There is only one other time that I felt this happy, this proud, or had my heart filled with this much joy. That was October 16, 1996, when I delivered a healthy boy into this world. I had already known the pain of losing a pregnancy due to domestic violence five years earlier, and I vowed this precious gift would not go through that kind of life.
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But sometimes, things are easier said than done. Before I became pregnant, my husband was emotionally abusive towards me about my weight and my friends, and he shot down my dreams. Then he became jealous of our child. He became agitated and blamed that sweet little boy for our financial problems, smacking him off a child’s chair at the age of 11 months and screaming at him “It’s your fault.”
Our physical fights began then. He showed my son for the first three years of his life that to be a man you had to hit those you love most. And he would say things to my son like “Mommy wanted you, I didn’t” when my son wanted his attention. At bedtime my husband would lock our son in his room.
My son was afraid of thunderstorms, and when he heard thunder at night he would scream, cry, and bang his whole body against the door. I will never forget the sound echoing down the hall, while my ex-husband blocked me from getting to him as he told me that this was how our son would learn not to be afraid and to be a man. The fear and violence in our home had a large impact on my son, leaving him emotionally backwards for a long time.
Whenever I said I was going to leave or when I tried to walk out the door, my husband would take my son out of my arms and threaten to hide him. But one day something happened that made me finally decide it was the end. One day when my son was three and a half, he reached out in anger over not having a cookie before dinner and struck me across the face. A moment later my son beamed when his father praised him by clapping and saying, “Good job, that’s my boy. Show mommy who’s the boss and do it again.”
At that moment, I had a vision of police leading him away to be locked in jail for injuring, or even worse, killing someone. Three weeks later on February 10, 2000, I packed up a pickup truck with what I could and came back to my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts.
But that was just the beginning. I had no job skills and didn’t even know how to budget. My son, who still wasn’t potty trained, who was afraid to talk, who was withdrawn, and who was in some ways destructive, watched me run myself to the ground by working two jobs with crazy hours. Strangers kind enough to baby sit watched him for me.
A year later by February 2001, I hit rock bottom. I could do no more and couldn’t hold together any longer. We were in danger of losing our place to stay, the car couldn’t be repaired, and my job was almost gone. My son watched as I went to the bathroom with tears in my eyes and shut the door. I’m thankful he did not see the bottle of pills in my hand, and I’m glad he couldn’t read my thoughts of defeat and sending him back to his father, or even of taking enough of those pills to permanently sleep.
The quiet little knock on the bathroom door and the small voice asking, “Mommy, are you okay? Do you need a hug to feel better?” made me stop. I looked in the mirror, and I thought how could I think of leaving that little boy, when he needs me the most. So I got up and cried as my son put his arms around me and said, “I love you, Mommy.” And I went to my best friend, who is here with me tonight. He talked with me all night and made sure I got to a counselor the next day. The counselor told me that I had two choices: to go into an emergency shelter and wait for an opening to a program called The Second Step, or DSS could take my child and, then, help me.
For the second time in a year, I left behind things I had worked hard to make, things I had bought, things that were of sentimental value, including a dollhouse my grandfather had built with his own hands for me when I was seven. I left with what I could pack in two suitcases, for the sake of my child. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
After six weeks at an emergency shelter, we arrived at The Second Step on April 9, 2001. I knew what I was going to do, and I was prepared to do it. My motivation was to see my child live a life free of abuse, a life different from my own. Bedtime problems still existed with Joseph and he would still scream, cry, and strike out in fear at me. He was apprehensive about being in yet another strange place, for we had moved four times since I left my ex-husband.
The kind, caring staff worked with me to establish a bedtime routine. They came up with the brilliant idea of leaving a walkie-talkie by Joseph’s bed so if I was not in the room when he woke up, he could communicate with me instantly. Some problems still exist, and The Second Step continues to stay by my side to help and to offer advice, encouragement, and ideas. The staff doesn’t solve your problems for you, but instead gives you the skills to conquer your own mountains, one step at a time.
My child is now five and a half, and the difference within him is like night and day. He not only talks up a storm, but he learns fast. He is no longer the shy little one in the background, but is now the leader of the group. Best of all, he knows, he KNOWS that there are alternatives to hitting.
I have heard a shocking report that 70 percent of boys in domestic violence relationships will grow up to be abusers themselves. Because of the support of The Second Step and others around him, my son will be in the other 30 percent. This night is very significant for many reasons. Not only do I stand before you as a survivor, as a winner, as a proud mother of a child who has been given a second chance, but also as a person, whose eighth wedding anniversary would have been yesterday, May 7th. Instead, I am here celebrating success and happy to be alive with you. Thank you.