When you bring that brand new baby home for the first time, no one tells you that time will fly. No one tells you that you will blink and they will be 10, that you will sigh and they will be teenagers, that you will wake up one day and they will be adults. Our baby is turning ten soon and I’m learning to treasure every small day because I know that sooner than I would like, he will be grown. Here is my letter to him…
One day the Lego boats will disappear from the side of the tub. One day I won’t hear the sound of your small feet running to my arms in the night. One day my face won’t be the one you look for first. One day you will tend your own bumps and wash your own clothes and I will stand to the side, proud of the man you’ve become.
One day I will close my eyes and smile because right there, in my heart, I have stored up all your small days. I will close my eyes and remember when you fit in the crook of my arm so well and I’ll let the smell of newborn you fill my senses. I will close my eyes and laugh about the days you were small enough to stand under the table with your little fists clenched and face purple, wanting your own way. I will close my eyes and wave you off to school again and sigh that even then the days seemed to pass like lightning. I will swell with love for the little boy who came home broken-hearted about the cruelty of others. I will hug that little boy again and feel the jab of that day. I will be proud that you didn’t let the opinion of others define you. I will close my eyes and draw on a thousand memories, a thousand moments of joy, love, laughter, tears, overcoming, and growth. A thousand memories that are mine alone.
And between now and then, I will tell myself to savour every moment (even the ones that make me pull my hair out). I will tell myself to really listen when you tell me your stories, because this is the only time that your voice will sound this way. I will tell myself to laugh at your silliness and love the way that you don’t know how to behave “properly” yet (and pray that you hold on to some of that silliness forever). I will remind myself never to be the first to end your hugs, because one day I will be wishing for just one more small moment with you. I will build memories that are full of you. I will tell myself to linger in these small days because one day, the Lego boats will disappear from the side of the tub.
I didn’t have a fairytale upbringing. I didn’t even have a normal, mundane, run of the mill upbringing. When my mother died before I turned three, it left my siblings and I in the care of a father who was physically and emotionally abusive. I grew up thinking that it was normal for a man to hit – normal for him to hit a girl, normal for him to hit children.
I knew what it was like to go to school with welts from my waist to my knees. I’ve felt the sting of a hand across my face more times than I can count. I’ve seen my siblings punched in the face. I knew the heart pounding terror of rage. I knew what it was like to constantly watch facial expressions and read moods for signs of anger. I became an expert in making myself small, in making myself invisible.
I grew up believing that men hit, and that it was a woman’s fault (my fault) that they did. I promised myself when I left home at 17 (the day after my last HSC exam) that I would never allow a man to lay a hand on me in anger again but I still feared that really all men hit, that no man was really able to restrain himself and that sooner or later I would be in a relationship where I would be hit again.
When I met my husband at 24, I was carrying some pretty heavy baggage and even though he knows I’m strong, even though he knows I’m capable, he loved me too much to watch me keep carrying it. So over the last 16 years he has lovingly, respectfully and gently taken my baggage off me and carried a burden that he didn’t create – because he is that kind of a man.
My husband has shown me that it is possible to have conflict without violence. He has shown me that a strong man is not the one who displays his physical power in order to dominate and intimidate but a strong man is the one who having that power, chooses to exercise restraint and treat others with respect and dignity. To a strong man, the very idea that anyone would raise a hand to a woman in violence is appalling. My husband is a strong man. He has shown me what safe looks like, he has shown me what loved looks like… Ultimately, he has shown me what a real man looks like (and whilst he is showing me, he is teaching our 2 sons how to be real men).
Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Women and around Australia people are taking a pledge.
They are swearing “never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women”. The 9 year old girl in me is begging you to take this pledge. The 15 year old who told her year 10 school Guidance Counsellor about the beatings only to be discounted and ignored, is begging you to take this pledge. The woman I now am; safe, secure and confident that not every man hits, is begging you to take this pledge.
Take this pledge, and then live it out every day. Real men do not hit women.