My son turned eight this year. No more goofball parties with buttercream frosted cakes in superhero shapes and crowds of little boys rushing the door, holding their crotches until you ask them, "Do you need to use the bathroom?" and they run away to their Mommies.
These boys are sophisticated now, with hoodies and DS's and specific likes and dislikes. My son even started eating whole apples this year. A huge goalpost for a boy who drew the line at apple-flavored candy and juice boxes before. Keeping up with rapid-fire changes of small children can be exhausting and I felt prepared for the natural questioning of myself that comes with shaping a small life. Especially for a person like me, who takes very little at face value. So like those women outted in the New York Times last week with their sleep challenges, I lay awake at night often, a ticker tape of doubt streaming through my brain: Am I creating structure and a feeling of safety in a loving way? Sugar, yes or no? How much should I work outside the home? How much screen time? And on, and on, and on.
I could bore myself to tears (sometimes literally) wrestling these questions but forged on with the day despite my concerns over whether I was doing this whole mom thing right. And then my son turned eight and it hit me in my gut that the real challenge of being a parent isn't facing these questions and keeping the family ball rolling despite your self-doubt. The really big parent-defining moments are the ones where you keep upright and smiling for the seminal moments of their lives that flash you -- with no warning -- back to your own.
When I was 8 years old, I was molested. By a stranger. I hadn't talked about it in almost ten years after what I believed to be "closure" around the experience working with a therapist. I put "closure" in quotes because, as Seth Meyers says, "Really?" Did this therapist really convince me that I could have "closure" around an event that marred my impression of men as safe and caring and...all things Daddy? Did I really believe that I would find peace in my heart and "let it all go" after a man used my 8-year-old hand to pleasure himself? I guess I did.
Until I watched through watery eyes as my boy blew out nine candles. One for good luck. The good luck to stay safe, I thought, out of nowhere.
As the tiny flames flickered out, my eyes flashed back. A dog, a leash, my loafers hitting the pavement. A man approaching. I am eight years old.
"Make a wish! Make a wish, Gabriel!" I yelled, a 47 year old woman, overwhelmed by my wishes for my son. For joy. For love. And to never, ever, ever be left alone with anyone who might harm him.
I've never talked publicly about being molested. Blah, blah, blah, a writer with a past, a comedian with some abuse story, it's cliché. But, in light of the tens of thousands of people protesting the early firing of Joe Paterno for not going to police with the facts of the ruinous and devastating actions of Jerry Sanduski is worth risking being accused an opportunistic hack. Because maybe Sanduski's victims won't be hypersensitive, won't feel like a freak because of it (or at least their reaction to it) and never be able to think about the highest form of intimacy you can share with another human being without a pause, a hesitation, a flashback to something very dark. Maybe they won't see a man's hand, or ruddy skin, or feel hot breath and wonder why they want to throw up. Maybe they won't look at their kids' birthday cakes and count the candles and think, this was the year where everything changed. But maybe they will.
In a civilized and just society, which god knows our leaders cry out for as they gear up for another election, there can be no tolerance for the use of children for sexual satisfaction.
There can not be "just one last game," for Coach Joe, who in his silence, became an accomplice to crimes committed against these boys. As a pittance of compensation for the horror these children will endure for the rest of the their lives, despite his vast contribution to Penn State's football record, the revenue he generated for the one-time sleepy town of Happy Valley and Ashton Kutcher's endorsement, the father of college football, the beloved Coach Joe, must indeed go.