When Your First Concert was Carman: Sapphira’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sapphira” is a pseudonym.

It’s always a really awkward question for me: “What was your first concert?”

For context, my husband owns a record store. This question is typically asked by someone after we’ve been discussing great hardcore, punk, or indie shows that we’ve recently attended.

Well… my first stadium concert was Carman.

[insert crickets chirping noise here].

Well, I’m pretty sure it was Carman, unless, wait, I think maybe I saw Twila Paris and my family was so excited because Mike Warnke – you know – the comedian — was opening for her. Who was your favorite rap artist in the 80’s…. Steven Wiley was rated highly… no one? Anyone? Any Michael W. Smith fans out there? Amy Grant (obviously pre-selling out and going secular)?

My evangelical musical background is not the cool kind of obscure the kids are typically looking for…

When my family converted, they went all in, they burned their old rock music, gave away our evil toys (thank you Turmoil in the Toybox for that trauma), smashed the TV, tossed out the VCR and shifted us over to only “wholesome” toys and music. Homeschooling followed soon thereafter.

I was starting 3rd grade when they pulled me out. I remember my oldest brother (10 years older) having a really hard time adjusting. He tried to trade in his Bon Jovi, Poison, and White Snake for Crumbächer and Stryper, but they just didn’t quite cut it. Plus, it didn’t matter because soon those bands were seen as “gateway” bands and they were also removed from the acceptable playlists.

Eventually it was a very small list of approved music and that is how I ended up at my first Carman concert, being enthralled by a ridiculous song about Lazarus. There would be many more Carman concerts, waiting in line to see The Newsboys, getting super excited to see Tooth & Nail bands, youth group trips to the Christian music festival at Great America, and then reaching the pinnacle of homeschool kid cool – joining the super hip praise dance crew at church and learning choreographed, very modest, dance moves to all of these bands and more to be performed at our outreach missionary programs.

There is nothing quite like boys and girls in baggy modest clothing doing very repetitive choreography to Audio Adrenaline or DC Talk to really get the crowd pumped.

What I always found especially amazing was the ability of some homeschool parents to find something sinister about even these ridiculously over-the-top super Christian bands. For example, my friend’s parents took her copy of DC Talk and recorded over the song “I Don’t Want It” – for those who weren’t DC Talk loving Jesus Freaks…note the lyrics to the first verse:

“S-E-X is test when I’m pressed

So back up off with less of that zest

Impress this brother with a life of virtue

The innocence that’s spent is gonna hurt you

Safe is the way they say to play

Then again safe ain’t safe at all today

So just wait for the mate that’s straight from God

Don’t have sex ’til you tie the knot” (Full lyrics available here)

This song has it all…. It’s perfectly aligned with the I Kissed Dating Goodbye lectures we were getting at youth group…women are the guardians of virtue and the temptresses, the most important thing is to guard your purity, safe sex is a lie, it continues on like this for the entire catchy song.

Yet it was too taboo for my homeschool crew.

About 50% of us were allowed to listen to it as long as we were over 16, the remainder had it removed from their tapes. It’s always amazed me that even though my family are two to three standard deviations away from the norm in their over the top hyper-controlled and restrictive practice of evangelical Christianity, I always had friends with even more restrictive and punitive parents that made my experience seem almost moderate. It was only after breaking away (and finding community in the hardcore/punk/feminist music scenes) that I was able to see how restrictive my family was and was able to begin to chart my own course.

At least it’s been easier to catch up on the music I missed out on…

That whole “unlearning pretend science” and “learning actual science” once I got to college thing was quite a bit more challenging.

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part One

Iris Rosenthal blogs at The Spiritual Llama. This story is reprinted with her permission.

"I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what."
“I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what.”

I recently came across a blog called Homeschoolers Anonymous, it caught my eye since I was homeschooled for several years and never set foot in a public school.

As I started reading the blog, I found myself relating to things that were being said there more and more. And when I read the “About” section on their website, that is when I knew I had finally found a place that understood me and the struggles I have gone through to get where I am today, and wouldn’t just dismiss my misgivings about homeschooling telling me “Oh, not all homeschoolers are like that! You just weren’t homeschooled the right way!”

My mother homeschooled my brother, sister and I from K-12 grades. I’m not sure on her exact reasoning for homeschooling us since she was never homeschooled herself and also was a private school teacher for several years. I suspect she would have preferred to have us in a private school, however, living in a very, very very rural area of the state that wasn’t possible nor cost effective. So that left her with homeschooling or having her kids attend *dramatic gasp* public school.

The subject of our education was something that my mom and dad never could seem to agree on. My mom wanted to continue homeschooling us, while my dad wanted us to attend public school once we were older. This topic continued to be something that they both strongly disagreed on even after they divorced. My mom got custody of the three of us kids and we would see our dad every other weekend.

She continued to homeschool us and our curricula consisted of books she would find for us at yard sales and at the library, she also enrolled all of us in 4-H and told us that it was part of our schooling. Once I was in my 3rd or 4th year of high school she bought a computer program called Switched On Schoolhouse.

Once a week we would go to a homeschool co-op, once I was in high school it lost it’s appeal for me because everything was geared towards the younger kids and I was the only one in high school. It was very lonely and also frustrating at times because there were classes in the co-op that I wanted to take (such as the one where you were taught how to change the oil and other basic things on your car) but was told that those were only available for the boys. They had something called Contenders of the Faith (for the boys) and Keepers of the Home (for the girls), I don’t have much experience with either of those programs since they were (as I’ve said before) geared towards the younger kids.

There are times that I have huge doubts as to how intelligent I really am. At home my mother primarily focused on my brother and his education, while my sister and I got the leftovers. It was very tiresome to always hear all the time about how “smart” and “brilliant” my brother was, how well he always did on his schoolwork and how creative he was.

I suppose you must be wondering if my mother ever tried to pass a specific social, political and religious ideology on to us kids. Short answer, yes. She only ever had either conservative talk show, or the Christian music station playing on the radio. I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh. She also made sure that we were very involved with the church we went to (even though it was a 45 minute drive one way) and was always volunteering us for things, while at the same time not letting us choose what we really wanted to do if it didn’t match her high ideals for us.

Being the oldest I was the first one to graduate of the three of us (even though my brother had skipped a grade or two). Two weeks after graduation I was taking college classes online, even though I had informed my mother that I didn’t want to start college right after high school. I wanted to take a year off and get a job (still hadn’t had a real job at that point, nor was I even driving on my own), work in an inner city church as a volunteer. I wanted to experience the world like I never had before being confined either to the secluded farm, homeschool group, 4-H or church. I didn’t even know what I wanted to go to college for, so it made sense in my 18 year old mind to not go to college until I knew what it was that I wanted to do. And I knew that when I did go to college I would want to stay in a dorm and not take classes online.

Of course that wasn’t good enough for my mom, who took it upon herself to enroll me in an online university to take classes to get an associates degree in business administration. It was her plan for me to eventually turn the farm into a “ranch for disadvantaged youth” and that’s why I had to take these courses.

After trying my very best in the first semester I came to her in tears wanting to drop out. I had toughed it out for a semester and that was enough to reinforce my belief that business administration wasn’t for me. I tried to tell her all of this, but instead got to hear a lecture about how she didn’t raise any quitters. I told her that I would rather have a job, and she told me that in order to have a job that didn’t involve “flipping burgers” that I would have to go to college. Disagreeing with my mother is near impossible if you want to be vocal about your differing opinion, she is very dead set on being right all the time so I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what.

I took online classes for eight more months before the university kicked me out because my grades had plummeted so low. It was a great relief for me even though my mother was constantly chewing me out about being a failure because now I could finally get a job.

Overall I would describe my homeschooling experience as negative. Now that I am close to 30 years old and about to have a child of my own, I know that I would not want my daughter to go through what I went through. I don’t want her to be as ill-prepared when it comes to functioning in the real world as I was. I understand parents wanting to protect their kids from all the bad stuff that goes on in the world…however, you have to have balance and know that eventually you will need to teach and equip them how to handle different situations that they will face once they get out on their own.

After all, doesn’t every parent (no matter what their religious or political standings) want their child to be an independent and self-reliant adult in the real world?

Part Two >

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

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Part Two: The Social Isolation of Homeschooling

What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?

They both only leave the house once a week.

"What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?"
“What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?”

This joke was well-received among homeschooled youth because it rang true for so many of us.  For almost all of my teen years, church was the only social activity that I engaged in, the only time during the whole week that I might have a chance to interact with people who were not my immediate family.  Making friends in that context, especially as a shy teen girl, seems daunting.  However, I had an even greater obstacle to deal with: I was not allowed to participate in youth group.

My parents were absolutely terrified of teenage rebellion.  Thanks to various books and speakers popular in the homeschooling community, my parents believed teen rebellion to be a recent American trend due to indulgent parenting and peer pressure.  A rebellious teen was more than just an annoyance in the homeschooling community: that teen was turning his/her back not only on the parents, but also on God.  What a tragic waste of years of sacrifice and careful training by the parents!  This type of thinking motivated my parents to maintain careful discipline and to shelter us from almost all contact with our peers, even at church.

I distinctly remember the conversation between the youth pastor and my mom.  I was probably 14 or 15, and so shy that I would start shaking if anyone tried to talk to me at church.  Although social interaction was painful, I desperately needed it, and I think the youth pastor noticed that.  He approached my parents after church one day to invite us to Sunday school.  My mom asked for the materials that were being used in Sunday school, and took them home to peruse them with my dad.  I heard the decision the next week at the same time as the youth pastor: “Our kids will not be attending Sunday school.”  The reason?  Apparently the material mentioned a teen who was frustrated with his parents, and it was dangerous for me to think that frustration was a valid or normal feeling for a teen to have toward parents.

The tough thing about social phobia is that it is often self-reinforcing.  In my case, my severe social anxiety displayed itself in uncontrollable muscle spasms, and anticipating the shaking made me even more anxious about interacting with people.  What if someone noticed me shaking?  I used to cry myself to sleep at night quite often, occasionally trying to get my mom to notice my tears by sniffing juuuust loud enough for her to hear as she walked by my door.  When she came in to ask why I was crying, I would say something like, “I don’t have any friends” or “I don’t know how to talk to people.”  The answer to these was always the same: “You have us” or “You’re talking to me right now.”  In the morning, life would proceed as usual.

Unfortunately, the “usual” for my life at home was very empty and quiet.  My dad was working long hours and was permanently in a bad mood when at home, and my mom was always sapped of energy for various reasons.  She left us kids to do our schoolwork independently much of the time; we even corrected our own errors from the answer key.  Later, due to mysterious and debilitating health problems, her energy was so low that just going to the grocery store was often too much for her to handle.  It was simply understood in the family that we shouldn’t harass her about wanting to leave the house.  Since I wasn’t able to get my driver’s license until I was 18, I was stuck for hours, days, weeks, months, years with little-to-no mental or social stimulation.

Little-to-no stimulation is not an exaggeration; obviously, a teen girl who can’t even go to Sunday school due to “bad influences” is going to find many other things forbidden to her as well.  Our home did not have a TV; we watched few movies; we only read pre-approved Christian or classical books; we did not have internet access; and we certainly did not listen to most music.  My one musical joy was listening to Steve Green and going to his concert with another homeschooling mom.  When I tried to add Rebecca St. James to my CD collection, my mom almost had a meltdown because of the beat and the heavy breathing; it didn’t matter that almost every song was a verbatim quote from the Bible.  I knew my role–honor your parents–so that CD went straight into the trash and I tried to feel happy that I was obeying God.

What did I do with my time at home?  I dragged my school work out to take up most of the day; I spent large amounts of time spaced out, lying on my bed; I wrote in my journals; and I made my own clothes.  My homemade clothes were the outward sign of my feelings of isolation.  Starting at about age 13, I was responsible for furnishing my own wardrobe (within the boundaries of modesty my parents provided, of course).  I had $25 a month to work with, and my mom could tolerate shopping at fabric stores much more than at clothing stores, where everything was “immodest.”  (And that was in the women’s clothing sections–I didn’t even know that clothing came in junior sizes until after I had graduated from high school!)  Out on various errands or on family vacations, wearing my very odd, ill-fitting clothing, I felt the stares and desperately wished that human contact was unnecessary.  “I wish I could just be a hermit!” — this sentence occurs a little too frequently in my teen journals.

My first friend of my teenage years came from Hope Chapel, when I was about 17.  Pastor Reb Bradley, with the support of the homeschooling families of HC, would not allow a youth group in the church.  Finally, I was not so odd!  It was easier to strike up a conversation with someone, knowing they might be just as desperate and nervous as me.  It was easier to not feel judged when the other person’s clothes were just as odd as my own.  I could more easily feel successful at conversation because it was not full of cultural references that I had no idea about.  I became a little more confident socially, strengthened my atrophied conversational muscles, and got a little more hopeful about life.  I was even able to add a second friend by the time I was 19.

Now I’m 30 years old, with four years of college and eight years of work between me and my teen self, yet I still feel the effects of the isolation I experienced growing up.

First, I still feel significant social anxiety in even the most non-threatening situations.  I am particularly at a loss in group settings full of new people.  What do I say? When do I say it? Whom do I say it to?  How/when do I end a conversation?  Even in a circle setting, when it’s my turn to say my name, my blood pressure skyrockets.

Second, in the whole world, there is no place and no group of people where I feel like I belong.  It’s like I was raised in a different culture, with the distinct difference that I can never go “home” to it.  I’m permanently a foreigner; interacting in this foreign culture takes a lot of attention and effort.  I’ve tried to catch up on the culture I missed…to watch the movies, to listen to the music, to see pictures of the clothing styles…..but it will never mean to me what it means to you.  People always use cultural references and nostalgia as a way to build community and connections between people; for me, they create distance and remind me how different I am inside.

My profile photo is of the 80s star Molly Ringwald.  The first time I ever heard her name mentioned was at my first real job, when I was 22 years old.  God bless my dear gay boss, who saw through my awkwardness and gave me a chance at the job because I looked like his favorite childhood actress!  When he learned that I had no idea who she was, his jaw hit the floor.

These days, I manage to avoid shocking people too much, unless I decide to tell them about my past.  To me, the biggest compliment I can receive today is, “You were homeschooled? Wow, I can’t even tell!”

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To be continued.