on my wrist, and that was that.
My wrist began to heal, but I forgot it wasn’t fully better. I used to play a game each time I went down the stairs. I would see how far I could jump to the bottom. I would jump from about halfway down and land like a frog on the floor. Kids do weird things and I happened to be a weird kid. I made the jump and landed like this, and I hurt my wrist again. I ran to my parents, crying. I fell to the floor because I was in such pain. They were laughing the whole time, even when they asked me what was wrong.
There were no hugs or comfort. I was mocked for the rest of the day. They did impressions of me and made jokes about how I looked like I was praying to Mecca when I was on the floor. My parents disliked Muslims, so this “joke” was hilarious to them.
I told my husband about these thoughts and how this happens a lot. I will have a lovely time with Immy or we will share a beautiful moment, and it’s tainted by unwanted memories of my own childhood. Speaking to my husband about these memories helped, as his reaction was validating. He agreed my parents were cruel and couldn’t imagine ever doing that to Immy because normal parents instinctively want to protect and comfort their children.
I looked at Immy reading her books as if nothing had happened. She was her usual happy self again. She ran up to me and said “a book!” as she passed me what she was reading. As I started to read to her, I thought about how having these thoughts isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, they are painful and I would rather not have them. But they are telling me that I am breaking the cycle. They arise when I am parenting well and giving Immy the love and support I never had.
They are just memories. They are not happening to me now. What’s happening right now is I am able to give all the love I saved up during my childhood but had no one who wanted it. Now I have a little girl who needs all of the love, support, and hugs I have been dying to give someone ever since I can remember. And that’s why when she has children and shares beautiful moments with them, she won’t have any past trauma resurface. She will just be living the loving example I set her.
I’ll make mistakes. And there will be times when I fall short as all parents do. But Immy will never have to question whether I love her. The way she looks at me with her big brown eyes, full of trust, makes my heart ache with love. She knows she can rely on me. She knows I am always on her side. That’s more powerful than any of the intrusive thoughts I have.