Sins of the Mother: Taking a Chainsaw to Generational Trauma
A letter to my son:
I spend a lot of time telling you what Little Me needed to hear growing up. I know that the words I say to my children will become their inner voice. I would know, because my inner voice is an angry woman full of criticisms of every aspect of my being. I am never good enough for my inner voice, because I was never good enough for my mother, and she was never good enough for her mother. And so this trauma passes over and over again, generation to generation. A whole family tree blooming with rotten fruit, season after season.
You started a new branch when you began growing inside of me, and from the moment you were there I knew I could never let her poison find you. While you were safe inside of me I knew I had to cut her out, which I used to think just meant cutting off communication, blocking her number, pretending she didn’t exist. But since you’ve been here I’ve slowly started to excise every part of her that took root in my bones and my soul. And then I had to figure out how to fill those holes in.
There in the dark and early hours, I cradled you up against the body I was raised to hate. Up to the stretch marks, the softness, the stomach she used to poke in disgust. That stomach wasn’t hers any more. It was mine, and I loved it, and it’s a part of what brought me you. It grew and flexed and changed because of life, life that she could never hurt. I spent all these years hating my body, but then it knew how to make you. The voice telling me to hate it began to be drowned out. It became ours: yours and mine, and you have that voice because somewhere deep in my cells was all that I needed to make such an incredibly complex tiny screaming voice box.
It’s just so much harder to hate this part of me that grew your feet, your arms, your perfect beautiful face that now has a small scar on the cheek because of your asshole friend, Jeff*, who can’t seem to stop trying to beat you up at preschool.
Your friend Jeff* really sucks. I know I shouldn’t hate a three year old, but I do. It’s my only flaw. I’m sorry. Jeff has taught you how to play pretend guns, how to alienate your classmates, and, as of late, apparently Jeff* has been imparting upon you the idea that boys play with boy toys and not girl toys. First of all, Jeff*’s dad voted for Tr*mp so I don’t know why I’m surprised. Jeff is only three, so I guess he didn’t vote, and I guess I don’t really hate him exactly, but I am really fucking mad that someone (not saying it was his shithole father, but it was absolutely his assclown Tr*mp-voting white male father) taught him that boys and girls have different toys and parts and all manner of boring old outdated patriarchal nonsense. I kind of forgot that people still exist who have those views, and those people are still procreating. And I kind of forgot that you would get ideas in your head that weren’t straight from the mouths of your Two Best Friends (Mommy and Daddy, of course. Not Jeff*.)
*names changed to protect the obnoxious, but seriously, I’ve never met a Jeff that wasn’t a complete asshole
And so it’s a Tuesday night at the hour of why-aren’t-you-asleep-o-clock, and you’ve just told me that I have to be Owlette (the girl one) and you have to be the Boy Gecko because you’re a boy, and dad has to be Cat Boy because, again, duh, boys. Both of your parents, god rest their patient souls, have managed to keep their heads from doing a full 360 degree rotation in abject horror. There but for the grace of god go I.
You’ve never heard that in our household, and that is a fact. Your dad does almost all of the laundry, and I get out the tools to fix things. We’ve taken great care to disrupt any and all gender roles that dare to darken our doorstep. We’ve never once said a thing implying that body parts and gender have anything to do with one another.
One night before bed I was almost certain you were asleep and I was about to tip toe my way out when I heard you whisper, “Mommy, you do not have a penis.”
– No. No I do not. You and daddy have penises and testicles. Mommy has a vulva and uterus, which is what helped grow you when you lived in my tummy.
He thought for a minute. “That is the fluffy part down by your bottom?”
I tried very hard not to laugh. I tried very hard to reassure you that I was just fine not having one, that that’s how my body looked, and that every body is different. I tried very hard not to repeat what I had been taught, that you were boys and I’m a girl and that’s just why and how it is.
But I forgot that in spite of my best attempts to explain to you that bodies are all different but wonderful, there could still be assholes like Jeff* and his asshole dad with their weird asshole ideas of genitalia correlating to toy preference. Listen, Jeff*’s Asshole Dad, no one asked for your asshole opinion.
I didn’t say that to you, though. I did say, “Well, Mommy is a girl and I like being Cat Boy, or Spiderman, or Marshall. And sometimes you like to dress up as a princess, or as Everest, and she’s a girl. And Daddy likes to be Owlette, and a princess. Anyone can play with anything they want!” You didn’t seem convinced as we bounced back and forth with examples. Eventually we all gave up and went downstairs to watch a show- because why talk theory about the PJ Masks when you can just watch them?
You begged for another episode, even though by now it was eight-million-years-beyond-your-bedtime-o-clock. I managed to distract you with the offer of sharing a snack and cuddling before we went up.
You were quiet for a minute, so I leaned in and told you gently: Even if you don’t feel like being a boy, that’s okay. You can be anything you want to be. You can play with any toys you want, and anyone who says different is not being a nice friend.
“I am a BOY!” you insisted.
I didn’t say yes, I didn’t say no. I just replied, “I’m so glad that being a boy makes you feel happy! I trust that you know what you feel like in your heart, and I believe you. If some day you decide you don’t feel like being a boy, that will be great too. You can listen to your heart and be whatever it tells you to be. Maybe you’ll feel like a boy, or a girl, or neither one of those. Mommy and Daddy will always trust you. We could never be mad at you for who you are, or what you like, or who you love.”
My anxiety brain kicked in to tell me that I was talking too much, that you were no longer paying attention. You weren’t really seeming to listen, but I hoped you weren’t listening in the way where I think you’re not listening but the next day at school I find out from the teacher that you dropped a toy and yelled “holy shit!” So I know that you absorb what I say even when I think you’re not hearing me at all. Whoops.
The other thing I need you to know is that I’ve salted the earth where I began. You are flowers, you are sunshine, you are bulldozers that we will use to move the earth to make room for our garden. I will never let you think that you could disappoint me. We will never not trust your heart. I won’t let a day go by without working to help you grow into yourself. I could never be upset with any part of you, or your body, or your heart that we grew together, just us, only us, there in the dark and early hours of the morning.