In a Matter of Seconds

My bed feels much warmer than usual. I haven’t opened my eyes yet, but I can sense the presence of another body. Peeking through one eye, I see her. I feel a flush of relief as I inch closer to her warm body. When I’m near her, I feel safe, loved, and fuzzy. Is today is a school day or the weekend? It’s always so hard to tell first thing in the morning.

Then I hear my sister cry in the room next door. In a matter of seconds, my mother opens her eyes, gives me a kiss on the forehead, and bounces out of bed. I hear her say, “Good morning my sweet Cecilia. I love you very much. Would you like to snuggle in sissy’s bed?” Cecilia giggles happily, and in a matter of seconds, we’re all cozily snuggled in my bed.

I love this moment. When I think of my childhood, this is the moment I want to remember.

After what feels like an hour of hazy early morning pillow talk, I declare that I’m starving as my tummy audibly grumbles. Cecilia giggles happily thinking about heading downstairs for breakfast. My mother is holding my baby sister, and I immediately feel a little jealous. I wish she was still holding me all the time. In a matter of seconds, I hear my mother say, “Cora, want to jump on my back?” She must have read my mind! Yes, yes, I do. And here we go down the stairs, just us girls.

Cecilia is in her highchair, and I’m in a big girl booster seat. In a matter of seconds, my mother comes and gives us apple juice and raspberries before she starts her morning ritual of eggs, toast, and sausage (or bacon). In between bites, I like to boop my sister’s nose and hide my face in our typical game of peek-a-boo. Breakfast is way more fun with a sister.

My mother is playing music on her cell phone while she cooks, sings, and dances. I love the sound of her voice. It makes me feel safe, loved, and fuzzy. She asks if I want to help her make coffee. Yes, yes, I do. She gives Cecelia an apple pouch and scoops me in her arms. She places me on the countertop, and I feel special. I know how to make coffee. My mother loves coffee. I know how to make something my mother loves.

Then we hear the toilet flush upstairs. In a matter of seconds, I’m back in my booster seat and my tummy starts to feel weird.

My mother turns the music off and begins to clear off the countertops. She quickly serves the second part of our breakfast, but the mood has changed and I’m not hungry anymore. Then we hear his footsteps on the stairs. He’s coming. In a matter of seconds, we all feel the pressure to be perfect.

Because we know what can happen in a matter of seconds.


JoAnna Bennett
JoAnna Bennett
Mother, Marketer, Writer, and Reader. I’m a mother of two wonderful little humans. I’m also an avid reader, an insatiable learner, and a self-acknowledged survivor. I’m grateful to work at O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) because I’ve learned the self-soothing and restorative craft of writing. I used to resist calling myself a writer because I have a finance degree. I naively thought I needed an English degree to effectively express myself in writing. But now, writer is a title I proudly wear, and writing is something I’ll practice for the rest of my life.

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    • Thank you Raissa – I appreciate your comment. It is my hope I can help others. I felt so alone for years – who knew the whole time I never was.

  1. Joanna, your article took me back as a little girl who sharing the bed with my little brother, alone now going on a full day, its night, early morning and I hear the footsteps of my mother, knowing that she is unable to hardly make it up the stairs, yet, I know that when she does, I need to run out the back door, downstairs and out into the night air. If I didn’t, there would be another bruise I couldn’t explain. God bless you,

    • Thank you for sharing your story Lynn. It sounds terrifying. The longer I’m vocal about my experiences, the more I realize we all have a story to tell. I’m glad you are here with me processing the trauma. We’ve got this!

  2. My heart is hurting for you, Joanna. I applaud your bravery for having lived through the abuse and honor you for moving on to create beauty from your pain. Your love is felt in every word. Thank you for sharing your loving heart with the world.

  3. What a memory, and what a powerful retelling. I, too, felt the need to be “perfect,” but never under the pressure you obviously experienced. I would have to imagine that those experiences profoundly impacted you later in life as a mom. Thank you for the share.

    • Thank you Jeff! This is actually a story I crafted from the point of view of my daughter. I’m the mom in this story! I don’t recall having many of the sweet memories shared in this story, but I do hope I create them for my two little blessings.

  4. Joanna, through the power of your words I can feel the love between mother and daughter which is very special. At the same time, I can feel the tension along with feelings of fear and dread as this person comes down the stairs. As your title suggests in a matter of seconds life can be turned upside down.

    • Thank you Joel. I’m elated that I could evoke those feelings in your with my words. That was my intent with my fictional tales. I wrote about ACE scores a few weeks ago, but reading stories evokes our emotions in a more personal way. It’s easy to see how this type of stress can affect a developing brain.

    • JoAnna, Words can evoke many feelings be they bad or good. You did a masterful creating feelings. It was a pleasure to read your article.

  5. I too am sorry for what may have happened in those following seconds Joanna. At the same time I am grateful for the joy you have shared with us of those wonderful moments from happier times spent with your mother and sister. A beautiful read!

    • Thank you Dee – I wrote this one from the perspective of my daughter. I’m not sure I had many moments where I felt so at ease as a kid. But I am breaking that generational cycle for my son and daughter. They will have better. I can promise them that. We’ve thankfully been living away from the eggshells for almost a year now. And we’ve all been healing quite nicely.

    • Thank you Larry. I appreciate the comment. I love that I was able to write a piece you connected with. That’s what it’s all about. 🙂

  6. Wow…. first, thank you so much for sharing this, Joanna. I felt this so deeply and my heart both bursts and aches for you in this memory. Second, what a powerful reminder that so many little ones around us carry such grown-up struggles. And those little ones grow up into adults who continue to carry that child inside them.

    Just…. thank you.

    • You are most welcome. You may recall the piece I wrote a few weeks ago about the ACE Study. While I felt that piece was powerful, I didn’t think it would get to the heart of the issue in the way a fictional story would. It’s easy to brush off ACE Scores – “kids are resilient” or “they should be able to dig deep and get passed it.”

      But when you feel the anxiety and stress that real-life situations can bring to a child, you may begin to realize the impact it can have.

      I imagine when ACE screening and treatment becomes commonplace addiction, many other health issues and domestic violence will decrease in large numbers. I hope that time is soon.

  7. What a powerful story that highlights the contrast between a genuine loving energy vibe/experience and one that is not, JoAnna. Wow. This reminds me of how important the being inside is that lives deep in a field of love or tortured pain. Quickly shifting energy fields can be tough for small children to navigate or make sense of– let alone adults attempting to make sense of it, survive it. Yet, your story illustrates so profoundly how we are so much more than our words or deeds (which can be life-giving or soul sucking or life-taking or soul embracing). We are energy beings radiating out into the world a fear/terror/anger/angst vibe or a kind/loving/compassionate/safe to be with me vibe -and all the variations of these. Thank you so much for sharing this very real experience from your life. I feel you. I see you in this story. I know about shape-shifting, eggshell walking energy worlds and this can be terrifying for small children. (and humans of any age!)

    • Thank you Laura. I couldn’t agree with you more. In this story – I am the mother. I tell it from my young daughter’s perspective. The good news is – I’m free from the morning eggshell routine and moving forward in life. But processing it and sharing it is part of my journey. I always felt so alone – but the more I am vocal about the experience the more I learn that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love the phrase soul-embracing. I think that may be part of my motherhood mantra. I’m grateful for the two beautiful souls I’ve created. They will NOT grow up like I did. And they will have a safe place – no matter what happens!

    • Wow. How powerful that you wrote this from the perspective of your daughter! Wow. You broke free of the cycle. Oh, how I celebrate your courage, strength, and resilience!!!

    • Thank you for your comment. Even if nothing came next, the impact of this moment changes the way our brains develop. Having to switch from joy to fear is enough. Abusive relationships can have long periods of love and calm. But the underlying fear of it happening again is always there.