Listen very carefully to children

Posted 04.08.10

IN THE PONTIAC, QUEBEC | "I told my mother that I didn't want to go to his apartment because I feared a fire," but it was only twenty years later when she remembered the real fire at her father's apartment. It was a fire in his pants and he asked his own daughter to pull down hers, and join him in bed.

This woman, someone I recently interviewed, was around ten years old when she ran away from her father's room that night. The trauma of abuse short-circuited her memory, hiding it away until she herself became a mother. Her duty to protect her children woke up those dark memories.

The woman's older sister also lived the unlivable at the hands of her father. Her memories were also buried away, too painful to keep alive. Like her younger sister, it was the experience of becoming a mother that clarified her memories.

None of this is news. I don't know many women who live to the age of twenty without unwanted sexual touching on the part of men or boys. The lesson to be passed along here is the detail about the story the little girl created to explain why she didn't want to go to her father's apartment.

The parents were divorced, and when it came time to go to her molesting father's home, she told -- screaming and crying -- both her mother and her father that she had seen charred wood under the sink meaning a fire could happen any time.

Indeed there really was charred wood under the sink. A fire had burned in that kitchen before the father moved there. Children have extraordinary imaginations so it would not be unusual for a child to make up a big story based on a detail like charred wood under the sink.

Children are brilliant. They have minds that are still in the building stage and are thus very cunning. So, it would not be unusual for a child to grab hold of any reason not to go somewhere they don't like and blow that reason to grandiose proportions (a fire in the kitchen, for example). Any adult would dismiss the story as a children's exaggeration.

But hold on here. Now that, as adults, we know that a child can make up a parallel story to avoid serious but unspeakable danger, the ball is back in the adult's court. Upon hearing this story I have vowed to never leave my daughters in any situation they are asking me to save them from, no matter how illogical their arguments seem. In fact, I'll be on heightened alert for wildly imaginative stories.

A fire under the sink? A frog in the pool house? A monster in the back room? Children, poetic beings that they are speak in metaphor far more often than us greying adults suspect.

Copyright © 2010 Lily Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.10