I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Three
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym.
In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
I had a conversation with my mom today. The HA group came up. I was, of course, very careful about how I worded things. She is still very much a homeschooling giant, if there is such a thing. She was one of the homeschooling “pioneers” although she laughed today when I told her the name of the group, stating, “Not that long ago everyone in the country was taught at home.”
I’m always careful when I talk to my mother. I can’t tell her that I smoke. She knows that I have in the past, but I never told her I started up again. She’s never seen me smoking.
Today, I was standing on the porch talking to her on the phone while smoking a cigarette. Ironically, after asking her questions about what it was like growing up in the 1960’s, when she was a teenager, she told me about “smoke alley,” at her high school. That was what they called the area beyond the sports fields, where all the smokers would hang out. I asked her if there was a legal smoking age at that time. She said there was, and that likely the students procured their cigarettes from an older sibling, stepdad, or other kids at school.
She told me that there was a radical change in the ‘culture’ from that of the 1950’s. She remembered families spending time together for holidays, girls wearing dresses to school, and “never showing any skin,” in the 50’s. “Then the 60’s came along, and it all went to pot.”
She laughed, then added, “Literally!”
She went on to talk about how when she went to college, she managed to stick to the straight and narrow, even though her classmates went a little overboard with partying. “There was this rebellion…” and kids were drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and the whole Woodstock thing. She thought that a great deal of it was fueled by the controversy over the war in Vietnam, and that the response of the people was “we’re not going to be told what to do,” and she also said that there were similar feelings of unrest that were an underlying cause of some of the rioting that went on during that time.
I told her I was interested to know why the homeschooling movement seemed to pick up and become popular around the 80’s and 90’s, and she agreed that it may have been a reaction by parents to what they had experienced in their school years.
I found all of this fascinating.
My mother is fascinating.
I used to be able to confide in her. I would tell her everything. But as I got older, her thinking what I said was cute, and then telling her friends about it got old, fast. So I’m careful what I talk to her about. I am much more open with people my own age. I think it’s something I learned as a child. Parents, people in authority, and people older than me were not to be trusted, because they could bring a world of hurt crashing down on you should they so choose.
I was careful to point out to my mom that I did not think homeschooling was bad, or wrong, only that some people had been in abusive environments, and were sharing their stories, and supporting each other and healing. I’m also careful how I talk to my mom because she was abused for so many years. First by her parents, then her husband, my dad. So she is used to being attacked. I think she expects to be attacked. Now that I am older, I don’t think she minds as much as she used to when I disagree with her, although it’s mostly trivial things, I haven’t tried to bring any of the big things up with her.
I’ll get to more of what those big things are later.
I remember when I was 12 years old my mom throwing her hands up, exasperated, saying, “If I said the sky was blue, you’d say the sky was green!” Which was stupid, because the sky was blue. And funny, because I’ve seen tornado skies, and they are most definitely green. But I don’t think she ever realized that I just wanted to have my own voice, and be heard. I was becoming my own person, from a very young age. And she didn’t know how to handle that.
I think that when the last kid moves out of her house, she will have no idea of what to do with herself. And she is already trying to ensure that she never has to face that, by keeping my youngest sister forever…
To be continued.
It sounds like you are thinking through your experiences with an eye toward society and your mom’s own past, which is something I try to do when thinking about how or why things went the way they did in my own family. It can be fascinating, and terrifying. You seem to have great compassion for your mother and an ability to understand why she made choices that in retrospect aren’t at all ideal-I find myself unable to be angry with my mom because I can do that, I can see why she did or allowed the things she did. Do you ever fight being angry with yourself for being so understanding? I sometimes struggle, thinking, why do I have to be able to see it from that angle? Why can’t I just say, that was a really bad choice on my mom’s part and I’m angry because she did that! Then again, that kind of anger is largely nonproductive. Perhaps I’m blessed not to have it.
Yes, I do get angry with myself for not being angry at her. And I am angry with her, but not for anything she did to me, for what she did and did not do for my brothers and sisters. Just wait for the next part of the story, you’ll be angry…
I think you have hit on a critical point.
I had never considered how my mother’s background as a victim of physical and sexual abuse, her difficulties in school (she required remediation and was publicly shamed for her attention-span difficulties, and was called ‘the stupidest human I’ve ever met’ by a grade-school teacher), and even her structured childhood disciplined by an authoritative, emotionally distant step-mother had all played into her decision to ‘protect’ me with homeschooling – which ultimately led to me being repressed, restricted, socially awkward, a runaway struggling with concepts she couldn’t (or didn’t) explain, overwhelmed with guilt, craving balance and logic, and feeling ultimately betrayed when I finally did find balanced and unbiased life.
I never realized that there were life events and genetic predispositions which left her a virtual certainty to fall victim to a charismatic religious cult that pushed home-schooling. My mother was taught to NEVER question authority, told what to think (not how) and she drilled the same into my curious mind, with the oft’ repeated mantra ‘Because I said so, that’s why’. Her history left her emotionally unstable and overwhelmed with fear. Manipulated by the cult, she obsessively restricted ‘worldly evils’ like TV, ‘immodest’ clothing, and secular education – things she COULD control – to deal with her anxieties. The more she restricted, the stronger the illusion of control but ultimately it solved nothing because all the past abuses, learning difficulties, mental illness, and other things out of her control were never actually dealt with.
To this day, she is still easily led around by emotions and often falls into propaganda and rhetoric, both political and religious (as they often intersect), while I cling to logic and science like breath because I NEED those things which are actually stable and can stand the test of scrutiny.
Thank you for sharing your immensely personal journey and for giving me a new perspective of mine.
So much of what you said sounds familiar to me. There is mental illness in my family, and I’m pretty sure that my mother was taught not to question authority. I am so grateful to be able to share my story. The reason I did was for you and anyone else who needed to hear it. If I have helped you in any way, I am immensely happy.