I don’t get it


My son was born in another country. He is what’s generally referred to as “of mixed heritage.” But he has lived with me in a predominantly white environment in England since he was less than a year old. It wasn’t intentional or contrived, no underlying political reasoning for living where we do. It was purely centred on the fact that the house prices were affordable for me, and I thought it was very important that Boo have a home he could definitely call his own.

I have never tried to deny Boo any part of who he is. He has always been aware of his father’s side of the family, never a negative word said about them, and I have always sought out every opportunity I could to bolster his connections with his cultural heritage. Unfortunately, the efforts I made were the only efforts that were made at all. Even before we left for England, any communication or contact with Boo’s paternal family was instigated and enabled by me. Any visits were transported by me. Any letters were written by me. Despite the fact that his father has a huge number of extended family members, they would not even stop by of their own accord when they were “in the neighbourhood.”

Hence, the eventual return to England.

Since the return to England, there has been minimal contact at best. Boo’s father, to his credit, did continue to send cards to his son on annual special occasions. But, despite my begging him to write “just a paragraph now and then!” the written correspondence has dwindled to nothing, and there has not even been a birthday card in three years.

In 2010, Boo’s behaviour had deteriorated to a very difficult level, and I had become very unwell myself. My own family members did not reach out to us nor offer to help me with my son. However, I had received word from Boo’s father that his sister would be willing to have Boo stay with her for a while in Boo’s country of birth to give us both a chance to regroup and recover. I had been persuaded by the promise that Boo would be well looked after, attend a very good school, and spend plenty of time with his many family members. Perhaps this was an opportunity for Boo to feel he was part of a large family, and to give him some of the academic stimulation he had been lacking in his own school.

I eventually agreed and took him to what seemed like the other side of the world. It was incredibly hard to leave him there, knowing that we would be separated by such a distance, but I was assured he would be surrounded with love and treated well, with his father and extended family watching over him. I spoke to Boo every day on the phone, helped him with his homework, and Skyped whenever we had the opportunity.

But things were not as rosy as they seemed. I learned that some members of the  family had strong views on discipline, and his aunt had used a belt to punish him and keep him in line. They also had strong views on religion, on race, and on gender roles and masculinity. Boo was required to attend their place of worship every Sunday and engage in religious home study meetings twice a week. His aunt had made her feelings known about white people many a time in his presence, she had expressed homophobic and racist views, and she was so determined that her nephew would prove his manhood that she encouraged and arranged fights between Boo and local neighbourhood boys.

I was horrified when I learned about these things, and told Boo’s aunt I would be returning to collect my son. But the family circled their wagons and refused to return Boo to my care until the school year was completed. I had no recourse as I had given his aunt temporary guardianship in order that Boo could attend school and receive healthcare, and, as Boo was born in their country, any attempts to remove him against their will would result in my arrest for kidnapping.

It was a helpless, hopeless position, and not as far-fetched as some reading this may feel.  We still had to leave in a hurry under the cloak of darkness, after Boo’s aunt had signed my son back over to me.

My son has never been the same since that experience. I believe his need to prove himself as a full-blooded male has continued to this day, through his aggression, his anger, his bullying, and his desire to engage in antisocial behaviours. He is desperate for an identity and is completely drawn to anyone who displays any stereotypical, negative characteristics of his mixed cultural heritage. And when he meets them, his whole demeanour changes – his language and accent change, his body language changes, his attitude and behaviours change, until he becomes a mini-clone of the person with whom he has allied.

But this is what I don’t get:

Social Services have delayed the final care hearing, originally scheduled to be heard this month, so that they can assess the viability of sending Boo back to his aunt overseas!

When Boo was taken into care last July, Social Services, without any deference to my wishes, nor indeed without my knowledge, wrote to Boo’s father to update him on the situation. Most recently, since the Court has become involved and a decision is pending regarding Boo’s long-term placement (i.e. until he is 18) Social Services have approached family members (his father’s and mine) asking if anyone is willing to be considered to take Boo into their home and raise him until age of majority.

Apparently, there is a protocol they have to follow that demands that they first consider a return to the birth parent, i.e. me. If they determine that a return to the parent is not feasible, they are bound to reach out to extended family members. My family in England, not surprisingly, withdrew any interest in the case and have been excluded from consideration. But since Boo’s father was approached, his sister has again asked to be considered for long-term guardianship.

Apparently, after several phone calls, the Social Worker determined she has passed the viability assessment, and all that remains now is for an international Social Worker to visit with her at her house and conduct a full assessment.

You know, I get why they may not feel the time is right to let my son return home to me. I get that I am not the best candidate at the moment to prevent him from leaving our home and heading straight to his “gangsta” friends in the city nearby. I get that not enough work has been done with either of us to prevent his violent temper from returning if I try to define boundaries he doesn’t like. And I get that, without family therapy, there is every chance that a return home at this time would be tantamount to picking up where we left off, except my son is six inches taller and a lot stronger than a year ago, and there is a very real risk that in the event of another violent outburst, one or both of us could end up seriously hurt.

With the exception of the incident last July, I have never raised a finger to my son. I have never imposed strict notions of masculinity, of gender roles, or demanded he adhere to any specific, strict religious doctrine. I have never encouraged him to fight for status, nor has he been wanting for any of his basic needs, including love, affection, praise, and full acceptance.

The first and only time I physically hurt my child was when, after eight months of physical assaults against me, he came at me with knives in his hand, and I put him on his arse to avoid being stabbed.

I don’t get how Social Services can be so quick to remove him from my care because, in their opinion, I assaulted him on that fateful day last July – but they are willing and seemingly hell-bent on returning him to a woman who believes in and metes out regular corporal punishment, and who would insist he tow her ideal line of what a real man should be.

They know what she is like, because Boo has told them and I have told them. They know what happened to Boo last time he went to stay with her. They also know that, with Boo’s temperament as it is right now, if he were to display even some of the behaviours towards police or other more powerful figures than himself in his father’s country in the same manner he behaves towards police here, he will be dead or in prison before the year is out.

But none of that seems to matter to them.

And I just don’t get it.

© Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]



How far has the apple really fallen?


apple tree

I received a call a couple of weeks ago from my brother, telling me that my mother had broken her hip and was in need of help at home where she lives alone. I live 200 miles from her; she and I do not get along.

My experience of my mother is that she has always treated me like I’m 12 years old. We don’t have the type of relationship where we can simply talk about what is happening in our lives. There is no such thing as banter. If I try to “chat” about my comings and goings, I anticipate, and often receive, looks of disdain, judgements, advice, or criticism. Occasionally, I will receive some form of ostracism: told to stay well away her area of the country, for fear that what I may bring with me (should I approach the general extended family nest) will bring “shame” on her. In my humble opinion, my mother lives for the image she can portray to others, and she relies on her now very-grown-up children and our offspring and achievements to bolster that image.

It stands to reason that I am a huge disappointment to her. My life decisions have been a disappointment, if not an outrage to her. According to my mother, I have always been a “strange child.” One of her frequent laments, when she is particularly peeved with me is to question my lack of ability to “just be normal.”

“I don’t understand why you hate your family! I don’t understand why you are so hellbent on rejecting any semblance of a normal, civilised relationship!”

She has a point I suppose. I am not very good at maintaining normal, civilised relationships with anyone really …  and this is one of the central reasons why I have now been handed a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (along with a smorgasbord of other things). I probably was a strange child. I haven’t really paid a whole lot of attention as to whether I was a strange adult … I left home when I was 16 and spent the majority of the next couple of decades just wandering the world on my own.

She has labelled me a “fantasist,” an “isolationist,” and “antisocial.”

Every blue moon, I attempt to have a grown-up conversation with my mother. On those occasions she will remind me of all the things that I have done to disappoint her or to “purposely” show her up or throw her attempts to raise me the right way back in her face. She will then remind me  that I have always been distant, that I never let anyone touch me – even as a baby! – and she always thought I might have had “some form of Asbergers.”

My question to her has been, “If you have always been aware that I may have had a more deep-seated reason for my behaviour, even as a baby and child, then why do I constantly appear to surprise you with my actions? And why, if indeed I did display these behaviours when I was too young to be aware of what I was doing, do you still berate me, condemn me, vilify me, and accuse me of maliciously acting this way?

Once, I asked her, “Whatever happened to unconditional love between a mother and her child?”

She replied, “I don’t believe in that shit.”

When my son began assaulting me physically, I felt there would be little to gain from sharing the information with my mother. I dealt with the situation on my own, sharing only with agencies that I went to for help. The only person who took me seriously was a worker at Women’s Aid, usually designed for working with women who were victims of adult domestic violence. Social Services, in particular, showed little interest in what was going on, citing what was to become a seemingly flagship statement, “We are child protection not adult protection.” After about five months of escalating violence, I felt that at least someone in my family should know, so I called my older brother and told him.

Two months later , I told my mother.

She said nothing throughout the entire phone conversation. She hung up, and I never heard from her again until the day Boo was arrested and  taken from my care in July last year. She had apparently been called by a social worker seeking a family member to take Boo for an emergency period until they could find a suitable foster family. The social worker had left a message on my mother’s answer machine, and my mother called me wanting to know “what the Hell is going on.” I reminded her that I had told her about what was happening in our household weeks earlier, that it had finally come to a dangerous head, and that Boo had been arrested and taken from me. Apparently the news came as a complete surprise to her, and I recognised then that she had neither retained nor believed a word I had told her during that earlier gutspill. She uttered some vile condemnation of me, and this time I hung up on her. Since then, I have received very few and very brief contacts from my mother, but minimal as those contacts have been, they always left me feeling horrible and alienated – so I sent her text (a cowardly move, I know) and suggested that for the sake of my own recovery, we should have no further contact for the foreseeable future.

My brother called me for a second time just before Easter, and in his special, “subtle” way suggested that I really should stay with my mother over the holiday weekend, because he and my other siblings “all have jobs and children” – the implication being that as I have lost my job and my child, I have nothing to prevent me from skipping across the country to take care of her. He also said this might be a good opportunity for me to mend our relationship, and besides, they didn’t want her left alone.

So I went.

The other thing about my mother is her uncanny ability to assume that time will heal all things (or at least make you forget why you’re cross with someone). So when I arrived, she greeted me with smiles and smalltalk as if there was not a care between us. I had prepared myself for the visit by promising to keep myself busy and out of the way as much as possible. I had brought things to crochet, reasons to spend time upstairs (she can’t climb the stairs at the moment) and plenty of ideas for working in her very long garden. I lasted almost two days without even a mention about my son, my health, my job, or my life, and managed to fend off several requests that I should use her car to drive her places.

But on Good Friday, she commented, “Oh do try to cheer up a little bit, Alice! I don’t know what’s the matter with you!”

I looked at her, and said, “You know what? I actually believe that you really don’t know what the matter is.” I then proceeded to spill my guts for a second time and filled her in on the details of how my life has fallen apart, I lost my son, my job, my health, how I feel the whole thing has snowballed out of control, how her occasional poisonous comments have not been helpful, how I have been hurting myself, how things have been a massive emotional struggle, how I want my baby back so much, and how there is now a high chance that I will never get him back. I finished with tear-covered face by telling her that it seems mental health services may be concerned about me, because they have recommended that I be placed on close suicide watch should the final court hearing determine that Boo will not be coming home.

There was a strange, uncomfortable silence. Then my mother, who had not moved nor changed her expression at all, said flatly and way too controlled for my liking, “And who are you looking to blame for that?”

That sinister, unnerving response left me stunned. I don’t know what I’d expected her to do or say. She had never given hugs so I hadn’t anticipated any tactile response – but not even a “sorry this has happened to you” or “where do you go from here?” Not a lick of emotion or compassion or ….

And then it hit me.

Empathy. There was no hint of empathy. And when I started to think historically, I couldn’t remember any incident or time when she had ever shown emotion or empathy. It explained the meanness, the disregard for others’ feelings, and the ability to forget or reject any hurt she may have caused.

That same empty, emotionless disconnection that has everyone concerned about my son’s future was staring me right in the face of my mother.

I don’t know enough about how personality disorders develop, but certainly, if there’s a case to be made for nature over nurture, this could certainly add weight to argument for genetics.

The apple has indeed not fallen far.

© Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]