Control (or Why I’m an Abolitionist)

[Image description: sunlight and shadows making patterns on a wall and part of an interior door.]

Content Warning: Child abuse, religious trauma

Sometimes you think of that day
when you heard a friend’s mom was telling all the parents
she read they should use dowel rods to spank their children
for the really bad sins
and your stomach lurched and tightened
because you already knew how it felt to have a wooden spoon
broken over the back of your bare thigh and
you thought of the bookends you made with your grandpa
using some wood he helped you cut into triangles and two lengths of dowel
and you imagined the weight of those rods
and tried to calculate how much more it would hurt.

And you’d heard some say it takes a village
but you don’t know what to do when the village parents agree to
hit their kids with items they bought casually at the hardware store
and tell them it’s God’s loving discipline
and you know some kids don’t even get I love yous
and at least you do
and you try not to think of it
and also try to be as good as possible
or at least hide anything you think might be
a really bad sin so that maybe, maybe,
you won’t have to find out.

And then the day you see what
the marks of a dowel rod spanking look like
on someone else’s skin
and you lose your shit
and can’t stop sobbing, can barely breathe
because you know in your gut those bruises look nothing like love
and you swear to yourself you will never hit your own child
with a wooden spoon or a wooden rod,
no, you’ll only use your hand
and only not-too-hard swats to the bum
because that is how the indoctrination works
to keep you from imagining there could be another way entirely
and you think a gentler, less-bruising punishment
is the only alternative because to be part of the village
is to perpetuate its violence to maintain control.

And your heart breaks still
knowing that your children were touched
by even your toned-down version of the violence
and you hate that you ever bought into thinking your responsibility
was to control every aspect of your child’s behavior
with swats or isolation or yelling or retaliation
because these things were supposed to be God’s tough love
and keep them from evil.

But you also think of the day
that you realized that “Love is patient, Love is kind”
were not just words for wedding days
but words for every day and every part of life together
and especially your kids and you
and that guiding with patience and kindness
instead of controlling with harm and punishment
could be that other way entirely
that you couldn’t even imagine
when you were just a kid in a village
gathering up pieces of a broken spoon
from the living room floor.

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