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A Child Called It: A Tearful Timeline

written by: Mildred Wilson • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 5/26/2014

Discover how the parenting skills of one mother ran amuck. A timeline of the book, A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer, recounts the mental and physical abuse he endured from ages four through twelve.

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    Child Abuse

    Child abuse was once viewed as a minor social problem affecting only a handful of U.S. children. The first state to legislate protection for A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer children was New York in 1875. Reformation continued with the establishment of a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect in 1974 by an act of the U.S. Congress.

    Timelines are compiled from past events to recent events, telling the date each event occurred. In Dave Pelzer's memoir, A Child Called It, there are very few dates. This timeline uses his date of birth and rescue date as bookends and then one gleans from the narrative Dave's age and grade levels in which the abuse took place. Also, this timeline is not inclusive. It focused on what the author felt were the most egregious acts of abuse.

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    1960-1967: Birth to Kindergarten

    Dave Pelzer was born December 29, 1960, in Daly City, California. His father Stephen Joseph was a San Francisco fireman. His mother Catherine Roerva Christen was a housewife.

    Prior to the end of kindergarten, Dave remembers a happy life. He states, "My family was the 'Brady Bunch' of the 1960s. My two brothers and I were blessed with the perfect parents. Our every whim was fulfilled with love and care."

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    1967-1968: First Grade

    • Dave's arm was broken during a beating. His mother lied to Dave's father and the doctor about how the arm got broken.
    • Dave failed first grade and his mother beat him, banned him from television, denied him dinner and sent him to stand in the garage until bedtime.
    • Dave was prohibited from joining the family on vacation and left in the care of an aunt.
    • Dave's mother beat him for trying to run away from his aunt's house. She crammed soap down his throat and forbade him to speak unless given permission to do so.
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    1968-1969: First Grade (The Second Time Around)

    • Dave's mother told him she had received a letter from the North Pole and Santa had said he was a bad boy and would not be bringing him any Christmas gifts.
    • Dave was still under punishment on Christmas Day and one of his chores was to clean the bathroom. His parents argued because his father gave him a gift. His mother believed she was in charge of disciplining him and felt that his father had undermined her authority.
    • Dave's mother said that she had seen him playing on the grass at school, which was against her rules. His punishment was to strip naked and stand by the kitchen stove. She tried to force him to lie on top of the hot stove. He resisted, but she managed to hold his arm over the gas burners and burned him. He was saved when his mother heard his brother come home.
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    1969-1970: Second Grade

    • Dave received routine beatings. He was forced to lie to school officials about the bruises on his face and arms. He was forced to wear the same clothes every day.
    • Dave was denied dinner. He was allowed to eat leftover cereal portions from his brothers' breakfast if chores were done before school.
    • Dave began to steal food at school. His mother was informed which led to more beatings and less food at home.
    • Dave's mother stopped using his name and referred to him as "The Boy." He was denied meals with the family, interaction with his brothers, or to watch television. He could not look at or speak to anybody.
    • Dave was made to do chores after school and then go stand in the basement until the family ate and dishes had to be done. He became his mother's slave.
    • Dave's parents argued over his mother's treatment of him. As arguments escalated, his father gave up. When his father was out of the house, Dave was beaten severely. He was blamed for the problems his mother was having with his father.
    • Dave's teacher spoke to the principal about her observations of him. His mother was called in to answer questions. Dave received a bloody nose and got a tooth knocked out for talking to his teacher.
    • While on a family vacation, Dave was forced to stay in the cabin while his father and brothers went out for amusement. While they were gone, his mother attempted to force him to eat his baby brother's feces. Although she slammed his face down on the diaper and caused his nose to bleed, his father returned before she could complete the abuse.
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    1970-1971: Third Grade

    • Dave was not allowed to ride to school in the family car and had to run to school after completing his chores.
    • Dave was harassed by his classmates and called "David the Food Thief" and "Pelzer-Smellzer".
    • Dave was routinely forced to stand in the basement.
    • Dave began to steal food from a store near his school.
    • The store owner caught Dave stealing and reported him to his parents. His mother beat him.
    • Dave began to eat food out of the garbage can at home.
    • Dave's mother found out and purposely placed spoiled meat in the garbage, because she knew he would eat it.
    • Dave's mother began sprinkling ammonia in the trash can to stop him from eating the garbage.
    • Dave began to steal frozen lunches from the school cafeteria.
    • Dave's mother made him throw up the frozen food and eat the vomit. His father stood by and watched with a drink in his hand.
    • Dave's mother made him sleep under the kitchen table. Newspapers were his blanket. His father stood by and watched.
    • Dave began asking neighbors for food. A neighbor called his mother.
    • Dave was denied dinner and was fed a tablespoon of ammonia after his brothers went to bed.
    • Dave's father stood by and did nothing the next time Dave was fed ammonia.
    • Spoonfuls of Clorox was given to Dave on occasion. Dishwashing soap was poured down his throat which caused diarrhea. He was afraid to ask to use the bathroom, so he relieved himself in a bucket in the garage. His father watched and did nothing.
    • Dave's mother prohibited him from attending school for a week and made him swallow dishwashing soap.
    • Dave began to steal food from the garage freezer.
    • In a drunken rage, Dave's mother accidentally stabbed him in the stomach with a carving knife.
    • Dave's mother dressed his wound and sent him back to finish his chores.
    • Dave told his father he had been stabbed by his mother, but his father responded by telling him to finish his chores and not let his mother see them talking. He was not fed dinner because he didn't get finished with his chores within the required time. Later, he was given small bites of food before bed. His mother applied a cold wash cloth to his head during the night. She told him he had a fever.
    • Dave's wound became infected three days later and he took care of it himself rather than tell his mother.
    • Dave's mother starved him for ten days during one period when the father was away. He only had water that he stole from the corners of ice trays.
    • Sometimes, Dave's mother would place food in front of him and give him two minutes to eat. Before the time was up, she would snatch the food away and put it down the garbage disposal. To beat the deadline, Dave would grab the plate and swallow the food without chewing.
    • Dave's mother sent him to clean the bathroom and placed a bucket of ammonia and Clorox in the room and shut the door.
    • Dave was sent out to mow lawns and bring his mother the money. One family hired him and one family just gave him lunch. His mother was convinced that he had sneaked into the neighbor's house and prepared his own lunch. She beat him and tried to return the lunch. She made him sit outside on his hands on some small rocks while she took the other children to the zoo.
    • Dave's mother made him lie naked in a tub of cold water and ordered him to place his head under water. His brothers observed this and said nothing.
    • Dave's mother made him put on his clothes without drying off and ordered him to sit in the shade in the backyard. His father was present during one of these episodes, but did nothing.
    • The bathtub/backyard treatment became routine and his brothers often brought friends into the bathroom to look at Dave.
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    1971-1972: Fourth Grade

    • Dave was routinely asked to regurgitate the contents of his stomach for his mother's inspection.
    • Dave's mother alternated between the gas treatment, water treatment, or sending Dave out to mow lawns.
    • Dave was always beaten. At home his mother alternated between whipping him with a dog's chain or beating him on the back of his legs with a broom handle. At school, he was beaten up by bullies.
    • Dave's father was forbidden to see him.
    • During the water treatment, Dave was ordered out of the tub and made to dress without drying off and sent to sleep in his father's bed. His mother slept with his brothers.
    • Dave was given roller skates for Christmas and made to roller skate in the cold weather for hours.
    • A social worker visited the home and asked Dave questions. Dave didn't say the right things to the social worker and was beaten after she left and banished to the garage.
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    1972-1973: Fifth Grade

    • Dave's mother continued to starve him. On one occasion, he ate some leftover pancakes out of the dog's dish.
    • Dave's brothers took turns hitting him.
    • Dave's classmates bullied and tormented him. One student told him she knew all about him and killing himself was the only way out.
    • Dave's suggestion for the school newspaper was accepted and a note was sent home by his teacher, Mr. Ziegler, to his mother. His mother berated him and tore up the note. She stated that he couldn't impress her. He was a nobody. He was an "It." She also said that she wished he was dead.
    • Dave became depressed and wanted to die. He began to irritate his mother on purpose so that she would kill him. He thought it was only a matter of time before she did.
    • On one occasion, Dave was allowed to accompany the family to a grocery store. He purposely misbehaved. When they left, his mother gave him a sound thrashing before returning to the car. She then ordered him to lie down on the floor of the back seat. His brothers were directed to take turns stomping on him with their feet.
    • Dave's parents separated and his mother packed up all of his father's things and delivered them to his place. She then took the boys to McDonald's. Dave sat in the car. Upon her return, she told him, "You are all mine now. Too bad your father is not here to protect you." At that point, he believed he would die soon. On the ride home, he prayed. As the car turned onto the driveway and before getting out, he said, "...and deliver me from evil. Amen".
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    March 5, 1973: Placed in the Foster Care System

    Dave Pelzer refers to March 5, 1973 as "The Rescue." The principal, school nurse, teachers and the police intervened and got him removed from his abusive home.

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    Closing Comment

    A million children are reportedly physically abused each year, about two thousand die from it. In 1973, the year of Dave's rescue, Dr. Moses Grossman, Chief of Pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital, organized the San Francisco Child Abuse Council, an independent watchdog agency to ensure that appropriate services are available for abused children. While Dave Pelzer didn't receive the benefit of that organization, he was one of the luckier children. He was rescued before he was killed.

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    References

    Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called It. Health communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida. 1995, ISBN 1-55874-366-9.

    Faqs.org. Facts About Child Abuse.

    Infoplease.com. Facs About Child Abuse.

    SanFrancisco Child Abuse Prevention Center