Wednesday 16 January 2019

I, the child, have a voice

Family & Social Solidarity Minister Michael Farrugia has just come out with what many who have suffered at the hands of their natural parents, are seeing as very hurtful, ill-informed remarks regarding foster care, and children who get upset at imposed visits to their natural parents. In answer to this, Mary* tells us her story

(*NOT her real name. The decision was taken that out of respect for her immediate family and other close relatives, the identity of the author is being kept confidential).

“From a very early age, I remember a mother who didn’t hug me or kiss me much – actually, I have no memory of her doing so. When I started school at 5, I was shipped to my aunt and uncle’s home to stay with them and my beloved paternal grandmother (one of the most loving beings I’ve ever met) on weekends and holidays. I’d spend the entire summer in St. Paul’s Bay with them. As a mother myself now, I can’t imagine having my son live elsewhere for days and months.

I don’t even remember my mother visiting much – perhaps she did and I erased her from my memory. My aunt is my Dad’s sister. I loved my Dad – he was my hero – but he worked a lot to provide for us. I remember him getting home late, around 8 pm. By then, stuff would have happened.  Here are just some examples of how my mother treated me:

1. She would send me out in torn, worn clothing, while taking the nice clothes my aunt and Nanna had made me, and give them to the creche so they would say what a good Christian she was.

2. She would leave me at home in winter wearing something flimsy, which had me getting sick every month. My health was very fragile as a child.

3. She would lock me out of my room and leave me on my own for hours while she and her lover f***ed on MY bed (I imagine now, so that my Dad wouldn’t “smell” what they were doing all day long). Incidentally, the man happened to be my father’s colleague and best friend.

4. She would drag me the length of the corridor by my hair like a caveman would do with his woman while I kicked and screamed in pain (it hurt!).

5. She would force me to eat stuff I loathed.

6. She would threaten me with needles if I didn’t keep “secrets”. She said she would run the needle through my arm and twist it. She kept an injection needle in her drawer so she could show it to me at those times when I would resist.

7. She never once said she loved me or cuddled me, not even when I was sick. I remember Dad coming home and being my saviour – it was such a relief not to be alone with her any more! To her, I was pretty much a nuisance, a baby who came after my brother was stillborn a year before me – and she never failed to show me this. Her brother was even worse (he once had me in a room alone. Two things he told me: 1. that I’m ugly, stupid, and will never amount to anything in life and 2. After showing interest in a Victorian style vial he had in a cabinet, he told me it contained poison and if I wanted, he’d give it to me so I could end my miserable life.

Me, being the chatterbox that I am, as well as fearless, I spilled the beans to my Dad, a man I idolized. I did it during one of those lovely,memorable days when he had taken me to his office to sit with him as he worked. He had no clue my mother was cheating on him – with his friend, too. I was 7 at the time. One day in January, after I’d spent the Christmas holidays with Nanna and auntie, he told me I wouldn’t be going back home because my mother was sick and he didn’t want me to “catch” it. Rather than protest, I rejoiced. I didn’t even ask how she was doing as the weeks passed. I had no bond with her and I feared her. I hated seeing her because it brought only pain to me; a feeling of not being wanted and loved, and I certainly didn’t feel safe.

My Dad had to go back to her. I didn’t understand at the time but it was something about them getting a separation. He lived with her under threat that she would poison him each and every day, to the point he was afraid to eat or drink anything at home. She really did have mental issues and I think her father also used to mistreat her.

I do believe now that she was/is a sociopath.

Fast forward. My Dad engaged a prominent lawyer to handle the separation and custody. It wasn’t hard to get me because my mother gave me up just like that. But, she wanted to see me. I remember the day the lawyer came and sat me on his lap and I told him, “One day I’ll be just like you because I can!” He smiled, and explained why I had to go to see my mother. I protested and protested and cried my heart out. In the end, I saw I had no choice. BUT I did tell him that if I had to do it, it would be on my terms. I would see her ONLY in a public place and with my father or aunt present some distance away.

So it happened. We met at the “logog” where the parliament building sits now (how ironic!) and she came. I was around 7 or 8 at the time. In that half hour, I did nothing but scream at her about what she did to me and why I will never, ever love her.  She got so embarrassed, she left before the time was up. But of course, rather than say “sorry”, she had the gall to tell me, “They’re brainwashing you!”

I think this hurt more than anything; the knowledge that she thought she had done nothing wrong (and she still doesn’t). My family always tried to soothe me and calm me down after the meetings and never talked badly about my mother – ever – but every time, all the memories came back. One never forgets. Really, all you do is deal with the grudge, live your own life, but you don’t forget.

So, during these meetings, after a while of me hurling abuse, she stopped showing up. She gave no notification – she simply had me go there to the usual spot, and she didn’t come. For me, it was a small victory. I didn’t want to see her.

Fast forward 6 years, and she tried it again. I still didn’t want to see her. She terrified me but I would never show her that. My aunt had worked hard to get me to do well in school (I was hopeless), and my Dad had remarried. He loved me a lot but now, another woman came in the picture. I respect her a lot now but back then, I was so vulnerable and I thought of myself as Daddy’s girl.

I felt like I always had to take the high road with these adults who should have known better. I was the one who had to do things to satisfy laws built to protect THEM and not ME. Especially with my biological mother. Again, I was forced to see her through a court judgement. The judge was kind – I went in there and told him calmly, “I know you’re going to make me see her no matter what I say so I won’t argue about that. What I will do is tell you WHERE I will see her and that is not at her home, and I don’t want to be alone with her. I will never be in a room alone with my mother.”

I insisted that I would meet her inside the law courts building. So the judge told me what a strong young lady I was and that I will go far in life, whatever I set my mind to doing (yes, he actually said that) – and he granted my wish.

And the meetings started. This time, I used a different tactic. I played the silent game. She would come, start talking to me, and I wouldn’t say a word. Even when she hurled abuse at me. I’d open a book and read. Once, she had a court employee come to talk to me to “urge” me to talk to her. I told him I may be only 13, but he knew better. He needed to mind his own business and not interfere in situations he knew nothing about. He got the message and after that day, she never came back.

I never saw her again until I was an adult…but this is about children so I won’t get into this part of my life.

So, I was a strong-willed child where it mattered, but it didn’t come through osmosis. I was strong yes, because it’s in my blood, but also because I was given security. It took me long years – decades – to get over what she did. But at least my Dad did all he could to get me into a good situation. I love him just for that, and he’s taught me a lot about resilience.

My mother taught me about the darkness that resides in humans. Who wants to be forced to face darkness every day, every week, every year of their early lives? Which child wants to be reminded that there’s someone in their life who doesn’t want the best for them, or worse, wants to hurt them in unimaginable or subtle, hidden ways? Which human being would condone a situation where a tender mind would live in fear that the next day would be the one when they would have to suffer all over again in a never-ending carillon of sadistic, horrific situations that the “adults” making decisions for them have thrust them into? Adults, mind you, that SHOULD have the children’s best interest at heart. Adults who will not recognize that children have rights – a right to live without fear, and a right to receive proper care and love. Only then will they dare to dare to hope and dream.

I dared to dream because my caregivers eventually gave me the greatest gifts of all – unconditional love and security.

Children do NOT owe anything to anyone. The adults in whose care they live are in effect those who owe them everything because children are the products of an adult’s wish – or mistake, however you want to look at it – and exist only because they were “made” to exist. They didn’t ask to be here. We have children; so it is our responsibility to see that they grow to be positive, productive members of a future society. They have no debts to pay. We’re the ones who must pay up by raising them in a manner that won’t lead to them leaving an undesirable footprint on this planet.

Ultimately, nobody, and I mean nobody – including any fool in parliament – has the right to say that children should make an effort or suffer so they can get perks of inheritance (or whatever that means) from their biological parents or to satisfy some deep-seated need of such parent (who’d abandoned the child in the first place, for whatever reason). And certainly, above all else, no rights of ANY adult should be placed above the rights of a child. Never. Ever. No exceptions.

In doing so, we perpetuate the global mindset that our bodies and our minds do not belong to us but to our parents, the government, a spouse, a religion – or whatever institution or force wants to lay claim to or break our human spirit from day one. I, the child, should not belong to a parent who hurts me, abuses me, neglects me. I, the child, have a right to stay where I am secure, and where my basic needs are met. I, the child, am not being a brat by refusing to see the person who has caused me emotional damage or more. I, the child, have a voice.

So this is me – raw, naked, the way I was made. Things could have been much, much worse, and I know it. If I didn’t have the security and love and support system I had, I’d be an utter mess! What if Auntie, Uncle, Nanna and Dad weren’t in the picture? What if all I had was her – my so-called “mother”? All she did was lie back while they pulled me out of her womb, so that gives her the right to “own” my early years? To keep haunting me…

What if she’d sexually abused me, too? What if she’d cut me with knives and actually drove that needle through my arm? What if she burned me with cigarettes? Would we want parents like that to have their “minds at rest” that the children would have to see them, no matter said children’s vehement objections? Objections to having to be faced with their tormentors, or at the very least, people who care nothing about them.

If a law seeks to ensure this, it is a cruel law indeed.”



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