How I Met My Mother: Notes on Family Interviews

Have you met your mother?

What about your grandmother?

Have you ever asked about who they were before they became your family?

I hadn’t. Not really.

Considering our family history, opening doors behind me never seemed like a wise or safe plan of action.

Until I got this idea in my head about writing a book about the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I assumed that my mother was simply the woman who smelled like coffee and perfume when I fell asleep on her lap in church.

Her definition was (and I imagine still is) wrapped up in my own self-centeredness. She is the one who spent too much money during a hard time so that I could be the belle of the ball at a high school dance. She is the woman who slept with one eye opened and the blue screen of the TV flickering on until I popped my head into her room to say I was home safe. She grew green beans when we were little but for the life of her couldn’t get a tomato to grow in Texas.

She is my mother. I know her well.

My grandmother, my biological father’s mother, I did not know quite that well.

I remember giving her roses at my father’s funeral. She brought me the soft, slow southern drawl of my family’s roots in South Carolina over the phone but I have rarely been in the same room with her. I only had stories. Vague shadows of tales my father told my mother before he died. The death of a family member is often like pruning limbs off of a tree. Sometimes, unintentionally, you lose a few of the smaller branches and offshoots.

When my research began, I had questions. Now those questions are reproducing like a Mogwai eating fried chicken after midnight.

Yes. I googled this to ensure accuracy.

Correction. Based on this chart of the Mogwai/Gremlin lifecycle, my questions are budding like a Mogwai caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella.

This phenomenon has begun because I knew less than I thought. I knew nothing.

I didn’t know how my parents met or how they fell in love. I didn’t know how my grandmother grew up or what her parents were like. I didn’t know what my father’s childhood was like or who his friends were.

I still know very little.

I feel like I need a crime solving board in my attic to help me keep my own story straight.



My story is intricate, complex and fascinating because it is not mine alone.

It is my father’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my brother’s, my husband’s and my children’s story too.

We are all standing in a piece of the story. Our points of view are different but we are all here tied together.

It’s complicated.

You are probably wondering what I hope to achieve with all of these inquiries into my father’s past.

Well, so am I.

I am starting to be okay with knowing nothing.

At the end of this pile of questions, there will be no definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”

If that question had an answer, I think all of the unjustly injured people of the world would collectively sigh in relief so loudly, it would shift the planet.

The answer to “Why me?” is nearly as annoying as the redundancy of the question.

15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.

“Why not me?”

After googling this statistic – Don’t hate. Numbers don’t stick with me. – I was kind of sadly excited to be nearly aged out of the high risk ages of 16-34.


Can’t wait to be statistically unlikely to be raped.

And I thought most of my milestone birthdays were gone.


Anyway, with those devastating odds, childhood is still something many people are just blessed to survive.

I am not looking for the final answer to the question, “Why?”

I am looking to start a conversation.

Unfortunately, I am so not alone.

Age of sexual abuse survivors


1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

I am so sadly not even special.

About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

The final answer is not a simple fill in the blank response.

The answer is understanding, empathy and change.

If I can show you how ruinous the experience of sexual assault and rape is by telling you my story, then perhaps you will have more compassion for those that are trying to heal around you. You might even become an advocate. You may, if we are all lucky, help me recreate what childhood means in our lifetime.


There’s an answer.



A Page from A Different Playbook

It is difficult for me to see the word Stuebenville and not go into an immediate rant filled with anger and curse words.

It’s true.

There are so many things wrong with what happened.

Sadly, a young woman’s rape did not stop with the act against her person. The media, leaders in her community and her peers have all added to her dehumanization and abuse.

The coaches of the young men convicted knew about the assault and tried to shield them from the well deserved consequences of their actions.They picked up a copy of the playbook that has been used for centuries to protect perpetrators and illigitimize the claims of victims.

As if being raped is not enough, she was video taped, publicly named and threatened. She was called a whore, a drunk and told that she deserved it by thousands of disgusting internet trolls.

Her experience is not even unique.

Ladies and gentleman, what you see before you is how we treat survivors of sexual assault and abuse in our culture.

It would be historically inaccurate for me to claim differently.

The past week has been a parade of terrors and in the back of my mind there sits a heavy as iron question.

How am I supposed to raise Isaiah, Isaac and Levi in this world?

Don’t all parents think that their child would never do such a thing?

How am I any different?

I don’t know that I am. Not for sure.

Someone just asked me if I thought it was harder to raise boys than girls. I used to think raising girls was harder. If you would have asked me last week, that would have been my answer.

I was wrong.

When it comes to gender issues, no one sex is harder to raise than the other. It is the opposite side of the same coin.

While I am weeding through video games that hypersexualize women characters so that my sons don’t grow up with unrealistic expectations, my friends who are mothers of girls are doing the same thing so that their little girls don’t grow up thinking they have to be that stereotype.

While I am teaching my sons to recognize the brilliance of a woman’s mind, my friends who are mothers of girls are encouraging those minds to grow strong and bold.

As a side note, I would die if any of my sons came home with anything less than real intelligence in a woman (or a man – lesbihonest).

While I am teaching my sons to observe the physical reactions others have to their actions, my friends who are mothers of girls are teaching the same lessons of empathy.

“Look at his face. Does it look like he likes that? Why not?”

We both have a lot that the other will not have to deal with. Not many little girls will be called sissies and be told to man up. However, not many little boys will be told to act like a lady.

It’s true that my boys cannot get pregnant.

Isn’t that more dangerous.

Men have the ability to slink through the world causing irreparable damage and then walking away with no stretch marks  to show for it. They can assault and hide in the shadows without so much as a scheduled counseling appointment. They can be taught to wield power and control without taking responsibility for their actions.

But you know, at least they cannot get pregnant.

This is not to say that there are not honorable men (or dishonorable women) in the world. This is to say how hard their mothers had to work to raise them that way.

My sons are my joy. They are rough and tumble, sweet and sticky, art on the walls and dirty hands in my pockets.

I never want them to be someone else’s sorrow.

I have known for too long that this world is not a safe place. I don’t trust this world with my children. All I need to do to prove that is evoke the world “Stuebenville”.

We, the mothers of children, need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. It is our job to protect and deliver this next generation with more hope than the last.

We do have the most important job in the world. That is not a platitude. It is a fact that has been made painfully clear. We need to place firmly in the hands of our children a different kind of playbook.



Links to Cut

I have been finding my father all over the place.

My first stop was  It seemed like the best way to begin.  I entered in his information and my mother’s information..

Bingo! Bango!

There they were.  I found the names of 25 of my ancestors.  I found their names on Census, public and military records.  People in my family that were the first (so far) to be freed from slavery.  Some working in fields illiterate while younger members of the family attended school.  I found the suggested plantation my family was enslaved upon.

Family lore tells me it was Fort Hill or what is now known as Clemson University.  The jury is out about that.  However, my pompous African-American Studies professor from college who mocked me arrogantly about the myths of African Americans…well, I just wish I had his email address. :)

So, what am I looking for?

When I attended an African American studies course in college, we were required to read several books.  One of them discussed the idea that sexual assault perpetrated against slaves caused a shift in their culture.

I know, this sounds very Captain Obvious.  Bear with me.

  • Common place rape of slaves by masters who could have been raping their own daughters, sisters, etc.
  • Forced copulation for improved slave population .
  • Public fondling at slave auctions.
  • Powerless family members having to watch the victimization of other family members.

This is a piece of my family story.

My great-grandfather was born a slave.  He died when I was one or two years old.  No one knew how old he was exactly.  All I really know about him was that he was wearing a knit beanie the first time he held me in his arms.  He looked at my bald head and said, “Gurl, you gotta grow some hair on that head.  It’s cold out there!”  It was summertime.

The thought still makes me smile.

I am a piece of my family’s story.  What happened to me does not make me special.  It makes me a link in a culture ruined.  Sexual abuse was the disease that followed us like a scourge from the plantation.  It was headed my way long before I was born.

We, the African-American culture specifically, talk a lot about moving on.  We hush, we distract, we keep moving forward.  We forget to heal.  We are too blessed to be stressed.

I just want to know.  I want to know if anyone else saw the disease-spreading.  In a space free of blame or guilt, I just want to know if anyone else saw the symptoms.  The manipulative power of a pedophile is such that they go unnoticed.  Not completely but those in their presence may not be able to see the whole story until it is far too late.

It is far too late but I want to know the symptoms.  I want to write them down, share them and say them aloud.  This is how future diagnosis is made.

This is how I heal.

Surviving sexual abuse did not make me special.  It shattered me.  It made me a master at puzzles.  It made me the final link in a diseased family story.  Although, I hate the idea that somehow this happened for a reason, I will say it made me a little fierce.

I will write the symptoms down for you.  We have some links to cut.

“Perhaps the greatest horror of slavery was that you were denied your own children. You were denied indeed your own birthright. You were born into the world, but the self that you were, descended from your family, …was taken away from you. You were suspended in time. You were in limbo. You could not even have your self under slavery. Your selfhood was denied.”

– Catherine Clinton, historian