Pow-Pows on the Butt

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There’s a video circulating around the Internet in which a young Latino boy, Mateo, pleads his case with his mother in hopes of scoring one of the sugary cupcakes from the counter. “Linda, listen! Listen to me, Linda.” Linda won’t listen. Linda can’t listen. At 1:20 minutes in, Linda explains, “You and Kevin don’t listen so I have to give both of you pow-pows on your butt!”

The video has gotten so much play because Mateo is so cute! He stands there talking “so grown up” because somewhere in his young, developing mind he still believes that his ability to reason and negotiate can get him what he needs. I too was an articulate, sensitive and very intelligent child. I am the grown-up result of what happens when you hit a child. I am the grown-up Mateo.

As a side note, I have to say that I am continually amazed how children are fed refined sugar and then punished for being “hyperactive.” In the worse case, parents and their doctors will then start to flood the children’s sensitive nervous systems with high-powered amphetamines to “calm them down and help the pay attention.” Their “attention” was fine, thank you very much. You made this mess.

Those “pow-pows on the butt” are another cute euphemism for striking a child. You could probably list another ten without slowing down, especially if you were raised in the South. It is never okay to strike a child. This is not open for debate. If you disagree with me you are wrong. I will live, for the rest of my life, with the ramifications of this type of abuse. If you need proof of its damaging effects, you need look no further than my biochemistry. The “pow-pows” Linda doles out to Mateo and Kevin are not the last “pow-pows” they’ll experience in their lives. She is setting up their malleable psyches to believe that violence is the way to accomplish one’s objectives. Cut to: Mateo and Kevin facedown in the street as the pow-pows echo from racist cops’ guns. Abusive and racist cops are a huge problem in this country– but they are only part of the problem. They are acting in the same sick and violent system that begins with violence against children. I would bet you everything I have that every single cop who has been guilty of these crimes would give you some version of, “I got my ass whipped as a child and I turned out okay.” In fact, I have never heard any version of this statement come out of anyone’s mouth that I wasn’t silently thinking to myself that they were making my argument for me.

Physics’ Law of the Conservation of Energy teaches us that energy cannot be destroyed. When you send that violent energy into a child’s body, it does not go to work making them a better person. You are the one who needs to work on becoming a better person. When that energy enters the child’s body, it is going somewhere. They will self-medicate the pain until they can find a place where that energy can be directed in a way that they are convinced it will not bring them further pain. They will hurt animals or other children or if they are so disempowered by the experience they will simply rehearse the trauma over and over inside themselves, often recreating the painful abuse on themselves. The self-mutilation I have seen on child and adolescent Psychiatric wards would make your blood run cold. I can never “unsee” what I have seen. That violence originated at the hands of their abusers; it did not come from the children themselves. I am inflexible on this issue.

Who can act surprised at all that so many young boys are addicted to killing zombies in video game pseudo-reality? Yes, I said boys. I do not mean to pretend that girls are safe from violence mascaraing as discipline. But try telling me that there’s not a disparity between what people consider appropriate “physical punishment” for boys and girls, and I’ll punch you in the fucking face. Whoops. Sorry.

Verbal abuse, even saying things that damage a child’s self-esteem, can have similarly long-lasting effects. In public, I can’t even listen to what many parents say to their children anymore. It destroys me. It reminds me.

Perhaps the most dangerous component to this phenomenon is the Pavlavian relationship it sets up between nurturing and pain. The parents are the primary source of protection, shelter, and nurturing for the child. If that source also becomes the source of great pain, the child (even after she or he grows into adulthood) will naturally go to sources of pain for nurturing and sources of nurturing for pain. Is it any wonder that I ended up being married to a man who sent me to the hospital with his fists?

I can remember pleading with my mother to stop when she was hitting my naked legs with a stick. “I’ll worship you,” I cried, “You can be my god.” This only made her angrier; it only made her hit me harder. She wasn’t angry with me. She was angry with herself. She was in pain and that pain got transferred to me. She regrets this now and has apologized– and don’t worry, I’ve made her swear that she won’t read my blog.

At almost 49 years of age, I still break out in a cold sweat when I hear the sound of a belt buckle. This makes shopping for men’s clothes a treat, let me tell you. My father would whip my legs, back and ass with a belt. He would hold me up by my arm, my feet dangling over the floor. There is permanent damage to my shoulder. There is permanent damage to my spirit.

Decades later,  I allowed my father to die at home by coming home to tend to him when mother was no longer able. It was my final gift to him. As I fed and diapered him in the last weeks of his life, I could tell he “got it.” The boy he had hurt so much continued to love him. Maybe he had taught me about unconditional love. Through parched lips he said to me, “You’re a good man.” His final words to me were, “I love you too.”

I’ve forgiven my parents. Blaming our parents for everything that goes wrong in our lives is futile and useless, I think. I share these stories in hopes of healing. I also share them so that others may avoid having to deal with similar programing. If I can save one child it will have been worth opening myself up to criticism, the pain of remembering, and the embarrassment I still feel. Physical violence is a powerful way of embedding toxic shame.

When I face something fearful in my life (and I’m having to face a lot of fear lately) something deep inside of me is re-stimulated and I’m afraid that I’m going to get hit. I want to be free of that fear. I want to live a better life.

I’ve not given up hope that I may love again. I am so desperately lonely. Next time, if I am to be so lucky, I don’t want to seek love where I will be hurt. Even if something inside me says that that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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