Waterboarding, and other childhood memories…


So, as part of my Stage 2 / Homestudy, I have been taken on a long trip down memory lane, and asked to delve deep into the childhood of Maya. My social worker asks very specific questions such as “How was discipline administered in our family” and “what were the most traumatic moments of my childhood”, “what were your relationships like with key family and non-family members growing up”, and so on…

What is fascinating is that I have dredged up quite a few memories which I had totally forgotten about, and looking at them with fresh eyes, I see things now that I didn’t as a child. 

My very earliest memory is of an accident I had when I was 2. I got my hand caught in an escalator, and there are 2 distinct memories I have of the event. The first one is a false memory. I can remember all of the details of the accident itself, but only from the perspective of my mother, who was having a coffee at a nearby cafe when it happened. I’ve been told the story so many times that I can only remember it from her perspective, which means I don’t really remember it at all.

However, later on in the hospital, drowning in a sea of get-well teddy bears, I remember my big sister coming to visit me, and in classic 4-year old style, shoving her toy in front of my face and saying “Look what I got!!!”. I remember feeling totally visceral jealousy, and of wanting what she had more than anything. I vaguely remember a tantrum ensuing and my parents trying to remind me that I had 20 toys of my own, but it didn’t matter because once she had waved around her toy, I wanted it, and I can still remember that deeply primal feeling of total and utter jealousy. That memory is definitely real, and my earliest real memory I think.

When discussing my dad’s parenting style, a few random memories re-surfaced that I had forgotten all about. I think perhaps because my later childhood was more dominated by my mother’s presence I have spent less time remembering my earlier years when my dad was a constant presence. As a small child, my dad was often working, so we didn’t see each other a huge amount, but I have a few very fond memories – one of a random Saturday, when my dad was listening to his favourite 50’s rock ‘n roll album, and we were drinking diet pepsi. It was hot and sweaty in Hong Kong, and Dad picked me up and danced me around to “Wake up little Susie” by the Everly Brothers. It became one of my favourite songs shortly after that, and we’d sing it together sometimes. I still adore that song, and it still brings me happy memories of dancing about with my dad on a hot and sweaty Saturday.

I also remember once when I trod on the stairs and the little spikes that held the carpet down went right through into my foot. I SCREAMED in pain and my dad came running up the stairs so fast, and swept me up in his arms and cuddled me and rocked me until I was barely snuffling. I remember feeling so safe in his arms, and very protected, knowing if something went wrong, dad would come running at full speed. (I later discovered on discussing this story with my dad that he can’t stand the sound of children screaming and his primary concern was getting me to stop screaming, but I prefer to remember it differently!).

I remember many, many occasions when my dad would tuck us up in his big giant bed and read us stories, and me occasionally sneaking downstairs to forage for snacks (usually on a request from dad for marmite toast soldiers).

Aside from table manners, which was the one issue that drove my dad bonkers (talking with your mouth full, eating with your mouth open etc) he was generally very laid back and would much prefer quiet reading in bed to yelling or shouting.

However there are 2 very distinct memories I have of my dad being angry and scary, both of which I had forgotten until recently.

One was when I was about 5 or 6, on a long car journey somewhere, and I was bored. I have discovered as an adult that I am naturally fidgety, and this was very true when I was a child. I was sitting on my booster seat, playing with the door lock, clicking the knob up and down, up and down, and then at some point pulled on the door handle to see what would happen. Turns out, what happens is that the car door opens suddenly, then your dad SLAMS on the brakes of the car, leaps out of the car, yanks you out of the car, and screams into your face. I remember his face was inches from mine and almost purple with rage, screaming “DON’T YOU EVER OPEN THE CAR DOOR WHILE WE ARE DRIVING AGAIN!!” and then he smacked me lightly on the bum. I was crying and saying “I only wanted to see what would happen!” but shortly after that my parents got child locks on the car doors, and I never ever did it again.

At the time I felt scared as he had never ever screamed at me like that before, but looking back now he must have been TERRIFIED. Poor dad.

The other random memory of my dad that re-surfaced after much delving into my past, was the time my dad waterboarded me.

No I’m not joking, but in his defence he had very good reasons.

I was quite little, maybe around 4, and I had woken up very early for some reason. Everyone else was asleep, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to wake up my parents if I woke up too early, so I took my dolly off to find something to play with. I somehow climbed up to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom that we weren’t allowed to go into, and pulled down all the bottles of pills, and tipped them all out onto the floor (this was clearly before pill bottles had childproof caps). I think I tried one, in case they turned out to be sweets, but it tasted horrid so I spat it out. After that I just pretended we were going to eat them, and sorted them all out into pretty patterns and piles on the floor.

When my sister woke up and found me, I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom surrounded by pills, saying something along the lines of “One for dolly, one for me, one for dolly, one for me”.

She went running into my parents room shouting about how I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to.

I remember my dad ran in, (I have a vague feeling my mum might have been pregnant with my brother at the time, or maybe my brother was just born), took one look at the situation, and then picked me up under his arm and ran downstairs. He grabbed a pint glass and filled up up with water, added several large spoons of salt, and mixed it. Then he held me tightly and grabbed my hair, forcing my head back and started pouring it into my mouth. It was awful, and I was struggling and couldn’t breathe, and could only swallow the disgusting salt water, and of course it made me throw up, which I realise now was exactly the point of it, to get everything out of my stomach as fast as possible. After that I think they called the doctor for advice on what to do next, but what I remember is that I don’t think dad spoke to me the whole time, I think it happened so quickly, and he was so panicked that he never asked me if I’d eaten any pills (and probably wouldn’t have believed me if I had told him I hadn’t).

I remember it being so sudden and so violent that it shocked me, and for a while afterwards 4-year old me felt hurt that dad hadn’t just asked me about the pills, instead of forcing salt water down my throat until I vomited. I felt a bit scared of him for a few weeks after that, as if he might suddenly grab me and do it again for no discernible reason. I didn’t really understand why he had done it in the first place, and so wasn’t fully convinced he wouldn’t suddenly flip out and do it again at any random time. I think I never connected the dots, especially because from my point of view, I hadn’t eaten any pills, and by not eating the pills, I had somehow caused my dad to go mad and force me to throw up – it was all very confusing to a 4-year old.

As an adult, I am struck by how calm and quick-thinking my dad was, to immediately think of a solution and act on it immediately, to save the life of his child.

Somehow I had forgotten all of this for years and years, and suddenly, on diving deep into my childhood, and being prompted by my social worker to remember specific interactions or discipline it resurfaced.

Now I should point out that on asking my parents, my dad doesn’t actually remember this episode at all, and mum does remember it, but thinks they just called the doctor and didn’t force me to drink the water at all. But I had such a sudden and vivid memory of what it felt like, of his hands pulling my hair, forcing my head back, and of being forced to drink that horrible salty water that I’m struggling to believe that it just didn’t happen. I suspect we have all forgotten parts of it, and maybe all three of us are remembering slightly different versions of the event.

So it was interesting that all these memories are re-surfacing, and taking on a totally different meaning now that I reflect on them as an adult. It also makes me really think about what it is like for a young child to be pulled from their family and moved into foster care, then moved again, and how they may not really understand the reasons why adults sometimes do things, even if they are for their own safety. Adults are, to most children, incomprehensible and strange creatures.

Bit of food for thought there…

In other news I am happy to report that I have now completed my homestudy, and my social worker has told me she is going to recommend me for adoption to the panel. She still has some small reservations, mostly about my financial situation and my lack of having lived in with a partner before, but I suspect we will manage and I have found some solutions to the financial issues.

She has written up my report and allowed me to read and comment on it (mostly minor factual errors like the ages of my nephews and dates when I started jobs etc), and that is now all ready to go to the panel to review prior to our meeting.

I have one more meeting in a couple of weeks where I will meet my third and hopefully final social worker, who will take me into the next stage of matching, and then coming up at the end of the month is my adoption panel, where my social worker, and then I will sit in front of a panel of about 5 people to defend the recommendation that I would make a good adopter.

Hopefully, and barring any surprises, I am expecting that shortly after this I should be approved officially as an adopter, and can move onto the next stage of finding the kid out there somewhere who I’m the right mum for.

It’s getting exciting and I’m starting to go into nesting mode…

One thought on “Waterboarding, and other childhood memories…

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