walk the plank

I just watched a profoundly disturbing video.

A 16-year-old boy used his cell phone to record what happened when he came out to his parents and grandmother. The boy's mother first told him that she loves him, then said that she follows the word of God, and as such would not be able to support her son in any way in his choice of lifestyle. She told him he could not live with her. He said he'd be out soon. The situation escalated to the point that the mother beat her son while screaming and calling him a piece of shit. The father and grandmother can be heard in the background, yelling at the boy.

Now, I don't typically click links I see on Facebook, particularly links to articles or videos that seem to be engineered to break my heart.

When I saw this link, it said something like, "boy comes out to parents, is beaten and kicked out," and I scrolled right past it, thinking, "yeah, and then I'll have an unmedicated root canal." But I came back to it. I don't know why.

Maybe I wondered why on earth this boy recorded this. Maybe I felt it was a little unseemly that a teen would record his coming-out, a private exchange between child and parents. Maybe I thought it was a little unfair to the parents that their knee-jerk, of-another-generation, unpolished reaction would be the one recorded for posterity.

And then maybe I felt like I needed to watch the video to make up for the fact that I was clucking my tongue at the poor taste of a boy who'd recently been hit in the face by his parents and dumped out on what used to be his doorstep.

As much as I hate the idea of clicking a link on Facebook and calling that "bearing witness," maybe that's what I felt I should do. Maybe that was the least I could do, from the chair by the window where I nursed my 11-week-old son, the two of us an over-warm bundle in the afternoon sun.

So I watched it.

Here's what I think:

Hey, Mom? Listen. I know. I can sympathize with what a blow this is to you. I know that this isn't the life you would have picked for your son. I know that you're hurting. I know how easy it is to take that pain personally.

I too have had a small taste of the child's innate, unequaled ability to drive a parent insane. I feel, some days, when both the boys are whining and it's too warm and it's been too long since I've had a glass of water, like I'm walking dangerously close to the edge.

Chicken bit me this morning as I tried to peel his wiry little fingers from my iPhone. I yelled "OUCH!" and then I yanked the phone out of his hand. I yanked it harder than I would have if he hadn't just bitten me, and Chicken, who had been leaning backward, hanging on the phone, stumbled and sat down hard on his bottom. He looked at me, confused, like "what just happened?" I fell to my knees and picked him up. I told him I was sorry, that when Chicken bit Mommy, she got mad and lost her patience. I told him I loved him. He looked at me like he was wondering why Mommy was talking so much, and squirmed to get out of my arms so he could grab my phone again.

If I'm being honest with myself, I understand the self-control blips. I get how mistakes happen, in the blink of an eye, how you can love your child with your whole heart, how you would protect him from any threat, and how you can hate yourself for fearing that you could be that threat. How sometimes you have to close the door on a colicky baby, or take a breath outside the car while the toddler screams and writhes in his seat. I think every parent red-lines. I think all of us have imperfect wiring.

Mom, Dad, I want to believe that it's possible that this was simply the worst moment of your lives. I want to believe that this was an isolated moment of insanity that you will regret forever. I want to believe that you will ask forgiveness, and find it.

But you know what?

You don't get to say "I love you but God says you can't live here anymore."

You don't get to say "I follow the word of God," and then punch your child in the face.

You do not ever, ever, ever get to call your son, who was once a soft bright-eyed infant like the one sleeping on my chest right this fucking second, a piece of shit. NOT EVER.

Do you remember that you were his first home? You were the first place in the world where he felt safe. When he got hurt, he ran through a jungle of strangers' legs to you, his face upturned, seeking the one person in the world who had the ability to kiss it better. When he was scared, he called out in the dark for you to protect him.

Let's take a little quiz. Since you are SO into the word of God. Which of the following passages is NOT found in the Bible?

A) Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck.

B) Beware that you don't despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.

C) Thou shalt shame, abuse, and abandon your child. Thou shalt teach him to hate himself so that he might be more like you want him to be, or if he will not hate himself, teach him that he is not worthy of the love of his parents, and cast him out. Become the voice in his head telling him that he is broken and ugly, for the rest of his life. 

(by the way, the answer is C)

So you're a Christian, right? You follow the word of God, right? Okay, let me just make sure you're understanding what that word means real quick.

I'm no Biblical scholar, but it seems to me that God says, "you know what? Instead of hurting a child, you should probably just go ahead and drown. Yeah, I'm thinking that, you know, in lieu of child-hurting, I'd prefer you experience the sensation of being dragged, flailing uselessly, into the eternal cold emptiness of the ocean. I know, I know. Hurting a child seems like something you should do! But I really have to advise that you just plunge into the depths and breathe the cold, salty water into your lungs until you choke on the burning and suffocate. That would actually be better than hurting a child. IMHO."

How can you call yourself a Christian and a mother and within moments absolutely violate the core values of both Christians and mothers? I am a Christian. I am a mother. I am heartbroken and enraged, and I would start a #notallChristians and #notallmothers trend if it weren't blatantly obvious that you are neither, no matter how many times a week you go to church, or how many hours you were in labor.

In my two years of mothering I've come to believe that I have been profoundly changed by loving my children. Loving them has been coded into my DNA. My love for them ripples through the valves of my heart and lives like a habit in my body. My love for them shades the moments of my day. I love them without thinking, like the things I say reflexively - "hey baby," "no problem," - or the way I always put my right shoe on first.

I love my children automatically, like the first gasp of air you take when coming out of the water. I love them mandatorily. My love for them is not an option. I was built for this purpose. So were you.

But parental love is also a choice. It's a series of actions. Loving your child means putting your money where your mouth is - or, perhaps more accurately, putting your hands where your heart is.

Parental love is packing lunches, learning lullabies, giving kisses and comfort at all hours of the night, taking deep breaths, banging your head against the impenetrable wall of teaching them to say please and thank you, forgiving them for hurting you even if they never say they're sorry.

Loving your child cannot just be an act of intention. You can't just say, "I love you baby; I meant to make you a really good breakfast." And you damn sure can't say, "I love you son, but you're a piece of shit."

I'm going to spend the rest of my day holding my boys close and telling them I love them, and that no matter what, nobody will ever, ever hurt them like that.

I pray that they grow up to be young men who roll their eyes when I make them come back for a kiss good-bye.

I pray that they never stop thinking of me and Ryan as home.

I pray that they choose good partners, and that they become fathers like their father, like my father and Ryan's father, who truly would rather throw themselves into the sea than lay a hand on one of their children, or make them feel ashamed of who they are.

I pray they are the kind of men who ask forgiveness for their mistakes. I pray they apologize for losing their tempers.

And I pray for the parents in the video I saw today, that their hearts be healed from the hate and rage that caused them to lash out at a child.

Actually, maybe I'll pray for them tomorrow. I'm just not that good a person, I guess. Right now the only thing I can wish for them is a pair of matching millstones and a North Atlantic cruise.


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