I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part One
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mara” is a pseudonym.
I grew up the oldest of nine children just barely inside the perimeter of Atlanta, GA. My earliest memory is my father coming in and telling my mother that Clinton had just won the presidency. My mother had been a teacher by profession before deciding to homeschool us. She had grown up in the middle of downtown Atlanta and had been bullied in school. She told us stories of spending most of her lunch break hiding in a bathroom stall and didn’t want us to have the same experience.
I remember sitting next to her and her teaching me to read and doing math with me. We didn’t have much money then, and she would get what school books she could second hand. For this reason, she helped me complete a 5th grade math book in the first grade and I was so proud of being able to tell my friends I was in 5th grade in math. Because there were so many children, she would give us assignments – 30 math problems at the end of the chapter, write this a paper on this subject, finish the assignment at the end of the grammar book, bible, and memorize this verse. Then we would go read the chapter, teach ourselves, and come back to her if we couldn’t figure something out on our own. We were supposed to finish by 12:30 if we wanted dessert after dinner, but if we finished before then, we were free to play. After we ate lunch, we would do an art or craft and music (everyone in my family plays at least one instrument). Once we completed a school book, we would go to the next grade.
I used to get so confused when anyone asked me what grade I was in. (Well, 6th grade in math, 4th grade in grammar, and 5th grade in writing!)
If we finished future days school work, she would give us a coupon for a “free day” in which we could redeem at any time and meant we didn’t have to complete any school on that day. We did school through the summer so we could afford to take more days off during the school year and my mom assigned each of us a day of the week called our “helper day” in which we would cook the meal of the day (mine was bread for the week and pizza for the day), complete a chore, and do our laundry with our assigned child if applicable. The day following our helper days was our “computer day” in which we could do Oregon Trail, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, type our verse, and play Math Blasters instead of school.
My mother felt it was important for us to be well rounded and would call local public and private schools to see if we could participate in some of their activities. For this reason, we would either do some kind of sport all of us could do with either local groups she found or with schools. My mom took us to a few homeschool groups, I’m not sure why we never joined – either they charged a fee we couldn’t afford or my mom thought the women there were too cliquey and judgmental (based on the home-school program they used).
At this point in time, my father was in the marine reserves and would frequently travel for both work and the marines. I remember him and my mother arguing occasionally, but they waited until we were asleep and kept it to themselves. We ended up moving outside the perimeter, and went to several churches that my mother never felt were the right fit.
One day, through the big-family-connection (that sixth sense big, homeschooling families have that allows them to instantly know if someone else is a big, homeschooling family when they meet in public), my mom met a family that was part of a 1 Cor 14 home church and immediately fell in love with this type of church. They believed in “letting God decide how many children you have” a.k.a. no birth control. They also believed there women should have long hair “as a covering” while praying, they believed that women should submit to men and that men should love their wives. They believed in church discipline for anyone in “rebellion” to God’s will, and that women should “keep silent” in church. They also believed strongly that a woman should not teach a man anything and I remember being told time and time again, that I had to phrase anything I said to a man in such a way that he couldn’t learn anything from what I said.
Shortly after he finished the reserves and began working from home, I remember quite vividly at the age of 12 after about a year and half at this house church, being sat down in the living room with the current 6 brothers and sisters (2 weren’t yet born) and being told by my dad that mom was in rebellion and that the church was bad and wrong because he had had a disagreement with them over doctrine. My dad had been a sergeant in the marines and was every bit the stereotype.
I remember everyone in that room crying after a couple of hours of him repeating this again and again. I learned that day what the doctrine of Calvinism was. My great-aunt who had become my mother’s mother lived next door at that time and I remember going next door and seeing my mother crying. She told us she wasn’t in rebellion, that she was supposed to be under God’s authority when anything her husband told her conflicted with God. She said that the church is supposed to be run in the way 1 Cor 14 describes (no pastor, all the men talk, no women speaking) and because that little paragraph ends with “ If anyone among you think that he is a prophet, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (v. 37), that going anywhere with a pastor would be a sin. We were told to stand up for our mother and go tell dad the truth.
For the next 9 years, we lived in a constant state of arguing. My dad would begin by dropping some remarks to my mother who would be all-too-happy to pick anything up and start an argument, which would lead to doctrine and a shouting match about our rebellion. The sister next to me and I would draw our father’s attention to us while the other one physically pushed my mother out the door to go cool down. She would go next door and fall apart crying and asking us if what she should do and if she should divorce our father. She would make hundreds of plans that fell apart by the next day and would ask anyone she could get a hold of to “help.” Every time we met someone new, within 5 minutes she would be talking about how abused she was at home and asking them to help.
My parents loved to get children on their side, because if they had a child, they could use them to hurt the other spouse.
The girls went with my mother and the boys went with my father. For a reward, my dad would take my brothers out for ice cream and movies and give them gifts to stay on his side and then taunt us asking if we were sure we didn’t want to come with him. I remember my dad having my brothers tape some of his rants on me – another debate on Calvinism – so that he could rewind it and play it to me in case I accidentally admitted to something that meant I believed in predestination and consequently his authority.
The NSA must have taken tips from my father. Nothing in our house was private.
There were key logs on all the computers, and he could watch the screen from his computer at any time. We found hidden cameras in the living room and, god-forbid you write something on paper. My mother used to journal in French before she met my dad and I remember my dad translating all her journals to use against her. If my dad found anything you had written in secret he would use it against my mother. Any failure on my part was a weapon against her. If she found anything, she would use it to guilt us and to help keep us on her side and taking care of her. I developed a secret code — a short-hand cipher — so that I could have thoughts that everyone couldn’t spy on and I only I could read.
It drove my parents crazy, but I survived.
Part Two >