Gifts and Wound: ElenaLee’s Story

ElenaLee blogs at Our Place.

A blogger I very much respect once spoke of events in her life bringing both a gift and a wound. A gift and a wound—I carry this imagery with me like a familiar piece of jewelry or some small memento, some reminder of where I have been and of where I hope to go. The simple acknowledgement that both exist, at the same time, is healing. After growing up in a subculture often trapped by a black and white view of itself and the world, I relish the freedom to carry both truths in my hands. For me, being homeschooled was a gift. And it was also a wound. Both strands revealed themselves as I moved from a very home-centered existence to the larger experience of college and adulthood.

College unfolded a new world for me, one filled with the stimulation of interacting with more people more frequently than I had before, a chance to know and be known in new ways. After a high school education taught largely by textbooks (but with careful oversight by my mother, who assigned each day’s lessons and made sure I did the work), I found flesh-and-blood teachers exciting. I liked when they knew and respected me—when an art professor noticed I had a question during lecture just by the look on my face, when my history professor shook my hand after I finished his final test. Looking back, part of me hates that I knew how, and was eager, to excel in relationships with authorities. There is, perhaps, an element of “working the system” involved in it. And yet, I am grateful for the richness that interacting personally with these good men and women added to my life.

I have never excelled socially with peers. I suppose excelling isn’t even the point of peer relationships—but certain elusive social skills are helpful in bringing people together. I made only one lasting friend in community college, and she wasn’t a fellow student but an older employee in the library. Though on cordial terms with classmates, I commuted into town and never “hung out” with others, a skill I still feel uncomfortable exercising. In college, I continued to be dogged by a perception of myself which began with the (to me, unaccountable) distancing of one of my few close friends as a tween and solidified during my lonely high school years as a relative newcomer in a rural area: I wasn’t good at friendship. “I don’t expect to make friends,” I declared to my mother as I contemplated my transfer to a college in another state. “If I do, that’s fine, but I’m not counting on it. And that’s fine, because I’m really just going there to learn.” Viewing college as a job instead of an opportunity to develop friendships was my defense against the humiliation of social failure.

Thankfully, my predictions didn’t come true. I made a few real friends and a number of lovely acquaintances during the two years I spent earning my bachelors. The comfort of companionship which I had primarily experienced in family situations, I now enjoyed in spontaneous games of Dutch Blitz with the girls across the hall, in watching a movie with friends the first night back from break (soothing the jar of transition with back rubs and “mindless entertainment”), in having someone to sit by in chapel and (sometimes) the safety of a group in the dining hall. But, at least in my own mind, I didn’t exactly fit. I seldom felt secure in relationships with others, never fully relaxed.

During that time, I did experience a whole new joy in the realization that my written words could resonate with others and forge a connection. My professors challenged and encouraged me, creating an environment where things stored inside of me could come to life on paper. Interactions with fellow students in small peer-review groups delighted me—I could hear the warmth in their voices, enjoy the sense of discovery when something one of us had written became something that somehow belonged to all of us. Shared imagery wove into each of our lives. This joy, this gift of shared words, flowered in college—but it began long before that.

My parents, my mother in particular, raised me in a home rich with words. Mom read to my siblings and me nearly every night, even into our preteen years, and we each read eagerly on our own, as well. She placed a wonderful writing curriculum in my hands, thrilling me with the realization that words provided another outlet for my artistic passion. She even helped me like the physical appearance of my handwriting, teaching me a whole new kind of cursive when the first method wobbled and globbed from my left hand. Writing, especially poetry, has become a key way that I navigate life—a solace for myself, and sometimes even for others. When I trace the path that ushered me into that world, following it from my keyboard, today, through professors and fellow student writers–it begins with one woman, my teacher throughout my whole childhood, my mother.

I carry the gifts Mom gave me—the many benefits from her conscientious, extensive, and loving efforts on my behalf. In some ways, exposing some negative results from my upbringing feels disloyal and ungrateful. But it is not my job to be the justification of a lifestyle. I am no one’s lifework. I am a person. And along with a love for the sharing of life through the sharing of words, who I am includes the wound of a social limp which I carry today. I still tend to default to isolation or interacting with others through meeting their perceived expectations of me, but it is my hope that I will continually grow more honest with others and with myself.


In a Closed and Sometimes Tightly Knit Sphere

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on October 18, 2013 with the title “Are Homeschoolers Socially Adept?”

I am at a point in my healing where memories aren’t as painful anymore. I have enough safeguards up to protect me from the pain, even though I can still feel the anguish from that memory especially if it is a difficult one. 

But my heart isn’t being neatly sliced by every memory anymore, which is a relief and shows the progress I’ve made.

Of late, my mind has drifted, curiously at first, back to my first memories of being homeschooled. It is with an odd sense of seeing something for the first time as I cautiously navigate memories which potentially hold mines and booby traps to trip me up. The big memories, the ones which hold the most potent abuse from my dad, are carefully tucked away as I chip at them slowly. But I am now dealing with the memories like helping mom move a massive computer desk across a precarious corner of the stairs as she reorganized rooms, meaning I was getting my own room for the first time.

She rearranged like crazy every so often.

Those days of major rearranging were days when all schooling stopped and all of us caught the giddy excitement of seeing the rooms being transformed.

I am being gently reminded of fuzzy memories of first learning to read and suddenly taking off with my avid love of reading. I was 5 or 6 when I first learned the beautiful art of understanding the funny little black shapes that danced across many pages. I being reminded of the pride I felt at being 10 years old and being able to read college level books and “understanding” them, whatever that really meant.

All mixed through these memories is a significant strain of sadness.

It is something I cannot avoid, it is something so strongly woven through my life’s story that it is a permanent part. As my memories go from those earlier memories to ones where I was being forced in an adult role, I feel the shift in the memories. Those memories are no longer slightly nostalgic, no longer reminding me of the days of exciting new discoveries. They are memories more strongly tinged with sadness and the weight of responsibility I carried proudly even though it nearly destroyed me.

I watch a proud little girl completely unaware and unable to relate to her peers, but eager to please authority figures and eager to be the authority figure to those younger than her. It is through viewing the kaleidoscope of these memories that I pick up on a familiar and explanatory strain of something a lot of homeschoolers I know have faced.

I have long struggled with being able to relate to those who are truly my peers.

It has been a struggle of unknown origins, or at least I had no idea where this struggle had really started. It wasn’t until I started following conversations in a group I am a part of on Facebook that I figured it out. I grew up being taught to impress the authority figures in my life, whether those be my parents or the adults in other families. I grew up being given heavy responsibility with being an authority over my younger siblings and being someone they should look up to. Being the oldest put me in that position. It also put me in a position of having inappropriate responsibilities of helping raise siblings, taking care of the kids, the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning. I took these responsibilities with pride. I was proud of how “mature” I was, and how so many people thought I was so much older (like years  upon years older) than I really was.

I saw the other girls my age and the oldest of their families almost as competition. Was I working as hard as them? Did I have as much responsibility as them?

Were they in authority over me or was I in authority over them?

Being homeschooled meant I was in a closed and sometimes tightly knit sphere. In those spheres, I was either sucking up to an authority figure, or I was the authority figure. There was no middle ground, I was never allowed to be a child. It was impress the adults or keep the little kids in line. I viewed the public schoolers as immature, incapable of handling the responsibility I so proudly and gravely carried. I saw them having “fun,” and thought they were such losers. I apologize now if I have ever offended anyone through this mindset when I was younger! I was never taught to relate to my peers. My peers were simply another name for fellow butt-kissers and authority makers. The kids my age were in the same position I was in, kiss up to the adults, or take charge of the littles. I was taught to be the best, not to relate.

I grew up being told and believing homeschoolers were the better socialized group over public schooled kids. I would scoff and laugh if anyone ever challenged that idea. “Of course we’re socialized!” I would haughtily answer anyone who questioned the socializing of homeschoolers. I knew what I was talking about, I was very well socialized, I could talk for hours with the adults.

Socialized meant I could talk and interact well with the adults I found myself face to face with. 

Socialized meant that I was more mature than someone who wasn’t homeschooled and had a better grasp on what it meant to be an adult. (I was about 13 at the time I started thinking like this.)

Little did I know how wrong I was.

I had no idea just how un-socialized I was until I got out of highschool. I had no freakin’ clue how to interact with someone my own age. I only knew how to be on the defensive and to try to not let them put themselves into authority over me. It confused me so much to realize how happy, content, and in love with their lives these “public schoolers” were. They had a healthy appreciation for their childhood and saw the responsibilities I so proudly bore as strange, concerning, and upsetting

I am just now starting to get references to various pop culture quotes and whatnot as we hang out with friends who grew up totally differently than me or Phil. I am realizing I tried to grow up too quickly, and succeeded in doing so, because that was expected of me. This goes back to my post last week about parenting. I never got to be a happy go-lucky child. I had to put on my big girl pants when I should have still been blissfully unaware of the weight of life.

Phil and I won’t be homeschooling our children unless one of them specifically needs it. 

I don’t want my children to be contained or taught that they are above the kids who aren’t homeschooled.

I want them to have normal childhoods and I want to encourage the grand exploration of finding brand new experiences and things. Homeschooling left a bitter taste in my mouth and I haven’t even touched on everything here. While I do believe there are people who have quite successfully homeschooled “normal” healthy children, I never experienced that. I barely made it out of highschool. I taught myself for most of my homeschooled life, and am lacking skills or classes I should have be taught a long time ago. I don’t like admitting this, it’s embarrassing to me. I haven’t taken more steps towards college because I don’t want to find out just how bad my homeschooling was.

So have patience with me and others of us who were homeschooled as we continue trying to ease into culture and societies that are still foreign in some ways to us.

I’m learning to not take myself so seriously and to relax and enjoy the diversity of those around me. I learning to love the differences I bring to conversations and to greatly appreciate the differences others add to the mix. No one is an authority figure to me anymore, nor do I feel like I have to be in authority over anyone anymore.

I can be me and I’m quite happy with that.