Wifely Duties and Baseball Bats: Morgan Dawn’s Story

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

Trigger warnings: rape, extreme physical abuse.

At the age of 3, I was adopted by a Navy couple.

Life was great for about 6 weeks, when they adopted a baby boy. That was when the horror began.

I was pushed aside, because I was “just a girl.”  By the time I was 10, the couple had 3 biological kids, on top of myself and the other adopted boy. My adopted mother had lots of health issues, so she was either pregnant or sick.

My adopted father decided that since his wife wasn’t able to perform her “wifely duties,” that job would fall to me. The rapes were a weekly occurrence from then on. When I went to a DOD school official, my family decided that the “safest” thing for me was to be homeschooled. After all, I was a pathological liar.

Right there, my life changed.

They started reading everything they could about “To Train Up a Child” and proper disciplines for “obstinate children.”  Drop a glass on the floor?  I had to stand on that glass until my feet were bleeding badly.  Slam a door?  My hands were slammed in doors until I couldn’t help but pass out from pain.

I would sneak out of the house to see my boyfriend at night. One thing led to another, and by 13 I was pregnant. The father was killed in a drive-by shooting when I was 6 months along.  I managed to hide the pregnancy (my adoptive father was on deployment to the Middle East, so no one was close enough to tell) until he got home. He wanted sex, and I said no.

O, the pain that “no” would cost me.

He took a baseball bat to my body for hours.  By the time the paramedics were called, I was hanging by a thread, and in preterm labor.  They said I’d never walk or talk again.  My daughter was given (without my permission) to a family “friend” who let her drown in a pool on her 6th birthday.

Homeschooling hid everything.

No one really saw me anyways, so not seeing me at all because I was in body casts didn’t alert anyone. When my face had to be reconstructed for the 2nd time, everyone was told that my biological family had passed on defects that needed fixed. Schooling was “Here’s a book, read it and be prepared to debate on it”, but if the debate wasn’t “right” I’d get beat. It was hell.

By 18, I was ready to leave. By then, there were 10 kids total, and I was expected to sacrifice college to take care of them all. I couldn’t. So, one night, I left and never looked back. I’m now forbidden to talk to anyone in the family.

They were all told that all I was was a whore who left because I was pregnant.

I moved out of state with the help of a few friends that had known me before I was pulled from school. Apparently I was the only reason for homeschooling, as the other kids are all back in school. I was the evil sinner who needed punished.  And now, I love that title.

At least this “evil sinner” is now living life the way she wants. I’m currently in school for Social Work, living with my biological mother, engaged to a wonderful man, and happy.  The happy is so strange, but I like it.

There is hope out there.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Three, Middle School

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Three of this series was originally published on December 10, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

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Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College

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Most of my elementary education was pretty amazing, I think.

I don’t have very many clear memories, but most of it is just this fuzzy sense that it was pretty awesome and I loved it, especially when we were living in Iceland. I had a huge group of friends, I could learn whatever I wanted– in fact, I think the years we spent in Iceland were the happiest of my childhood. Part of that was we were going to an overseas military church, and that is a unique experience. The lines between church and family blurred.

When we got back to the States, though, everything was different.

One of the first unfortunate things that happened, I think, was the church we attended in New Mexico ostracized my mother in many ways because she decided to continue homeschooling us instead of enrolling us in the church school. She faced some pretty intense push back for that, for reasons I didn’t understand. How it affected my life was that I didn’t make friends with anyone at church, which deeply disappointed me. They were all friends with each other at school, so breaking into the 10-year-old’s clique proved too difficult for me to manage.

I didn’t do myself any favors with that, though. I think part of it was that I was hurt and angry over being unconsciously rejected by the kids at church, so the “well, I don’t need you anyway!” attitude became part of the equation. At one point I got a scorpion shoved down the back of my dress and I was done. I sat by myself after church ended and refused to speak to any of them.

That was really my first taste of the “us against them” mentality I would accept as the incontrovertible order of things once I was older.

I was different because I was homeschooled. That was what made us separate.

When we transferred to Florida, one of the requirements my mother had for finding a church was other homeschool families. It wasn’t the only requirement, but I remember it being one of the biggest. We visited two churches, and I think one of the biggest reasons why we ultimately chose the church-cult was that a higher percentage of the families homeschooled. This also ended up being how we were cemented into the conservative Christian culture of homeschooling.

Let me make it clear: the conservative Christian/fundamentalist homeschooling culture was always present. In Iceland, many of the homeschooling families were extremely conservative. While the church was a far cry from fundamentalist, many of the people who attended it were. My mother began wearing skirts and destroyed all her Amy Grant and Steve Green CDs because the other homeschooling mothers she hung out with did. There was enormous pressure to conform, and we did. We were introduced to Michael and Debi Pearl in New Mexico, and the homeschooling families there helped inculcate in me many of the homeschooling stereotypes– especially a love for all things Pioneer and a Little House on the Prairie.

However, the church-cult was where I would spend more time than I have anywhere else, and it was where we got sucked even further into homeschooling culture. It was there that we started hearing the message homeschooling or bust, but messages like these weren’t being preached from the pulpit. It was in pamphlets and magazines that were being passed around by all the homeschooling moms. When I was in high school, I read a book called None Dare Call it Education, a book which spends a ridiculous amount of time wailing about how liberal Massachusetts is, and how public school is wrecking our great nation.

Almost all of the homeschooling material we received focused an awful lot of time on telling us how terrible every other kind of education is and how awesome we were for doing the “right thing.”

It seems like most of the messages we got were all about building public education straw men than they were about helping homeschoolers do a good job educating their children.

It didn’t help that just like I had been ostracized by the kids at church in New Mexico we started ostracizing all the kids who weren’t homeschooled. There were three families where the children went to public school, and all of them left– some more quickly than others. I have vivid memories of hanging out at one of the girl’s house and being curious about her math textbook. She was confused when I asked if I could look at her textbooks, but I remember being blown away when I saw what they looked like. I had somehow believed that public schools “dumb down” the material, but what I found in those textbooks was far more advanced than what I was learning even though we were in the same grade. I remember struggling to come up with something to say– and then being deeply troubled by how much looking at those books had wrecked my perceptions.

It didn’t take me very long to come up with plenty of plausible explanations to explain the difference away. That experience was the first time I deliberately denied evidence that public school might– just maybe– be totally fine in favor of believing that being a homeschooler meant that I was superior.

I was twelve.

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Middle school is where we first ran into problems with my education. Up until that point I remember being a pretty easy kid to homeschool. But when we hit middle school, all I can remember is either being incredibly bored or hating school. Eventually it got so bad that my mom decided that going through grade 5 was pointless since it was really just a re-cycle of grade 4, so I skipped from 4th grade to 6th grade.

That was the year my mom tried to mix things up. We tried Writing Strands and Saxon Math and I started studying Greek and Latin roots and logic. In some ways, it got me excited about school again, but that interest quickly faded. Me and my mother started struggling, and my frustration started increasing again, but this time it was because I couldn’t learn concepts as quickly as I’d become used to. Things like long division took me weeks to understand, and it made me an incredibly difficult student to deal with. There were days when my mother would throw up her hands and disappear into her bedroom, shouting “call me when you graduate from college!” I became resistant and stubborn, and both 6th and 7th grade were a struggle. I hated Saxon math so much I just refused to keep doing it.

At this point we fell into what I think is a pretty common homeschool trap. I don’t have a term for it, but it happens close to the end of the year. You spend the few months leading up to May or June barely doing any schoolwork at all because you’re sick of it and you don’t want to do it anymore, but you have to do something to finish so you throw together a quick compromise: if you do xyz, complete a few papers, and finish the last quarter of tests and quizzes you can be done for the year. So you spend the last few weeks cramming in all those tests and quizzes you forgot to take (grading many of them yourself and let’s be honest we usually cheated) and then hoo-ray it’s summertime.

Some homeschooling families are more disciplined than this, I know. But, from all the conversations I’ve had in the last eight years, disciplined homeschooling environments where projects were completed in a timely fashion and tests and quizzes were taken when they were supposed to, and you completed enough actual days? That is the exception, not the rule. The rule is much more haphazard and flexible– too flexible, really. And while the flexibility of homeschooling is one of the advantages, it’s also one of its drawbacks, too.

Positive and negatives in homeschooling are usually two sides of the same coin.

To be continued.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Two, The Beginning

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Two of this series was originally published on December 6, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

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Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College

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My first experience with school was HeadStart at a Department of Defense school, since my father was in the Air Force. I don’t have very many clear memories of this, although they’re mostly positive. I remember coloring a large squirrel, playing with blocks, and listening to stories. However, there were a few drawbacks.

One incident is actually my earliest memory of sexism.

I was playing with wooden blocks–not a toy we had at home, so the only one I was really interested in at school– and I was building towers with another little boy. My parents had shown me concepts like having a wide base in order to build a tall tower, but the boy was stacking one block on top of another– not that I cared or was paying much attention, until he became angry that my tower was taller than his. I remember the teacher coming over and reprimanding me for “showing off” and how I shouldn’t do “boy things.”

I got reprimanded for “showing off” quite a bit, actually. I have always been a perfectionist and I’ve always been incredibly proud of my work. When I colored, I did it excruciatingly slowly and carefully– and turned out what I felt were “realistic” results with my childish attempts at shading and blending. Teachers would encourage me to “have more fun” and not to take things so seriously, which I remember being very confusing. I’ve also always been talkative, and I remember struggling to make friends and feeling that I was disliked, although I had a few good friends and playmates, although I don’t remember my closest friends being from school, but my neighborhood.

What my mother’s main concern about this time period was that I went to HeadStart being able to read, and then my reading skills not only did not progress, but instead regressed. I actually lost some of my ability to read, and my mother spent the summer catching me up to where I’d been before.

We were transferred to Iceland, and I think my first day at kindergarten was in the middle of the school year. Again, my memories of this are mostly positive. There was finger painting, which actually frustrated me because I felt that I wasn’t very “good” at it, and we did science experiments, and I think there was a school performance with singing. An interesting factor about attending a DOD school in Iceland was the cultural enrichment– every so often an Icelandic teacher would come in and teach us something about the country. Most of the time this was fairly simple– teaching us to count to 10 in Icelandic, some basic Icelandic history, some of what Iceland is known for (like their horses and fishing, the geizers and waterfalls).

However, one of the lessons was really confusing to me. The visiting teacher had us sit cross-legged on our reading mats, close our eyes, and to imagine a light coming to speak to us. She explained that the light we could see was an angel and he would allow us to talk to someone we’d known who had died. When I got home from school that day and tried to explain to my mother what I’d “learned,” her reaction was, of course, rather horrified.

We’d practically held a séance in class.

I didn’t go back to school, and that was when my mother officially began homeschooling me.

The first few years I don’t honestly remember much of my schooling. I have vague memories of the curriculum we used (something with a white cover and a blue shield), but I do remember the “school room” my mother set up. She converted a closet, putting in a desk, some shelves, and a large map on the wall. Sometimes we used the room, but I remember spending most of my school days in makeshift blanket forts (how awesome, right?). When I got a little bit older and started playing with the other kids in our apartment building, my mom made a little cross-stitch to hang on the door to let them know that I was doing schoolwork and couldn’t come out to play.

We had an incredibly active homeschool group in Iceland, and I remember it being very diverse. There were kids from a bunch of different churches, kids who didn’t go to church at all, and parents who were homeschooling in a bunch of different ways. Being at an overseas military base meant that your resources were limited, so you took advantage of what you had. I also continued playing with kids who were still enrolled in the DOD school– kids in my building, the children of my father’s co-workers, and because it was the military, the people I knew were Philippino, and Japanese, and African-American, and German.

This time was spent eating baklava and fried seaweed, and I loved it.

Homeschooling in these early years was extremely good for me. I remember being frustrated at school because I wanted to advance further, ask more questions, and I could become incredibly– almost myopically–focused. Once I was curious about a topic– like how a bean grows in a plastic bag taped to a window– it was very difficult to keep me from dominating the next half hour, and I remember teachers being very frustrated with me because they just didn’t have that kind of time. A classroom setting, for me as a six-year-old, was not a good fit. Once I was liberated to do as much schoolwork as I wanted when I wanted and free to read anything I wanted to when I wanted to was incredible.

That actually created some interesting moments– there were days when I would whip through whole sections of my textbooks, and other days when I didn’t want to do schoolwork at all. My mother tried to get me to take it one lesson at a time, but I remember fighting with her about this and sneaking off to do more schoolwork. When I progressed to the point in my math where I was adding more than one column, my mother became incredibly confused at my answers– and then figured out that I was adding up each column separately and then answering 12+48 with 510 (carrying the one, apparently, was a confusing concept for a while).

When we moved back to the States and my mother had the opportunity to put me in public school, another DOD school, or the local church school, she decided to continue homeschooling me– and eventually my sister– because it had worked so well for me and I was obviously doing well. However, State-side homeschooling turned out to be a little different, and that’s where we started running into problems.

What I’ve found that’s a common pattern for most of the homeschoolers I’ve interacted with was that our parents had excellent reasons for starting to homeschool us. While part of why my mother started to homeschool me was religious, it turned out that the primary reason was that the typical classroom experience seemed to be holding me back, so we continued homeschooling because it seemed to be better for me.

However, what I’ve encountered is that once you start homeschooling and become entrenched in homeschooling culture, parents seem to be actively and preemptively discouraged from reevaluating that decision.

Children’s educational needs change over time, and while it was obvious that homeschooling me was the best decision for me when I was young, we never really took a step back and asked if it was the best method for my later education. When I was old enough to perhaps ask the question if being homeschooled was what I wanted, I was already absolutely convinced that going to public or private school would be horribly disastrous.

To be continued.

This Road I’ve Traveled

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on January 20, 2013.

For awhile now, I have been wanting to write a background for everything that I am working through… I want to write about myself, and who I really am.

Exactly two years ago, I found out that one of my dearest friends passed away from two brain aneurysms. Not only that, Phil’s guitar mentor passed away, the day before my friend, from ALS. Two days later, my dad kicked me out of the house. All through this time as well, Phil and I were trying to get married and get my dad’s blessing. This time was the climax of many years of hurt, emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse, and it was the climax of Phil’s and my relationship.  That January of 2011 was a train wreck for both of us, and since then I have been deconstructing my faith, my past, and my broken heart.

I am the oldest of 9, 10 technically, with 3 sisters and 5 brothers. Being the oldest has given me heavy responsibility and has made me “old” before my time. I half jokingly say at times that I am an old soul in a young body. As with many typical Patriarchal and Quiverfull families, I — as the oldest — got the brunt of the house work. I took care of the children, made almost all of the meals, and all while trying to keep up with my school work for homeschool. I love all of my siblings, and I could never imagine life without them, but I will never have that large of a family. I don’t blame my parents, but when there are major issues that screw up the family, a lot of the love and togetherness that a “normal” family experiences ends up greatly lacking.

I don’t ever want to put my children through what I have been through growing up.

My husband Phil and I recently left Covenant Life Church for the purpose of finding a smaller church. But that wasn’t really my only reason for leaving. I needed to get out of an environment that told me that I had to forget and forgive, I had to not say anything negative, nor could I be angry over something that I should be angry about. For years, all of my life in fact, I have tried to block out, tried to forget, purposefully felt nothing (this didn’t really work though) whenever I saw my dad yell at my siblings, manipulate my mom, or whenever he got mad enough and started throwing things or getting in the kids’ faces. Getting kicked out two years ago, after all of the years I was my siblings’ protector to the best of my ability, all of the years that I have helped raise my youngest siblings, or made dinner consistently to feed the 11 mouths in the house, was the pinnacle of tolerance for me. I knew from a very young age that something wasn’t right in my family, and that something wasn’t right with my dad.

As my family bounced around over the years with dad being in the military, we have been in many different churches. And at each church, we would get a verbal beating from my dad on the way to church, but as soon as we pulled up, all of the fake smiles would go up, and the family would act like nothing was wrong. I could never do this. I could never put the fake smile on and pretend that I hadn’t watched my dad throw the breakfast dishes in the sink that morning because someone dared to speak back to him.

I couldn’t stand by and watch my siblings suffer while no one knew what happened behind the doors of my family’s home.

I don’t remember when my parents got introduced to Bill Gothard’s patriarchy ideas, but I have seen this stuff totally mess up my family, myself, and many other families. One of my biggest griefs with his version of patriarchy is that it enables narcissistic, controlling, manipulative, and abusive men to continue their abuse under the name of “God-given authority as the husband and father to rule over the wife and children.” Fathers who are abusive are enabled through this ideology by basically being “God” for their family.

There is no one above them, and they are the ultimate rulers.

God speaks through them, and never to the wife or children. It’s no wonder that I have seen, read, and watched so many children who were raised under this mindest leave the faith because of the hypocrisy they had seen in their dad.

Bill Gothard’s “patriarchy” says that women are simply baby-making machines who bow down to their husband’s rule, and who aren’t allowed to have a voice. “Patriarchy” says that young women are their father’s property and are to be traded to off to the father-chosen men when the times comes.  ”Patriarchy” seems to have this unspoken rule that even if it is a living hell at home, you don’t tell anyone else. “Patriarchy” told me that when I questioned something dad said, with the purpose of understanding better, I was not honoring him, or respecting him. “Patriarchy” said that when I fell in love with Phil, I was being idolatrous, lustful, and that I wasn’t honoring my dad. “Patriarchy” says that when I talk about the pain, the truth, the real life that I have experienced, I am not being forgiving, I am bitter, I am angry.

Well, “patriarchy,” I am angry.

I am angry that there are so many men out there taking advantage of this so called right to hold abuse over their wives and families and not being held accountable for the pain they inflict. Forgiveness is a difficult animal to deal with. It is not a one time deal, nor is it something I am always dealing with, or never dealing with. Writing these things out are just barely touching the surface. These are the truth, and these are not things I am bitter about, nor are these not forgiven. Patriarchy says that once you forgive, you must go on living life as if nothing happened.

I say hell no, and that is never the case in forgiveness.

When I wrote about reading my bible, and I wrote about how difficult it is for me to open my bible without being triggered, I meant that I can’t open my bible without hearing my dad’s hypocrisy, or without hearing the gut wrenching sobs that I had when my dad told me that he didn’t have time for me, that I was a bad influence on my siblings, that he wanted me to leave as soon as possible, and that he had had enough of me. Even though I have done my best to honor my dad, to initiate time and time again daddy-daughters dates so that we could have an actual father daughter relationship, he tossed all of that out when he told me to leave. I can’t open my bible without hearing the verses that have been thrown at me with the means of showing me how my pain is sin. I can’t open my bible without having flashbacks that start bringing on a panic attack. It’s hard enough opening the app on my phone to look up verses when I do make it out the door to church.

I can’t open my bible without feeling guilty of sin I did not commit and remembering the people who felt obligated to tell me about that so called sin.

The more that I have acknowledged the pain that is hidden in my heart, the harder it’s become to go to church, read my bible, sing worship songs, hear certain phrases, or even speak the lingo. Why? Because in all of those things I have been hurt, I have been burned, I have been broken.

I am eager to get to the place where I can once again enjoy all of those, but I am not there yet.

I am still rifling through the ashes trying to find the burning embers that are still burning me. I will, I promise, be able to open my bible again one day, but the promises that comfort so many of you, bring cries of pain and panic attacks for me right now. I find comfort in knowing that my salvation is never in question, and Jesus is always by my side. Through the uncovering of my broken heart, I am finding peace. But it takes a long time. The number of pieces that my heart has been shattered into time and time again makes it even more difficult to make sure that I have each shard back into place. I don’t think I will ever fully heal, but fully healing is not my goal right now.

My goal is to be able to admit to myself that yes, I have been hurt, and yes, it’s okay to cry.

This I believe is the step I need to take right now towards healing.

My story is an uncomfortable one. It sucks, it hurts, it has made me dissolve into a puddle of tears and totally forget entire weeks at a time because the pain is too great. I have learned great tolerance, compassion, and understanding for those who have been where I have been, and still are.

I can weep with those who are weeping, and I cheer the bold and brave who are finding their voice and stepping forth with their story.