No choices of my own

by Erika

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My sister and I in the winter of 1991-1992, the year we started homeschooling

It wasn’t long before my parents got really frustrated with the church in town and wanted something different. My father told the pastor that we would be going down to the church in Bellows Falls (run by John Thompson) but would still come to services here and there at the church in town. The pastor felt frustrated at the time, too, so he gave my parents his blessing to attend this other church.

I remember when the people at church found out that we wouldn’t be attending regularly there anymore. Many were upset and felt offended. Quite a few voiced accusations that my parents only stayed long enough for everyone to help support my missions trip to Africa and then chose to leave. This was entirely untrue and my parents were afraid that this might have been the case with some people’s thinking, but there really wasn’t anything they could say or do to have those people believe otherwise. Many felt hurt and confused by the very open and public stance that my parents took with the church.

As a teenager, I loved the church we were part of and it crushed me to leave. It felt like family there. In my mind, you didn’t just walk away from family, you worked through things. The only thing that I understood from all of this was that my parents were slowly changing over to a strict, conservative mindset and the church didn’t fit within that mindset. Since the church wasn’t going to change for my parents, they decided to change churches to something that fit within their mindset. Or was it that my parents were changing to fit into someone else’s mindset? In any case, the changes were all becoming to be too much for a 14 year old to handle. Especially one that had only entered puberty the year before.

All in the course of 4 months, I had been told that I wasn’t going back to the public school for my sophomore year, I was told that I was going to be homeschooled, I went on a 2 month missions trip where I tasted independence and freedom, I was told that we were changing churches…..

But the changes that happened in those 4 months were only the beginning.

When my parents informed us that we wouldn’t be going back to the public school, I had 2 weeks left of my freshman year. I begged and pleaded with my parents to allow me to go to the school. After all, I wasn’t the one that was being bullied like my brother was. I wasn’t the one wanting to be homeschooled like my sister wanted. I wasn’t my 6 year old brother that was excited just at the prospect of being able to play for more hours than his peers that went to school. I was the social butterfly. I liked everyone (well, almost everyone) and was pretty well liked at school. I was in FHA. I was on the yearbook committee. I was FINALLY going to be on the varsity basketball team. I was in band. I had just finished my freshman year as class president.My parents told me it was all or nothing and I didn’t have a choice. I was told that I could continue to be in FHA and on the basketball team but that was it.

When the school year started, I was right in there for the FHA meetings. I was so excited when the basketball season started to approach. I looked forward to being on the team and being with my friends again. I looked forward to getting out of the house and feeling somewhat normal.

I went to the first basketball practice and actually felt like a real teenager again. I felt like I belonged to something. I remember our coach giving us the speech most coaches give every year. He explained that by us being on the team, we’re making a commitment to our team mates to be at the practices, be at the games, to give it our all, to take this commitment seriously and that if we decided that we couldn’t honor that commitment, that was the time to walk out. I was bound and determined to see through my commitment, just like I had every year on the basketball team since I started playing in 4th grade.

That weekend, the head elder at the church in southern Vermont came to visit my family. While he was there, my parents gave him the tour of the house. He didn’t care too much for my room. It was the posters of basketball players all over my walls that unnerved him. I think the lifesize poster of Michael Jordan really freaked him out. I had paid $15 for that poster and it was my favorite in the room.

At the age of 14, I wasn’t really interested in boys. I was a tom-boy. I loved basketball, history, creating things with my hands, being outside, skiing, etc. I wasn’t in to make-up, girlish type of clothes, making sure my hair was impressive or into jewelry. The posters on my walls were not the typical posters a girl of my age might have. I didn’t have the boy bands on my wall, the cut outs from the heart-throb magazines on my ceilings, etc. I had sports legends and sports heroes. None of it was of a sexual nature. However, John Thompson didn’t think it was appropriate.

The next day, I realized that this John Thompson fellow had a lot more control over my parents than they would have liked to admit.

My father sat me down and told me that I would have to take all my posters down in my room because Mr. Thompson didn’t think it was appropriate for a young girl to have pictures of men all over her walls. I tried explaining to my father that it wasn’t a sexual thing, but that I loved basketball and I admired these players for their athletic ability. That wasn’t good enough, though. Mr. Thompson was looked up to by my parents and if he said they had to go, then they had to go. There was no way I was throwing them out, though. I refused to do that. I rolled them and folded them up and put them in my closet. I actually found them last year when we were cleaning out boxes and storage to move into our new house. I finally tossed them out, 17 years later.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, what my father filled me in on next felt like the biggest blow to me. I was told that I would have to quit the basketball team. I cried, begged, pleaded to no avail. I was told that it wasn’t befitting a young girl to take part in a sport with shorts on, as well as being grouped with a bunch of kids my own age. Mr. Thompson claimed that peer grouping was bad and that it was like putting a bunch of fools together. A bunch of fools together just act foolish.

I told my father that I had made a commitment to the team and that if he was going to make me quit against my wishes, then he would have to be the one to tell the coach and not me. It wasn’t my decision. I didn’t want to leave the team, therefore, he would have to break the news that he was making me break my commitment. When it came time for the next practice, I had my father drive me to the school and made him go in first to talk with the coach. I know the coach didn’t understand my father at all and it made no sense to him, just like it made no sense to me. After my father was done talking to the coach, I went in alone and talked to the coach. It tore at my heart to see my teammates throwing balls in to the hoops, warming up for practice. There I was, tears coming down my cheeks and the girls on the team looked over. I know that they truly didn’t understand what was going on, as all sorts of rumors had been passing through town about the things that my parents were getting my family into. I do know that they felt bad for me and the coach also had sympathy for me, as well. I told him that I didn’t want to quit, that I had no choice and that my dad was making me do it. That I didn’t want to break the commitment that I made to the team. He understood my anger, frustration and disappointment and told me that it was okay. That he knew it wasn’t something I was willingly breaking. Part of me wanted to scream out, “Take me away from all of this,” but I didn’t.

By this time, my sister had fallen for the whole submissive daughter thing and had written the FHA state organization that she felt she needed to drop out of her title and leave the group because it wasn’t God’s will for her to be in it. She also told them that she felt the “Future Homemakers of America” was a feminist organization that will soon ruin marriages and families and that she couldn’t have a part in it. She disgreed with their stance on women being independent and finding careers that could help them make a living and supporting a family. I didn’t agree with my sister’s views on it, so I stayed in for a little while longer until my father made me quit FHA, as well.

Everything that I had been involved with outside the home was quickly being stripped from me. I had no choices of my own. Decisions were made for me and at almost 15 years old, I didn’t see a whole lot of options out there for me. I figured I would just try to ride it out as best I could until I turned 18 and then I could bolt. I had no idea how much worse it would get over the next few years.

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