Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part One
In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
I believe that the greatest source of tension between myself and my mother is that I have deep sense of compassion. I care about the suffering of others, too much in her opinion and it set me apart from her in a serious way. I loved to help people and she always believed that people need to help themselves. A very staunch conservative Republican. I was not her mini-me and she couldn’t stand it. I also didn’t fit her mold in any way. My mother always told me, “I had three kids. I wanted an older boy, then a girl, then another boy. That way you would be in the middle of two protectors, but your older brother can’t protect you and you don’t fit.”
She was right. I did not fit.
My mother did get her wish on the order of the children. I am the middle of three children. My older brother has a mild form of autism known as Aspergers Syndrome. My younger brother was the definition of the baby. My parents made the decision to homeschool after a series of bad experiences with public school. Autism, especially high functioning spectrum disorders, were not at all well understood in the late 80’s and early 90’s. So when my brother, with his severe speech delay (caused by deafness as a toddler) and a complete inability to cope with his peers came to public school, they had no idea what to do with him. The school attempted to diagnose him with a range of disorders from mental retardation (he has a genius intelligence) to epilepsy. This difficulty with public school coupled with their extreme religious right views led them to homeschooling.
It was perfect. My parents could hide away the autistic child that they did not understand and were ashamed of, they could indoctrinate us and they could discipline us without fear of anyone hearing the stories or seeing the bruises.
I believe of the most fundamental problem with religious homeschooling is that in the seclusion provided by homeschooling, abuse can hide and thrive. There does not have to be anyone else around that differ from the views of the parents. How can a child even know they’re being abused if they don’t know that other children aren’t treated that way? It took me years to identify the sources of abuse in my childhood. There are still times when a childhood memory comes to mind, I think it through and realize just exactly how fucked up the situation was.
My three earliest childhood memories go as follows:
Memory number one: I remember myself sitting in a highchair, I couldn’t have been more than two. My mother was chasing my older brother around my highchair with a rolling pin.
Memory number two: I was about four and was sitting playing with dolls in the living room. My oldest brother starts screaming from the bathroom. I walk to the bathroom to find my mother beating my 7 year old brother’s head into the shower wall and there was blood running down his naked body. Then we went to the hospital for stitches. We had to practice saying, “He tripped in the shower.” This was my first introduction to the government. If we didn’t say what we were told, the government would take us away and put us with awful people that wouldn’t feed us.
Memory number three: I was 5. I do not remember what I was in trouble for, but I remember my mother looking at me and saying, “You give me looks like you want to stab me in my sleep. I’ll get you first.” I’m sure at some point in time, I played with my parents. We had a swing, I had a bicycle, but I remember almost nothing before around age 10 that wasn’t traumatic.
The curriculum that we used was from Bob Jones University. The famous science textbook page that is floating around the web about the girl with the hair dryer that states we don’t know how electricity works? That was in my elementary “science” book. I will say that my mother did dedicate herself fully to our education, but we inherited her educational weaknesses. She was not at all proficient in even basic math. As her daughter, she was convinced that I shared her lack of math skills. She firmly placed in my head the idea that I was incapable of math. Instead, we focused on reading. The science was young earth creationism and the history, revisionist christian. I knew that the earth was no more than 6000 years old. God created it in six literal days and then flooded the planet.
When I shared my disdain for the idea of killing everyone on earth, I was beaten. God was not to be questioned. This was the academic aspect of my early childhood years.
The theological side was pure right wing extremism and some things that I can’t even give a label to. I would like it to be noted before this section that I believe my mother suffers from untreated mental illness. She is a pathological liar and possibly schizophrenic. I will lay out the basic tenants of my religious upbringing.
One of the most important lessons that my mother ever tried to teach was about evils of abortion. Alone in the car one day, she told me the story of my twin brother. I could not have been more than five. I learned that my mother had originally been pregnant with twins. After she was several months pregnant, she was in a car accident that killed my brother. At this point, she did not know that she was pregnant with twins. She was informed at the hospital that the fetus was dead and needed to be removed before it caused infection. She refused because she does not believe in abortion under any circumstances. God would deliver the baby when he was ready. A month later, the doctor did another ultrasound and found me. If she had submitted to an abortion I would not be here. Then, in graphic detail I was told how my brother’s arm was born, then he came out, then me.
I was horrified. I had nightmares for weeks. I cried and cried. I spoke to my brother in prayer for years. Even as a teenager, I would lay in bed at night wondering how my life would have been different if my twin hadn’t died.
This might be one of the most important stories of my entire childhood.
It is completely made up.
At the age of 27, I told this story to a very close friend of mine. He looked at me like I had three heads and called bullshit. I was completely taken aback, highly offended. How could anyone hear one of my most personal, painful secrets and tell me it was crap? I had to prove him wrong. I ran upstairs to get my birth certificate, it would say twin birth and then he would apologize. I had never really read my birth certificate before and it said single birth. I became instantly nauseous as the details of the story ran through my head. My mother never mentioned that story in front of anyone. We were always alone but we discussed it a lot. I ended up filing for copies of my birth records at the hospital I was born at.
I was a single, uncomplicated delivery. Single.
2) Obedience to men:
To quote my mother, “You kids are the third most important things in my life: God, my husband, then you. Remember, I will always choose your father over you.” This was ironic, very ironic. As I’m sure you, the reader, has noticed, I have thus far said very precious little about my father. There really isn’t anything to say. I saw him for roughly one hour a day in my early childhood. The only other times I saw him were on his few days off and vacations. When he was home, it was misery. He hit us; he beat my eldest brother with sticks. We also sometimes saw him at night. If we had misbehaved during the day, my mother would report to him as the head of household. He would then come home from his second shift job and wake us up for a spanking with a heavy leather mechanic’s belt. It was rarely more than one child a night, so if you were awakened in the night to the screams of another sibling, you were safe.
Even though my father was rarely present, I was to submit to him in all things. Then one day, he would pass me to my husband and I would submit to him.
Women were created to help men. We were not to question. Honestly, this is all I know about my father. I don’t know what his childhood was like. I don’t know his favorite food, his favorite color. I know that he’s a Republican, that he enjoys camping, and that I was to listen to him second only to god, just like my mother. This was also in my homeschooling curriculum. Most lessons for girls were somehow tied back to obedience of the father and, one day, the husband.
3) Demons are real:
My mother was in constant fear of demonic influences and witches. Growing up, she would constantly discuss demons and witches. She was very fearful of witches casting spells on items to watch us. Things like MTV and other modern tv and radio could lead demons into us. This was so deeply ingrained from such a young age that I would lay awake at night paralyzed with fear that the scratching sound at my window was a demon. I even had to burn a present given to me by a friend once because my mother believed that my friend had cast a spell on it. Even today, as an atheist with no supernatural beliefs, I still have to catch myself if something unexplained happens. The anxiety can be literally physically paralyzing and I have to stay constantly aware. I can’t let my self start into my cycle of fear.
At the age of ten, my mother decided that we had surpassed her ability to teach us. This and the strain of my older brothers autism led to the decision to put us in the local public school. I also believe, though I cannot verify this, that we were put in school because we did very poorly on the Iowa Test of Basics Skills that the state had forced my parents to take us to.
I was very excited about the prospect of school. I was going to be around kids of my own age for the first time. I would get to have friends.
Then the first day of school started and I was completely out of my element.
Imagine, if you will, that you are doing an experiment with monkeys. The test is to see how quickly the monkey can adapt and learn. So, you take this test monkey and you put it in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle heading straight for a wall. The purpose is to see if the monkey, having no prior experience with cars, can stop the car before it crashes into the wall and dies.
I was that monkey. I died.
To be continued.
Wow, Jessica, I am so sorry to read our story. It breaks my heart to read about your crazy, cruel, fundamentalist parents. It terrifies me to think that I have been in home school support groups and churches with people who could have been very much like them. Who knows? Both places have always been full of superficial relationships in my experience, where no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors.
We need better home school regulation, and it should be uniform over the whole country. No child should ever have to live through this without even knowing that it’s not normal. Publicly schooled children also have parents who abuse them, but at least in school they learn its not normal.