Sexual assault and violence are so commonplace in South Africa that one is often grateful to be ‘spared’ from such abhorrence. Who can forget the horror of Baby Tshepang, one of the first high profile reports of child rape in 2001? Many of us could not, still cannot, fathom how a helpless baby [she was just 9 months old] is confronted with such evil intent and action. Countless heart-wrenching attacks on children and women continue daily, most recently the 6-year-old who was raped in a public toilet at a Dros restaurant, keeping this terror alive.
This atrocity was brought home last night by an incident with my 4-year-old. He was recently on a course of antibiotics which resulted in acute constipation. I put my hand up as a bad mother as I had forgotten his probiotics. Nevertheless, I was trying to placate a hysterical boy who was in obvious pain; kept on sitting on the toilet with no relief. When I mentioned the use of a suppository, it escalated into absolute pandemonium. He was crying uncontrollably, “it’s going to hurt, it’s too painful, I don’t want it!” and on he went for what felt like an hour, even though it was only a few minutes. Mothers never want to hear that agony in a child’s scream; we know the difference between the cry for attention or the one of frustration, not knowing how to express themselves.
My heart was in pieces. I was eventually able to convince him that the pain of the build-up was nothing compared to the small torpedo-shaped intervention and that I would be slow and gentle. Thankfully, all ended well. But throughout this episode, I could not help but think of our children who are maimed inexplicably, often by those they know. I felt that pain! If my son was in absolute panic and hysteria, over a somewhat mundane home remedy, in the safety of his bedroom with his mother around for protection, what is the nightmare that children go through when they are being viciously assaulted? Sometimes repeatedly. God, I cannot comprehend.
This has troubled me for a few reasons. The one is that parenting is not only about loving, nurturing and guiding souls as they journey through life on earth. That’s the good, wholesome stuff; what we fantasize about as we’re pregnant, preparing for their entry into the world. And it’s not just about preparing them for failure, that thing that even as adults, we struggle with. Life is far more insidious than that. There are trials and deceptions that we cannot even imagine as we’re lulled into complacency by the humdrum of routine. The mother in the Dros incident had no clue, as she and her daughter readied themselves in the morning, that their lives would irrevocably change by that evening. Tragically so.
I’m aware that age levels for sex education and body awareness have lowered significantly in recent years. In my day – oh, that sounds old – you were considered lucky if you were given some explanation of ‘the birds and the bees’ at the onset of menstruation. Yet, here I am, exposed and educated, but very uncomfortable with the thought of having these discussions with my boys. I know I have to, but I’m delaying the inevitable. It feels like I’m betraying their innocence. They’re not even at formal school!
I stopped telling the ‘mommy and daddy who met and fell in love’ story at bedtime to my then 3-year-old as I was always probed about how the ‘miracle baby found its way into mommy’s tummy’. It was not enough to say that ‘mommy and daddy loved each other’ or that ‘daddy planted a seed into mommy’s tummy’, as I was informed was supposedly appropriate for that age. He was asking the questions of a 6-year-old and I, bad mother again, was just not ready…
My struggle now is to start the discussions around inappropriate touching; I’ve bought a book on rights for children. We’ve started reading it, but I still cringe at the images of the little boy standing over the toilet with his penis out and the little girl who is hugged inappropriately by an older uncle, hoping I don’t get questioned. Fat chance. This is about my development as much as theirs and I have to do whatever it takes to equip our sons with everything they need to master through this minefield called life.
My prayer today is for our children throughout the world.