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This is my firstborn, Jennifer. Here she was angry, defiant. She didn’t want to go to bed. I crawled under the table to take this picture of her.

I know a lot of moms say this (especially when they are trying to lay guilt trips on their kids), but I almost died giving birth to her. I was given an epidural and instead of freezing from the waist down, I froze from the waist up. It wasn’t pretty.

Oh but my Jenny was the prettiest little thing I ever saw. Of course the nurses whisked her away almost immediately but despite being covered in goop, I could tell she was a looker.

Jen was a bright affectionate child but when she turned two she became the queen of temper tantrums. If we were at the mall and she wanted a gumball (curses on those people who put those things right at the store entrances) and I said no, she throw herself down on the floor, flail her arms and legs and scream like she was being tormented by demons. Being a young mother I didn’t know what to do. I was embarassed, people were looking askance so I tried to pick her up and cajole her into complying.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pick up a wiggling, wailing two-year old with an eight month old baby strapped to your chest in a baby carrier and a backpack full of canned goods on your back but it’s not something I’d recommend anyone who doesn’t know the clean and jerk to attempt more than once. The second time she had one of these fits, I simply stepped over her and kept walking. By the time I got a few yards away she realized that I wasn’t there to witness her display. She stood up in panic and with her eyes scanning the crowd, called out for me. I calmly walked back to her and quietly asked if she was ready to come with me. She took my hand and we carried on. I repeated this tactic with every tantrum. When she was a teen I told her that if she ever found herself in therapy with abandonment issues, it was totally my fault.

From the time she was two and a half, she was a willful child. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want your kids to be strong, have their own point of view and be confident in themselves. But Jen could be downright obstinate. Yes, she frustrated the hell out of me and there were countless times I’d chew my fist rather than spank her. She taught me patience.

The day I left my husband I knew I would have to be more patient with Jen for she had every reason to be angry and defiant.

The summer of 1984 I had my gallbladder removed. The day after my surgery I was visited by a police officer and a social worker. They told me that while I was having my operation, my husband had betrayed his child’s innocence – I collapsed and had to be sedated.

When I came to, all I could think of was getting out of that hospital and getting to my children. The surgeon wanted me to stay in the hospital a few more days but I was having none of it. I started ripping the IV lines out of my arms and nearly fainted from the pain of the drainage tube in my side scraping against my ribs as I pulled it out. The nurses were having a fit and I demanded that one of them put a dressing over my incision or I’d do it myself. Seeing my determination, they relented and I raced from the hospital to my mother’s home where the social worker had left my children.

They say that when someone gets terrible news one of the first reactions is denial – it couldn’t possibly be true. I just had to see Jen, hold her, talk to her so I would know the truth. After I had held her and rocked her to sleep I ruefully recalled my husband insisting I see a psychiatrist because I was crazy and just imagining that he would do anything to hurt his daughter. I remember those sessions with the psychiatrist. How I would cry and feel so guilty for having these terrible thoughts. I thought there was something wrong with me.

Most people are relieved to learn that they are not crazy. I was horrified.