Three Girls and Their Dolls
By Jordan Riak, November 2003

Girl #1. When 7-year-old Maria returned home from school, she immediately went to her room, collected all her dolls and threw them out of the house, even her Mrs. Beasley doll which was her favorite. She told her astonished mother to get rid of them all, to give them away, that she never wanted to see them again.

That was St. Patrick's Day, and the teacher had given each child a cupcake with green icing. Maria took another child's cupcake in addition her own, so she had to be punished. The teacher's aide restrained the squirming, crying Maria while the teacher repeatedly hit her. Maria says that the more she screamed and struggled, the harder she got hit.

The event had a more lasting effect than the large dark hematoma on Maria's buttocks, which took about ten days to fade, and the loss of her dolls. From that time on, Maria often experienced unexplained vomiting in the mornings while preparing for school. Whenever that happened, she remained home. Her school attendance became increasingly irregular. When she did go to school, she was subject to panic attacks brought on by trivial incidents. Over the years, a few sympathetic teachers and counselors tried to get Maria to calm down and get some benefit out of school but they weren't successful.

This is just part of a much longer story told me by Maria and her mother when Maria was in her late teens. Even though the events they described happened years before, when they told the part about the Mrs. Beasley doll, both women began to sob.

Girl #2. A mother was trying to make a point: "Violence," she said, "is not tolerated in our home. When I found my daughter hitting her doll with a stick, I gave her a good spanking -- one she wouldn't soon forget." I tried to explain that the child was merely imitating the parent which is one of the ways all children learn. "She was doing to her doll exactly what you do to her," I said. At that point, the expression on the mother's face became cold and distant and she answered, "I really don't want to argue with you about this. You have your ideas and I have mine. So let's leave it at that." We did.

Girl #3. A father in England e-mailed me this story. His youngest daughter had just ripped her favorite doll to shreds. Why? Because her sister had just smacked her. Why did the sister smack her? Because she had been smacked by her big brother who had just been smacked by his dad. "It became very clear to me what I was doing to my family," confided my correspondent. Unfortunately, not everybody learns that quickly.

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