When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Adam Lanza

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

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Adam Lanza

Adam Lanza is probably the most recognizable name in recent memory on this list. In December 2012, the 20-year-old man shot his 52-year-old mother Nancy in the face and then drove her car to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, where he killed 20 young school children as well as 6 adults. He then took his own life.

Adam Lanza killed 20 young school children as well as 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.
Adam Lanza killed 20 young school children as well as 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

As a child, Adam attended Sandy Hook Elementary himself. After continuing in the Newton public school system for a few years, Nancy “pulled her son out of school to home-school him” by 4th or 5th grade. (Adam began exhibiting disturbing thoughts of violence in the 5th grade.) But then he was put back into the Newton school district by middle school. He spent part of 7th and 8th grade in a private school, St. Rose of Lima School.

While in the public school system, Adam was assigned a psychologist and “counselors, teachers and security officers were also keeping an eye on him.”  Adam was having problems at school; Nancy described her son to friends as “brilliant, but disabled.”

Adam’s disabilities had been identified early on. By age 6, Adam was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder; by middle school, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Despite these diagnoses, however, Nancy allegedly was angry at Adam’s school for “failing her son” and “refused to deal with them anymore” after she “pleaded for better services” for him. Adam was prescribed medication, but he refused to take them.

The former director of security at Newton School District said that, while Adam was in public school in 2007, Adam was “completely the opposite” of a killer; in fact, the school was “worried about him being the victim or that he could hurt himself.” But part way through his sophomore year in high school, his mother pulled him out a second time to homeschool him because “she was unhappy with the school district’s plans for her son.” From 8th grade on, his mother taught him humanities and his father taught him sciences. Nancy did, however, coordinate “the home curriculum with Newtown High School to insure that Adam could graduate rather than simply get a G.E.D.”

Life at home for the Lanza family was similarly chaotic. Nancy separated from her husband Peter in 2001 (when Adam was 9) and they divorced in 2009 (when Adam was 17). After the divorce, Nancy was “living alone in a big house” and purchased a number of guns. She “had five weapons registered to her,” including “a Glock handgun, a Sig Sauer handgun and a Bushmaster rifle.” Nancy not only allowed Adam access to these weapons, but encouraged his interest in them. When police searched Nancy’s house after the massacre, they found a check Nancy wrote to Adam from the previous Christmas; it was for him “to buy a CZ 83 pistol.” References to pedophilia were found on a computer hard drive alleged to belong to Adam and elsewhere around his house.

At the age of 20, when he went on his killing spree, Adam had few (if any friends) and had no job. Not long before he went on his massacre, Nancy — while frequenting a nearby bar — had expressed to a friend that “her troubled young son was spiraling out of control.”

The Sandy Hook massacre is considered the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history.

View the case index here.

How My Mother Homeschooled Me (Without Screwing Up My Life): Adria Murphy’s Story

Photo courtesy of Adria Murphy.
Photo courtesy of Adria Murphy.

Adria Murphy blogs at The Still Point. The following post was originally published on her blog on December 7, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission. 

I don’t usually write in reaction to or dialogue with other bloggers. Writing about my own life is emotionally vulnerable, but non-controversial. I don’t blog frequently. When I do write, I do so because I need to say something. But I need to say something right now that is both personal, and possibly controversial.

There has recently been a growing awareness of the devastating problems of abuse and oppression in the conservative Christian homeschooling community, thanks to brave people like my friend R.L. Stollar, a Community Coordinator for Homeschoolers Anonymous.  The stories on H.A. are blood-chilling to me, because they sound so familiar. I knew these people, or people like them.

As I’ve read these stories, I’ve been thinking about my own upbringing in a conservative Christian home. I am not the perfect picture of mental health. I’ve struggled with depression and self-destructive behaviors. I’ve had (have?) my share of identity and image complexes.

Complexes notwithstanding, however, I launched into college and adult life with a strong education, an intact faith, and an overall positive and grateful outlook on my own homeschooling education. So as I read these articles and think about the people I know personally who had horrible homeschooling experiences, I am trying to figure out what made my story different. I have a few ideas.

I do not imagine this to be a definitive or even generalizable list. I am so aware that I grew up in very, very privileged circumstances. I want to write this gently. I want to write in a spirit of gratitude, not out of pride, authority, or judgment.

I want to lend my voice in support of those who have experienced abuse and hardship from the homeschool community.

But the thing I do best with my voice is to tell my own honest story. So that’s what I’m doing. If you are a homeschool parent or considering homeschooling, let me share a beautiful example of wisdom and responsibility with you. If you are someone who has experienced the unhealthy side of homeschooling, I am sorry. I am so sorry. And my prayers are with you. I hope we can make things better.

Before I begin my list, let me describe my background. I was homeschooled from sixth grade through high school graduation, and attended a private Christian school before that. I wouldn’t go so far as to call my parents hyper-conservative, as I am all too familiar with startling extremes more deserving of that title. My parents weren’t trying to marry off my sisters or me as child brides. However, my upbringing was sheltered enough to shock even many of my friends at my conservative Christian university.

I wasn’t allowed to watch Lion King or Pocahontas as a kid, because of the “New Age stuff.” Until I left for college, the only R-rated film I’d seen was Passion of the Christ. I wasn’t allowed to date in high school, and in fact had to ask for permission to date after I was already 18 and in college. I wasn’t allowed to wear spaghetti strap shirts, and sometimes even my tank tops were considered too revealing. I read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” repeatedly, not only because I was convinced that dating was evil and that courtship was Jesus’ perfect plan for my love life, but because I thought the cute anecdotes about happily courting couples were romantic and even a bit racy. As in, oh my goodness, this is the part where Joshua Harris talks about kissing. Gasp. Giggle.

That’s where I came from. Yet, somehow, I emerged thankful for my upbringing. Given the choice, I’d do it again.

So here is my list. Here are the ways my mother homeschooled me without screwing up my life.

1) She treated homeschooling like a tool, not an agenda.

My mother decided to homeschool my brother, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, when the school system failed to offer a supportive solution for his high IQ and low social skills. She started homeschooling me when I, socially misfit and academically bored, came home from my private Christian school in tears too many times. My two sisters followed suit a year later. However, when my youngest sister showed signs of wanting more social opportunities, my mother put her back in private school. When my brother needed more classroom experience and study skills, my mom drove him to a charter school a few days a week, homeschooling him the rest of the time so he could continue to thrive academically in the most comfortable environment. In high school, one of my sisters butted heads with my mother on academic decisions. Rather than demand compliance, my mother enrolled her in a public high school. Halfway into her second year in public high school, my sister wrote my parents a letter asking if she could try homeschooling again. And they did.

My mom has told me, “It’s very difficult to homeschool a child—especially a teenager—who doesn’t want to be. High school students want and need more autonomy over their education. Some people think that’s a battle you have to win. But I don’t think it’s worth fighting at the detriment of the relationship.”

Because of this continual reevaluation and adjusting of our educational options, at one point my three siblings and I were being educated in four different ways: one in private school, one in public school, one part time at a charter school and part time homeschooled, and one (me) fully homeschooled. My mother homeschooled us, not because she was interested in pushing homeschooling as the only or best option, but only when she believed that it truly was the best option in practice.

2) She made academics a priority.

Not only is my mother a pediatrician, highly educated in mathematics and science, but she is also very knowledgeable about literature and writing. Because of her educational background, my mother not only provided us with a rigorous and fascinating science and math education, she graciously welcomed other homeschooling families to join our academic endeavors. On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, we had “classmates” from other homeschooling families in our dining room dissecting cow eyes and puzzling over trigonometry problems.

However, in areas where my mother felt she could not provide us with a comparable or better education than the private and public schools, she found help. Since she is not fluent in a second language, she hired Spanish tutors for us (and once again invited other homeschooling families over to our house to join our Spanish class). She purchased computer software and videos to supplement—though not replace—her instruction. We utilized distance and online learning programs. She sought out the best.

My mother also made it clear that we would never use the flexible schedule afforded by homeschooling to make academics secondary to our extra-curricular activities. Like many of our homeschooled friends, my sisters and I competed in a national speech and debate league for homeschooled highschoolers. However, we were never allowed to research until our school work on core subjects was completed for the day (the most we could hope for was to work ahead or bargain away our weekends in order to schedule a full day of uninterrupted research). My mother also cautioned against an overly rigorous tournament schedule when she found we were falling behind in our core subject work as a result of too many long, exhausting debate tourney weekends.

We all were involved in athletics and arts, but never to the detriment of our school work. We were all taught domestic skills and were responsible for household chores, but we weren’t expected to be miniature parents. I’ve sewn a few skirts. I’m a reasonably competent cook. That’s about it. Academics came first.

3) She raised her daughters and son with disabilities to have careers.

My mother kind of vetoed my first desired career of International Singing Sensation. In the same breath, however, she warned against hoping to become a stay-at-home mom without a backup plan. “Everyone woman should have a marketable skill,” was her mantra. “You can’t control when you’ll get married. What if you stay single? What if your husband loses his job? Or dies? What if you can’t support your family on one income? You have to have a marketable skill.”

As a physician who gave up a brilliant and beloved medical career in order to homeschool four children, my mother was certainly a fan of stay-at-home moms. I will be eternally grateful for her sacrifice. However, she was also a fan of being realistic. Just because she, by God’s grace, had the financial means and circumstances to homeschool us never meant we should expect the same privilege. She pointed out examples of women in our lives, married and single, who had chosen wise career paths and were capable of supporting themselves and, if need (or desire) be, their families.

At the age of 26, I have never been in a relationship. I could be single forever. But I have a fulfilling career that I love. I shudder to think how my self-esteem would be currently suffering were I waiting on a husband to give me my purpose in life. I shudder to think how I would be affording an apartment of my own right now, had I pursued International Singing Sensation or Rich Husband as my primary provision in adult life.

My brother, meanwhile, just got his first job wrapping silverware at Red Robin. We are so proud of him.

4) She lived like a whole person.

One of the best things my mother has done for her children has been to live like her children are not her whole life. We certainly take up most of her time, and I like to think that we’re the most awesome part of her life. But we aren’t all of it.

Once I came home from college to discover my mother beating on our kitchen barstools with drumsticks. “I’m taking a Taiko drumming class,” she explained. While still homeschooling my youngest sister, my mother has been taking classes on health and medicine in third world countries to prepare her for medical missions trips. She participates in runs and bike races. She takes dance lessons and cooking classes. She calls me to tell me what she’s learning in her Bible studies. She speaks like her world is still getting bigger and brighter.

I believe she loves me unconditionally and deeply. I believe my mother finds joy and fulfillment in parenting. Her dedication and sacrifices attest to this. My mother, however, is also a doctor, friend, chicken enthusiast, poodle lover, thrift store ninja, gardener, health and fitness nut, dedicated church volunteer, and Bananagrams champion. And I am so glad she is all of these things. She sacrificed much—more than most moms, I think, if such comparison be possible or moral. She homeschooled us. She didn’t lose herself in us. Just when I thought she’d poured all of herself into us, she somehow proved that her soul was still individual and exquisite, working out her own salvation with fear and trembling, defining herself by herself and God and not by us. She has never stopped becoming more awesome.

In addition to her insistence on a viable career, my mother’s dedication to lifelong learning and growth and fun have done wonders for my own self-esteem. By behaving like a whole person while unconditionally loving her children, she taught me by example that there is life beyond being a wife and mother, however sacrosanct those roles may be. They are not the entire definition of womanhood—even Biblical womanhood.

My mother has three daughters. We are all conservative Christian women. But we are all fierce.

5) She picked her battles.

This might seem contradictory to the earlier description of my sheltered upbringing, but the truth is that my mom did not micromanage our preferences or choices in many areas.  It’s true that my mother “sheltered” us as kids. However, our dialogues—even when I was young—led me to see that her end goal in doing so was to train our hearts, minds, and habits before entering autonomous adulthood. She didn’t want to control us or turn us into perpetual children. Even when I disagreed with her practices (I remember hours of argument over certain movies or certain boys), her open communication and clear purpose kept me sane. And, true to her word, she recognized and responded to our growing need and merit for more freedom. We not only eventually saw the movie “Lion King,” we saw the live musical as a family.

When discussing my choices, or my siblings’ choices, my mother often said, “If it’s not immoral, dangerous, or illegal, I let it go.” And she did. She has never been the kind of parent who faked superficial approval or “support” when she disagreed with our choices. She’d give advice and make her opinions clear. We’d have long conversations. But she also let go.

When I did end up in a mess because of my choices, she couldn’t be shocked. I could tell her anything, and she never got mad. She never tried to make me feel ashamed. At most, she’d sigh and say to give thanks because things could’ve been worse. And we’d work through it.

Probably the greatest example of my mother’s battle-picking wisdom was when she gave my sister and me the freedom to attend a church of our choice. At one point when I was in high school, my immediate family was spread out over three different churches. Although I knew this was not my mother’s ideal—not only did she dislike the separation in our family, but she had theological and practical issues with the church I was attending—she didn’t insist. She let it go.

Looking back, I realize how untenable her choice might’ve seemed to other conservative families. My mother chose to let us attend a church she didn’t like, recognizing my responsibility for my own soul and placing trust in both God and me to work it out. Far from damaging my spiritual life, her trust—combined with her fervent example of faith and continued encouragement to seek God—prevented me from becoming resentful towards my upbringing and motivated me to earnestly search for truth.

6) She learned, grew, and was willing to change her parenting and teaching practices.

My mother gets excited about learning new things. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard her say, “I used to think… but I just learned…!!!”

My mother constantly reevaluated our education and family routines, and tried new things. If we complained about a particular curriculum, my mother found something we enjoyed more. If we struggled with a subject, she changed her teaching method. When I was in high school, I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. My youngest sister, currently in high school, has had two boyfriends. She dates with parent approval and supervision (she cleverly jokes about wanting to write a book called “A Homeschooler’s Guide to Dating: Table for Three, Please!”).

A few years ago, my mother called me and asked, “Your sister says you think that not letting you date in high school causes problems with your dating life, now. Do you really think that’s true?” I explained, no, I didn’t think that—well, not exactly… and we talked about the positive and negative outcomes of being allowed to date at a young age.

I will always remember that phone call, because she was willing to initiate a conversation about her parenting choices, and to hear my answers. As she raises my youngest sister and faces many of the same educational challenges she faced with me, she occasionally will ask what I remember of a particular program or educational experience. While her fundamental values have changed very little, my mother is honest with herself and reflective with us about her parenting and teaching.

7) She balanced doctrine with charity.

When my sister and I participated in homeschool debate, we became very analytic about theology and doctrine. The elevated place of knowledge, competition, and piety in the homeschool community was sometimes a deadly combination. My mother recognized the danger in this and did her best to temper it. Although she did support and encourage us in pursuit of Biblical knowledge—ever valuing education and truth—she also cautioned us.

I find it ironic that, in some ways, I was the grumpy fundamentalist in high school, while my mother was the soft voice of moderation. She did her best to check our bent towards theological correctness with love, Christian practice, and relational devotion to God. When I would come home from church with judgmental comments on the sermon, she would remind me to be a charitable listener and learner. “How can you worship when you’re constantly criticizing?” I remember her asking. She was also very quick to remind us not to criticize people in our eagerness to criticize doctrines. She encouraged us to question the motivation of our critical attitudes. She pointed to holy and loving people with limited theological educations.

The older I got, the more I saw, as she had, how theological correctness was used as a pretext for competition and unnecessary division amongst believers. After high school, it was years before I could stomach another conversation about predestination and freewill. Not only was my mother’s attitude godly and loving, but it kept the peace in our sometimes theologically divided household. I can’t imagine the theological brawls that would have occurred in our home, had my mother demanded agreement on every doctrinal point, or not attempted to reign in our zealous debates.

I’ve seen some of my most doctrinally correct and rigid friends—and their hyper-conservative parents—break when their preconceptions about God and reality smashed against tragedy, better arguments, or simply the wear of time. I’ve been there too—nearly. When I ran out of good arguments, though, I still knew God, still knew love, and so I held on. I’ve believed in predestination. I’ve decried it. I’ve attended many churches trying to figure out what this Christianity thing should look like. But I’ve always believed. If not for my mother’s guidance towards love and relationship with Christ, this might not have been true.

But I’ve always believed.

By the way, I let my mom proof-read this post. Her response? She thinks I gave her too much credit. What was she doing when I emailed her? Trying to catch up on sleep in her car between rounds at a homeschool debate tournament, because she woke up at 4:30am. Typical homeschool mom.

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part Three

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part Three

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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"I didn't know it yet, but it was the first day of the rest of my life."
“I didn’t know it yet, but it was the first day of the rest of my life.”

I got older and middle school went by and it was time for high school.  My freshmen year, I met a new set of friends. They were the goth kids and they were awesome. All fucked up, suicidal, death metal freaks, but they were still christians.

My parents hated these kids.

At one point in time, my mother accused them of turning me into a lesbian because I didn’t have boyfriends. Never mind that I was not allowed to date and every attempt had ended brutally at their hand. It didn’t matter these girls were straight. I was hanging out with these strange girls and they were making me a lesbian.

When that tactic didn’t work, my mother tried to convince me that they were witches. She even had our pastor come visit and lecture me on the “appearance of evil.” They appeared evil. This didn’t work either, I was prepared with verses to counter his. When that failed, my parents decided they were going to put me in a girls’ reform boarding school. They wouldn’t take me. I had bad grades, but I was good kid. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink, I didn’t skip school, I wasn’t having sex. With the exception of my grades, I was a perfect teenager. I never once got in trouble at school.

I did not misbehave until the stress broke me.

The stress of all the pressure and the attempts to separate me from my only friends and still regular beatings with a belt, drove me to self harm. At the age of 15 I started cutting myself. My mother’s tactic for dealing with this was to hypothetically lecture me on how stupid it was to cut yourself, but she never actually acknowledged that I was doing it.

I cut myself for 3 years without anyone ever trying to stop me.

I made a couple more normal friends as well in high school and my senior year, I started attending church with them. It was there, a senior in highschool at the age of 18 that I met my future husband, but I didn’t know it yet. Honestly, the first time I met him, I thought he was giant ass. We had an argument on tithing in youth group. He believed there were legitimate financial reasons for not tithing. I did not

A month later, the church held a camp out. I had to beg and plead at the age of 18 to be allowed to attend a camping trip where boys would be present. Never mind that all of the adults were going too — there would be boys!

On that trip, my mother’s worst nightmare came true. I met a boy. An older boy.

We had our first date, he took me to a movie. I had to be home at 9 pm. She told me that she wouldn’t stop me, but that it was very inappropriate that Brian hadn’t come to ask my father for permission to date me. Before I could see him again, after this date, he would have to come meet my parents. So the next Saturday, I had him over for lunch. I had to show that I could be a good house wife. So I had to top to bottom clean the house and cook the entire meal by myself from scratch.

This wasn’t because of  Brian. He didn’t care.

My parents however, thought this was going to be a traditional Christian courtship and if I didn’t show off my womanly skills, he would find someone else.  Lunch went fine, and my partly tattooed 20 year old boyfriend showed up. Begrudgingly, my parents gave their consent, mostly because I was 18.

Sunday, after church Brian and his family invited me to go play miniature golf. I called my parents to ask permission and they gave it, even though they didn’t sound like they liked the idea. I stayed all day, had a wonderful time and made sure I was home by 9 pm.

When I got home, all hell broke loose. My parents hadn’t told me, but they had wanted to go grocery shopping that evening, but they would not leave the house while I was gone with my boyfriend. I had a 5 minute screaming match at the front door because I was home on time and they never mentioned I needed to be home sooner.

Sobbing, I walked to my bedroom and opened the door.

My bed had flipped upside down.

All of the clothes from my dresser had been pulled out and thrown on the floor the clothes were ripped from my closet and lying on the floor. My beside table drawers had been ripped out and dumped. My room was in shambles.

I turned around, walked out of my room to the kitchen, got a drink of water and my mother came in. She pointed to a pile of clothes on the floor and said, “You need to put these away and clean that awful mess in your room.”

I snapped and started screaming at her at the top of my lungs. My room had been spotless, I wasn’t putting away a damn thing (it may have been the first time I had ever sworn) and she needed to fix what she had done to my room because she had no right.

Then I heard the door knob.

Dad was home, I didn’t know dad was home.

For some perspective. I was 5 ft tall and weighed maybe 120 lbs. My father had almost a foot and more than 100 lbs on me. My stomach sank and I started running for the front door. He caught me and slammed me into the fridge. I pushed him off me and started running the down the hall to my room. He caught me again. I slapped him to try to get him off me. He swung me around and started choking me.

My mother screamed.

He let me go and I locked myself in my room. He told me through the door that I was no longer allowed to leave the house unless it was for school. No church, no extracurriculars, nothing. Then he hid the phones and went to bed. I couldn’t call the police, I couldn’t leave because they had set the alarm and even if I could get out, we lived almost 8 miles out of town and it was cold.  I sat on my bed holding my baseball bat all night waiting for my dad to come after me.

The next morning, after no sleep, I packed the $20 I had to my name and a couple changes of clothes into my backpack and got on the bus. I never went back home. I didn’t know it yet, but it was the first day of the rest of my life. It was only going to get better from here.

After school, my youth pastor picked me up and drove me to a battered woman’s shelter. The next day, the police tried to get my parents to release me the rest of my clothing. They refused and I declined to press charges. Between the church, my boyfriend and the shelter, they replaced everything I owned. I had never had new clothes before. All of my clothes came from goodwill and the dav. They looked awful, they were torn, and I only had two pairs of jeans and a couple shirts anyway. I ended up better off in that respect.

I endured several months of harassment. My parents tried to find the shelter I was staying at. Also had one very failed attempt at family counseling.

I ended up staying at my youth pastor’s house and dropping out of high school.  I couldn’t maintain a full time job, school, and my church duties — and, for the first time, a social life. About a year later, Brian and I  married. Now, almost 10 years later, my husband and I are happy, non-believing parents to three beautiful children.

Over the years, I have tried a couple times to form a relationship with my parents. However, it never worked out and I eventually ended up cutting them out of my life entirely. I am happy, healthy, and I have the family I never thought I could have.

My children are thriving in public school and the difference between them and myself at their age sometimes hits me like a brick wall. They are happy, they aren’t afraid me or my husband and they love it when daddy is home. They have friends and all three are such different people with distinct personalities. The monster in the closet isn’t a demon coming to possess or kill them. And when they do get scared, they come running to mommy instead of freezing in fear unable to move.

They are loved and can be themselves.

I think that is all any child ever really needs.

End of series.

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part Two

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part Two

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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I showed up for school with my back pack on, my lunch packed, my patent leather white dress shoes and my frilliest pink dress.  I marched straight up to the first girl my age, stuck out my hand and said “Hi, my name is Jessica and I think we’re just going to be the best of friends.” She laughed at me, and walked away talking about me to her friends.

I was completely socially inept.

I had never been around other children. The only other child that I had been around regularly was my older brother, so I acted like my autistic older brother.  Every time I spoke, I would compulsively say what I had just said again under my breath to listen myself say it. Literally every sentence. Until the other children started making fun of me for it, I had never realized that other people didn’t do that.  It took me over two years to break that habit and I still do it in my head to make sure what I just said didn’t sound stupid. No one played with me and no one spoke to me except the teachers.

That was just the social aspect. I was capable of all the grade level work the other children were doing, except the math.

However, I had never been in a class room.

When I did my work at home, I would sit at the table, read my books, do my work sheets or tests and then I was done for the day.  It usually took 2-3 hours. I knew nothing about school. My first day, I got in trouble for answering the questions when the teacher asked them. After a couple questions, I realized that the other children were raising their hands and being called on. However, it was too late. I lost my recess and had to write “I will not speak unless spoken to” 150 times. My hand ached and I didn’t speak in class again for weeks.

After the first 9 weeks, I found out that I was failing school. I aced all of my tests but I wasn’t doing any of the assignments I didn’t have the attention span to pay attention in class. I had never had to pay attention for that long before, so I didn’t hear any of the instructions. I didn’t understand, I was doing everything I was asked at school. As much as I heard before I involuntarily spaced out. What I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t done when the day was over. I was supposed to be doing work at home too. I was beaten  for flunking, but no one told me what I was supposed to do to change it. My mom had checked out of our education as soon as the homeschooling was over.

Finally, after failing my 2nd nine weeks, my teacher started paying attention and realized what was wrong. I didn’t know how to be in school. She kept me in at recess (I didn’t play at recess anyway) every day for a week and taught me how school worked. She explained homework, she moved me to the front row so she could work on keeping my attention. She explained why everything was the way it was and I finally started catching on.

Socially however, was another story. I had no friends. No one would speak to me.

It became even worse after I tried to start a conversation about demons at the lunch table.

My grades came up the first half of the 2nd semester and after that, I could no longer make myself care. I didn’t belong at home, I didn’t belong at school, the kids were afraid of me, my parents hated me. I had no reason to exist. I stopped doing anything that I did not want to do. I was never going to measure up to the expectations of my family or my peers, so trying was useless.

At the end of the year, my teacher informed my parents that I was not ready to progress to middle school and I was held back to repeat my 5th grade year. This of course was an abject failure. I had humiliated my parents.  What would the other people in town think? This was always very important. My mother cared deeply about how she appeared to the other people in our small, entirely too nosy town. I went back to school the next year and did nothing at all. I did what I had to do in class so the teacher wouldn’t yell at me and got beatings at home for the straight D’s and F’s on my report card. I didn’t care. They passed me anyway.

In Middle School, the social aspect of school started to become easier. I made some friends, yes they were the other weird kids, but they were my friends. The age of 12 brought new difficulties with it. I was starting to be interested in boys and this was unacceptable. I was allowed to go to school, but I was not allowed to go to any school social events. Dances were immoral and there was no reason to be pursuing boys until at least the age of 16 if not 18. Sports were a frivolous waste of time, so I did not need to go to those events. Still, they had to let me do something, so middle school began my years of church lock ins and Bible camp.

I will come back to church events.  First I would like to tackle the ideas of privacy and sexuality.  In the sixth grade, I had my first “boyfriend”.  It was completely innocent and consisted note writing, sneaking phone calls and holding hands in the hallway.  It was in stark contrast to what I had been taught.  I was taught that boys were only after sex and that dating was unnecessary and immoral.  So even this completely innocent venture into crush land got me in more trouble than I had been in my entire life.  I had been writing a diary, but I had kept it secret.  I was not allowed to have secrets from my parents.  I accidentally left my diary in room one day and my mother found it.  She went through my room on a near weekly basis.  Something she never did to the boys. I was the one that had to be kept pure. My life went on like this until I left when I was 18.  I would try to have some semblance of self or privacy and it was be swiftly and harshly be stomped out as soon as it was discovered. My thoughts were not my own. I was not allowed to be different, I had to fully give myself to Jesus and my parents.

Church events were the only time I could really be a kid. At the age of 7, I was “saved” at our little baptist church.  However, I didn’t have an emotional coming to Jesus moment. I was sitting in the children’s section. The alter call started and I had never paid attention before. The pastor asked if there was anyone in the room that had never accepted Jesus. I hadn’t done that. So I put up my hand.

Now I have express the sheer lack of emotion in this experience — I had no idea what I was doing. The pastor asked if we had done something and I hadn’t. He was a man and spiritual leader, so I had to do what he said. I would have had the same response if he had asked me if I had brushed my teeth that morning. I went down, I repeated the prayer the lady had me say, and I was done. I did what I was told and then I tried to go sit back down. They wouldn’t let me.

I had to stand in front of the church.

Everyone was cheering, my mom was crying.  I had no idea why. The next Sunday I had to get baptized. At some point in time, I realized that I was supposed to have had an emotional response to this event, so I faked one and played along because for once, people were proud of me.

In middle school, I went to my first church camp. It was wonderful, all the kids were just like me and we got along wonderfully. I didn’t realize until many years later that the reason we got along was because they were all just as socially inept and weird as I was. Still, it was a release. Everything was great, except worship service on the 3rd day.  We had been having Bible studies, music and praise, but they didn’t have the first alter call until day 3.  We had a long lesson on hell and suffering. Then they outlined the steps of salvation. I had an emotional break down along with about 30 other children. I hadn’t been saved, not properly. I was going to burn in hell. I crawled, sobbing down the isle to the front and terrified, I accepted Jesus. Properly this time. I had such a sense of peace.

I was on fire for Jesus for the rest of the week.

Unfortunately, the assurance wore off and a new sense of terror joined the terror I had about demons and the 2 am hour when my father came home from work. I still wasn’t saved. I had doubts and I was told Jesus would take all my doubts away when I became saved. I must broken, why can’t I get properly saved? The scenario of tearfully crawling my way up to the stage repeated its self at nearly every youth event I attended until I stopped attending youth events at 18.

It never worked.

I never felt saved and it was a constant torment.

To be continued.

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part One

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part One

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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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.

1) Abortion:

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.