Like so many others, I follow the trends when it comes to Netflix. If a handful of my friends start talking about something they’ve watched, I add it to a note in my phone that’s titled “shows to watch someday.” I don’t make much time for TV because I prefer to read, but sometimes it’s just the break I need.
This week was Thanksgiving break, and thus I kinda sorta let my kids have extra screen time and my husband and I burrowed in the basement and started the show. I knew it was about domestic violence, and yet I wasn’t quite prepared.
(No spoilers, by the way. I wouldn’t do that to you.)
This show had me in an outrage right outta the gate. So much of it reminded me of the abuse that I’ve seen my students suffer, and the systems that are so broken that make it almost impossible to help. **NOTE**I am in constant awe of social workers–I find them to be superheroes–but I also know that they are working in the confines of the system, just like teachers. I hold them in the highest esteem, just like teachers.
One of my first years teaching elementary school, a child told me that their parents had hit their little sister more than once. Teachers are mandated reporters, so we investigated further and ended up calling Child Protective Services. The next week, the child came into my room, sobbing. “They threw all my toys away!” they wailed. Their parents had received a letter from CPS and out of fear they wanted to clean up their apartment. The child’s legos were bagged up in garbage bags and tossed out.
It was a complete wake up for me. As with everything, there was so much for me to learn. I don’t think I did anything wrong, just to be clear, it’s just an example of my naïveté. Since then I have had many students who have witnessed their mom being abused. Thrown down the stairs, dragged by the hair, punched and burned. There are custody issues and supervised visits and calls from the police and restraining orders.
I’ve sat at parent/teacher conferences and listened to moms cry, so worried that their kids are not going to be okay. They just need someone to tell them that their kids are making it through, that they are resilient.
But one of the major things about this series that I was surprised about is that there is definitely a portrayal of domestic violence — but it is emotional abuse, not physical. The main character is abused with words and control and anger. And I’ll be honest: it triggered me.
You see, I lived that as a kid. I hid in my closet. And I worried and worried and worried. I did everything I could to avoid being “in trouble” and tried so hard to be perfect, but I could never be. You see, the dog would still get out when I opened the door, or I would still spill a tall glass of milk, or sometimes I would even be a little late coming home.
I have this one memory that I think of often. My aunt was home for some reason. She travels the world and wasn’t home very often. My parents were fighting, and it was a very bad one. It could have been about not having a plan for dinner or it could have been about money – I couldn’t tell you. But it got more heated than it ever had before. And I witnessed something that frightened me so badly, I ran out of my house and ran next door to my grandma’s.
I was hyperventilating because I was crying so hard. And I remember my grandma just hugging me close, like she always did, because she wasn’t surprised. But my aunt was bewildered. “What in the world could be SO wrong? Did your dog get hit by a car?” I remember feeling mute, unable to explain what I saw.
And up until a few years ago when I had a blowout fight with my sister (Hey, Christy, hold everything in for 15 years and then scream and cry about it while waiting for a musical to start in the Wisconsin Dells!) I had been remembering it wrong. It was even worse than what I remembered and my brain had actually supplanted my memory with something else. My mom backed me up and I could barely wrap my mind around it.
We are often gaslighted into believing that abuse is only physical. I know I was. I even did it to myself- omg, so you got yelled at a lot. Parents yell. Big deal. Let’s just get over it. In the show, the abusive man is an alcoholic. Nobody in my family was, so it couldn’t have been that bad!
Yet, so much of who I am today is a result of living in survival mode for so long, though. And so much of my anxiety is being worried that I’ll become that abusive person myself. Just yesterday I completely lost my mind over a Hershey’s kiss (proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back) and I yelled. Then I decided I should give my kids up for adoption because I’m not fit to parent them. Sigh.
This show, Maid, is why we need art in this world. It’s why I write books, and Facebook posts, and blog posts. Because our stories need to be told and shared. We need to see that our feelings are VALID and that we are not the only ones. It’s my mission in life — to not let anyone be gaslighted into thinking that their hurt isn’t “earned.”
All my love–Christy