What was David's emotional and mental relationship with his mother in Dave Pelzer, A Child Called It?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer, David and his mother have a one-sided emotional relationship.

David's mother is mentally ill, though his life does not start out this way. At first, his mom is as loving and protective of him as she is with any of his other siblings. She...

...glowed with love for her children.

However, as she becomes mentally unstable, she begins to take out her misplaced anger on her youngest son—at least he is the youngest at that time. As she becomes sicker, her abuse of David also escalates.

Besides the physical abuse, David mother abuses him mentally and emotionally as well.

One of her punishments is to force David to repeat:

I am a bad boy.

As she tries to break him emotionally by beating him and starving him, somehow David finds a way to hold onto his sense of self.

Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven't let her take away my will to somehow survive.

His mother, Catherine Roerva, shows that she really has little emotional connection to her son: she seems to have lost the ability to care for him at all because she does not concern herself with his welfare unless the social workers, notified of David's abuse by school officials, come to call. There is really no relief from her abuse—though at one point he comments that his mother, after being particularly vicious with him as he does his chores, drives him to school because he has missed the bus. First she threatens him with what she will do the next day: then, as he leaves the car...

In a voice she rarely uses with me, she states, "Have a nice day."

This comment of seeming concern is well out of the ordinary. David's emotional response is that of fear—but he also has a need to defend his mother from the people at school.

I always break down in the end and confess [to the nurse], even though I feel I should protect my mother.

The young boy feels a need to defend his mother—in this way, their emotional connection is one-sided. Overall, however, the youngster's  response with his mother is that of dread. David knows that his mother's moods are based upon savagery—degrees of malicious behavior directed only towards him. For instance, food is precious to David, and early on his mother uses this to cause him pain.

Mother enjoys using food as her weapon.

David's hope is that he can convince her that she has crushed his will:

I let the tears of mock defeat stream down my face as she storms out of the kitchen, seemingly satisfied with herself.

He discovers within himself a will to survive her attacks, which become more "creative" and dangerous as time goes on. Over time, her emotional abuse gets even worse as she stops using David's name, calling him only "The Boy," isolated and alienating him from the rest of the family. Eventually, she simply calls him an "It."

Sadly, David's mother's illness robs her son of his childhood, but he finds a way to hang on and is eventually removed from his home for good. Whatever emotional connection there is, comes from David, who finds it difficult to betray his mother's violent treatment to those who can help him.

 

Additional Source:

Pelzer, David. A Child Called "It." Omaha: Omaha Press, 1995.

 

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