Ray Rice, my sons -- and my daughter

(Kim Hairston / Baltimore…)
September 18, 2014|Tanika Davis, For The Baltimore Sun

It's been almost two weeks since the elevator footage of former Ravens running back Ray Rice blew up the Internet. And I can't stop thinking about it.

There are many reasons why the Rices' domestic-abuse video troubles me, but selfishly, I'll admit that the entire thing makes me think most about my own children.

My husband and I have two boys, twins. We also have a daughter. So I've taken note of the reactions both to Rice's stunning brutality, to his then-fiancee's you-and-me-against-the-world response and to the legions of people on Twitter explaining why they stayed with their abusers (#WhyIStayed).

Our twins are 4 — that ball-of-boyish-energy age where every movement seems punctuated with a comic book-style interjection. "Ooomph!" they yell, while flinging things across the room. "I captured you!" one will shout while tackling the other.  We are constantly telling them, "Keep your hands to yourself, boys. Hands are for helping!"

We don't want to snuff out their exuberance, but we do feel like it's our job as parents to raise boys who are kind, peaceful and who know how to exercise self-control. I honestly think that's the easier job. I worry far more about getting through to my daughter.

I made a very good decision seven years ago when I jumped the broom with an honest, trustworthy man (who makes killer buttermilk pancakes). But I kissed a lot of frogs before Prince Smart Move on My Part showed up.

I was never in a physically abusive relationship, so I don't know what that feels like. But emotionally abusive? Been there, dated that.  The worst of them all was a serial cheater, a cad of infinite proportions. I stayed with him for three destructive years, even when I discovered he had a fiancee in Maryland (me) and another one two hours away (not me). 

I shed so many tears in that telenovela of a relationship, it's amazing I have tears left.  Standing by him through his lies and manipulation, I lost friends, lost weight and lost myself. I alternately doubled down on religion and turned my back on God. I became an insomniac. I somehow forgot that my father told me I was special and called me his "little Princess." 

My ex didn't have to hit me; over those three lost years, I beat myself up plenty.

Why did I stay? I wish I knew. I'm a woman who has known the unconditional love of two still-married parents, who has a slew of awesome friends, a great job, a fulfilling social life and a healthy sense of self. Or so I thought. But still, I took what he dished out and came back for more.

I don't have many life regrets, even about so-called failed relationships, because they all led me to my husband and my children, whom I adore. But those three years? I wish I could have them back. To hell with the trite phrase "learning experience." That whole episode was a colossal waste of time.

I don't want my daughter to waste even three dates on a jerk who abuses her, much less three years. So how do we teach her that love shouldn't equal pain, that cheaters and beaters are not her problems to fix, and that she's worthy of being truly, fiercely — but gently — loved?

I don't know. And I worry about her broken heart the way I imagine loved ones of domestic abuse victims worry about broken bones.

I think about that now-infamous elevator scene, the pain of that punch and the hurt and humiliation of all the moments before and after. The mother in me wants to reach through the computer screen and lead Janay Palmer out of the first open door we find, while I tell her, "Baby girl, hands are for helping, and hearts are for loving." 

I can't do that of course. So I'll tell it to my daughter. And my sons. I'll tell all three — and pray they listen.


Tanika Davis is a former Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 4-year-old sons, a 2 1/2-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.

Her column will appear monthly. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com.

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