To this day, my friends and I will joke about getting hit mercilessly with the chancleta, some random flying object, or a belt buckle and just accept that it was a part of growing up in our Latino households. I don’t know why we laugh. Perhaps it’s simply commonplace, ingrained in the culture. Perhaps it’s to commiserate or soften how absolutely terrifying it was to run for your life and take cover when you knew the pain that was coming for you. Perhaps we’ve forgotten how over-the-top this discipline truly was.
Mami raised her three children with an iron fist and mouth full of expletives. We walked a straight line regardless of whether we were around her or not because we knew that one little misstep could send off a barrage of explosions. She had pajaritos everywhere — friends who would supposedly snitch if any one of us were ever caught doing something wrong. We were good kids, but she had little tolerance for rambunctiousness. All could be fun and games one minute and in the next, you were getting hit until her hand hurt and then she’d switch over to use her other one.
My mother’s temperament was a difficult one to navigate. It was like walking on eggshells; you never knew what would set her off. If we played too loudly in our small fifth-floor walk-up apartment, she’d yell at us to shut up. If I broke a plate while trying to wash dishes, she’d whoop me until I cried. Then she’d soothe me as I fell asleep from the emotional exhaustion.
To this day, I have to fight off sleep after I've had a good cry. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I finally stopped flinching every time someone made a quick movement around me. I’m still working on not jumping out of my skin whenever there’s a sudden loud noise though. (I’m looking at you, scary balloons and toasters.)
Parenting is tough, I get it. I’m not in that position just yet, but I understand that raising a respectful child means making some difficult choices in terms of discipline. After my own experiences with it, I couldn’t condone physical abuse, but when exactly does a pela go too far?
I’ve had friends who thought they’d use the time out method with their child, but then have seen themselves lose patience and resort to the same severe spankings that got them in line when they were a kid. It’s one of the reasons why I’m afraid of having children: what if I end up losing control, too?
When I’ve asked my mom if she remembers beating us so much, she’ll shake her head and act as if I’m exaggerating. I wonder if she’s forgotten, if she’s secretly ashamed, or if she just doesn’t think there was anything wrong with how she raised us. I think a good chunk of it lies in the third bank.
My parents both grew up in violent households in the Dominican Republic and I can understand why. When you have 10 children running around, you need to run a tight ship. But whereas Dad decided to never mistreat his kids the way he was as a child, mom went the opposite route. She stayed home all day, frustrated from feeding and cleaning up after us. It’s no wonder she easily lost patience; she had no release for that pressure.
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with how heavy-handed she was with us, and our relationship still needs improvement. It’s become a little stronger over the years, but I still feel the strain, the extra effort it takes to connect with her, and the disappointment that comes when she’s unable to meet me part of the way. I know she loves us and am slowly learning to accept her love in the way she’s capable of giving it. I just hope that if and when I become a mom someday, that I am able to straddle the line of being a responsible yet nurturing parent without making my children run in fear.