My sister and I in a photo booth. I think we were 12 & 13. She’s older than I am.
My childhood from the time I was born to the age of 14 was pretty much normal and mainstream. I grew up in a Christian home, going to church every Sunday, taking part in VBS in the summers, going to public school (though I went a few years to a Christian private school when I first started school), playing with the neighbor kids, watching cartoons in the morning….all the things that kids did in a normal family and neighborhood setting.I was born in Rhode Island at the end of 1976. I became a Christian at the age of 7. I remember sitting on the bed in my Oma and Opa’s house (my grandparents lived upstairs from us) and my Oma walking me through the prayer that I desperately wanted to pray. My Oma was always very serious about what this step meant and as a young child, I found myself praying that prayer every night just in case I got it wrong the first time…or the second time…or the third time…..or…. I remember telling my father about this and he assured me that I didn’t have to do it over and over again. That one time was enough and no matter how I did it, God heard it and it was good with Him. That set my mind at ease. In all honestly, I used to wish that my father or mother had walked me through that as my Oma tended to be too serious about these sorts of things and wanted it to be done right (in other words: her way) and in general, scared the crap out of us kids when it came to heaven and hell. At that age, I felt that my parents presented a much more loving God that my Oma did, which turned out to be quite ironic years later. The tables turned quite dramatically…but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
When I was 8 years old, we moved to New Hampshire. We moved into a large 3-story colonial house in a small town with about 1500 residents. The school we attended housed 300 kids in grades K-12 and that was with 3 towns combined. We were in the mountains and living in a rural area and the neighborhood was like a large playground to us. We lived on the side of a small mountain and behind our house was nothing but woods and the old fashioned rope tow that was used for skiing in the winter. There were other kids in the neighborhood and even though we were the new kids, we eased ourselves in to the school and the neighborhood without any trouble.
My sister and I in 4th and 5th grade and on the Biddy Basketball team for school.
As we were driving the moving van up the hill to our house, we passed by a big white church. Not long after we pulled into the driveway of our “new” house, cars started pulling in behind us. The people at the church were having a clean-up day around the church grounds and saw us driving past and followed us to help us unload. We didn’t know any one there, but quickly made friends and the next Sunday, we were sitting in the pew at church. This became our church home for the next 7 years.
It was a non-denominational church and everyone was loving, caring, warm, open and friendly. I have so many wonderful memories of the time we spent there. My parents taught Sunday school, we employed some of the church people in my parents’ bakery, we took part in church events, as I got older, I helped in the church nursery and even took on the job of cleaning the church once a week for $10 each week. There was a change of pastors a few years after we moved into town and the new pastor and his wife were like another set of grandparents. I still feel that way about them to this day. The pastor’s wife took time out of her day to bake with us in her kitchen and tell stories of where she grew up, the pastor helped us kids make beautiful kites in his wood shop and when I was older, I bartered house cleaning services in return for the pastor making me a lovely wooden dulcimer that I learned to play under his tutelage. The church felt like home.
This pic is when I was in 9th grade. It’s our church’s youth group trip to Maine for a hockey game. I was 14. I’m the one at the bottom left.
When I was 14 1/2, I had just finished up my freshman year of high school. I was president of my class, involved in band, FHA and was looking forward to my sophomore year and finally going from JV to Varsity basketball. I got along with pretty much everyone in school. I didn’t have any enemies and was a social butterfly. I enjoyed learning and considered my teachers as friends. I looked up to them and tried to apply myself as best as I could. I chose good friends, I hadn’t yet kissed a boy, I didn’t even have a boyfriend yet, I soaked up the knowledge my teachers fed me, I was active in my church, I got good grades, I was polite and well mannered….all around, I was a good kid. I didn’t look for trouble.
The next day, my sister and brother stood in the lunch line together. Another boy inched his way up the line and started picking on my brother. My brother was in 7th grade at the time…this other boy was in 8th grade. He was incessant. Relentless. Finally, the other boy hauled off and kicked my brother. My sister, being the protective older sibling, kicked the kid in the shin. All of this happened right in front of the teacher’s table. The teachers sat there and didn’t say a word until my sister defended my brother. That was when my sister, brother and the other boy were all sent to the principal’s office and all were given detention. The only two that showed up were my sister and brother.
My mother was livid when she found out about this. My brother was a shy and quiet kid. He didn’t have a lot of friends because he didn’t really feel the need for them. He studied hard and got good grades. He didn’t cause trouble and respected his teachers. The only crime that he had committed was that he was a good kid. And that was just enough for a bully to zone in on him. It pissed my mom off that my sister and brother were given detention over something like this, especially because nothing had been done UNTIL she had defended him. It made her even more angry that the other boy didn’t show up and the school did nothing about it. It was all just another realization that small town politics were in play. Many of the students were somehow related to faculty and staff members and a blind eye was often turned when things like this happened. We weren’t natives, we were outsiders.
This all just fueled the fire that had started with my parents about their disappointment in the school system in general and that was enough for my mom to lash out and tell the school that we wouldn’t be coming back the next year. She pulled my brother out of school right then and there and he completed his final exams for the year at home.
Our pastor’s daughter and son-in-law and family had moved into town from the midwest. They homeschooled their children, but their kids were in no way sheltered. They took part in things at church and were happy children. The pastor’s son-in-law took over the youth group and he was someone I admired as a teenager. His wife taught Sunday school and was a lot of fun to be around. A good role model for a young girl. My parents started questioning them about homeschooling and as they saw some of the benefits in it, the wheels in their heads started to turn. It was during this time, they started imagining all kinds of scenarios of what would happen to their kids if they left them in the public school. They let that fear overtake them and when the incident happened with my brother in the lunch line, it was all my mom needed to justify her reasons for homeschooling.
When my mom came home and told the rest of us that we wouldn’t be going back, I was crushed. They assured me that the only thing that would change would be actually going to the school. We could still take part in extra curricular activities like we always had and we’d still be able to see our friends. I took comfort in that, even though I was saddened that I wouldn’t be sitting with my friends in the classroom each day.
The school year ended a couple weeks later and I got packed up and headed off for a 2 month mission trip to Uganda, East Africa. The year was 1991. During those two months away, I felt a freedom unlike any I had ever felt. I felt that my parents trusted me and I felt inspired to make the world a better place. I connected with people from all over the country that were on my team and connected with the people and experiences that I encountered during my time away. There was an independence that invigorated me. While in Africa, my parents had written about a church they had visited that had all homeschooling families in it. It was a bit far away and they said they weren’t switching churches, but thought that it might be nice to have people to get together with every now and then for fun. During that time, I also came to grips with what I thought I would be coming home to. I accepted the situation and decided to deal with it as best I could. After all, I was assured that things would stay the same otherwise.
Or so I thought.
I came home from my trip and shortly after that, my life started to crumble underneath me.