The Monster: My Thoughts on Mother’s Day

Sunde White illustrates her essay about childhood abuse with an image of a monster


Mother’s Day is not easy for some people.  It may bring up grief or stress based on your life experience and personal associations with motherhood and what that means to you.  Every Mother’s Day that comes around is hard for me.  It makes me feel more alone in the world than any other day.  I’ve wanted to write something about this day for years but I’ve never been brave enough.   But I’ve done a lot of personal work and I feel that today’s the day.  Maybe some of you also silently suffer on this day and I send out love to you.


In the animal kingdom mothers are known to reject their babies but I feel like we don’t really talk much about the fact that human mothers also do this.  This happened to me and the shame around it is so deep that I’ve only just barely started mentioning it now and I’m in my forties.  I feel like this must be very rare or maybe no one speaks of it, I’m not sure.  I know that the few times I’ve ever spoken out about my mother’s abuse and systematic isolation from all of my extended family, I have been met with people not knowing how to even reply because it’s so foreign to them.

Knowing that maybe no one will really understand my experience feels very isolating so I’ve stayed silent about it and have just tried to learn how to be a human being by watching the ones around me.  Over time I’ve learned to find a way to relate to people, build relationships and regulate emotions without the loving building block of a mother’s love that everyone else starts with.

Not having the most basic human connection that literally almost everyone on earth experiences, has made me feel extremely weird every day of my life. I have always felt like an alien from outer space, observing humans from a distance.  A lot of human experiences have been very unrelatable to me without the reference point of being loved and guided by a mom.  I learned a lot of human behavior from watching TV.  I’m like Darryl Hannah as the mermaid in the movie Splash who learns English and about modern culture by watching TV 24 hours a day.

Because I wasn’t cared for properly growing up I didn’t know what personal hygiene entailed and only learned about it when kids at school would say things to me. I learned that I was supposed to brush my teeth in the morning when a kid at school told me my breath stank and informed me about her brushing schedule which I followed from then on.  Puberty was the worst with no mom to help with embarrassing stuff like periods and bra shopping.  There are too many experiences about that to get into here.

I learned a lot about how to be human by the cruel honesty of kids.  Often it would be shouted at me from moving vehicles for some reason.  “HIGH WATERS!!!! FLOOD’S COMING!!!”  Some kids once yelled at me as I was walking home wearing my favorite yellow cords that had been let out three times but still didn’t reach my shoes.  Okay, I realized, humans don’t like other humans’ pants to be too short, lesson learned.  I threw the pants away when I got home.

In 6th grade, when I was getting off a crowded bus, a kid stuck his head out the window as the bus drove away and yelled, “MONSTEEERRRRRRRR!”  at me. His whole section of the bus broke into laughter.   I was stunned with embarrassment.  Hot tears filled my eyes but I knew he was right.  The stress of my childhood had given me horrible acne since 4th grade.  Giant painful boils were constantly developing on my cheeks leaving deep purple scars behind.  I had a horrible haircut, dumb clothes, a withdrawn personality.  My mom didn’t love me, my dad sighed deeply when I called him.  I was a monster.  I WAS a monster. You must be a monster to not be loved like everyone else was. “ I must be such a freak and everyone can see it.” I thought.  My mom knew it and as it turned out, kids at school knew it too.

Growing up I didn’t have any sense of safety, no lap to lay my head in for comfort.  If I hurt myself I learned early that I must never make a noise about it or share it because I would be punished with severe spankings because of  Jane’s* philosophy that kids  cry or hurt themselves to get attention so they must be punished to put a stop to the behavior.

I slammed my toe in the front door once as a 5 or 6 year old and screamed out in agony.  My mother pulled me upstairs and hit me over and over again and then heated up a needle until it was red and held me down and pressed it into my toe nail, melting an opening to “relieve the pressure”. My toe ended up being broken.  Her behavior worked to instill in me to never ask for help if injured or sick because the punishment would be swift for “trying to get attention”.

So a couple of years later, when I was home alone with my siblings and I stepped on a 3 inch curved upholstery needle, I knew what to do.  Silently crying but trying to keep my panic down, I hopped over to my brothers and showed them my foot.  The dull side of the needle where the thread goes had entered the bottom of my foot and had exited on the side of my heel.  We all knew that we needed to get the needle out before our mom got home.  We knew that instead of taking me to the hospital, she would dole out her punishments to all of us.

The clock was ticking.  We had about five hours to fix this.  First, my oldest brother attempted pulling out the needle with his fingers but could not get any traction. I was inconsolable at the discomfort and the terror of having this thing in my foot (maybe forever? IDK) and at the thought of my mom’s rage when she found out what I did.

We worked all day on slowly loosening up the needle somehow but nothing was working.  Every time they’d try to pull it out I’d scream in pain and their sweaty fingers would slip off the needle. We were all in a panic as Jane’s (we called her by her first name to each other) arrival became imminent.  Finally one of my brothers went into the garage and found some old pliers.  I freaked out and started down a whole new panic spiral, sobbing hysterically.  Finally they talked me into it.

“Sunde,”  my brother said.  “Jane’s going to be home any second and we’re all going to get in trouble.  I think the pliers will be able to get it out and then you can put a sock on and she’ll never know.  Just squeeze our hands and I’ll do it real quick, I swear.”

The fear of Jane outweighed the fear of the pain.  I was exhausted by then and just wanted it to be over.  I nodded my head, closed my eyes and squeezed my sister’s hand.  My brother grabbed the eye of the needle sticking out of my heel and with a swift, strong pull it was out.  I collapsed in relief.  We did it!  My foot was cleaned, Neosporine was applied, and a sock was put on.  She never found out.

I left her house at 14 after years of strange and relentless psychological and physical abuse and neglect and never saw her again except once at my brother’s wedding.   She died a couple of years ago which was a huge relief for me, I finally felt safe.

Her death brought up a lot of PTSD stuff but after a couple of years I felt like I finally wanted to tell my story which I never felt safe doing before.  Realizing I’m a victim of abuse not the cause because I was just “born bad” is a relief for me.  From that perspective I can reframe my life and finally share my life experiences even if it’s embarrassing or too much.

My mom took that from me. She made me think that I have to always hide my story because no one would believe me and no one would care.  Her charming public persona guaranteed that anyone I asked for help from —including police officers and teachers—would never believe me and they would in fact accuse me of lying to hurt her or to cover up that I was a bad person.  So I never spoke of my childhood but I just can’t stand holding it in anymore.  They say the truth will set you free but I think having space to tell your story and being believed and heard will set you free.


With this being Mother’s Day, I would like to thank the very many people, especially my siblings, that have always showed me care, compassion and yes, mothering.



*name changed