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I'll Break Every Bone in Your Body

Cartoon sketch of a young boy with a halo above his head, looking up and to the right, at a large hand that is holding his. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

Not much love floating around my home when I was little.

Threats, whacks, grabs, sneers, pinches and not infrequently—when my father got home—shouts, grinding teeth, disgust and thwacks. Heavier than whacks; not quite punches.

Tears. Crying.


This was not the olden days: with a horse and wagon, guns in holsters; a kill or be killed mentality or a struggle for survival. This was a hundred years later: 20's, 30's… into the forties. Hints of beginnings, of a general understanding of the difference between a child and an adult; that physical punishment, apart from ventilating a big strong adult's rage and frustration, was something akin to indecency, brutality, and bullying; an "I'm-bigger-than-you-and-you'll-do-as-you're-told" philosophy. "I'll break every bone in your body," as my mother would put it.

Furthermore, didn't accomplish much, unless substituting fear and hatred in your child was the objective.

But even then, in that lingering atmosphere of parents are gods and children need to be grateful for food on the table and a bed to sleep in, there were differences.

Like night and day, love and hate, hugging and hitting, encouraging and mocking, being a loving mother or father, not warden in a prison; suggesting, discussing, not commanding.

Hints of another life.

My Aunt Rose and Uncle Jack were wonderful; they weren't my aunt and uncle at all, but childhood friends of my mother. Aunt Rose was matron of honor at my mother's wedding; my Uncle Jack was a musician, as were all his siblings; a pianist; on the radio; with his orchestra; and at home, playing for me when I'd visit.

Their son, my dearest friend, from very early childhood onward, Warner, was also a musician and for me, my Aunt Rose was the mother I only wish I'd had: eternally warm, loving, empathetic; she listened, heard, and was always encouraging, seeing possibilities.

In the background, were two of my mother's sisters, both urging me to pursue my creative imagination, but neither they nor anyone else could effect change on my family dynamic: the insulation, the rigidity, the structure built by a concrete wall of orders, commands, controls; they prohibited dialogue, listening and hearing, individual exploration, encouragement.

Unfathomable to me, given all the scholarly and psychologically penetrating writings, conferences and one-on-one discussions relating to the healthy and productive growth of children, that parents are inundated with today, is I still see, surprisingly, a resistance: an age-old, hard-core, parallel system.

Essentially, it's a dismissal; wrong-headed surviving parents, holdouts; they're entrenched, armed to the teeth, and firmly convinced that the only way to deal with children is with the very same system today as existed in my childhood: that children should do as they're told, that discussion is a waste of time. "Have a discussion with a child? My child? Nonsense: it's psychobabble."

I'd wager that at its source is fear.

A deep-seated insecurity.

The threat of change, of the loss of a self-constructed fantasy identity, of ultimate power, having the final word, the false memory of a childhood that never was, the glorification of a non-existent time of security, of predictability, familial certainty, assigned roles, circled by wagons to hold off invaders.


Doomed. Doomed. Doomed.

Sad. Insulated.


My advice?

Begin saving up for psychotherapy.

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