my children are abusing me (part 1)

My Children Are Abusing Me
Part 1:
No, Seriously.
I Took a Quiz.

I was 5 minutes early to pick up Chicken and I ducked into the school bathroom to pee.

Hunched over on the toilet, limp with the relief of addressing my two core biological imperatives (to pee, and be alone) I looked up at the stall door and saw a flyer slipped into the cracked plexiglass sleeve that usually bears illustrated step-by-step instructions on how to wash your hands.

Today, though, it was a white paper with big purple letters: "Do you need help?"


What could this be? A behavioral psychologist? A sandwich artist? A cleaning lady? I needed them all, like, yesterday.

I skimmed the text and realized what it was - bullet points describing common signs of domestic abuse, and a large, bold 800-number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Oh, I don't need that, I thought. Not me.

But as I went back to read the words more closely, I bit my lip and tried to ignore both the knot in my stomach, and the impulse to giggle.

Point after point, I thought yes, yes, yes. 

This was me.

I was in an abusive relationship.

With my children.

This is what the flyer said:

1. Do you:

- feel afraid of your partner much of the time?

Only after 4:30 pm every day.

- avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

Why do you think I spell things like
(checks over shoulder, turns back, whispers, with fear in her eyes)
(A voice booms from the other room). "I want CANDY.

- believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

It's not that I'm a bad person
I'm just
a bad mother.
A better mother
would have handled this better.
Would have handled him
- wonder if you're the one who is crazy?

I don't wonder.

- feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Chicken poked his brother in the eye
for 20 minutes straight today
while they were clipped into the jogging stroller
and we were 2 miles from home.
There was nothing
nothing at all
to be done about it.
2. Does your partner:

- humiliate or yell at you?

Like, on purpose?
Or accidentally.

- criticize you and put you down?

I was getting dressed for a party
and I showed Chicken my party dress.
He gave me the up-and-down
and said,
"keep trying,
you'll get better."

- treat you so badly that you're embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

Oh, not just friends and family.
I'm embarrassed 
for God to see
how my kids handle
a walk in the double-stroller.

- ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

what happened, baby?

i knocked it over.

did you see that i just spent 20 minutes folding this?


will you please help me pick it up?

- blame you for their own abusive behavior?

I don't know if this counts but
when I told Chicken that biting his brother was not okay
he said
"I didn't bite him
You did"
and I said
"uh... no I didn't"
and then he said
"but you made me bite him
when you left us in the same room."
yeah I don't know
if that counts.

- see you as property or an object, rather than a person?

Yesterday Buster slid his hand
between the buttons of my button-down
grabbed my nipple in a tight fist
and said
I was surprised
and so was Jerry
my retired neighbor
who'd been in the middle of recommending
a cleaning lady.
3. Does your partner:

- have a bad and unpredictable temper?

oh I'm sorry
I thought that was a rhetorical question.
But you need an answer to...?
Okay, yes.
The answer is yes.

- hurt you, or threaten to hurt you?

I'm gonna
whap you
in your face,

- threaten to take your children away or harm them?

The other night I told Chicken
that I wouldn't come into the boys' room until morning
unless one of them was really badly hurt.
And he said
"I'll really badly hurt Buster then,
so you can come into our room."
And I said
"okay, let me clarify,"
and then Buster said,
"I kick Chicken,"
and Chicken said,
"no Buster, you have to wait
until tonight."

- destroy your belongings?

it was just a cup
of coffee
but it was everything
to me

4. Does your partner:

- act excessively jealous and possessive?

would the little one
sink his pearly fangs
into the dough of his brother's thigh
if said brother
I don't know
looked at his sippy-cup?
Sure he would.
If there was juice in it.

- control where you go or what you do?

I mean it's not them
so much as it is
just their needs
and schedules
and little whining voices
and laws about how old you have to be
before you can go into a bar
even if you're with your mom
and clearly not about to order a Jack & Coke
from the stroller.

- keep you from seeing your friends or family?

Airplane tickets to Nana
cost $400 a seat
you know
call her a lot.

- limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?


- constantly check up on you?

Only when they're awake though.



1. Domestic abuse is not funny and victims of abuse are not punchlines. People who have fraught relationships with their toddlers (right here) are also not punchlines. I am not making fun of hurt people. If you think I would make fun of hurt people, please stop reading now and never read anything by me again.

2. Unlike domestic abuse, Chicken and Buster's unreasonable demands and moments of insanity are hilarious, and the primary source of humor in this piece. Also, I will be playing the role of the Cathy cartoon in which Cathy fosters two young orangutans who have murdered their birth mother. ACK.

3. I am earnestly curious about the parallels between my relationship with my three-year-old and the abusive behaviors described on that flyer. I have questions about the striking similarities - how are abusers like toddlers? How do mothers characterize their toddlers' behaviors in comparison to how victims characterize their abusers' behaviors? Is this dynamic considered unhealthy between a mother and child? What does the widespread presence of such mother-child dynamics reveal about our cultural values? Do fathers feel victimized in the same way as mothers? Most importantly, how is my relationship with my boys distinct from an abusive relationship? The answer is somewhere in the word "power," but shit, like that narrows it down.

Because I am not a social scientist, I cannot offer answers to those questions. But I am a mother, and a person who is engaged in the kind of dynamic that social scientists find alarming, so I am going to do what I can do, which is walk into this particular bathroom stall, point at a flyer, and ask, "so hey, what's up with that?"



Because this post is too long so I cut it into two.

Sneak preview: Tomorrow you'll read about why my kids are NOT abusive, and why I'm NOT a victim who's defending them out of fear of what they will do to me if they find out I told.

Also, you have some homework. Tonight you should watch "The Mask of Zorro" if you haven't seen it lately (I say lately because WE HAVE ALL SEEN THE MASK OF ZORRO, stop lying.)

You can watch it for free on Amazon if you have Prime.


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