Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dear Ehren: There is no shame

Dear Ehren,

For the past 23 years, I've been hiding a big dark secret. I've been ashamed. I've lived in fear of what other people would think of me. My entire adult life, I've held this secret close and rarely let a colleague know. My inlaws and extended family and 99% of my friends have no idea that I'm hiding something. So, here it goes:

For nearly 3 years I was raped in my own home repeatedly.

That it. That one statement has owned so much of my life. I have given it so much power over my existence. My life has been ruled by fear and shame of what others might think of me. So, dear son, I told you grandma and grandpa about this, and some other abuses, and this is how the conversation went.

Grandma G: You really seem upset with your mother about something
Me: Yes, I am. This isn't going away anytime soon.
Grandma G: It really can't be that bad.
Me. This is something I've hid for a long time in fear and shame.
Grandma G: (Gives puzzled look)
Me: For most of my childhood I was physically abused by my mother and her partners. And I was sexually abused by a live-in baby sitter for years.
Grandma G: Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that.
Me. Yeah.

And then, you know what happened? Nothing. There were no repercussions of telling these people about the abuse. They loved me for me. The horrendous response I always feared was all in my head. I realized something that day, I have nothing in my past to be ashamed of. I did nothing wrong. That's it. I. DID. NOTHING. WRONG.

What happened to me were the actions of an adult who wrongfully pursued a 6 year old for sexual pleasure. An adult man who violated parental trust and raped, molested, sodomized, and assaulted an elementary aged girl repeatedly in her own home, bed, living room, and parents' room. A man who knew I wasn't related to him and justified it because "it wasn't incest." This man had previously been accused of abusing another child. This man would have continued to abuse other children had a teacher not been bold enough to teach us about inappropriate touching.

I reported the violations of my innocence to my teacher. The resulting years of the trial and all of its accouterments were hard. They were miserable and demeaning, but the process allowed me to take someone who preyed on young girls out of my community. I was cheated out of the financial settlement of the trial (enough to pay for 1/2 of my tuition) and I was heckled and bullied by ignorant classmates. I did not have much of an understanding on how these incidences would impact my life at 12 years old. I just knew that present time was awful and that I was miserable.

Looking back, there were so many markers that should have told my family I was being abused. There were so many ways a more attentive set of parents could have helped me. There are so many things that could have been different, things that I would change if I could. However, I no longer regret standing up and defending myself. I recognize today that what I did was brave, that how I handled it was mature and adult-like, and how I responded in my own life has been remarkable.

I learned from this horrible time in my life. You will still have baby sitters, you will still get to visit other people's houses, but we won't have any secrets. You, son, will not be intentionally exposed to this abuse, nor will you be naiive to inappropriate touching. I will make sure that you know that your body is your own, that you control who can and cannot touch you and where. I will empower you to be bold enough to say no if in this awful situation and teach you to be resourceful enough to end the abuse before it can even start. Most importantly, I will show you so much love and respect that you will never fear telling me about anything. You will always know that you will be met with love, no matter the subject matter.

I am not the first generation in our family to be sexually assaulted as a child, but I will be the last. This is my promise to you.

With much love,


Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear Ehren: 1 Year

Dear Ehren,

Today, you turned 1 year old. You became a toddler. I am still forever going to call you my baby. The days now look remarkably different than a year ago. On your first day I couldn't walk, get up to care for you, hold you unsupervised, or nurse you alone. Today, we went to the doctor, nursed in 5 different locations, ate cupcakes at the splash pool, drove an hour to pick up and drop off some wraps, ate dinner at Red Robin, and took a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel to celebrate your first revolution around the sun.

The days look remarkably different, but so much the same. You are still our bright-eyed chameleon - one day a Gruss the next a Samaniego. You are well bonded to mom and dad and love to be held and worn as much as you ever did. You are fiercely independent and adorably vocal.

From the moment you were born, it was obvious that you would keep us on our toes and provide us with endless hours of entertainment. From the first smile, first roll, first crawl, first ball throw to the dog to your last days of formula, final worm crawl, and last toothless smile it has been an adventure. It never stops changing, and right now that feels so right.

Also, we're still breastfeeding. Not that it's any one else's business.

Love you always,


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dear Ehren: Ending the physical violence

Dear Ehren,

When your grandma had me, she was still a teenager. From the beginning, her choices left her in a position where she was ill-prepared to care for me. She did her best, drawing on the examples she had from her own childhood. Unfortunately for all involved, the cycle of abuse and neglect goes back for generations in our family. Having a baby as a single teen mother is no easy feat, and your grandma soon found a partner to help her. This partner was the first to hit me, but not the last.

Grandma married this man when I was about 1 year old and concealed from me that I was not his daughter. A few years later your uncle was born, and we all lived in a small house together in a rural community. I noticed from a young age that I was treated differently. The realization that it was because I was unwanted "excess baggage" didn't come until I was an adult. I suffered physical violence at the hands of my "dad", "grandparents", mom, aunts, uncles, other male partners of my mom's, and babysitters. When I recall moments of my childhood, the strongest memories that come to mind involve being struck or abused in some way.

You should know that I didn't take it all without fighting back. I often put my hands in the way so that it was harder to hit me and would try to talk my way out of it. One evening, I was wrongfully accused of stealing a bottle of liquor from the refrigerator. I was pulled from bed where I was sleeping and interrogated. I denied it repeatedly, but the adults in my life did not feel it fit to believe me. Instead, I was beaten across the back, behind, and legs with the buckle end of a belt. I knew it couldn't stand. I was beaten for being honest about a bottle that had simply been moved out of a child's reach. The next day, I went to school where we had gym class and were required to run a mile on a track. I chose that day to wear short shorts to showcase the bruises on my body. I felt so vindicated when my teacher noticed. Child services was involved, and I thought I had finally saved myself and my brother from this man. Unfortunately, this was not the end for us, and we lived with this man for at least 6 more months before a divorce was even considered.

This is where the cycle will come to an end. I will never hit you. I will never spank, swat, slap, or otherwise strike you. From all of this awfulness, I learned to stand up for myself. To fight for what's right. To always do the right thing. That's why I know, and can promise, that I'll always protect you. I'll use words, not my hands. Additionally, anyone who does harm (or attempt to) will be immediately removed from your life permanently. I have no tolerance for an adult exerting physical aggression towards a child. It is inexcusable, immature, and disturbing.

These are my promises to you, sweet boy. Even when you try my patience, I will always love you and never, ever harm you.

Love always,


Friday, June 26, 2015

Dear Ehren: A promise

Dear Ehren,

You are amazing. You are smart. You are brave. You are precious. You will never know the life I knew. I will be here for you until my very last dying breath, and I will always protect you. I will never forget that my primary duty in life is to protect you. I exist to keep you safe. My choice to have you as my child means that everyday, I will make the best choices I can for you to have a safe and healthy life.

I want you to know your worth. I want you to grow up feeling loved. I hope you always feel like you belong to your family. Yesterday, I realized these are the things I didn't have. These are the things that I can never get back. You'll one day grow up to know your parents as middle-aged adults. You won't recall the struggle that is the first year of parenting. You will never witness years of self-abuse I  experienced as a result of a childhood that was demoralizing. You will never know years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of adults that your mother trusted. You will never know what it feels like to be denied. You will always be mine.

I am sure someone else is reading this thinking "she can't guarantee that." Son, know that I will work tirelessly, until the end of my days to ensure that you never endure any of these situations. These are situations that are NEVER acceptable. These are situations that you can never fully recover from. I want your heart to be full of dreams and your head brimming with ideas. I have battled as an adult for the past decade to move beyond years of abuse, and realized that I may never be whole. I will never recover the innocence of a child. I may never be able to be reprimanded at work without crying. I may never be able to handle a hand on my shoulder from a colleague. I may never be able to accept a high-five without flinching. These are the things that I can ensure you won't have to endure. I intend to slowly unwrap and share the abuse I've survived, at the cost of relationships and privacy, so that you can truly understand how brave, courageous, strong, and incredible I, your mother, am.

I promise to always love you. I promise to always protect you. I promise to break the cycle of abuse. I love you more than you know now. If you choose to have a family one day, you will understand this love, and I hope that you will thank me and love them even more than I love you.

Love always,


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dear Bruce: A story of love lost

Dear Bruce,

As we approach the second anniversary of "you" I feel like I'm bursting with the need to share. A long long time ago, back in 2013, I was in an awful work situation. All I requested for my birthday was a new job. Alas, I did not get a job offer on a lovely silver platter for my birthday. Instead, I was treated to dinner at Anthony's by your father. The smells were awful to me, and I joked to him that I must be pregnant. We both laughed and moved along.

The day after my birthday, I took a pregnancy test and got that new job I wanted. I was pregnant. My new job was to be your mom forever. I called your dad, who had left for work only 3 minutes earlier, and we celebrated over the phone. This was by far the most distracted day at work I've ever experienced. We were elated and terrified, because the timing wasn't quite right, but it was going to be awesome anyway.

For my birthday weekend, your dad took me to the WA coast where we walked on the beach with Lucy dog for days. We planned everything we could. We named you "Bruce" so that we could use a code word in public. Suddenly, we were parents. Our priorities shifted in an instant. I cried and teared up numerous times that weekend, mostly out of sheer excitement. (Partially out a financial-based terror.) It was, by far, the most perfect weekend I can recall. It was the beginning of us as parents. It was the beginning of you as our child. We were bursting with excitement. We even used crabshells in the sand to make our birth announcement that weekend. This was the pinnacle of joy. I have never experienced such pure, innocent, uninhibited excitement before or since then.

We returned home from the trip on Sunday night. Tired, weary from the trip, and I just wasn't feeling right. I went to the bathroom and when I wiped I saw blood. And I knew. From that first instant. I knew it was over before it had ever really began. I felt like my world was shattered. I knew I'd never be the same again. I knew I owed every single one of my friends who had miscarried an apology.

I stayed up all night that night crying. I didn't really need to see the doctor to know, but I went anyway. I cried in the doctor's office with the nurse who drew my blood. I bawled when I saw the bloodstain I had left where I sat. I sobbed into your fathers arms all night. I spent most of the week at home and attempted to return to work on Thursday. I made it to 10 am before going home.

I spent all of May at home and never returned to that awful job. I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for reminding me that life is fragile, for showing me that pure joy is worth the potential downfall, for giving me a glimpse of what life would feel like with my future children, for helping me to understand what Mother's Day is really about, for forcing me to evaluate my work situation and my priorities. Thank you for helping me find me.

I'll always be your mother, Bruce.

Love always,